Author: Siobhan Dowd
Lexile Score: n/a
Maturity level: Oooh, I would’ve said 4th or 5th grade but there was a mention of the possibility of a child being kidnapped for “sex stuff” that might be too much of a difficult issue for elementary book club.
Pages: 323 Chapters: 41 Average Chapter Length: 10 pages
Theme: Differences, Communication
Project ideas: Develop a glossary of English (American) terms that people from another country might not understand.
First Line: My favourite thing to do in London is to fly the Eye.
Main Character: Ted Spark, “whose brain runs on its own unique operating system.”
Review in 25 words or less: An intriguing plot strengthened by a main character with a “disability” that turns out to be an asset in solving the disappearance of his cousin. (BOOYA! 25 exactly!)
As I read, I planned a zillion extension lessons on vocabulary and language. Because the novel is set in London, the author uses terminology that might not be understood by young readers, but it seems she senses this and gives context clues for most. Examples of unfamiliar vocabulary: buskers, lilo, serviette, fag, queue, post, skiving, bloody (used quite often!), BBC, biro, etc. In addition, because the main character’s “disability” (never mentioned by name, but I assume an Autism Spectrum Disorder) makes it difficult for him to understand idioms or body language, many opportunities to explore how humans communicate arise naturally within the text. Idioms such as “talking up a storm” and “shake a leg” give Ted Spark pause, and as he puzzles through them, we are allowed to view the intricacies of comprehension. Dowd keeps the tension high as readers try to solve the mystery of Ted’s cousin Salim’s disappearance, and manages to honestly and accurately portray Ted’s uniqueness and his relationship with his family and the world around him.