Saturday, July 7, 2012

Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag
by Kate Messner
Scholastic, 2012. 231 pgs. Fiction

     Just in time for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, we have a story about the Star-Spangled Banner.  Not the song, but the original flag which flew over Fort McHenry while the national anthem was being written. In this patriotic caper, the flag is stolen from the Smithsonian Institution and four children, trapped in the airport by a blizzard, must figure out how to retrieve it before it can be used for wicked purposes. The kids--Anna, Henry, Jose, and Sinan--are fun, ingenious, and brave. Their wild rides on the airport baggage conveyors and in those beeping airport transportation carts are exciting and suspenseful.  They get their man this time and the door is left wide open for series books to follow, all involving the secret Silver Jaguar society, an organization of descendants of patriots,  devoted to the preservation of historic artifacts and priceless works of art.  All this is good.  Still,  a few bones needs to be picked: the kids' relatively easy access to secure areas of the airport strains credulity; Ms. Messner is pushing an agenda in this book, which though an agenda I happen to agree with, seems forced and out of place in a children's adventure book; the bad guys in this book as in way too many others speak in Southern/country accents, perpetuating the stereotype that characters who speak with a regional accent, especially from the southern or western states, are naive or stupid, an assumption demonstrably not true in the history of literature and of the Republic. I suspect Ms. Messner may be mocking those who countrify themselves without credentials to appeal  to "just plain folks," but that will be a distinction not apparent to the young readers of this book.  Those objections aside, Capture the Flag is fun and funny and pokes a toe in the door of children's present disinterest in historical fiction. Kate Messner is one of our finest new authors of books for young people, and I am looking forward to her next book.

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