Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service

Common Sense Media says

Frail boy and huge talking dog reunite in D.C. adventure.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

 

Positive messages

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.

Language

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."

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. 

What's the story?

It's been more than three months since 200-pound Newfie Elvis has gone off to be the president's dog at the White House, and 10-year-old Benji is still miserable, despite the best efforts of new friends Alexander and Taisy. His new service dog, Ripley, performs his duties perfectly -- but he's not Elvis. Then the kids spot a video on YouTube. In the foreground, the president is giving a speech. In the background, Elvis is doing this weird thumping thing with his tail. It's a message to Benji in Morse code! Soon the kids are figuring out how to get their parents to take them to Washington, D.C., so they can connect with Elvis and come to the rescue. Shenanigans involving hotels, archery contests, baked goods, and international diplomacy ensue.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why stories about talking animals -- and the people they meet -- are so popular. What others do you know? Are they always funny or cute, or can they be scary?

  • Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? What did you do when you were there? Do you think you'd like to visit the White House?

  • Do you know any kids who have service dogs? How do the dogs help the kids? 

Book details

Author:Jenny Lee
Illustrator:Kelly Light
Genre:Friendship
Topics:Adventures, Cats, dogs, and mice, Friendship, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:May 27, 2014
Number of pages:352
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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