Sunday, April 17, 2011

REVIEW: "Yaakov the Pirate Hunter" by Nathaniel Wyckoff

It's 2025, and the Peretz family has a variety of robots to do their bidding. When Yaakov and Yosef are playing Frisbee one day, Yaakov throws it much too high and it lands on the roof. Yaakov uses the climb-bot to get the Frisbee, but an impatient Yosef throws a baseball that knocks the climb-bot right off the roof. Because of that throw, the boys discover a treasure map hidden inside the robot. Following the map sets a series of events into motion that takes the Peretz family halfway around the world to follow some pirates and attempt to thwart their evil plan to steal a sacred scroll.

Written by Nathaniel Wyckoff, this middle-grade novel follows Yaakov and his family as they chase down the pirates who stole some precious belongings. Originally created by the author to satisfy his own children's hunger for stories about robots, there is a sweetness to this story that is very similar to the Boxcar Children series. Somewhat far-fetched with amazing coincidences and adults who readily share their secrets, the storyline is rather simple and will appeal to a younger audience. Yaakov is a precocious 11-year-old who calls the shots and manages to put the pieces of the puzzle together. His character was interesting and young boys will likely relate well to his sense of adventure. On the other hand, I never really got a feel for Yosef and I'm left with this image of a sullen boy with no real personality. Rachel, the sister, was more interesting, allowing me to form a picture of what she may be like. Set in 2025, robots play a prominent theme, but everything else seems amazingly similar to today. It would have been fun to see a few more innovations that would allow the younger reader to imagine the world 14 years in the future as different and exciting.

One thing I really loved about this book was the seamless weaving of the Jewish culture into the storyline. As a child, I learned an awful lot about other cultures and peoples from the books I read. This book is poised to introduce a child to vocabulary and cultural practices of Judaism, while offering a fun and exciting story. At the same time, this provides a familiar context for Jewish children. Children enjoy reading about familiar things, and I haven't seen a plethora of middle-grade adventures starring children from the Jewish culture. On a down note, I felt the series of events in the story almost made it feel a bit disjointed. The events did flow into one another, but it felt like two major sections to a book rather than a smooth ride to the climax. Additionally, the ending really threw me for a loop. It was so abrupt and unexpected in ending where it did, I had to look back again to be sure I didn't miss anything. The last few pages of the story seemed to be gearing us up for another part to the adventure, but the story ends instead. I think perhaps it would have been better to leave that ending part about the sig-bot out entirely, or else follow through with Yaakov's idea.

Pleasant and entertaining, this book will appeal to a younger audience.

3 /5 stars

Available at Amazon

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