A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Lots of random facts come into play as Jake's superpower kicks in and he can't resist sharing information about history, geography, science, etc. His efforts to learn Spanish matter, not just to get to know Grace Garcia better, but because many documents and conversations important to the story are in Spanish; at one point, helping Jake's sister with her homework, Grace gives an excellent explanation of the difference between "ser" and "estar." As elsewhere in Chris Grabenstein's work, The Smartest Kid in the Universe features many puzzles and math problems to be solved, and plenty more in an appendix.
Strong messages about family, friendship, kindness, empathy -- and also the advantages of actually knowing something. Like, say, Spanish. Or geometry.
Positive Role Models
Jake is your classic Chris Grabenstein middle-school hero, working hard at slacking his way through life when suddenly superpowers are thrust upon him -- presenting unexpected challenges as well as opportunities. He's a good big brother to young Emma, instinctively helpful -- as when he surprises everyone by helping befuddled tourists find their hotel -- in Swahili. He also resists his enterprising pal Kojo's "genius" plans to put his powers to work doing other kids' schoolwork. The villains frame him for cheating to keep him out of their way. Besides being brilliant, his friend Grace is kind, determined, and very loyal to her family. Kojo, when not hatching "genius" plans, is also a smart, loyal friend who talks about "sending the elevator back down" to less academically gifted friends now that he's at the peak of success. Jake and Emma's single mom is good at her job and supportive of her kids. Grace's uncle, the vice-principal, turns out to be quite a bit more than he seems, and a good ally to the kids.
Violence & Scariness
In the distant past, the father of the brave cabin boy has been killed by a pirate. The pirate seems unlikely to survive the battle in progress as the story begins. The evil descendants of the pirate are perfectly willing to cause the unfortunate deaths of a few kids to get the long-lost treasure, so our heroes Jake, Grace, and Kojo find themselves trapped underground and slated to have a fatal accident (which does not take place). A villainous adult gives the kids laxative-laced brownies in hopes of keeping them out of a contest.
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Frequent butt, poop, and fart references and humor. One useless factoid Jake suddenly knows is that the ancient Romans used urine for mouthwash.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Smartest Kid in the Universe is the first book in a new series by bestselling author Chris Grabenstein, known for his collaborations with James Patterson as well as solo work including the Mr. Lemoncello's Library series. The title character, Jake, is a 12-year-old slacker looking to get through life with as little effort as possible -- a goal he's finding at odds with his sudden interest in making a good impression on brainy classmate Grace, who keeps speaking Spanish to him in hopes he'll learn some. Life changes rapidly when (in the course of disobeying his mom and scamming gourmet food at the hotel where she works), he devours several handfuls of what he thinks are jelly beans -- but are in fact the latest invention of a probably-mad scientist, prototypes of Ingested Knowledge. Suddenly Jake seems to know all kinds of things. The adventures that follow involve pirates, treasure, secret identities, math problems, a middle-school Quiz Bowl, the FBI, villains whose vile deeds range from laxative brownies to attempted murder (as well as your more run-of-the-mill bad behavior) -- and a helicopter at the end waiting to sweep Jake off to his next adventure.
Is It Any Good?
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be on the edge of your seat in this wacky, imaginative adventure. You'll also learn a lot of math and Spanish in the first episode of Chris Grabenstein's brainiac-friendly middle-school adventure series. As hero Jake inadvertently becomes The Smartest Kid in the Universe after eating what he thinks are jelly beans, he and his friends become embroiled in a multi-century epic involving a pirate treasure from colonial times and villains who will stop at nothing to get it. Meanwhile the FBI is putting Jake's newfound skills to work solving more recent crimes. Crucial (and often hilarious) portions of the story are in Spanish, which will have some readers scrambling to keep up, but it's worth the effort. Here's an example:
"'My family is fine, too...,' said Grace. 'In fact, my uncle Charley has never been better. He's about to become something of a hero. Let's just say that tomorrow mi tío hará que sus antepasados se sientan muy, muy orgullosos.'
"'Right,' [villainess replies], blinking some more. 'Let's just say that, shall we?' She watched the three friends boldly stride out the exit. She could tell by their jiggling shoulders that they were snickering at her. Probably because they thought que no podía hablar español.
"But she did. She hablaba español like nobody's business. So she knew the annoying little brats were going to go digging for Dog Breath's booty that very night. Because brainy little Grace had said that tomorrow 'mi tío hará que sus antepasados se sientan muy, muy orgullosos.' Meaning that tomorrow her uncle, Charley Lyons, the direct descendant of the Cubano cabin boy Eduardo Leones, was going to 'make his ancestors very, very proud.'"
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