I tend to read the same kind of book over and over. Although I’ll read a variety of genres, I don’t stray far from YA literature these days. There are just so many good books that are marketed towards young adults, but which in my heart I feel are really aimed towards 26-year-old women like myself. Perhaps if they ever stop making such fantastic YA books, I’ll move on to adulthood and suffer through things like Jane Austen or Dostoyevsky. Until then, I’ll stick with what I know I love. That being said, there are two major exceptions—Steve Berry and James Rollins. They write thrillers steeped in history and I read them whenever I need a break from my normal routine. After finishing Hide and Seek by Kate Messner, I’ve got a feeling that the children who read and love this will grow up to love Steve Berry and James Rollins (and hopefully some YA, too). This novel has the same feel as one of their thrillers, but it is targeted at a much younger audience.
Hide and Seek (published 2013) starts off the way Steve Berry and James Rollins often start their stories—with a scene set in the past that will give us context for later events. A young girl in Costa Rica is charged by her grandmother to go hide a sacred cup, before invaders arrive and take it. She hides the cup, and it remains hidden for 500 years. After this first chapter, we are introduced to Jose, Anne, and Henry, who are junior members of a secret society known as the Silver Jaguar Society. It is up to the Silver Jaguar Society to protect the world’s most valuable historical artifacts. Archaeologists in Costa Rica have found the “jaguar cup,” which is the cup the little girl hid, and we find the children with their parents going to visit it in the museum. The adults realize that the jaguar cup on display is a fake, and so they take a trip to Costa Rica to find the missing object. While the adults are searching for any clues, they have left their children with a friend at a rainforest resort. As you can probably guess, the kids take it upon themselves to find the cup and help save one of the world’s most important artifacts. This fast-paced adventure takes the reader through the rainforests of Costa Rica as these three children try to save the day.
This book is a great thriller for readers in upper elementary and middle school. There are all the things that I think both boys and girls would love to read about—action, villains, a tiny bit of romance, and a beautiful setting. The author did a lot of research down in Costa Rica before she wrote the book, so there is an authentic feeling to the setting that I think will help transport students to that place. I also think that children will appreciate that the heroes in this story are three kids their own age. I remember when I was that age, I loved to read about kids like me who did amazing things. It always gave me hope that one day, I too would be able to save the world from disaster, recover stolen objects, or break a curse. I strongly feel that this book is a precursor to the thrillers that a lot of adults enjoy these days, and so I think giving students this book, and books like this, will help prepare them for the day when they unfortunately venture into adulthood and read those kinds of books.
This review is primarily about Hide and Seek, but I have to stop and talk about Kate Messner. I know that I talk a lot about how much I love certain authors, but if you are a teacher, you have no choice but to love her. You literally do not have a choice. Kate Messner is a former middle-school teacher, and so she understands how important it is to have good literature for students. Her Marty Maguire series (illustrated by our newest Caldecott winner Brian Floca), is a fantastic read for middle-grade girls that gives them a model of someone who does not follow typical gender stereotypes (Marty is a bit of a tomboy.) She has also written the beautiful picturebook Over and Under the Snow. Everything that I have read of hers has seemed like an engaging, good-fit book for the intended age audience.
Another wonderful thing about Kate Messner is that she has a great website she regularly updates. On her website, she has the normal things that author websites have like their books and appears, but she also has a blog and a section for kids. Her Q and A section is perfect—I especially like how she talks about having her writer’s notebook and using it to get ideas anywhere! There is a separate section for people aspiring to be children’s book writers, but I think it can be applicable to our own students. Many authors have websites that just give you basic information about them. Kate Messner’s website is useful for both young writers, older writers, and teachers. Here is a video of her talking about revision that I showed to my students. It is but a sampling of the wonderful things she has to offer!
Overall, if you are looking for an engaging read for your upper elementary or middle school students, Hide and Seek is a great place to start. If you are searching for an author who you can use to supplement your teaching, head over to Kate Messner’s website!