Monday, March 14, 2016

#Cybils 2015 Finatist Reviw: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, illustrated by Sarah Watts

Emily Crane, 12, lives an unusual life.  Every year, her family moves to a different state.  Her parents are writing about their dream to lives in every state in a blog called 50 Homes in 50 States.  Life is a somewhat lonely affair for Emily, who has learned to not make friends only to have to say good-bye after a year.  To keep herself anchored, and because she is a reader and book lover, Emily plays Book Scavenger, a game developed by Garrison Griswold, publisher and fellow book lover.  It's a book trading game where players must solve coded clues to find the book they are seeking.

 The Crane's arrive at their newest address in San Francisco on Friday, and right off the bat she meets neighbor James Lee, also 12, a Chinese American boy whose family has lived in the same place for generations.  James is a code/puzzle/cipher lover, who doesn't play Book Scavenger and has a cowlick named Steve.  And he is the one to break to news to her that Garrison Griswold had been shot in a robbery attempt.

Worried about the future of Book Scavenger, Emily, Matthew, and James head to the Ferry Building on Saturday, to find the latest book Emily has been playing for.  On the way, they stop at the BART station where Griswold was shot, and discover a hidden copy of The Gold Bug by Edgar Allen Poe.  Reading it back home, Emily is annoyed that there are so many typos, but then begins to think The Gold Bug is part of the new game Griswold was about to announce.

Emily becomes obsessed with trying to figure out the game, while the two men who mugged and shot Griswold are desperately looking the the copy of The Gold Bug that Emily found.  What follows is lots of excitement, lots of information about puzzles and ciphers, and so many turns and twist it makes San Francisco's famous Lombard Street look like a straight road.  And during all this, Emily learns a few important lessons on what it means to be a best friend.

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman has written a novel that is a fun, fast-paced adventure/mystery to read.  Emily, James and Matthew are all likable characters, well-developed and realistic, though the other characters feel more plot devices that anything else.  Emily's feelings of  loneliness and her desire to have a real friend, especially now that Matthew has discovered music and a group called Flush and has no time for her, can really be strongly felt, the more so after she and James have a falling out.  Being a real friend is a give and take and Emily needs to find that out and Bertman explores this nicely.

Book Scavenger is a great book for introducing problem solving to kids.  There are so many different kinds of codes, puzzles and ciphers that kids can easily learn to do.  And in fact, there are actually enough clues given to figure out the solution the unofficial Book Scavenger hunt for the grand prize, so kids can have some additional fun, all they need is a good tourist map of San Francisco.  There is also the rather weak mystery of who wants the particular copy of The Gold Bug, since clearly the two ding-dongs who attacked Mr. Griswold aren't the interested parties.

James and Emily have a Social Studies teacher who is also into codes/puzzles/ciphers and I expected a lot from a character named Mr. Quisling.  Quisling is a World War II name given to Norwegians who corroborated with the Nazis while they were occupying Norway.  It's only with a long stretch of the imagination that I could see him corroborated with the people involved in Mr. Griswold's attack, but I didn't feel Bertman really tied up that loose end.

I went out to San Francisco not that long ago to visit my Kiddos, and do some sightseeing, so many of the landmarks and streets included in this novel were still fresh in my mind as I read it.  And besides Edgar Allen Poe, Bertman has cleverly worked in the names of a bunch of other writers that young readers may not know about, but might be curious to discover, such as Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon, Jack Kerouac, Amy Tan and Allen Ginsberg.  Even the game levels are named for famous detectives - Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes.

Be sure to read the Author's Note for information on many of the factual elements she included in Book Scavenger.

The 11-year-old reader that I once was would have loved this boo (so does the adult I am now).

You can become a book scavenger, too, with these fun book-related activities HERE 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. I’m pretty sure my eleven-year old self and my now much older self will love this! Thank you for the introduction. How are you keeping? I’ve not been over as often lately mostly because I’ve retired and have even less time than before!

  2. I loved this book too! I wrote a book list around it: Willy Wonka-Like Chapter Books


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