What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although Saltwater Taffy has many classic elements of a treasure-hunting adventure, including betrayal, violence, and deceit, it drives home messages on the value of friendship, self-confidence, and self-respect. The children set off M-80 explosives and pelt rivals with water balloons from a rooftop, and the book explains in detail how the children create a soda-and-candy bomb they set off near an elderly man who's double-crossed them -- which is why we recommend this for kids age 9 and older, slightly higher than the publisher's recommendation of age 8 and up. A tomboy reinvents herself to win attention from a boy focused on the town beauty. There are some unflattering characterizations: Another child is repeatedly described as pudgy and lazy, a portly ice cream vendor is named "Fatman," and much is made of the fact that the junkyard owner has only one leg. The related website encourages children to become affiliates and earn money by selling the book.
What's the story?
Port Townsend, Wash., is swarming with treasure hunters hoping to solve the annual Keys of Lafitte puzzle, which supposedly leads to long-lost treasure. When 13-year-old Scott and his four friends unlock the cipher, they're launched on the adventure of a lifetime. The kids face obstacles large and small -- jeering bullies, a black bear, a double-crossing old man, and a cave-in, along with their own doubts and insecurities. In pursuit of pieces of eight, Scott discovers the true treasures of life.
Is it any good?
SALTWATER TAFFY is a decent yarn with a heart of gold. It offers great material for fans of ciphers, maps, and pirate history, enlivened with R.C. Nason's cinematic artwork. Unfortunately, it's undermined by endless sermonizing and so-so writing. Author Eric DelaBarre has great intentions, working in "treasure tips" ("If you want to be great, you have to think great thoughts") and a heartfelt afterword. Unfortunately, the book sounds as if it's being narrated by a motivational speaker rather than a 13-year-old kid. Whenever the action gets going, Scott pauses to reflect on his life journey and share yet another epiphany. "I decided to look at my life from a place of happiness," he declares soon after watching his friend swept away to his presumed death in a raging river. The age disconnect pops up in large and small ways, as when a boy's construction of an anachronistic soda-and-candy bomb is compared to "a bartender skewering olives."
Parents may appreciate the life lessons more than their children do. They should be aware that the children in the story engage in behavior that decades ago might have been laughed off as kids being kids -- M-80 explosives and water balloons -- but today would land them in real trouble. Even worse, adults are sometimes complicit and the children face no consequences.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the children's questionable behavior -- from setting off M-80s to breaking into someone's home -- in pursuit of treasure. Given that their rivals are so underhanded, is the kids' behavior justified?
Which treasure-tips ring especially true for you?
What might be the consequences if kids today set off an M-80 or a soda-and-candy bomb in a public place? Why do you think it's presented as less of a big deal at the time this story's set?
|Illustrator:||R. C. Nason|
|Topics:||Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Pirates|
|Publication date:||January 11, 2011|
|Number of pages:||272|
|Publisher's recommended age(s):||8 - 12|
|Available on:||Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle|