Saturday, August 30, 2008

Alien Hunter Daniel X Takes on the Reluctant Reader

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you're taking the time to read this blog, chances are you're a reader. Maybe you're a sporadic reader, maybe you're a card-carrying bookworm, or maybe you're a completely neurotic, book-obsessed blogger. Whatever your level of bookishness, you're someone who loves books. Have you ever thought about how this love affair started? What made you a reader? Chances are good that there is someone in your life who just doesn't get the book thing. What makes that person so reluctant to pick up a book? Have you ever wondered?

Okay, maybe you've never pondered these questions, but bestselling novelist James Patterson certainly has. He's especially concerned about why young boys, like his 10-year-old son, shy away from reading. The answer? According to the Young Adult Library Services Association, the top reason boys shun the hobby is because they think it's boring. So, what's the solution? How do we stop this trend? According to Patterson, it's simple: authors need to create stories boys can get into. With that goal in mind, he penned a "vaccine for the 'boys don't like reading' epidemic" (quote from promotional materials) called The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.

In order to snag his intended audience, Patterson had to reel young boys in with what they really want - fast-paced, non-stop, over-the-top, thrilling action. He also had to offer up a hero who is cool enough to merit attention, but flawed enough to seem real. Did he succeed? In a word, yes. This is a book that will hook boys, young and old. Girls should like it, too, given that it features several cool female characters.

The story goes something like this: When his parents die at the hands of a homicidal maniac called The Prayer, Daniel vows to get his revenge. But, The Prayer is no ordinary villain - he is, in fact, an evil alien thirsty for human blood. Of course, Daniel is no ordinary kid. Born with special powers, he can read people's thoughts, make things happen with his mind, and transform himself into all kinds of animals. This makes him uniquely qualified to be an Alien Hunter. Armed with The List, which identifies alien outlaws, Daniel tracks them down one by one, always searching for the creature he really wants - The Prayer.

In The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, our hero is after a particularly nasty piece of alien scum. Ergent Seth, Number 6 on the list, wants nothing more than to eradicate all life from Earth and replace it with his buddies from outer space. Hunting Seth down isn't exactly easy, even for a teenager with the coolest powers around. Daniel takes on the task anyway, knowing it could cost him his life. His journey will take him to the mean streets of L.A. and way, way beyond. It's a trip that will test him, amaze him, and bring him closer to the answers he seeks - not about his arch enemy, but about himself and his family.

The writing is trademark James Patterson - he keeps the chapters short, fast and exciting. Action pumps through the novel, keeping suspense and adrenaline high. Patterson never dwells too much on characterization, and this book is no different. Still, Daniel comes off as sympathetic, likeable and very human (well, kinda). Kids will root for him as he takes out alien after alien, not caring that the extraterrestrials are all pretty much interchangeable. Patterson won't score a lot of points for originality with this one (although I really like the elephants), but I'm guessing readers won't care too much. They'll be too busy flinging Wii remotes aside, so they can fill their hands - and imaginations - with a real, honest-to-goodness book. Of course, this is the 21st Century, when every kid's book comes tied to a website, so check this one out. Kids can watch a video game-style trailer, create their own aliens, and follow along as Daniel X steps out of the pages and onto the big screen.

If you've got a reluctant reader, especially one of the male persuasion, give The Dangerous Days of Daniel X a whirl. It just might be enough to convince him that reading's not the most boring hobby on the planet.

Grade: B

Note: For more reviews of The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, check out MotherTalk.com.

9 comments:

  1. I will go pick it up this week for my 10 year old boy. He is an avid reader and loves those types of books.

    I heard once that boys tend to read less because teacher and librarians tend to be female and their picks tend to be (unintentionally) female oriented (like fiction). Boys usually prefer nonfiction and sci-fi and action.

    I don't know if that is true, but I have tried to make sure I read and supply "girly" and "boyish" books to my kids. I have noticed that the good teachers do the same in their classroom. My 10 year old has a male teacher this year and I'm interested to see if I see a difference in the books he chooses to read to the class.

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  2. Hi, looks good thanks. I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks (which has a special focus on teeth!) They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days: http://www.storyboxbooks.com/potatoprinting.php, http://www.adventureboxbooks.com/macaroni-picture-frames.php, http://www.discoveryboxbooks.com/skittles.php Enjoy!

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  3. Charlotte - I'm sure you're right about the female librarian/teacher thing. I'll be interested to hear if having a male teacher makes a difference.

    My 9yo definitely prefers non-fiction. He loves anything about animals, vehicles, science, etc. Even his fiction is barely that - he loves The Magic School Bus, the Akimbo books and such. Yesterday, he did read (and LOVE) Skinnybones by Barbara Park.

    Book - Thanks for all the links. I'll have to check them out.

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  4. This sounds like a fun and entertaining read. I will have get myself a copy to read and see if it is something my nephew would be interested in. He doesn't enjoy reading as much as I thought he would.

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  5. Hi,

    I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com and my Books for Boys blog is at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com I also have a short story in a new book called LAY UPS and LONG SHOTS, published by Darby Creek Publishing. I'm also featured in an article in the 2009 edition of Children's Wrtier Guide.

    My other books are all ranked by Accelerated Reader

    Max Elliot Anderson

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  6. I used to love James Patterson, but I've noticed a decline in the quality of his writing in recent years. I've been a bit reluctant to read this book as a result, but your review has made me curious. I might actually go ahead and read this one. Thanks for a great review!

    --Diary of an Eccentric

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  7. I have to be honest, Anna - I don't think James Patterson is the greatest writer on Earth. He generally chooses action over character development and solid writing. Still, he knows how to tell a story which will engage reluctant readers of all ages. Is Daniel X the best written book for boys? Uh, no, but I think it accomplishes its purpose - it gives young boys a story that will grab them and keep them reading. That's why I gave the book a high grade - not because of the quality of Patterson's writing.

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  8. Thanks for clearing that up, Susan. I never thought Patterson was a great writer, but I used to love his books when I needed some light reading. But the last few I read were (and I hate to say this) awful. :( But if the action is enough to get people to read, I think that's great. We need more readers in the world!

    --Diary of an Eccentric

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  9. I picked this book up for my son. I read it first (I had never read Patterson before so I wanted to make sure) and then handed it over. It was below his reading level, but he loved it! Now my 7 year old is reading it snd can't stop talking about it.

    I'm sure neither are getting the cultural references (Water for Elephants? Not what I would expect a teenage boy to be reading and DEFINITELY not my 10 year old), but they are really enjoying it. I picked up his other series for boys at the library and my 10 year old is devouring it now. Thanks for the tip.

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