Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

Ruby Redfort – Look into my eyes

look into my eyesOVERALL: 4.5 4.5 Stars

Concept:4.5 Stars
Characters:4.5 Stars
Plot:4 Stars
Writing:5 Stars
Lauren Child
N/A
2011
Harper Collins
383

 

This is the first book in the Ruby Redfort series, which is a concept that has spun out of the Clarice Bean Series.

Description: This is a well written, quirky book which is what I have come to expect from Lauren Child. It is set in the US in the past, before the internet, computers and mobile phones but after the TV. It features a 13 year old girl named Ruby Redfort who is enlisted into a secret spy agency as a code breaker. Her job is to break a code that will stop a major crime being committed. It contains a fun code to crack and some mind puzzles to test your brain.

Concept: The concept for this series of books is not a unique one, spy themes for both boys and girls is very popular at the moment, but what is unique is that it is not the high-tech version that you see everywhere. As this book is set before the internet and most major tech inventions that we have seen in the past 15 years it has an innocence about it that many of the other spy novels don’t – a good innocence. Lauren Child has had to rely on quirky characters, good writing and an interesting plot rather than non-stop action and amazing high tech gadgets.

Characters: The characters in this book are for the most part, fresh and interesting. Ruby is certainly not your typical 13 year old girl. She is clever, tough and a bit rough around the edges but also with a strong sense of right and wrong. You can’t help but like her. Her best pal Clancy Crew is an excellent side-kick, loyal and smart – but not too smart. The adults are portrayed accurately through a child’s eye – goofy and exasperating but necessary. The villains are a bit unbelievable and portrayed in that cheesy American style eg. “Baby Face Marshall and the Count, as were the other agents, but I guess that fits in with the book’s era and the irony the author was probably trying to create.

Plot: The plot is quite well thought out and interesting. There are a few forced moments towards the climatic end as well as a few “that was a bit too easy and convenient” moments but all in all it is enjoyable and hangs pretty well together. The addition of a code within the book that the readers need to crack is a nice touch and I love the decoder/encoder on the books website. I wrote a coded message for my daughter in minutes – but then made her work it out the long way!! The pace of the plot is quite good, maybe a little slow at times but certainly there were no boring bits. Again, following on from the Clarice Bean books, this book has a number of ‘rules’ that Ruby has compiled throughout her experiences. Things like: Rule 32: Tell one lie and get ready to tell a whole lot more and Rule 18: People often miss the downright obvious. I love these rules and think they are super relevant to kids of this age who are trying to make sense of life.

Writing: The antiquated, American dialogue is a highlight of this book. How many books these days contain phrases such as: “Boy, is this guy a prize potato head” and “You’d better believe it buster!”? It’s amusing and used just enough to make it a feature but not sooo much that it becomes forced. I can’t speak highly enough of Lauren Child’s writing. She really manages to pitch her writing to the age group perfectly. It is easy to read, enjoyable but still sophisticated.

Website: Ruby has a website where you can learn more about Ruby, search for things in her room and break codes (of course!) Find it at rubyredfort.com

PARENTS:

This book is a great book particularly for girls who are looking for a heroine that is gutsy and clever but still relatable. It is also quite an innocent book for this age group. There are no real adult themes only death and the threat there-of, but nothing too sinister. I find that refreshing as often in this spy genre the books are forced with non-stop action, adventure and sinister adults – death lurking at every corner type of thing. Your child will be have the opportunity to crack a code and learn about the Vigenere cipher. There are also a few mind puzzles thrown in as well which are fun.

Things to ask, discuss or do:

1) Talk about the Vignerere Cipher. Set up a Vignerere Square for your child to use and send them a coded message in their lunch box.

2) Talk about when you think the book is set. Why do they think that? Did they miss the technology?

3) Talk about lying and its consequences ie. Rule 32. Do you think that Ruby did a good job of keeping it zipped? Do you think she should have told Clancy earlier or not told him at all?

4) Talk about the level of freedom Ruby has in the book. She is free to ride about town whenever she feels like it, she goes to diners, walks her dog alone in the afternoons and is trusted to make it to an important event on her own. How does it compare with most kids levels of freedom today?

5) What do you think the significance of the fly is in relation to Spectrum, the spy agency?

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