Kids On A Mission: Escape From Germany by Sian Bessey, 183 pages
Kevin Kirk Chronicles: My Mom’s A Mortician by Patricia Wiles, 249 pages
Latter-Day Spies: Spyhunt by Michele Ashman Bell, 187 pages
Published by Covenant Communications, Inc., $7.95
Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
Three new adventure series on the LDS market are capturing the attention of the elementary-to-middle school age group. All three are fun adventures that even parents will enjoy. The three series were launched during the summer, and already the second round is in the works. All three are fun adventures with LDS settings and standards.
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Escape from Germany by Sian Bessey is a time travel flashback that sends a brother/sister duo of missionaries back to Germany at the beginning of World War II, just in time to get caught up in the recall of missionaries from that country. Eleven-year-old Emily and nine-year-old Matt live behind the MTC in Provo. One day while pursuing a ball lost over the fence onto the MTC grounds, Matt discovers a strange blue light coming from beneath the door of a shed. He goes after the ball and his sister goes after him. Curiosity draws them toward the mysterious light and a mission call neither is expecting.
Bessey’s characters are realistic kids, not miniature adults. The story is fast paced and entertaining, but also teaches an excellent lesson on faith without becoming preachy. The background events are historically accurate and paint a vivid picture of the fear and confusion that gripped those with compelling reasons to leave a country on the verge of war. Bessey’s own European background shows in her depiction of a country and characters caught up in uncertainty. Her back ground as a mother of five children lends authenticity to her young heroes’ speech and reactions.
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With a title like My Mom’s a Mortician, a reader might expect this to be a humorous book. But Patricia Wiles mid-reader is more a coming-of-age or “growing up” book than a comedy, though it is certainly full of peculiar situations. Kevin Kirk, a seventh grader, is an unlikely hero. He is a quiet boy who resists change, is easily embarrassed, hears only what he wants to hear, has few friends, and lives upstairs in a mortuary. He is expected to play an adult role in the family, even though he is treated like a baby. No wonder he’s confused and often resentful. He wears suits and greets visitors to the mortuary, vacuums the funeral home carpets, and stocks the soft drink machine. He keeps a journal of the wildlife that visits the funeral home’s back yard and tries to dodge the town bully. His best friend is a girl, Dani, and my favorite character in the book. Kevin’s parents aren’t exactly prime examples of responsible adulthood, but they love each other and him, and the three of them muddle through. And, oh yes, Kevin carries a purple worm in his pocket and talks to his school principal’s grandfather, Cletus McCulley, who happens to be dead.
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Michele Ashman Bell’s Spyhunt will likely appeal to the more sophisticated youth readers (mostly fifth and sixth graders). It features eleven-year-old twins, Seth and Sadie Fletcher. Because they are children of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, the book has a definite international flavor. Seth and Sadie and their best friends Markus and Gabi have a favorite game that takes them all over Frankfurt in a pursuit they call spyhunt. When Fami, the son of a former Indian ambassador who was killed by a lightening strike while hiking in the Alps, arrives for an indefinite visit, the twins think their game and all their summer fun are over. Fami is blind, so how can he possibly play spyhunt? Fami not only proves he can play their games, but he’s just as clever as Seth at performing magic tricks.
Their game turns serious when they discover someone is watching them. They learn Fami’s visit isn’t just an innocent vacation, and real criminals are after them. It takes all of their skill, quick wit, and magic tricks to stay ahead in this deadly game.
All three books are well written with strong story lines and imaginative Latter-day Saint children as the lead characters. Escape from Germany and Spyhunt are both packed with action and danger. In both books, the children turn to prayer in seeking strength and inspiration to deal with the traumatic events they face. In Escape from Germany there’s some time travel involved, and in My Mom’s a Mortician Kevin gets a few promptings he assumes comes from the deceased Cletus even though there is no overt dependence on the paranormal to carry the story. The young protagonists solve their dilemmas by using their own reasoning and by depending on the lifelong training they’ve received from loving parents. Spyhunt is definitely the most intense of the three books, and though both Seth and Fami are amateur magicians there is absolutely no paranormal, occult, or wizardly overtone to the story. Their magic tricks are good and the directions for performing the tricks are included in the story line. Readers will have fun amazing their friends when they try these tricks for themselves.
From the popular mass paperback size of the books, to the fun, colorful covers, and on to the large size print in the ones intended for younger readers, these books are designed to appeal to young readers. I suspect these books and the sequels which are bound to follow will fill a need that appears between picture books and young adult novels. An adherence to LDS standards in this new level of LDS fiction will make the books appealing to parents, but it is the exciting, well written adventures themselves that make them difficult for their intended audience to put down.