Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dusty Bookshelf Challenge 2012: Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers of the School by Andrew Clements

Book 1: We the Children (978-1-4169-3886-6)
Book 2: Fear Itself (978-1-4169-3887-3)
Book 3: The Whites of Their Eyes (978-1-4169-3888-0)
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010-2012
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from personal copies. 

Book 1:
Benjamin Pratt’s school is about to become the site of a new amusement park. It sounds like a dream come true! But lately, Ben has been wonder if he’s going to like an amusement park in the middle of his town—with all the buses and traffic and eight dollar slices of pizza. It’s going to change everything. And, Ben is not so big on all the new changes in his life, like how his dad has moved out and started living in the marina on what used to be the "family” sailboat. Maybe it would be nice if the school just stayed as it is. He likes the school. Loves it, actually. It’s over 200 years old and sits right on the harbor. The playground has ocean breezes and the classrooms have million dollar views…MILLION DOLLAR views. And after a chance—and final—run-in with the school janitor, Ben starts to discover that these MILLION DOLLAR views have a lot to do with the deal to sell the school property. But, as much as the town wants to believe it, the school does not belong to the local government. It belongs to the CHILDREN and these children have the right to defend it! Don’t think Ben, his friend Jill (and the tag-along Robert) can ruin a multimillion dollar real estate deal? Then you don’t know the history and the power of the Keepers of the School. A suspenseful six book series, book one, We the Children, starts the battle on land and on sea. It’s a race to keep the school from turning into a ticket booth and these kids are about to discover just how threatening a little knowledge can be.
 Book 2:
Time is ticking as the countdown to Ben Pratt’s school’s total demolition continues. Ben has been given a handful of clues that could help them save the school, but they are all written in maritime riddles. “After five bells sound, time to sit down.” What the heck does that mean? It’s hard to know where to begin when Ben and Jill don’t even know what they are looking for. All Lyman, the snake posing as the school janitor, needs to know, though, is that they are looking, and that could mean the end of the 30-million-dollar development deal that pays his salary. (Which, by the way, is MUCH larger than what a typical janitor makes.) As Lyman lurks in the shadows—and sometimes not in the shadows—Ben and Jill have to add another to-do to their list of things to accomplish in the next twenty-one days: (1) Figure out the clues left by past Keepers of the School groups, (2) figure out how these clues will help them save the school, and (3) stay one step ahead of Lyman. That’s the mission…which seems, at times, impossible. The second book in this riveting and mysterious six-book series is as action-packed as the first one, culminating in a faceoff between Ben, Jill, and Lyman. “After five bells sound, time to sit down” makes for a good riddle, but Ben and Jill also knows when it’s time to stand up…for Oakes School and for themselves.
Book 3:
This could be the last great Memorial Day weekend on Barclay Bay, and Ben knows it. This time next year, he might not be able to stand in the yard of the Oakes School and watch the harbor shake off winter—boats buzzing just beyond the bulkhead and families spreading picnics in the fields. If the school gets torn down and replaced by an amusement park, the town will never be the same. But that’s only if the school gets torn down. Ben and Jill are determined to keep that from happening. And the evil janitor Lyman has taken note. He’s following their every move—and undoing their progress along the way. Good thing Ben and Jill have a secret weapon. (Who knew that annoying Robert Gerritt would be such a spy wiz?) But Lyman has a secret weapon as well: a vicious guard dog. These kids are smart, but can they outsmart Lyman—and his beast—as the clock tick, tick, ticks toward total demolition?
I found this series quite intriguing.  I've always loved books that revolve around puzzles and mysteries. This book is full of both.  Ben and Jill are quite likable protagonists.  Lyman makes a good villain, just creepy enough to add tension to the story.  He is unfortunately rather one dimensional, no really grey areas, just black. And I did have to wonder how the adults could be so clueless about what was going on, but as a teacher librarian, I realize that I don't know everything that goes on in the library or in the school.

In terms of plot, the story moved along nicely as Ben and Jill struggled to figure out the clues they had been given.  The clues are intended to lead the children to resources that will aid them in fighting the demolition of the school.  It was interesting to follow the thoughts and actions of Ben and Jill as they worked through each puzzle and tried to keep ahead of Lyman, no easy task.  I didn't find the story completely believable however for several reasons. One, the demolition crew would not actually be allowed to start preparing for demolition until the children were gone for the summer, it would not be safe.  Also, would items hidden a couple of hundred years ago really stay hidden for that long? I doubt it.

My favorite part of this series is the setting.  The author does a superb job creating a school with character and a fascinating history.  The woodwork sounds gorgeous. And the idea of secret hiding places in the school is a fun idea to contemplate.  What a great place to play hide and seek. :)  But once again there is the issue of the building clearly being a historical treasure.  I'm not sure the school district would sell a place of such historical significance.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this series, there were just a few things I had to overlook.  I'm not sure children would even notice those things however so it makes a fun read for students who like school adventure stories.

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