If you are still wondering what to buy for the hard-to-interest eight-to-twelve-year-old boy on your list, Robert West's series The Star-Fighters of Murphy Street might be worth checking out. Attack of the Spider-Bots, the second book in the series, is a fun, fast-paced blend of science fiction, tree house adventure, and modern-day mystery.
When neighborhood friends, Priscilla, Benson and Garfunkel (better known as Scilla, Beamer, and Ghoulie, respectively), climb into their tree house, sometimes they just repair, fix, and paint. Other times, however, they jump through space and time to entirely different planets and solar systems. On these inter-galactic adventures, they are grown up and each hold special positions on their tree house (which has morphed into a spaceship).
In Attack of the Spider-Bots, Beamer, Scilla and Ghoulie happen upon an old, abandoned mansion. The mansion houses a myriad of robotic inventions, including a half-size train set and is guarded by giant robotic spiders and a formidable housekeeper, the children somehow weasel their in to speak to the owner. When they meet Solomon Parker (Sol), they uncover pieces of a puzzle. In order to solve the mystery, they will need the help of a homeless boy, the trust of Solomon Parker, and the support of understanding parents.
The mystery wraps up at Christmas, with plenty of happy endings to go around.
What I Like: I like the characters. They are quirky, authentic middle-schoolers, with a diverse range of backgrounds and interests.
I also like the clear messages about trusting God woven into the end of the book. The children learn from Mr. Parker's mistakes, and Beamer learns to appreciate the way his family prays together.
West's creative inventions and penchant for writing Star Trek-like space scenes will appeal scientifically-minded boys (and girls) and the mystery surrounding the mansion will keep readers interested until the end of the book.
What I Dislike: The space scenes were confusing to me, but I think if I had read the first book, they would have made more sense. In the space scenes, West refers to the characters by their last names. I wish I had discovered the character guide hidden in the back of the book when I first started reading. . . it would have cleared up a lot of confusion.
Some aspects of the plot seemed to be left as loose ends. The fate of the homeless boy and some of the space adventures weren't explained as well as I would have liked.
Overall Rating: Good
Age Appeal: 8-12
Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2009; ISBN: 978-0-310-71426-2; Paperback, 121 pages, $6.99
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