Category Archives: Book Reviews

Be a Jedi Doodler and Superfolder!

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll probably get a kick out of the 75 activities offered in this book. I was a little concerned when I saw it was part of the “Origami Yoda Activity Book” series — after all, if you’re not especially talented (like me) at drawing and paper crafts, you don’t want to be taking directions from a creature who basically talks backwards.

But never fear: Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling — in a fun AND easy-to-understand way — gets you drawing, creating paper crafts, playing games and more, all within the Star Wars universe. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn how to draw Darth Vader’s helmet, make a Chewbacca puppet or talk like Yoda?

Check it out and buy it for less than 10 bucks HERE.



Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Miss“Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs is one of the best young adult books I’ve read in years, filled with inventive storytelling, unique characters and an epic mystery.

What makes it so unique? For starters, the author blends fantastical fiction and a real-life collection of scary photos, to tell a story unlike any you’ve ever read.

The story follows sixteen-year-old Jacob, who grew up listening to his grandfather’s bizarre nighttime stories about a mysterious orphanage. He’s always wondered if his grandfather’s scary stories were true, or just the ramblings of an old man? After Jacob’s grandfather passes away, he decides to hunt for the infamous orphanage, and find out the truth once and for all. But what Jacob discovers is unlike anything he imagined, a spooky fantasy world of odd monsters, time loops and constant danger around every corner.

If you love fantasy, horror or good old-fashioned mysteries, “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” is for you. If you are 13 or older, I highly recommend checking it out. If you are under 13, you should discuss the book with your parents before reading it. While the book offers valuable lessons on good and evil, and some very exciting and one-of-a-kind storytelling, it also features adult situations. Visit Common Sense Media for more information on the book’s content. (As always, I recommend checking Common Sense Media for any books, movies, games, websites or music that you may be unsure of.)

The paperback version is in stores now, featuring more peculiar photos and the first chapter of the forthcoming sequel to “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.” Take a look at the spooky book trailer below for more info on the book.

— Clay Swartz



Fold the Perfect Paper Airplane

I don’t know about you, but every time I make a paper airplane it won’t go more than about 10 feet. Often the plane just twirls and whirls straight into the ground.

That’s why I recruited the help of the Paper Airplane Guy, John M. Collins, to enlighten us all on how to build the perfect paper airplane.

Collins set the world record for Paper Airplane Distance in 2012, throwing a plane more than 200 feet through the air before landing. He’s been at it for years, and there is likely no better source for paper airplane excellence. So, without further ado, check out his video tutorial below.


51Wo2DBJVmL._SL500_SS500_If you’re interested in building and launching more paper airplanes, including the world record-breaking design, be sure to read The New World Champion Paper Airplane Book by John M. Collins.

The book features detailed step-by-step instructions on 24 awesome airplane models. Ten Speed Press, $16.99 softcover. All ages.





2012 Boys’ Life reading contest winners

Here are the winning essays from the 2012 Boys’ Life reading contest.


1st place: Pierce Robinson, Arlington, Tenn.

The best book I read this year was “A Brief Biography of Thomas Edison” by Frances M. Perry. In this book I learned that Thomas Edison started working when he was 12 years old. He sold candy and newspapers on the railroad. Then he started a printing press in a freight car on the train to make a newsletter about train life. After that, he started a small laboratory so he could experiment with different chemicals and explore his ideas. Edison spent most of his life inventing products that would change the world. Among his most famous inventions were the electric light bulb and the phonograph.

I liked learning about Thomas Edison because he was an inventor, and I plan to be an inventor someday. Just like Edison, I want to use my imagination to create useful things. As an inventor, I will continue to follow the Cub Scout Promise to do my best and to help others.

I enjoy being in my Cub Scout pack because we have the opportunity to build things like our pinewood derby cars, raingutter regatta boats and other projects. We also have lots of fun. I think Thomas Edison would have been a very good Scout!

2nd Place: Michael Boddy, Bellingham, Mass.

My favorite book that I read this year was “Stitch Head” by Guy Bass. It is the story of a crazy scientist named Dr. Erasmus who creates strange half-human monsters in Castle Grotteskew. Stitch Head is Dr. Erasmus’s first creation. He is cute and almost human, but because he is a monster, he stays inside the castle. Dr. Erasmus is excited about each new monster as he makes it, but once he finishes it, he loses interest. Dr. Erasmus moves on and starts making a new monster, which he hopes will be even better. Dr. Erasmus is never happy with what he has or with what he creates. He is always looking for a better monster. Stitch Head spends most of his time forgotten, trying to get attention. He is a smart and cute little guy, but he feels like he does not matter. Stitch Head spends a lot of time helping other monsters get used to Castle Grotteskew. He tries to get all the monsters to live together without hurting each other.

One day a traveling circus comes to the castle and promises to make Stitch Head famous. Because Stitch Head always feels like he is not important, he wants to go with the circus and become a star. This will be his chance to make everyone think he is important and to have his dream of being famous. But, before Stitch Head can go with the circus, Dr. Erasmus’ new monster escapes from the castle. The new monster is named Creature, and Stitch Head needs to find and save Creature before he gets hurt or hurts someone. Stitch Head become friends with Creature. Creature helps Stitch Head realize that he has true friends, and that he really does matter. Creature also teaches Stitch Head that life can be fun.

I like this story because it shows how everyone matters. I think the story also shows that you should be happy with the friends you have and not forget about your old friends. I also liked the chapter headings because they had little poems that hinted at what would happen in the chapter.

3rd Place: Samuel Mantovani, 7, Oyster Bay, N.Y.

I read “The Littlest Volunteers” by Danielle Speckhart. It’s about helping others. In this story, an ant named Annie and some friends are learning about volunteers. She and her mom are setting up something called “Help Your Neighbor Day.” At first, Annie doesn’t know that at any age you can be a volunteer. Her mom says, “If you have a big heart, then that’s a start; the rest is up to you.” Annie and her friends hold a food and clothing drive, but they make it into a fun event. She even gives out goody bags. Everyone is really happy.

I love this book because it gives good messages and is about helping others. Helping other people can make your community and the world a better place. Helping other people is a Cub Scout thing to do. I am a volunteer for Island Harvest, a local food organization, and I have my own food drive. Every month I collect food for people at the supermarket, and then I go door to door. If I can do it, you can too!


1st place: Kye Steele, Kanehoe, Hawaii

The best book I read this year was “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini. This story is the first in a series of four books. “Eragon” has a lot of action, magic, adventure and lessons about life. This book taught me about being brave, being responsible and being strong.

Eragon is just an ordinary 15-year-old farm boy. He finds a blue rock in the mysterious and dangerous Spine forest. This blue rock was actually a dragon egg. When the egg hatches in Eragon’s presence, he becomes a Dragon Rider.

This book teaches me that growing up is not the easiest job, because things don’t always happen as wanted. Sometimes there are things you cannot control. For example, Eragon cannot stop the evil Ra’zac from killing Garrow, his uncle. Eragon has to leave Palancar Valley because he realizes the Ra’zac were after him. During his journey, Eragon encounters Urgals, slavemakers and the Ra’zac. While fighting these enemies, Eragon is injured many times and passes out after using too much magic. Yet he never gives up. This makes him a brave hero.

The second lesson is to be responsible. Eragon has a responsibility as a Dragon Rider. Others look to him as a leader because Dragon Riders can use magic to destroy the cruel and evil Galbatorix. The hardest decision Eragon has to make is whether to join Galbatorix or join the Varden, people who left Galbatorix’s empire. If he joins Galbatorix, the Varden will be destroyed. However, if Eragon joins the Varden, then the Varden has a better chance of survival. Eragon chooses the Varden to fight for survival because it is his responsibility as a Dragon Rider. Like Eragon, I am responsible for many things. At home, I feed my dogs and do chores. At school, I follow the teacher’s directions, listen attentively and learn. As a Webelos Scout, I have to put up flags, do my best and help others.

The third lesson is to be mentally and physically strong. Eragon learned the ancient language, and he also learned how to read. This keeps him mentally strong. To stay physically strong, he practices sword-fighting with Brom. Eragon has to hide from his enemies to survive. There are hard times, and the difficult journey across well-armed cities, rivers, mountains and deserts takes him months. In the Hadarac Desert, Eragon runs out of water, so he uses magic to get water from the ground. For me, to be strong when I am sad, I remind myself that my mom is here. To be physically strong, I play sports.

Reading “Eragon” took me 22 days. This book was challenging for me because it was above my reading level. The book was 497 pages long, and it was the longest book I have ever read. In the next book, will Eragon go to the Mourning Sage and find answers to all his questions? Will Galbatorix fight Eragon? In order to find out, I want to continue reading Eragon’s adventures.

2nd place: Samuel Park, Concord, N.C.

One of the books I really enjoyed this year is “The School Story” by Andrew Clements. The story is about a girl named Natalie who has an incredible talent for writing. One of Natalie’s friends, Zoe, convinces Natalie to try to publish her book. So Natalie uses a pen name, Cassandra Day, to send her draft. Natalie’s mom works at a publishing office, and before long she gets very excited about Cassandra’s manuscript. She doesn’t know that Natalie wrote the story. Eventually, after many hours of hard work, Natalie’s book gets published, and Natalie is revealed as the author.

One of the points that I enjoyed most from the book was finding Natalie so determined to publish her book — going through the editing process using a pseudonym, even hiding from her mom!

Another great thing about this book is that Zoe helps Natalie out and sticks by her like a true friend. Even when so many rejects and changes are made to the manuscript, Zoe helps Natalie through them all.

The last point that I liked in the book was the importance of a caring, trusting and faithful family. Natalie expressed her feelings in her book, so when she finally revealed herself, her mother knew exactly how she felt.

“The School Story” is a great book. It shows determination and the importance of good friends and family in hard times, which reminds me to be nicer to my brother. I give “The School Story” five stars!

3rd place: Sean Corcoran, Lawrenceville, N.J.

The best book I read this year was “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells. “The Time Machine” is about an inventor who makes a machine that can go backward and forward in time. When the inventor gets to the year 802,701 A.D. he finds a people called the Eloi. Eventually, when he tries to get back to the time machine, he sees that it has vanished! I wonder how the inventor felt as he traveled? Was he nauseous, distressed or curious?

My favorite part is when the inventor travels into the future, because I like how Wells describes what the inventor sees. This is a great book for children and adults who like adventure, action and science fiction. I enjoy reading books about inventions, and this book shows readers a new way to think about how Earth and humans may look in the future.

The inventor makes the time machine out of materials that can be found around the house. This is a skill that Boy Scouts need if, for instance, they need emergency shelter.

One lesson of the book is that people should take one day at a time. “The Time Machine” makes you wonder if time travel is possible and, if it is, which time would you visit? I would visit the year 2016, because I would be a teenager starting high school and would like to see what has changed.

“The Time Machine” is the best book I read this year.


1st place: Peter Jacobs, Chesterfield, Mo.

The best book that I have ever read is called “Do Hard Things” by Brett and Alex Harris. This book is about the world’s low expectations for teens and how, together, this generation of young people can drastically change the world and become a powerful force for good. Although it never directly talks about Scouting, the book teaches many of the same principles as Scouting: how young men should take responsibility and not just do the easy thing.

In the beginning, the authors tell about the myth of adolescence, which is the general thinking that teenagers are naturally lazy people of whom little should be expected. As society has moved into the 21st century, young people have been expected to do less and less. An average teenager is expected to get average to bad grades at school, come home, do a chore, homework and then play videogames. Prior to the 1900s children older than 5 were expected to do more than the average teenager today. It is because of the myth of adolescence that the young men and women of today are not being encouraged and made to act and work more like adults.

The book goes on to explain three first steps. It’s always scary to first step out, do something out of the comfort zone and make an impact. Part of building self-trust and becoming a more reliable and responsible teen is to take these three steps. This may require acting when friends and culture ridicule such an effort.

Later on the book teaches a concept often taught in Boy Scouts: the power of working together. This can be the changing factor in a hard situation. Many times it is hard to do something for the first time by yourself, and the encouragement and help of a friend can help. Also, two can do anything faster. The two authors of the book describe a time when they were setting up a survey. Within a week of many people chipping in, they had their own website. It’s amazing what teamwork can do to make a job or responsibility easier.

This book showed how my culture has low expectations for me, as a teen. This is a standard that has hindered this generation from really providing support to our society. There is a need for teens who can step up, lead our country and go above and beyond the shackles of our culture. This book teaches how to do it.

2nd place: Trey Patuka, Villa Rica, Ga.

I read “The Jungle Book” by Ruyard Kipling this fall.

The book is about a man-cub who is alone in the jungle after Shere Khan, the tiger, scares off his parents. A wolf family finds him and brings him home to their den. Mother Wolf names him Mowgli, which means “frog,” and he becomes a part of their family.

When he gets a little older, it’s time for all the cubs to be approved before the council. The cubs sit in the middle of the pack. Akela, the wolf leader, sits on the council rock and says, “Look well, O Wolves.” Each cub must have two people besides his family speak up for him. Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear speak for Mowgli, and he is now a part of the pack.

The rest of the book tells the story of Mowgli and his life in the jungle. He has many adventures with his friends, Bagheera and Baloo. They help him and teach him the laws of the jungle. Father Wolf, Mother Wolf and his wolf brothers and sisters are also there for him, and he cares about them very much.

The Cub Scout program is based on “The Jungle Book.” Tiger, Wolf and Bear are the first three ranks. Parents and leaders are Akela, named after the wolf leader in the book. Scouts are divided into dens by their grade levels, and when all the dens get together, it is a pack.

I’m really glad I read this book. It was an awesome story and I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to read more about Mowgli and his life. Though I’m a Boy Scout now, I really enjoyed Cub Scouts. My mom is a Cubmaster and always tells our pack about “The Jungle Book.” It was neat to actually read this book myself and see the connections between it and Cub Scouts.

3rd place: Tyler MacInnis, Matthews, N.C.

Of all the books I have read this year, my favorite is “Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis. This book is about a professor named Ransom who meets an old friend named Devine and his friend Watson. Ransom discovers that they have imprisoned a young man. After doubting their explanation for this, Ransom is drugged and pulled into an extraordinary adventure in space.

The main reason that I read this book more than once is because of my love of outer space. The author describes space as such a beautiful place. We do not usually fully picture it this way, and for me, it is that feature that makes “Out of the Silent Planet” a true sensation to read. I also like this book because of its mysterious tone, which silently urges you to read on in wonder and amazement. This book contains underlying religious analogies. If you pay attention and consider what God may have created on other worlds from our own. One example is the Eldila, which are similar to angels and are seen only by the intended receiver of the message.

The thing that I love most of all about this book is how it takes the impossible and makes it believable. It takes a spaceship shaped like a soccer ball and allows it to support three humans on a journey to Mars and back. It also views Mars as an inhabited planet with trees and water, which we know is completely impossible. This book presents its information in a way that helps you completely dispense of today’s beliefs, so that a fantastic adventure and truly mind-changing philosophical understanding of religion can be presented to you.

Check Out The Latest From “The Maze Runner” Author


They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but this is one cool cover.

“The Eye of Minds” by James Dashner (author of “The Maze Runner,” “Infinity Ring” & “The 13th Reality”) doesn’t hit stores until October, but I’ve got the first chapter for you now.

What’s it about? Here’s a synopsis:

Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?
But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker.
And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

Sound good? Check out the first chapter of “The Eye of Minds” by James Dashner, by clicking the link below:

Eye of Minds: Chapter 1

For more info on the book, including videos, click here.

What did you think? Will you be buying this book when it comes out? Read more Q&A with James Dashner HERE.

‘Infinity Ring: Divide and Conquer’

We first told you about the new Infinity Ring series back in September 2012 when we highlighted book one. Now, book two, Divide and Conquer, is in bookstores, continuing where the first story left off.

For those who aren’t familiar with the new interactive book series, Infinity Ring, here’s the rundown:

Best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the secret of time travel — a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring — and they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. The trio is recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, and learn history is broken. The group must travel back in time to set it right, one date at a time.

Here’s the scoop on book two.

After Dak, Sera, and Riq to travel back in time to Spain in 1492, the trio again find themselves skipping through time. This time they land in Paris during the 9th century in the middle of the ‘Siege of Paris,’ a real war that began in 885. There are hundreds of enemy ships carrying thousands of vicious Viking warriors, all ready to attack medieval Paris.

With Paris under siege, history-lover Dak is captured by the enemy, and his friends hunt to free him. along the way they must solve the codes, riddles and clues to figure out how to fix the break in history.

Click here to read a chapter from ‘Divide and Conquer.’


We asked ‘Divide and Conquer’ author Carrie Ryan, where she would go if she could time travel. Take a look to see her answer.


This is the coolest Star Wars book of all-time

‘Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure’ is a great example of why pop-ups books are not just for kids anymore. 3D pop-up books are great for all ages, displaying really cool artwork and awesome stories.

Author and artist Matthew Reinhart has created an especially spectacular pop-up book for the STAR WARS movies, packed cool features like working lightsabers, pull tabs, and other interactive looks at the epic saga.

The book explores the characters, stories, vehicles, droids, and just about everything else in the three prequel movies and the Clone Wars. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you won’ want to miss it. Watch this video for a sneak peek at the books cool features.


Yes, This Adorable Fish Is Among The Most Dangerous Creatures On The Planet

Here’s a quick look at a book about some of the deadliest things on Earth. Who would’ve thought these two bizarre-looking fish would be two of the deadliest creatures on the planet? Take a look at pages below from “100 Deadliest Things On the Planet,” by Anna Claybourne.


From quicksand to Black Widow spiders to poisonous pufferfish, the book features the world’s most dangerous and deadly animals, disasters and diseases. Prepare yourself with this interesting, and frightening, list.



Read Two Chapters of “Professor Gargoyle”

Halloween is just around the corner and The Book Zone is in the scaring mood. If you’re a fan of scary stories, you might enjoy a book series called “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School,” focusing on a particularly frightening middle school with lots to hide. Here’s a video preview of the new series.


Also, take a look at the first two chapters of the first book in the series, “Professor Gargoyle,” in stores now.


Chapter One

Robert Arthur was surrounded by strangers.

He stood outside the entrance to Lovecraft Middle School, watching the students pass by, searching for a familiar face. Everybody was talking to someone. Kids were joking and laughing and goofing around. But Robert didn’t recognize a single person.

Earlier that summer, his neighborhood had been redistricted. This was a fancy way of saying that all of his old friends were attending Franklin Middle School, in the north part of town, but somehow Robert got stuck attending Lovecraft Middle School, in the south part of town.

His mother told him there was no say in the matter; it was just the luck of the draw.

“But you’re going to love it,” she promised. “They spent millions of dollars building this school. It’s brand new. State of the art. With a swimming pool and digital chalkboards and everything. It’s such an incredible opportunity!”

Robert wasn’t so sure. He would have happily traded the swimming pool and digital chalkboards for the chance to be with his old friends. He had a hundred different worries: Who would sit with him at lunch? What if he needed help opening his locker? Wasn’t anybody from his old school here?

Beside the main entrance of the school was a large digital billboard with an animated message:




It might have been faster to walk It might have been faster to walk through the building, but Robert wasn’t in a hurry. He took his time, circling the outside of the school, marveling at how quickly it seemed to have sprung from the earth.

Six months earlier, this was all abandoned farmland, full of weeds and mud puddles and sticker bushes. Now there was a four-story classroom building, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and lush green grass as far as the eye could see.

When Robert reached the athletic stadium, the bleachers were packed with spectators: students, teachers, parents, news reporters—everyone in town had come to witness the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Everyone except Robert’s mother, a nurse, who worked the early shift at Dunwich Memorial Hospital. Most mornings she was out the door before Robert woke up, so she rarely attended school presentations or class trips. Sometimes this bothered Robert, but today he was grateful. He knew the only thing more embarrassing than sitting alone at his new middle school would be sitting with his mommy. All the other kids were sitting with their friends.

Robert climbed halfway up the bleachers and squeezed between two clusters of giggling girls. He tried smiling at them.

None of the girls smiled back.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was already under way. First the mayor thanked the governor. Then the governor stood up and thanked the teachers’ union. Then a bunch of teachers got up and thanked the parents’ association. Then a bunch of parents cheered and thanked Principal Slater.

Finally Principal Slater stood up with oversized scissors and sliced the long green ribbon in half. At precisely that moment, the clouds turned gray and a low drum of thunder rolled across the sky.

It was weird, Robert thought. Just one minute ago, it had been a perfectly pleasant and sunny day. Now, suddenly, it looked like rain.

Fortunately, the ceremony was almost over. The grand finale was a special performance by the Dunwich High School marching band, complete with drums, brass, and color guard. They paraded across the field playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Robert glanced over his shoulder, peering up at the bleachers, scanning the faces. There must have been four hundred kids in the arena. He knew that, sooner or later, he’d have to recognize someone.

And then he did.

The worst possible someone.

Oh, no.

Robert immediately faced forward.

But it was too late. He’d been spotted.

“Hey, Robert! Is that you? Robert Arthur?”

He couldn’t believe his rotten luck. Glenn Torkells? The one person he knew at Lovecraft Middle School—and it was Glenn Torkells? The bully who had tormented him for years?

“Robert! I’m talking to you!”

Definitely Glenn Torkells.

Robert tried ignoring him. His mother used to tell him to ignore the bullies and eventually they would leave him alone. Yeah, right.

“I know that’s you, Robert. I got a real good memory and I never forget a face.” Something slimy hit the back of Robert’s neck. He reached up and peeled it off: a half-chewed gummy worm.

“Turn around and look at me.”

Robert knew that Glenn would get what he wanted, sooner or later. Glenn always did. Robert turned around and another gummy worm struck him right in the forehead.

Glenn laughed uproariously. “Haw-haw! Bull’seye!”

He was seated two rows behind Robert, looking much like he did back in elementary school—only bigger. He wore the same green army jacket and the same grubby blue jeans. His dark blond hair was still plastered to his forehead, still looking like he’d cut it himself with dull scissors. Glenn had always been the biggest kid in the class, but over the summer he’d ballooned into the Incredible Hulk.

“What do you want?” Robert asked.

Glenn popped a gummy worm into his mouth and began working his jaw. “Dweeb tax,” he said. “Pay up.”

Robert sighed. Glenn had been collecting the dweeb tax for part of fifth grade and all of sixth. It was a one-dollar penalty he imposed on Robert for various “infractions”—tripping or stammering or wearing ugly pants or other “crimes” that Glenn dreamed up.

Robert glanced around, hoping to spot a teacher who might intervene. That never happened at his last school, but he thought maybe Lovecraft Middle School would be different.

No such luck. Everyone was watching the marching band on the field. The girls on either side of Robert were chattering among themselves.

“Hurry up, Nerdbert,” Glenn said. “You think you’re the only kid in this school who owes me?”

Earlier that morning, Robert’s mother had given him an extra five dollars of spending money, to celebrate his first day as a middle school student.

Robert retrieved one of those dollars and passed it to Glenn. His tormentor shook his head and smiled, revealing flecks of chewed-up gummy worm in his teeth.

“It’s gonna be two dollars here in middle school,” Glenn explained. “We’re not little kids anymore.”

Chapter 2

After the marching band had finished playing, Principal Slater directed the students to find their lockers and then proceed to their homerooms.

As the bleachers emptied, Robert moved nimbly through the crowd, careful to stay several steps ahead of Glenn Torkells.

He noticed a girl hurrying alongside him.

Looking at him.

She was short and skinny, dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans and carrying a beat-up skateboard. She had dark brown hair that fell past her shoulders and wore a dozen jangling bracelets on her wrists. She smiled, revealing a mouthful of metal braces.

“You’ve got worms in your hair,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“Gummy worms. In your scalp.”

Robert reached up and shook them loose.


“You’re gonna have to stand up to him.”

“Stand up to who?”

“You know who.”

Robert flushed. Was there anything more embarrassing than getting advice on bullies from a cute girl?

“Glenn and I are friends,” Robert quickly explained. “That’s just a stupid game we play. I owed him two dollars from the other night.”

“He called it a dweeb tax.”

“See, that’s part of the game.”

The girl wasn’t buying it, Robert could tell.

“I’m Karina,” she said. “Karina Ortiz.”

“Robert Arthur.”

“I know,” she said. “I heard him taunting you.”

“He wasn’t taunting me.”

“Friends don’t throw chewed-up gummy worms in your hair,” she said. “I was there. I watched the whole thing.”

“Well, maybe next time you should mind your own business.”

The words came out louder than Robert intended. Karina raised both hands in a defensive gesture, like he’d just come at her with his fists. “Hey, suit yourself,” she said. “You just looked like you needed a friend, that’s all.”

Karina dropped her skateboard to the asphalt, pushed off with one foot, and quickly zoomed away from him, swerving around the other students with remarkable balance and precision.

Almost immediately, Robert wished he could apologize and somehow take the words back. But it was too late. Karina was the first friendly person to approach him at Lovecraft Middle School, and he’d managed to scare her away.

He followed the crowd of students up the stairs and into the central corridor of the school, a frenzy of color and sound and energy.

Instead of bulletin boards, the hallways of Lovecraft Middle School featured large high-definition LCD screens with animated announcements of soccer tryouts and chorus practice. Sleek metal lockers lined the walls; instead of old-fashioned combination dials, they had ten-button digital touch pads. Up and down the hallway, kids were lining up to stow their backpacks and lunches.

Robert walked to his locker—A119—and entered the passcode he’d received in the mail. Each button made a satisfying chirp when he pressed it, and then the locker door opened with a gentle pneumatic whooooosh.

In the distance, Robert heard a girl shriek, but he thought nothing of it. Girls in sixth and seventh grade were always shrieking about something or another. His new locker was divided by a metal shelf into two sections. There was a tall bottom section with a hook where he could hang his coat and a short top section, near the air vents, where he could store his brown-bag lunch.

Robert studied the top section and blinked.

Perched on the shelf, twitching its nose, was a large white rat.

Elsewhere in the hallway, another girl screamed. Then another, and another. A teacher yelled, “Get back!” and Robert felt something brush past his legs. He stumbled away from the locker as the white rat sprang toward him, landing on his chest and leapfrogging over his shoulder.

“Get it off me!” someone shouted.

“There’s another one!”

“It’s in my hair!”

More rats brushed past his feet—there were dozens now, darting under sneakers, gnashing their teeth, squealing and snarling and stampeding down the hall.

Up until this moment, Robert’s life had been fairly quiet and ordinary. He had the same interests and hobbies as a million other twelve-year-old boys. He spent his days in school; he spent his nights doing homework and messing around on the computer. He’d never experienced anything that might have prepared him for a swarm of wild rats.

Yet while the rest of his classmates were freaking out, Robert remained calm.

He understood he had just two choices: He could scream and panic like the rest of his classmates. Or he could sit tight for a few moments and hope the rats would charge toward the nearest exit.

Which is exactly what happened. The stampede reached the open doors at the end of the hallway and fanned out across the lush green lawns surrounding the school. The students watched after them, awestruck.

“I don’t believe it,” said the boy standing next to Robert. “They spend a trillion dollars building this place and it’s already full of rats? How’s that possible?”

Good question, Robert thought.

He knelt to study the inside of his locker. The metal walls and floors were intact; there were no gaps or cracks or holes. There were no places where a rat might have squeezed its way into his locker.

Robert knew middle school would be strange, but this was ridiculous.