Sanderson, B. (2007). Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. New York: Scholastic Inc.
After receiving a bag of sand from his long-lost family and being told he must leave his current foster family, Alcatraz goes on a wild adventure in which he must defeat the powerful evil librarians who control our culture. This novel, best for ten to thirteen-year-olds, includes enough humor and plot twists to engage and entertain its readers.
While many might think this book is best used solely to entertain, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians makes direct addresses to the reader that address cultural differences between the “hushlands” and the “free kingdoms” that will allow many students to view their own culture in a new way. The book also questions what is a hero. It turns a person’s typically negative perceived tendencies such as being late or breaking almost anything one comes into contact with into the character’s greatest gift or power.
One of my few cautions about this book is the prevalence of guns. While considered ‘impractical’ and ‘primitive’ by several of the characters, guns are still used often and without serious consequence throughout the story.
The book is also a meta-narrative in which Alcatraz mentions the way he has chosen to structure the story. This could contribute to a lesson on creating tension in a narrative, language choices in literature, literary techniques such as foreshadowing, and could encourage readers to write their own stories.
The story includes a lot of quirks—characters named for prison, talking dinosaurs and rutabaga. It also makes references to other children’s books, including the Harry Potter series and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Overall, this is a fun and fast-paced book that makes for an amusing and engaging read. And of course, it’s being turned into a series.
Activities to do with the book:
Teach about the nature of culture, the philosophies of Plato, power, heroes, etc. Also could incorporate into a lesson of how glass is manufactured.
“So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians” (p. 1).
“Would any decent, kindhearted individual become a writer? Of course not” (p. 167).
Page 308 (I’ll say no more about that).
“That man, however, is a fantasy writer, and is therefore prone to useless bouts of delusion in literary form” (p. 309).