Read - Want to Read: Unplugged by Gordon Korman (Balzer & Bray/Harperteen)
From New York Times bestselling author Gordon Korman comes a hilarious middle grade novel about a group of kids forced to "unplug" at a wellness camp--where they instead find intrigue, adventure, and a whole lot of chaos. Perfect for fans of Korman's The Unteachables and Masterminds series, as well as Carl Hiaasen's eco mysteries.
As the son of the world's most famous tech billionaire, spoiled Jett Baranov has always gotten what he wanted. So when his father's private jet drops him in the middle of a place called the Oasis, Jett can't believe it. He's forced to hand over his cell phone, eat grainy veggie patties, and participate in wholesome activities with the other kids whom he has absolutely no interest in hanging out with.
As the weeks go on, Jett starts to get used to the unplugged life and even bonds with the other kids over their discovery of a baby-lizard-turned-pet, Needles. But he can't help noticing that the adults at the Oasis are acting really strange. Could it be all those suspicious "meditation" sessions?
Jett is determined to get to the bottom of things, but can he convince the other kids that he is no longer just a spoiled brat making trouble?
📖 28% done reading The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

Another school-centric story. And again with alternating chapters from the different perspectives of the characters. It’s certainly a good way to breed empathy for the characters and also not a bad way to get the readers to identify with one or more of them along the way.

Book cover of The Unteachables by Gordon Korman featuring a cartoon image of a middle school desk and a trash can on fire

★★★★☆ Brief review of Ungifted by Gordon Korman

I think Amazon had a review that said if you’re a fan of Louis Sachar, you’ll love this book by Gordon Korman. I think that Korman has been writing great stuff for so long that it’s really more appropriate to say that if you love Gordon Korman, you’ll probably like a lot of Louis Sachar.

Like all Korman’s books, this one has a lot of heart. It wasn’t quite as laugh out loud funny as some of his other efforts, but it’s definitely got some great humor.

Typically I don’t like narratives that are told from multiple viewpoints, but Korman manages to pull it off incredibly well by starting each chapter with a title that uses an “Un-word” followed by the narrator and their IQ score. As a result we also get a much more nuanced picture of all of the characters which are incredibly well done.

As one of the “smart” kids growing up, I wish this book had been around to have read then, but it’s still great now and everyone is sure to appreciate it. While the protagonist is a boy, I really appreciated that there was lots of great female representation here.

📖 Read pages 205-274 and finished Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman

📖 Read pages 205-274 and finished Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman

Pretty damn awesome! What a fun little read. Not as hilarious as No Coins, Please! but also some somewhat older and more sophisticated characters. There’s something that I love about not only just the “little guy” pulling one over on “the man” but it’s seemingly more fun when the “little guy” is a kid. These two books and the movie Kidco ( Twentieth Century Fox, 1984) create sort of a mini genre in which I wish there was more material.

Library copy of the cover of Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman

Juvenile fiction recommendations for Kim Hansen

Replied to a tweet by Kim HansenKim Hansen (Twitter)
Coincidentally I’ve lately been re-reading a lot of Gordon Korman (and reading books I missed in my youth). What is interesting is that in his 80’s opus a lot of more modern technology is just not there, which makes it much more subtle from a plot perspective. It’s not as if he’s got references to dead technology like fax machines that really takes you out of the flow of the story. Of course in a modern setting a lot of the kids in his books would probably be Pavlovianly-glued to screens, but I don’t think it’s a horrible thing to expose children to things they might otherwise be doing without a cell phone in hand.

There are only a few places where there are now seeming plot holes where a cell phone would have made all the difference (example: Artie Geller going missing in No Coins, Please!), but they’re generally so well told and so funny that I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief.

In A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag where energy technology figures relatively prominently, it still reads really well, particularly because we’ve still got those types of technology problems. Even the computer teacher quitting when the computers crash and don’t save work because of power issues at school reads well in a modern context. Of course, this book is set on Long Island, so it might not have the Canadian “representation” that you’re looking to recommend to them.

I’ve only made my way through a couple of the Macdonald Hall series, but those are just good clean prankster fun, so modern technology doesn’t seem to have factored in for me. While most of Korman’s work (at least that I’ve read thus far) is very male-centered, these particular books have some good female representation and depict the girls at the school across the street as very modern and on a generally equal footing with boys, particularly with the antiquated, dotty, old-school head mistress as a foil. On this front, I’d give Korman very high marks in comparison with other relatively recent juvenile literature classics like Beverly Cleary who even through the 70’s was having main characters like Henry regularly say overtly sexist things like “Beezus is pretty smart–for a girl.”

The tough part of more modern juvenile literature is that a lot of it has gone much further upstream and spread out considerably compared to what we had available in our youths. There’s a huge swath of YA work that has filled in but which borders more on soft-core Danielle Steele a la the Twilight Series. Almost all of these are also written as parts of longer series of 3, 4, 7, or more books too, which can be annoying because the plot is often strung out in choppy ways. If they’re a bit older and in high school, perhaps John Green’s work may be appropriate?

If they haven’t come across them, I always like to recommend Holes by Louis Sachar; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg; Lois Lowry’s The Giver (et al.) which I’ve been re-reading lately too; and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. All of these are generally great timeless literature, and I often recommend them to adults who may have missed them.

I’m also a fan of the more recent Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart which has some of the rollicking fun of Korman with some interesting twists, plotting, and has some well-rounded representation of characters.

A while back I read the first in a series of steampunk/pirate books called A Riddle in Ruby by Kent Davis which had a lot of interesting science, alchemy, science fiction, and adventure. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, it was pretty well done, entertaining, and may appeal to them.

Also similar to Korman, but even older to the point that they read as period literature, they might find The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald or The Mad Scientists’ Club by Bertrand R. Brinley highly engaging.  Sadly, while entertaining and with a lot of heart and cultural intelligence, they don’t have much, if any, female representation, primarily as a function of their authors and when they were written.