Saturday, March 15, 2008

All About Spies

Last weekend there was a conversation going on over at Read Roger about the difference between "an adult reading a children's book recreationally and reading it professionally." It was very timely for me, because I was finishing up reading Dawn Undercover by Anna Dale, and I was definitely having a little problem trying to determine how kids would feel about this book versus how I felt about it.

I felt this book was very well-written, by the way. I was in the market for a spy book for younger kids, and this one is well-done. Dawn Buckle is a bland, nondescript English child who people don't notice. She has to attach herself to other kids in order to cross the street because the crossing-guard would never bother with her otherwise. A recruiter for a spy agency thinks this would make her a gifted spy and signs her up.

Great idea. I loved the set-up, though Dawn has one of those Roald Dahl-type over-the-top and negligent (though in this case only mildly so) families that are common in British books and that I find annoying. But a lot of people don't find them annoying, and I was able to put that aside because they disappear early on.

Dawn then spends nearly half the book being trained as a spy by a lot of adult characters. Her spy story doesn't start until halfway through the book. I think some trimming could have been done there.

Here's the part that bothered me, personally, though--Once Dawn has finished her training and is out on her case, she is no longer the nondescript child I loved at the beginning of the book. That whole aspect of the story seems to just be dropped. Okay, toward the end Dawn realizes that she's changed, and I know change is good, but I liked Dawn the way she was. I would have liked to have seen her use who she was in her adventure. I was disappointed. To me she seemed to have just turned into another run-of-the-mill kid adventure character.

But would a child reader react that way? A child reader, who hasn't read a lot of spunky girl books, might very well appreciate that a friendless, bland little girl could change and become spunky. A child reader might very well want to identify with a character who does that rather than a character who uses her blandness to fight evil.

When I stopped being an adult reading a children's book recreationally and forced myself to be an adult reading a children's book professionally, I decided Dawn Undercover is probably a good child spy story for younger kids.

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