The 39 Clues Series
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that nearly everyone in the first book is trying to kill, sideline, or deceive the heroes, who are orphaned children. There is some violence (arson, explosions, traps, and several fights with injuries) though it's mostly cartoonish. This book includes incentives to purchase cards, register on a website, and sign up for a contest with cash prizes. It's also a popular mobile app with buzz that it's being made into a movie with Steven Spielberg attached.
What's the story?
Orphans Amy and Dan belong to a rich and powerful family related to nearly everyone important in history. When their grandmother dies, she leaves 39 clues, spread across the planet, to a treasure that will make the finder immensely powerful. So all the relatives, none of them decent or honest (except Amy and Dan, of course), compete to find and solve the clues while trying to eliminate their competition. This proposed 10-book series (10 physical books followed by 29 online-only installments), each by a different author, includes cards plus a code for a Web site with an online game with cash prizes.
Is it any good?
Taken simply as a story, this first book is pretty good. Sure, you have to park your disbelief at the door and give up on any expectation of realism. That done, it's loads of fun, with action, mysteries, and clues. It's clearly intended to make money, and a little more baldly than most. But as long as the writing is good and the story is fun, who cares? And Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, knows how to pace a story.
The second installment keeps moving like the first -- from Vienna to Salzburg to Venice this time. And it keeps you guessing about how the clues will fit together. But the brother-sister team seems less likable here. Dan won't stop whining about how boring he thinks Mozart is and the two won't stock bickering. It overshadows their talents and makes you wonder how they're able to stay ahead of the competition.
The third installment sends the Cahills to Japan and Korea and teams up Amy and Dan with ruthless relatives Ian and Natalie Kabra. The book starts and ends with fun flourishes and twists but it also gets to the heart of what the four Cahill branches are really fighting over -- and it's not all that original. Also, the puzzles leading to the clues are confusing and the romantic subplot feels clumsily put together.
Dan and Amy Cahill work their way through Egypt in the fourth installment. Lucky for them their grandma has left numerous hints around Cairo and the tombs. Once again this installment doesn't hold a candle to the first in the series. There's no logical flow from one clue to the next and the way the kids figure out some of the puzzles makes no sense. It's too bad because Egypt is such an exciting place for a treasure hunt.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about marketing. Why does the book include playing cards? Why is there a Web site and contest, with cash prizes? What do the publishers have to gain by giving away money?
What do they mean when they call this a "multi-platform series"?