October 6, 2012

Capture the Flag

First, a brief summary from the promotional material: "Anna, José, and Henry are complete strangers with more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington DC airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger…news stations everywhere have announced that the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in, too, recruits Henry and José to help catch the thieves and bring them to justice.

But when accusations start flying, the kids soon realize there’s more than a national treasure at stake. And with unexpected enemies lurking at every corner, do Anna, José, and Henry have what it takes to solve the heist?"
I've heard some great things about Kate Messner, so I'm disappointed that this is my first exposure to her work.  Of course, if I had read and loved Over and Under the Snow or Marty McGuire and liked them, which by all accounts I will, I may have been more disappointed.
My main problem with this book is that it just doesn't fit. It's the length and reading level complexity of books like the On the Run series, the 39 Clues series, or The Gollywhopper Games but the thin characters and hand-holding through the pretty obvious plot make it seem more like an A to Z Mystery.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it just seems overlong for that audience.
The idea is a good one.  Kids trying to solve the mystery of a stolen American artifact a la National Treasure is a good one and a fun way to introduce some American history into something other than historical fiction.
For me, though, the execution just didn't live up to the idea.  When you have a character ask on page sixty (beginning of chapter seven), "You know where I think we should start?" that's a clue that things are dragging.
Now I have read some positive reviews and have read this would be a good read aloud for 3rd or 4th graders.  It is certainly true that using this as a springboard for discussions of American history would be way better than just using a social studies textbook.  But then, almost anything would be, no?
I might be wrong:
Jen Robinson's Book Page
A Year of Reading