Milo Speck, Accidental Agent

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
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Funny fantasy encourages problem-solving, resilience.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Cautionary tale illustrates the danger of not cleaning the dryer lint trap and explains some basics of how dryers work. Good lessons on collaborative problem-solving and adapting plans.

Positive Messages

Strong message on resilience and perseverance: Tuckerman agents are committed to doing all they can to complete a mission, and only then can they call it off. Adventurers come to appreciate the difference between inconveniences and significant problems. Great lessons on preparation, adaptability, and ingenuity. Change is inevitable -- the challenge is learning to roll with it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Milo's confidence builds over the course of his adventure, and he recognizes his own strengths and what his companions contribute. Patient and methodical, he demonstrates strong leadership. Tuck eventually finds courage and authenticity through compassion and proves to be a wise, innovative leader. Milo's dad is a reassuring presence, guiding the children onward and entrusting them with significant responsibility.

Violence & Scariness

Fairy-tale peril: Children and adults are in constant danger of being squashed or eaten by ogres, and one unpleasant character meets an equally unpleasant fate.

Language

Ogre's song lyric includes "holy crap."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban (The Center of Everything) is an entertaining fantasy full of ogres eager to eat little boys. There are missing parents, an orphan, and betrayal, treated much the same way as in a fairy tale. The bumbling, irritable ogres keep the mood light. There are obvious parallels between Milo's worries at home, where he's struggling to come to terms with his mother's abrupt departure and his often-absent father, and the challenges he faces in the ogres' world.

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What's the story?

Milo Speck is a scrawny, ordinary kid whose day takes a most extraordinary turn when he's sucked into one dryer and tumbles out of another into Ogregon, a land populated by giant, not-too-bright ogres who love eating boys. His primary concern is getting out -- until he learns that his father might be there. Milo is drawn into a rescue mission whose scope keeps expanding, and he finds himself stuck with his dad's boss, a selfish, irritable teenager. Desperate to get home safely with his father, Milo has to decide when he's done all he can and when it's time to retreat to safety.

Is it any good?

Fans of Roald Dahl's quirky humor will appreciate this charmingly goofy fantasy-secret agent mash-up where heroes come in unlikely forms -- such as small, uncertain Milo Speck. He discovers his strengths (a knack for machines, problem solving, and leadership) through trial and error. Author Linda Urban builds her story on the familiar kid-transported-into-a-fantasy-world premise but throws in enough curve balls to keep it engaging and surprising.

The plot is exaggerated and busy, packed with giant turkeys, bumbling and grumbling ogres, and a plot that hinges on home-appliance maintenance. Fans of this book may enjoy books by Dahl (The BFG) and Edward Eager (Half Magic), whom Urban credits as inspiration. The satisfying ending hints at more adventures to come.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this compares with other fantasy-world stories you've read. Is it funnier? Scarier? 

  • Milo makes a distinction between trouble and inconvenience. Can you think of examples of inconveniences that sometimes feel like real trouble? How did you handle them? 

  • Milo feels cheated by books where the character's fantastical experience proves to have been a dream. Do you think he's right, or do you disagree?

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