Capture the Flag is my fourth book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge, an upcoming middle grade title by Kate Messner. It's a PG movie of a book about a trio of kids who join together to save the stolen Stars and Stripes, while trapped by a snowstorm at a DC airport. Anna, Henry, and Jose meet by chance, first at a reception at the museum, and then the next morning at the airport. By (a rather large) coincidence, all three kids have family members who are part of a secret society dedicated to protecting America's treasures. Members are descended from famous historical figures, like Paul Revere. Stuck at the airport with nothing else to do, the kids decide to solve the mystery of the missing flag.
While not technically fantasy, Capture the Flag is hardly realistic fiction. The kids have conveniently lax parents, the bad guys are larger than life, and the chase scenes are fabulous (mainly taking place behind the scenes, on baggage conveyors). But Messner knows that the story is a romp, and pokes fun at this by having one of the kids be Harry Potter obsessed (frequently quoting Dumbledore), and by throwing in sly jokes. For instance, a meteorologist has a cell phone that plays "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." A senator's phone plays "Hail to the Chief" when his wife calls. One of the airport concessions is "Cinna-Bunny". And one of the adult characters is "Senator Snickerbottom", who walks around with Tootsie Rolls in his hat. It's all in good fun.
Oh, there is character development, particularly in Henry (a boy bitter about his father's remarriage). There are worries about parents (Jose's mother, a flag restorer, is a suspect in the theft). There are brief discussions on patriotism, loyalty, and friendship. There are quotes about leadership and bravery. There is a suggestion that politicians working for immigration reform are like the Malfoy family from the Harry Potter books. These things are all present.
But at the end of the day, Capture the Flag is an over-the-top adventure about a trio of kids chasing bad guys around a snowbound airport. What middle grade reader wouldn't want to read it? My favorite quote is this one:
"Anna threw her hands in the air. "You are such ... boys! What is wrong with you? You spent your whole lives looking for excitement in video games and movies and books, and then when something big finally happens, you're too busy reading and poking at some SuperGameThingy to do the real, live, exciting thing right there in front of you!" (Page 44)
There's also a delightful little 8-year-old boy adopted by the older kids. Sinan is half-Pakistani and half-Turkish, and working on learning American idioms. Every time he runs across one, he makes a little drawing of it in a notebook. The book is sprinkled with sketches like "Let the cat out of the bag" (featuring a cat peeking out over the top of a paper bag). I thought that Sinan's quirk added a nice touch of whimsy to the book.
Capture the Flag is written by a former middle school English teacher, and it has kid-friendliness in spades. Highly recommended for middle grade readers, age 8 and up. Me, I'll be waiting for movie. And sequels.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).