Julian, Secret Agent. New York: Random House.
I think I'm going to have to declare my love for Ann Cameron. Right here. Right now. It's rare to find an author of early reader chapter books who will use such wonderful metaphorical language as Madam Cameron, let alone ANY metaphorical language. You rock, Ann. And the fact that you've been kicking early reader literary (and literacy!) ass for 20 years impresses me even more.
But, metaphorical language is certainly not the focus of this chapter of the Jilian/Huey/Gloria series. This book is more cohesive than the other Julian early reader chapter book I reviewed previously, The Stories Julian Tells, but it still focuses on positively portraying blackness (although the text doesn't address. But all the characters are portrayed as black in the illustrations). I decided to pick Julian, Secret Agent mainly because it has a cool title. I discovered Julian was older now, with a bike of his own that allowed him to travel around town.
30-Second Plot Summary: After seeing wanted posters in the post office, Julian, his little brother, Huey, and his best friend Gloria decide they want to catch criminals in their own town. While on the hunt for law breakers the kids find others in need of help.
Part of my growing love for Cameron is the fact that she does an excellent job of getting into a child's mind. The sense of imagination, the desire for a mystery, the codes the kids develop is completely believable and realistic. (I had a little more trouble with the adult characters' responses to actual conflicts the kids face--a dog left in a hot car, a baby playing in a fountain and the fear that the kids are actually faced with one of the criminals from a wanted poster. The adults, the resolutions were a little too perfect (but very optimistic and age appropriate).) ()()()(I love parentheses)()()()
As a whole the Julian, Huey and Gloria series are great stepping stones (literally. That's the name Random House publishes these books) to get young readers reading. Whether read chapter by chapter as a read aloud or struggled through with a child using their finger to track the words, this series captures a child's sense of imagination.
Julian, Secret Agent can be used to specifically discuss stereotypes. The seemingly tough guy has a soft spot. The seemingly SUPER nice guy may be a serial criminal. This encourages students to think more deeply about the adults and other kids they encounter.
This story also shows police in a very positive light. And since Julian, Huey and Gloria are uncertain whether they should go to the police, a teacher could pause (at the end to chapter 8) to discuss with students what they would do if they suspected they had seen a wanted criminal. (This conversation could turn into a debate since the suspect was very kind to the kids)
Quotes of Note:
"It was a morning when the sun stayed in bed.
It was a morning when the clouds had pillow fights.
It was a morning when it looked like it could rain rubber boots, submarines, lost pirate ships, sunken treasures, or a whole new world" (p. 5).
"What trouble could we get into?"
"I don't know," I said.
Actually, I couldn't see any trouble coming. But that's how I am about trouble.
"All right," I said. "We'll do it. We'll be crimebusters" (p. 9).
"I learned something about myself from being in the Crimebusters. When things are quiet, I wish they were exciting When they get exciting, I wish they were quiet" (p. 32).
"He was nice to us," Huey said sadly.
"But he could still be a criminal," I said" (p. 47).
Tasty Rating: !!!