________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008

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Poison Island. (Zac Power).

H. I. Larry. Illustrated by Ash Oswald.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
91 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99914-4.

Subject Headings:
Spies - Juvenile fiction.
Rescues - Juvenile fiction.
Adventure stories - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Janet Grafton.

***1/2 /4

   
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Deep Waters. (Zac Power).

H. I. Larry. Illustrated by Ash Oswald.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
91 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99915-1.

Subject Headings:
Spies - Juvenile fiction.
Submersibles - Juvenile ficiton.
Adventure stories.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Janet Grafton.

***1/2 /4

   
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Frozen Fear. (Zac Power).

H. I. Larry. Illustrated by Ash Oswald.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic, 2008.
91 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99917-5.

Subject Headings:
Spies - Juvenile fiction.
Arctic regions- Juvenile ficiton.
Adventure stories.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Janet Grafton.

***1/2 /4

   
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Mind Games. (Zac Power).

H. I. Larry. Illustrated by Ash Oswald.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic, 2008.
91 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99916-8.

Subject Headings:
Spies - Juvenile fiction.
Computer hacking - Juvenile ficiton.
Adventure stories.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Janet Grafton.

***1/2 /4

excerpt:

Zac had no idea how far he ran, or for how long. Eventually, he noticed the voices behind him fading until, finally, they were gone. He’d outrun Dr. Drastic’s henchmen.

Hiding himself carefully behind a tree, Zac stopped at last. He had to decide what to do next.

He felt in the pocket of his cargo pants for his SpyPad. Yes, there it was. Safe and sound. He flicked it on.

He could call his parents, but that would mean telling them he'd lost Leon. He could call GIB [Government Investigation Bureau], but then he'd have to admit he's blown his cover. Zac imagined his mum's face as he told he Leon had fallen into one of Dr. Drastic's booby traps.

He punched in the secret number for GIB. His phone at Mission control rang.

"This is GIB. Prepare for security clearance."

Zac held his SpyPad to his fingertip while it scanned his fingerprint.

"Hello, Zac," said a voice at Mission Control. (From Poison Island.)

 

Twelve-year-old Zac Power is a spy, and he comes from a family of spies. On the surface, they are normal: Zac and his brother Leon have to take out the trash and feed the dog, but they also have to engage in top-secret double lives that take them all over the world.

     The "Zac Power" series is the brainchild of an Australian publisher who doubles as mother to a reluctant reader. On the Zac Power "Power of Reading" website, the makers of the series say that, with the Zac books, they are responding to a specific need and are looking to capture the attention of specific audience – reluctant male readers, ages 7 through 9. According to the website, there is a lack of reading material for reluctant boy readers, and the Zac creators are seeking to remedy this gap.

     A hybrid of chapter books, comic books, and graphic novels, the "Zac Power" books seem to belong to a genre of their own. Every few pages, graphics intermingle with text to highlight certain aspects of the plot, from top-secret access passes to voice scramblers to Zac's SpyPad screen which reveals details of his next mission. The books are very contemporary (references to iPods and bands like Greenday abound), and very formulaic (each book represents a new, 91-page mission). This layout is consistent in all four books.

     The author, or possibly authors, is a Lemony Snicket-esque entity called H. I. Larry. She, or he, has created a detailed world, plot-centred and full of gadgets. The "Zac Power" reading experience is all about extreme adventure, the rationale being that young male readers need tight, exciting plots to hold their interest. The plot-heavy formula is easy to follow: situations are clearly presented, and parameters are laid. Zac is always working against time constraints, which are reiterated with small clock graphics that count down his mission in every chapter. Zac's missions always have clear shape and plenty of propulsion.

     In terms of language, there is surprising sophistication beneath the veneer of gadgets and gimmicks: In Frozen Fear, surfing is used as a metaphor. Deep Waters makes use of the word ‘mournful' over ‘sad. And there's some interesting imagery born of poetic lines, like "in the gathering gloom of night, the glacier shimmered like sugar," that mix up the ceaseless action. As well, real facts about frostbite, the dangers of contemporary pirates, electromagnetic currents, and the importance of removing fecal matter from the North Pole, are injected naturally into the plot. The small, stylish books are consistent in tone and characterizations.

     There is a sense of immediacy to Zac's adventures as he questions his situations, thereby allowing the reader to puzzle out the mission alongside him. There is also plenty of humour, some of it being of the popular gross-out variety. The silliness of Zac's metal-undies-in-a-magnetized-room caper will appeal to young boys in particular. Zac, a cool-headed problem-solver, is committed to his job, but likes his normal life, too ("24 hours to save the world . . . and put out the trash"). He's 12, has an older brother, and wants to be a rockstar. He is a character young readers will like and look up to.

     The "Zac Power" books are more than just fun and slick. With their clear, formulaic layout, they also serve to introduce and familiarize readers with reading and literary patterns – the shape of chapters, plot momentum, methods of suspense, and foreshadowing. In Frozen Fear, special spy knockout tissues that were given mention at the start of the book render Zac unconscious at a pivotal moment later in the story. Hints and clues are dropped throughout the plots, and readers learn to pay attention as there is no detail in Zac's world that is arbitrary. The Zac books are not subtle, but they are very crafted.

     The books' plots are as follows:

     In Poison Island, Zac infiltrates Dr.Drastic's laboratory in order to stop the scientist's sinister experiments. There, the young spy saves his brother, outruns dart gun-wielding henchmen, endures quicksand, experiences the wonders of trampoline socks, and ultimately protects humankind from the evils of Solution X.

     Deep Waters finds Zac whisked away from a boring field trip and thrust into the nefarious world of deep sea espionage. He must navigate a moral dilemma, a nudist colony, a squid attack, and memory loss, and ultimately safeguard the top-secret status of his agency.

     Zac is lifted from his summer holidays via helicopter in Frozen Fear and then transplanted to the frozen north where he rides skidoos, engages in snowball-fire with his enemies, short circuits a power grid with his spit, explodes a fleet of robot seals and ultimately saves the world's oil supply.

     In Mind Games, Zac teaches himself to fly a mini fighter-jet using virtual reality glasses and then uses this new skill to propel into Bladesville, the gaming capital of the world where he ultimately foils a would-be brainwasher bent on transforming skilled games players into evil-minded hackers.

     The "Zac Power" books are not numbered and consequently can be read in any order. Although there are some cross-over mentions, there are no spoilers or confusions due to gaps in detail.

     As a creation intended to inspire reading in young boys, are the books effective? Online child reader reviews point to "yes." The "Zac Power" books offer a sanitized, hyper-paced version of James Bond for kids. There is even a nod to Bond in Deep Waters when Zac introduces himself as "Power. Zac Power." Fictional spy culture will never die with a character like Zac Power to inject life into it. He is so engaged with his world that readers can't help but be interested, too.

Highly Recommended.

Janet Grafton is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

 

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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