Friday, November 6, 2009

Review: The 39 Clues (Book One)

Riordan, R.  (2008).  The 39 Clues:  The maze of bones.  New York:  Scholastic Inc.


220 Pages

PLOT SUMMARY:  After the death of their Grandmother, Grace Cahill, eleven-year-old Dan and fourteen-year-old Amy learn that their grandmother set up an optional hunt for 39 clues to reveal a great secret for her extended family.

This action packed book is the first in the 39 clues series, which so far, consists of five books.  The sixth book will come out tomorrow!  The books in the series are being published often and by different authors.  Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame kicked off the series with The Maze of Bones.

With the chapters, the narration switches point of view among Dan, Amy and some of the more villainous Cahill family members.  Although the first chapter is omniscient narration showing Grace's change of heart about her Will, giving the books a movie feel.  This could help the book to appeal to reluctant readers who are fans of action-adventure movies.  It'd also be good for students who like cryptology.  There's even a code for readers to solve in the format of the book.

There's a lot that's fun about this series.  It does a good job of incorporation international representation among the characters.  However, I did feel that at times certain characters were represented stereotypically.  I'm looking at you, Jonah Wizard--the only African American character presented so far who happens to be a rich rapper who is noted for wearing many silver chains around his neck.  Sigh.


The strength of this series is how interactive it is.  Students can go online to to play games, solve puzzles and keep track of their clue cards.  There are also card games based off of the series as well.  They can also research aspects of the scavenger hunt online as they read.

Both the books and the website also incorporate subtle lessons on geography, history and math that a teacher could take advantage of.  With the first book, a teacher could focus on Ben Franklin's biography and influence on culture, the history and geographic features of Philadelphia and Paris and the mathematical features of the number 39.

There are also potential morals involving dealing with the death of a loved one and developing self-esteem.


"Five minutes before she died, Grace Cahill changed her will" (p. 1).

"Dan Cahill thought he had the most annoying big sister on the planet.  And that was before she set fire to two million dollars" (p. 4).

"If you accept, you shall be given the first of thirty-nine clues.  These clues will lead you to a secret, which, should you find it, will make you the most powerful, influential human beings on the planet" (p. 18).

"Amy Cahill thought she had the most annoying little brother on the planet.  And that was before he almost got her killed" (p. 21).



  1. I've heard mixed reviews on these books. I haven't read them, but I suspect that while they might be a good way to get reluctant readers into a book, they might not engage more advanced readers. Is that the impression you got?

  2. Hmmm, I'd say they're fast-paced enough to engage most kids at least initially. But some kids could become bored by the formulaic structure and the never ending quest quickly, especially if they are well-read.

    Despite the fact that the books include research and history, they are kinda light bubblegum reading on the grand scale. But every now and then, most of us want bubblegum no matter how advanced we become.

    Does that make sense?



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