Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! This year we’re taking advantage of the long summer days to read our way through some of our favorite series for children and young people.
For me it all started with The Secret in the Old Clock. My dad was good about bringing home presents for my brother and I whenever he traveled for work, and after one trip (perhaps wildly overestimating the current reading comprehension level of his 2nd grade daughter) he gave me the first book in the Nancy Drew series. I had it by my bedside for months, doggedly making my way through, reading (and rereading) the pages until I could figure out what was going on, but eventually I triumphed—and immediately began working through the rest of the series. Downstairs in our homeschool room there is an entire shelf crammed with those familiar yellow hardbacks, next to a healthy sampling of Hardy Boys, half a dozen Happy Hollisters, a smattering of Bobbsey Twins, almost the entire run of Trixie Belden, not nearly enough Cherry Ames, and a selection of Tom Swift from my dad’s childhood.
I liked the way Tom Swift looked on my shelves, but I never did get around to actually reading them, so I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when my children looked at my carefully preserved and lovingly displayed collection and said (more or less), “Naah, I don’t think so.” My older daughter read a handful of Nancy Drew mysteries, more out of duty than pleasure, but no one was really interested. Mostly they just sat there, collecting dust.
That’s one reason I was so happy to discover M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. Anderson must have grown up reading the same books I did because these “Thrilling Tales!” are an affectionate tribute to the mystery and adventure series of decades past. The pals in question are Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut (who is stuck in a bit of a time-warp), Katie Mulligan (a resident of Horror Hollow, where she regularly fights off zombies, werewolves, and rogue mind-sloths), and Lily Gefelty, an ordinary girl whose life feels a bit boring next to the exploits of her daring friends. My children hadn’t read much of the source material, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying these hilarious and ridiculously over-the-top adventures, stuffed with fabulous illustrations by Kurt Cyrus, absurd footnotes, and full-page advertisements for Gargletine Brand Patented Breakfast Drink, Official Beverage of Jasper Dash! (“Say, Kids, Want to Feel Peachy Keen? Drink a Quart of Gargletine!”) This series has been one of my favorite readalouds (though mid-elementary readers and up should be fine reading it on their own) and is worth checking out by anyone who grew up with Nancy and Frank and Trixie for both its humor and the sweetness of the friendship at its core.
“On Career Day Lily visited her dad’s work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.” The whales cannot be trusted! Fortunately, Lily can rely on Jasper and Katie to help her save the world. The books get slightly more complicated as the series goes on, but this a great choice for young readers who are venturing beyond beginning chapter books. (Though if parents do them as a readaloud they’ll be able to share the enjoyment of chapter openings like, “If you have ever been present at a vicious attack by elevated sea animals, you’ll know exactly what the people of Pelt felt like. I, for example, was unlucky enough to be working as a house-painter in Minneapolis that terrifying summer of the Manatee Offensive.”)
Jasper, Katie, and Lily are taking a well-deserved vacation at the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort when they run into the adorable mystery-solving Hooper Quints, the brave but not-that-bright Manley Boys, and the boy-crazy Cutesy Dell Twins. But what happened to the heiress’s priceless diamond necklace?!?
The pals encounter dinosaurs! lost cities! gangsters! and monks! while exploring the Land That Time Forgot: mysterious DELAWARE. Plus, the Delaware state song! This novel is by far the longest of the series and ends with our pals still stuck in the trackless jungles of the Blue Hen State, leading directly into:
The tyrant known as His Terrifying Majesty, the Awful and Adorable Autarch of Dagsboro, is determined that those meddling children shall not escape his clutches, and sends his Ministry of Silence spies out to disguise themselves as furniture and lay in wait for our unsuspecting trio.
Back at home, Lily has to deal with her mom, who’s been acting strangely ever since her visit to Todburg, the most haunted town in America, while Katie is menaced by a visit from her cousin, bratty (and ever-so-bored) Snott Academy student Madigan Westlake-Duvet. Can Jasper help his friends survive the onslaught of the undead? Will the author successfully describe Madigan’s outfit every time she is mentioned in the narrative, as he is contractually obligated to do?
In the final Pals in Peril adventure, Jasper goes on a dangerous quest to find his father, who he has known only as a concentrated beam of energy from the region of the Horsehead Nebula. Fortunately, Lily and Katie refuse to let him go alone. And while the Pals are busy saving Earth from invading aliens, a second story—of Busby Spence, reading Jasper Dash novels while waiting for his father to return from the war—unfolds in a series of footnotes. (Warning: parents reading this book aloud should be prepared for unexplained allergy attacks—I did NOT cry, the room just got dusty!—and may want to lay in a store of tissues.)