A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will pick up some knowledge about Washington, D.C., and its historic attractions, and they'll learn that "rendezvous" is "this fancy-pants French word that spies in movies use instead of the words 'meeting place.'" They also can ponder whether it's ethical for a kid with a photographic memory to compete in a spelling bee. Morse code figures in the plot, but there's little detail of how it works; kids may wish to explore the possibilities.
Strong messages about friendship, family, creative thinking, empathy, kindness, and never giving up.
Positive Role Models
Benji and his friends are the kind of kids who sneak off on a midnight adventure in a hotel -- and thoughtfully leave a note for their moms. Besides being a "human computer" who never forgets anything, Alexander wrestles with the ethics of the unfair advantage his mighty brain gives him. Confident, popular Taisy has the social skills the boys often lack, as well as a kind heart. Benji takes his health challenges in stride, hoping, sometimes in vain, not to faint or end up in the emergency room. They join forces and recruit an oddball assortment of allies to save Elvis from peril. Adults are all kind and well-meaning, though they're mostly caricatures (for example, Benji's mother, who's all big hair, Mom Voice, Mama Bear protectiveness, and over-the-top baking skills).
Violence & Scariness
Comic pratfalls and mayhem, including chaos and flying food in the White House kitchen, and looming heartbreak due to yet another separation of Benji and Elvis. There's no real ill will here.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Comic references to butts, dog pee, and poop. "I guess dogs really are territorial, which was fine by me as long as they didn't pee on me like a tree to mark their ownership," Benji says. Elvis calls Benji a "crankybutt."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
A video on YouTube sets fateful events in motion. Being able to order room service in a fancy hotel is a high point of the kids' D.C. adventure.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's not much to worry about in Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service, the sequel to Elvis and the Underdogs. It reunites sickly 10-year-old Benji and his onetime service dog, 200-pound Newfoundland Elvis (now living at the White House) for further adventures. As with Book 1, it's a funny, fanciful tale that delivers a few understated life lessons, as Benji and new friends Alexander and Taisy put their unique talents (including wheedling and conniving) to work to help one another. Real life never interferes with imagination and a good story: After all, the hero is a huge talking dog who sends messages in Morse code via YouTube. Many plot developments rely on happy coincidence, convenient connections, and maybe even angelic forces, but most young readers will be having too much fun to quibble. They also may discover a sudden obsession with room service.
Is It Any Good?
As with Book 1, ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS: SECRETS, SECRET SERVICE, AND ROOM SERVICE is lighthearted, fanciful, and a bit over the top. It's also poignant and heartfelt as Benji pines for Elvis, and each of the kids grapples with his or her own challenges: Taisy worries about the next sports contest she's expected to ace, "human computer" Alexander explains why he thinks it's unethical for him to enter a spelling bee, and sickly Benji hopes the next adventure doesn't land him in the emergency room -- again.
Author Jenny Lee, a sitcom writer and producer (of Disney series Shake It Up), effectively delivers the tale in Benji's voice, and Kelly Light's fun illustrations will entertain young readers, even reluctant ones. Parents looking for books with ethnically diverse characters also may appreciate that Alexander is Korean-Jewish while Taisy's parents, both star athletes, are African-American and Swedish.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.