Monday, March 03, 2008

Book note: Alvin's Secret Code, by Clifford B. Hicks

When I started this book this weekend, I soon got the feeling that it wasn't written so much for twelve year old boys like the hero of the story and his buddy, but for people who are living with twelve year old boys, or, better yet, those who have survived the experience. Having finished the book, I've revised that notion. I've decided it was well-written for both adults and kids.

Mr. Hicks turned out a good book: snappy, intelligent, full of adventure, with a plot that includes a look at history with some of the nastiness left in (slavery and murder, for instance). Balancing the suspense and serious life lessons, some of the book is laugh out loud funny.

An excerpt from near the beginning:

Shoie was about to toss the scrap of paper aside when he glanced at it. "What's this, old bean?"

"What's what, old man?"

The two boys frequently called each other "old bean" and "old man."

"What does this scrap of paper mean? Looks mighty mysterious to me."

Alvin looked at the scrap of paper in Shoie's hand. Suddenly, a sixth sense told him that Secret Agent Q-3 had found something important, much more important than a root beer cap.

On the piece of paper was scrawled a message:



The message didn't make sense - but that's why it did make sense to Secret Agent K-21 1/2.

"It's a secret message," he said quietly, trying to keep his voice matter-of-fact. "A message in a spy's secret code."

"Wow!" Q-3 straightened out the piece of paper.

"Don't let anyone see you put it in your pocket," said Alvin out of the corner of his mouth. "You can't tell who might be watching. Pick up a handful of grass and pretend you're putting it in your pocket instead."

"A handful of grass? Why would I pocket a handful of grass?"

Alvin was ready with the answer. "There's nothing else to pick up," he said, "so it has to be grass."

The book not only presents kids with codes and ciphers to try to break, it teaches them how to make codes and ciphers, including some complicated ones.

Alvin Fernald, the central character, is basically a good kid, with a lot of brain and curiosity and guts, but a knack for landing smack in the middle of disasters (some of his own accidental making). He's not perfect by any stretch. His idea of cleaning his room is to shove everything he can out of sight in his closet, for instance. And one of his ideas of fun is to throw rocks at a hornet's nest in hopes of making it fall on a bull. But overall he's a decent sort, out to do the right thing when he can. He likes to be helpful. And, for a kid, he can show some common sense when it counts. He's also definitely a member of his community, with grown-ups he can, and does, call on for help. (Not necessarily as soon as he ought, sometimes. But close.)

This one goes back on my shelf for a re-read someday.

It's one in a series of books about Alvin. I think I'll be keeping my eyes out for the others.

Alvin's Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks was first published in 1963.


The Witts said...

Thanks for the tip--I'm going to look for this.

Gary_Hicks said...

Kathryn --

A great review of a really great book. (Of course, I'm prejudiced!). My dad is 87 and is not particularly internet enabled but I will send him a copy today - I'm sure that it will please him very much. If you or anyone is interested in the Alvin series, you might want to check out Dad still loves to hear from kids and adults who have read his books. He is in relatively good health and his mind functions at 110%. He no longer writes professionally, but he still writes very well.

Thanks, again!!!

Gary Hicks
(Son #3)

Kathryn Judson said...

Amanda (the witts), I'd be interested in hearing how it stacks up against Hank the Cowdog with your family. :)

Gary Hicks, Thank you for writing. I didn't know about the website, and I'm delighted to hear your Dad is doing so well. My husband and I both really enjoyed Alvin's Secret Code, and are looking forward to reading more in the series. I've reprinted your comment in a new post today, so that other kidlit fans will be more likely to see the info.