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Capture the Flag
by
Kate Messner


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What You Need to Know:
• When the flag that inspired the "Star-Spangled Banner" is stolen, three kids join forces to help get it back.
• One of the three children, Henry, reveals that his mother had cancer and died three years earlier.
• Immigration reform is brought up in conversation, but the story does not go into detail on the subject.
• The whole story takes place over a three day period.
• The author, Kate Messner, spent 15 years teaching middle school.
• This book is the first in a series.
• Book two, Hide and Seek, comes out next week and the third, Manhunt, is expected in 2014.
Sweet Book Summary:
"They never should have unlocked the door." Sometimes the first line of a book is enough to win you over, and that is the case with Capture the Flag. With some trepidation and a bit of a chill down my spine, I read on. While nothing too scary actually happens, that attention-grabbing statement sets the pace for the rest of the story. Things move quickly, and the characters spend most of their time on-the-go, chasing clues and following bad guys. Kate Messner adeptly drops clues and carefully shares new information, as she develops a well-timed, gripping mystery.

In just a few days, 7th graders, Anna, Jose and Henry, go from innocent bystanders to big-time heroes. They are all in attendance at the museum gala featuring the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner", but they are too absorbed in their own interests to even notice each other. It is only the next day, when a blizzard leaves them stranded in the Washington D.C. airport, that they actually look up from their computer, video game and book, to acknowledge one another. When they do, they learn that they have a few things in common; they're all the same age, all from Vermont, and all are members of a secret organization called the Silver Jaguar Society.

They also discover that the flag, an American treasure, was stolen during the previous night's event. Anna, fascinated by the Silver Jaguars, a society made up of the descendants of "the world's most creative minds", realizes that this is her chance to finally get in on the action. She convinces Henry and Jose that it is their responsibility, as future Jaguar members, to protect the works of their ancestors, and the search for the flag begins. In addition to discussions of ancestors, oaths, artifacts, and even a jaguar goddess, there is plenty of action and even a sprinkling of politics.

Anna's dad is a senator with connections to Senator Snickerbottom, who may become the next president of the United States if he can beat out Betty Frumble, the Vermont governor who brings different sides together with her Berry Maple Oat Nut Crumble. Snickerbottom, a slick dude who sports a cowboy hat and hands out supersized Tootsie Rolls, also happens to be delayed at the airport waiting for his flight to Vermont. Apparently, Snickerbottom has strong views on immigration reform, and although no specific political parties are mentioned, his views are clarified by how Jose, a descendant of migrant workers from Mexico, reacts to him. Snickerbottom also seems quite comfortable throwing around unfounded accusations as to who stole the flag. His main target is a musical group, Sounds for a Small Planet. They are doing concerts in the U.S., but need to return home soon because their visas are expiring. When Anna, Jose and Henry meet Sinan, the 8-year-old son of two of the musicians, they are even more inspired to find the real thief and prove that the musicians are innocent. Can a team of 12-year-olds save the day? The clock is ticking...they only have until the snowstorm stops to prove their case.

Yes, it is unlikely that an adventure like this one could take place in any airport after 9/11, let alone one in Washington D.C., but if readers suspend disbelief and ignore the minor missing links and incredible coincidences, they will enjoy this lighthearted adventure. Sinan adds a touch of humor with his funny drawings of English expressions like "killing time" and "let the cat out of the bag". The political points are raised with limited detail and minimal explanation, so they may prompt some questions. It's easy to tell that Kate Messner was a teacher - she seems to know exactly what will engage middle schoolers. There are references to current books, movies and video games. The crack team of sleuths includes a girl and two boys (ala Harry Potter), and they have characteristics that will appeal to a full gamut of readers. Anna is the enthusiastic writer who contributes a bit of girl-power energy. Henry is the absorbed gamer who often applies his video game skills to real life. Jose is the serious reader who collects quotes "the way people collect baseball cards...". While this story doesn't run very deep - we only learn surface details about the main characters - we know enough to like them, root for them, and look forward to their next adventure.
Author: Kate Messner Illustrator: n/a Published: 2012, 240 pages
Themes: Adventure, Friendship, Government, History, Mystery, Politics
Sweet Discussion Questions:
• Do you think that secret societies like The Silver Jaguar Society really exist?
• Would you like to be part of a secret society? Why?
• Why did Senator Snickerbottom target the members of Sounds for a Small Planet?
• What kinds of predictions did you make about who stole the flag?
• In discussing the case of the missing flag, Henry says, "It's all about Power." and Jose says, "Politics ruins the
  character." What do you think these two statements mean to Jose and Henry?
• Why do they misjudge Snake-Arm?
• Why does Jose get upset when Anna brings up the subject of immigration?
• Anna "...secretly loved the idea of a smart lady who did things differently being in charge". So, how do you feel
  about the idea of having a female president?
If You Liked This Book, Try:
Masterpiece, Elise Broach
Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers, Chris Grabenstein
The Sixty-Eight Rooms, Marianne Malone
The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones (series #1), Rick Riordan
Missing on Superstition Mountain, Elise Broach
This recommendation was written by: Melissa G.
Support Independent Book Shops: Click Here to Buy this Book on IndieBound
 

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