The Secret Code Menace by Pamela Cosman

The secret code menaceRansom Publishing, UK, 2016

During summer vacation Sara, Daniel, and Jared came up with an awesome secret code. They think it’s the perfect thing to keep parental units, teachers, and annoying little sisters in the dark. The first real test of the new code comes on the first day of school when a harmless message gets changed in transit and puts Sara in some serious hot water at school. Despite that, they don’t give up on the code. Instead the brother, sister, and cousin team get busy finding ways to protect their code from errors that others could introduce. And it’s a good thing they do, because when the local bank is robbed in the middle of Sara and Daniel’s field trip, their code may be the only thing that can get them out of a difficult and dangerous situation.

Pamela Cosman has written a ripping adventure starring a group of ordinary middle school kids. The characters are appealing and real. The stakes are high. And the kids save the day. It’s an engaging story with STEM concepts worked in. The secret code involved is a binary code and useful for learning how computers pass information. The Secret Code Menace takes readers along for a fun ride while clearly showing how engineers solve problems with corrupted information in DVDs, cell phones, and other types of communication so that users may not even notice a problem.

A section at the end of the book gives even more information for kids who are interested in learning about error correction coding in more detail. It also offers solutions to the unsolved puzzles in the story.

Pamela Cosman is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of California, San Diego. In The Secret Code Menace she uses her considerable knowledge and teaching skills to make engineering concepts clear and fun for upper elementary and middle school readers.

This is the start of a great new series for kids. It will appeal to readers who simply want a good story and also to kids who are fascinated by secret codes and STEM concepts. This is a must-add for classrooms, school libraries, and fun summer reading.

A Summer Reading List? It’s a Family Tradition!

When I was a child my grandmother came to visit for two weeks out of each summer. She didn’t bring a reading list, exactly. Instead, she came with one suitcase full of clothes and one suitcase full of books. That second suitcase was her reading for two weeks, almost. She often finished her books early and chose other books to read from our shelves.

I’m no match for my grandmother, but I usually read loads of books on vacation, too. Not this year. This year I visited with friends, played games, walked the beach, and lazed around. That was great, but I’m glad I still have 2 months before school starts to catch up on my reading.

I’ve got a Kindle, the modern version of Grandma’s suitcase, but as you can see I still read physical books, too. Here are some of the middle grade and young adult books I’ve got in store:

HolesKindle to Read Page July 2015

I’ll supplement these with more galleys and trips to the library as the summer goes on.

What’s on your summer reading list?

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsDelacorte Press, 2014.

Four friends, three of them cousins, one a poor city mouse, meet each summer on a private island. They are called the Liars. They name each summer with their age. Together they explore privilege,  their friendship, forbidden love, and the mythology and reality of being a Sinclair.

Summer 15 something big happened, if only Cady could remember what. I can’t tell you any more without spoiling the book. But I can say, I usually steer away from books about these sorts of privileged kids. They turn me off. This one didn’t.

We Were Liars kept me up late reading. The suspense and clues seemed perfectly balanced. I was engaged in wanting to know what happened. I received enough information to avoid being frustrated but not so much information that I guessed the end far in advance.

I got We Were Liars from the local library because I remembered how much buzz it had generated and how many agents have been using it as an exemplar of what they’re looking for. I’m glad I read it. Read it yourself. I think you will be glad you did.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

night gardener the     Amulet Books, May 20, 2014.

In a stolen fish cart, out of food and out of money, Molly and Kip journey toward a job they hope will save them, but the closer they get to their destination, the more vehemently the strangers they meet warn them to turn back. Unfortunately, in their desperation the children find no alternative. Soon they’re enmeshed in a nightmare world where in daytime one’s greatest wishes might just be granted, but the nights, oh, the nights are a different matter altogether.

In his dark and ominous novel, Jonathan Auxier lures readers into a Grimm’s fairy tale world. Fate holds a strong hand here, landing blow after blow on the protagonists. And they find that pursuing selfish dreams will bring nothing but trouble of the very worst kind. Fate placed the characters into this situation but it will take courage, selflessness, and ingenuity for these siblings to get themselves, and the others, out alive.

A creepy and engaging read, The Night Gardener is a compelling tale. Readers will admire Molly and Kip for their courage, ingenuity, and loyalty to each other. The fairy tale feel holds throughout the book, and the creepiness is intriguing rather than nightmare inducing. A great middle grade read.