Confession: Even though he has been around for a long time and his books take up a lot of shelf space, even though I have heard him speak at a conference and was entertained, enthralled and excited by what he had to say about kids, books and reading, I have not read a book by Dan Gutman until now. His Baseball Card Series is a staple for me as a bookseller and librarian - a sports story with time travel and under 200 pages - sure to hook most reluctant (boy) readers. The same is true for Gutman's Million Dollar Series in which kids get the chance to make a basket, goal, shot, strike or putt and win a life-changing $1,000,000. And, of course, there are Gutman's various My Weird School Series which have inspired so many new readers to delve into chapter books while also having a good laugh. And now that I have finally read a book by him, I can enthusiastically and wholeheartedly say that Dan Gutman is a genius!
One more confession: I had the (elitist) perception that Dan Gutman's books were a little, um, basic, because they seem to rely heavily on silly humor. Which is why I didn't do much more than read the flap when MISSION UNSTOPPABLE came out in 2011. But, I was looking for a new audio book and MISSION UNSTOPPABLE was on sale so I decided it was time to give Gutman a try. And am I glad I did! After listening to only a few chapters, I went back to the beginning and got my almost 10-year-old son to listen along with me. After a few more chapters, I realized that we needed to own the book, too, and now we take it everywhere with us and have been known to read it out loud to each other over frozen yogurts. It's just that good! And, yes, there is some silly humor, but it's actually kind of sophisticated and there is also some perfectly placed potty humor in MISSION UNSTOPPABLE.
There are so many reason why I, as a parent and kid's book enthusiast, love, love, love The Genius Files series. The first of which is the narrator, who inserts her/his voice into the story early on to explain the origin of the names of the main characters, Coke and Pepsi McDonald, boy and girl twins who will to turn thirteen on June 25th. Near the end of the explanation, the narrator says, "It could have been worse. The McDonalds could have named the twins Mountain Dew and Sprite. A few years back there was a New Jersey couple who named their son Adolf Hitler. Go ahead and look it up if you don't believe me." My son and I looked it up and were very surprised to learn that there was, in fact, a couple who named their son Adolf Hitler . . . This is the first of many moments in The Genius Files that will have you running to look something up.
In addition to the oddities that the narrator throws out from time to time, there is a crucial plot point of The Genius Files that is totally awesome and made even more so by having the internet as a resource: The McDonald family has rented an RV and is driving across the country, from Point Reyes, CA to Washington D.C. Mrs. McDonald, the "founder and only employee of Amazing but True, a web-based magazine devoted to odd facts and (some would argue) useless information" has a long itinerary of visits to odd places like the Pez Museum, the Yo-Yo Museum and the World's Largest Ball of Twine, among other curiosities. Along the way, the narrator, besides admonishing readers to pull out their parent's old Rand McNally Road Atlas, gives readers tips on how to find information online about these points and places with special sidebars that give very specific directions on how to use Google Maps to follow the McDonalds on their cross-country trip. Just in case readers can't get online, there are photographs and the occasional map as well!
And that, truly is just the HALF of this fantastic plot of The Genius Files series. Two almost-thirteen-year-olds traveling cross-country in an RV over summer vacation is more than enough plot for a book but Gutman layers in the storyline that gives the series its name. Coke and Pepsi, who goes by Pep, have a very eventful final days of school that include being chased by men in bowler hats (henceforth known as "bowler dudes") with dart guns driving golf carts, wingsuits, detention, fires and secret hideouts. By the time they leave on their trip the twins learn who Dr. Warsaw is, what The Genius Files are, how they were recruited into this highly secretive organization, what they have to do to stay in (or out, which really isn't an option) and that someone is trying to kill them. They are told that they have to help stop a terrorist attack at the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas. As they make their way across the country their lives are endangered again and again and they are also receiving messages using various codes and ciphers instructing them to be at the House on the Rock in WI. Who is sending them these messages? Can they make it to the House on the Rock in time or will their mother want to stop at more weird places? Are the bowler hat guys still after them? And what are they supposed to do once they get to the World's Largest Ball of Twine??
My son and I haven't read the whole series yet, but there is a teaser chapter at the end of MISSION UNSTOPPABLE and I can tell you that book 2, Never Say Genius, begins on June 25th, the twins's birthday. I know that there is a 5th (and final?) book in the works and I suspect that Gutman will warp up the series with the end of summer and the start of school. Yet another exciting thing about The Genius Files series - an adventure that takes place over two months and five books!
The Genius Files:
Dan Gutman's Baseball Card Series:
The Million Dollar Series:
Source: Purchased book and audio book