Allison's Book Bag

Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Books #13 and #14

Posted on: December 10, 2011

“Before I get to my review of the Secret Agent Jack Stalwart books by Elizabeth Singer Hunt, here’s a three-word review from some of my students: “These are tight!” If you aren’t familiar with the lingo, “tight” is a compliment.

No, this isn’t another student review.  Sarah Burningham of Little Bird Publicity sent me books #13 and #14 of this popular series. After I read my two copies, I felt the books had a lot of appealing features but I also wasn’t sure whether to recommend them. And so I took them to their target audience: reluctant readers. Throughout my review, I will be sharing the perspectives of some of my students.

Let’s start with what’s “tight” about Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Hunt for the Yeti Skull and Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Mission to Find Max. While mystery books do exist for five-to-eight-year-olds, the Jack Stalwart books are the first series about a secret agent. And what kid doesn’t like a good secret agent story? Next, there are the covers. They’re bright, bold, and immediately attracted my students. Based on the cover alone, one student wanted to know where he could buy the books. Inside are several pages of information: a map showing the country where Jack will visit, information related to Jack’s destination and the stolen artifact, two pages from the Global Protection Force which Jack works for, descriptions of the agent gear available to Jack, and information about his family. Incidentally, his family knows nothing about Jack’s second life. And what kid doesn’t dream of a secret identity? Also, his brother used to work for the agency but throughout the series is missing in action. As for all the data, it made me sentimental for the popular 1980’s Carmen Sandiego computer games, where one plays the part of a detective who used geographical knowledge to capture criminals. Knowing that elementary-aged students often prefer nonfiction, I thought these informational pages would have great appeal—but perhaps that was the adult in me. While I studied the information, half my students just wanted to know where the first chapter began. The last “tight” feature about the Jack Stalwart series is that they are heavy in good action. While I wouldn’t rank action at the top of my favorite genres, I did grow up enjoying classics in the adventure genre. Moreover, I can easily site movie scenes that glued me to my seat while also looking incredibly fun. In other words, I appreciate well-crafted action! So do my students, who have reacted to these books with the same enthusiasm they normally reserve for sports. Any book that can turn my reluctant readers on to fiction wins my favor.

Now for what’s not so “tight” about Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Hunt for the Yeti Skull and Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Mission to Find Max. I’m starting to realize that I need to read a greater variety of primary books. Greater exposure might just negate my number one problem: The writing style is, oh, so simple. Here is a sample paragraph: “Jack looked towards the glass exit doors. As always, his dad was waiting for him. Jack said goodbye to Richard and walked over to his father.” Yet it’s exactly this low vocabulary that  kept my students drawn to the Jack Stalwart books. Incidentally, my students are too old for picture books, but they also aren’t ready to read the majority of chapter books that the rest of their peers are reading. Herein lies  my conundrum as a resource teacher. Jack Stalwart books to the rescue! Nothing that I’ve read about the author indicates she deliberately set out to write high interest low vocabulary books, but that is how I’d categorize these books. Now what does all this mean for me as a reader? I found the “information dumps” intrusive. Jack also seemed able to find the bad guys and the stolen treasures far too easily, given that my tastes in action books run the gamut from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series to Robert Louis Stevenson. Ultimately, the books for me were a fun one-time read.

However, if you’re looking for that perfect gift for young readers ready to move on from picture books (but are not quite ready for Harry Potter) the Secret Agent Jack Stalwart series is a great place to start. As for which book to begin with, each book in the series is standalone and so you could easily start with In Hunt for the Yeti Skull. In it, Jack and two fellow kid agents use climbing skills to tackle Mount Everest, while they look for a team of missing scientists who were carrying the first true Yeti skull. Who doesn’t wonder if this mysterious creature exists? You could also pick up any of the other twelve earlier books. A sample chapter for each of them is available on author Elizabeth Singer Hunt’s website. Then there’s Mission to Find Max, the last book in the series. As I noted above, Jack’s brother used to work for the agency but throughout the series is missing in action. In it, while renewing a search for his brother, Jack meets up with a girl agent and discovers King Tut’s diamond might be the clue to finding his brother. So, while I liked the Max book more than the Yeti one, I’d recommend keeping Max until the end; it sums up the series and will make a satisfying finish to an action-packed read.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Have a reluctant young reader on your holiday list? Post a comment to my review or interview to have a chance to win one of the final two Secret Agent Jack Stalwart books. You must live in the continental United States to enter. See the right column for more details.

2 Responses to "Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Books #13 and #14"

This is another of your students. I’d like to win a Jack Stalwart book too.

I want to read Secret agent Jack Stalwart:Hunt for the Yeti skull because the cover makes me want to read this book. I enjoy this kinds of books, because picture on the cover makes it look super awesome. Also when my teacher told me about this book it made hook in and read it!!!!!

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