Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Spy-Catcher Gang Caught Me: DK's Graphic Reader Series

In a family of readers, it's not uncommon to find that the good book you left on an end table is suddenly missing, abducted by another interested reader.

DK publishing sent us a copy of The Spy-Catcher Gang, one of their Graphic Readers Series. This intriguing mystery offers an adolescent's view of London during the Blitz.

The graphic novel format reminds me of the deliciously pulpy Great Illustrated Classics that my brother and I shared. I always felt like I was getting away with something to discover the characters and plots of great fiction comic book style. Those pulpy little paperbacks whet my appetite for great stories, and historical fiction like DK's Graphic Readers offers the same potential for lifelong interest in history to a new generation.

The Spy-Catcher Gang not only includes historical facts relating to the plot but also uses lots of British slang (though nothing particularly tawdry) explained in an end glossary.

Driven by a mystery, the story was good reading even for an adult. I was definitely compelled to discover the resolution. The book does not gloss over the destruction of the Blitz. Not only does it give statistics on the loss of lives and complete destruction of homes and other buildings, it goes so far as to mention the deaths of classmates as a result of the bombing. Serious stuff for young readers, but emotionally compelling and more humanizing than history textbooks.

The deaths in the book actually made me wonder if my friend's son was too young in third grade for the emotional content, so I showed the book to my mom for a professional opinion on age appropriateness. She thought I should wait at least a year, maybe even two, before sharing it with him. In the meantime, she offered to keep the book in her fifth-grade classroom.

The Spy-Catcher Gang will make its classroom debut in preparation for a Veteran's Day presentation by a very charming couple, two WWII veterans a former Navy captain of an Escort Destroyer and a Women's Army Corp veteran who served in Britain during the Blitz. The book offers great context for the WAC veteran's stories of visiting London.

If all of DK's Graphic Readers offer well-researched historical settings for their fiction stories, I think they've got a great formula for engaging students with the past.

Publisher's recommended prices: paperback, $3.99 and hardcover, $14.99.

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