Lerangis, P. (2009). The 39 Clues: The sword thief. New York: Scholastic Inc.
Appetizer: Just when Dan and Amy think they're on their way to Japan in search of the third clue, several of their relatives team up to separate them from their au pair, Nellie, and prevent them from leaving Italy. The two must form an unhappy alliance with some of their other relatives to hunt for the next clue. As tentative alliances are formed and betrayals become known, the children continue on the search that will take them to both Japan and Korea and will lead Dan to realize his dream of fighting some actual ninjas (which may not be the dream-come-true he'd been hoping for). And Amy may fall in like...with a distant relative...awkward...and ick!
This book spends more time sharing the perspectives of some of some of Dan and Amy's extended relatives, giving them more depth. While I liked that aspect, there were a few draw-backs to Peter Lerangis's addition to the series. I didn't always like the way he gave voice to the characters. For example, at a few points, Dan starts throwing around slang like "peeps" and "mad gansta," which didn't seem to be a part of his voice in the previous books. I could see the stereotyped Jonah Wizard saying things like that, not Dan. The same thing happened to Nellie. She goes into a long monologue of what happened to her in the siblings' absence and she says things like: "Anyway, they try to threaten me, yada yada, and of course I argue and I'm figuring in my head, 'Ha-ha, the next thing is they put poison in the drink'-but I'm, like, 'Nahh, of course they're not that skeezy.' Then I see her actually doing it, like two inches away from me--uh, hello? So I get kinda mad, you know..."
Now, of course there are kids and teens whose voices sound just the way Lerangis has written these, but these voices don't match the way Dan and Nellie spoke in the previous novels. So, it seemed a bit out of place and awkward.
I did feel like there was more humor in this installment (although, some of it was decidedly disgusting--booger flicking with a dog jumping to get it. Let's not think about that any further. LALALA! Distraction!Distraction!DISTRACTION!). The Sword Thief also went into more depth of various characters' motives and explores some of Japan's history. The book serves as a big stepping stone, as some of the Cahill clan learn what the ultimate goal for their hunt is.
"They were toast.
Amy Cahill eyed the battered black duffel bag rumbling up the airport conveyor belt. It bulged at the corners. The sign above the belt said THANK YOU FOR VISITING VENICE: RANDOM PIECES OF CHECKED LUGGAGE WILL BE SEARCHED in five languages.
"Oh, great," Amy said. "How random is 'random'?" (p. 1).
"Amy fought the urge to just collapse and cry. Right there in the middle of the terminal. Everything was going wrong. It had been a seven-year string of bad luck, ever since ther parents died in that house fire. How were Amy and Dan supposed to do this alone? The Kabras had money. Their parents supported them. Plus, they were working with Irina. The Holts were a whole family. Jonah Wizard had his dad planning every moment of his life. It was Amy and Dan against...families. Teams. Generations. They didn't stand a chance" (p. 14).
"Amy's brother was never comfortable in a new place until he committed an act of cluelessness. In Tokyo, it happened the morning after their arrival at the Thank You Very Much Hotel" (p. 32).
"I have devoted myself to earning your confidence again. Trust is a fragile thing--difficult to build, easy to break. It cannot be bargained for. Only if it is freely given can it be expected in return." He looked from Amy to Dan. "To break the chain of mistrust, someone has to go first. I am happy to make the move. You deserve no less" (p. Chapter Five, upside down triangle page of the code).
To Go with the Meal:
While a teacher can easily recommend this adventure series for enjoyment (particularly with some reluctant middle grade male readers), there are also a number of teaching moment topics they can latch onto, including: Prime numbers, factors, how subways work, palindromes, the history of between the Koreas and Japan, haiku poetry, Eastern Asian geography, geology, as well as the biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (which to be perfectly honest, my western dominated history education never included).
A teacher could also describe and encourage students to watch the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, since Dan repeatedly references it throughout the book (which seemed very random).
Students can also venture on over to the39clues.com to have some more fun. I'm off to complete mission 6 myself.
Tasty Rating: !!!