Alcatraz Smedry is a troubled boy. He has no parents and, because he breaks nearly everything he touches, he is regularly being kicked out of his foster homes and transferred to new ones. The only constant adult in his life is his case worker. The bag of sand that Alcatraz receives on his 13th birthday as an inheritance from his dead parents further highlights the fact that nobody ever loved him.
But then a strange man shows up, claims to be his grandfather, and announces that Alcatraz is actually the hero of a land called the Free Kingdoms. He further explains that the land that Alcatraz knows of as America is run by evil librarians who control all knowledge, squelch technological developments, and lie to people about reality. It turns out, also, that Alcatraz’s predilection for breaking things isn’t really a curse, but is a magical ability. Grandpa Smedry introduces Alcatraz to his cousins who also have specific magical abilities that seem like curses.
Oh, and the bag of sand? It’s super important. Too bad it was stolen by one of the Evil Librarians. Now Alcatraz, his grandfather, his cousins, and a spunky girl named Bastille will have to get it back. To do so, they’ll have to sneak into the library and get some help from some very proper talking dinosaurs.
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians is a cute story that I enjoyed reading with my 13 year old daughter, Tali. We both thought it was funny and even though I thought it was occasionally more silly than funny, at these times it was enough for me to see Tali enjoying it so much. Brandon Sanderson has a great sense of humor and I loved how he used the story to instruct children about writing techniques while amusing them at the same time. He talks about the use of foreshadowing, hooks, cliffhangers, etc., while giving some writing advice and lessons about critique. For example, in the middle of an intense action scene, he pauses to explain that you should never interrupt an action scene to explain things to the reader. My daughter, who loves to notice and point out irony, thought this was hilarious. If I had been reading this book by myself, I probably would have given it 3.5 stars, but it gets bumped up because Tali loved it so much.
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians is a comedy, but it isn’t shallow. Alcatraz is open about his low self-esteem and his vulnerability and the importance of love and family is emphasized. Alcatraz also learns that, contrary to what the popular maxim says, not everything is possible and you can’t always be what you want to be, no matter how hard you try.
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians was first published in 2007 as the first in a four-book series. The books are now being reprinted by Starscape (Tor) in illustrated hardback versions and a fifth book, The Dark Talent, is being released later this year. Hayley Lazo’s attractive black and white drawings are a great addition to the story. Tali and I also tried the audio version, which we enjoyed. It was produced by Recorded Books and is narrated by Ramon De Ocampo. It’s just over 6 hours long.
Alcatraz — (2007-2016) Ages 9-12. Publisher: A hero with an incredible talent… for breaking things. A life-or-death mission… to rescue a bag of sand. A fearsome threat from a powerful secret network… the evil Librarians. Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them!… by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness. Alcatraz’s ability to break things, he soon learns, is actually a Talent. Alcatraz must learn to use his Talent as he goes after the sands with a team of resistors, including Grandpa Smedry (Talent: “I have the ability to arrive late to things”… including arriving late to pain, or to his own death), Sing Smedry (Talent: “I can trip and fall to the ground”…avoiding injury in surprise attacks), Quentin Smedry (Talent: “I can say things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever”… if captured, he speaks nonsense instead of spilling secrets), and Bastille (a girl Alcatraz’s age, who is a knight charged with protecting Grandpa Smedry. Bastille has no Talent, but she’s got spunk, skill, and spark to spare). Together they must defeat a Dark Oculator and retrieve the magical lenses smelted from the sand, which allow Alcatraz to read The Forgotten Language, a previously indecipherable text — including a message from his long-lost father, who may not be dead after all…