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Alex Rider is a young James Bond for the 21st Century.  A fourteen year old school boy who is forced into the world of espionage and the secret service on the untimely death of his uncle and sole guardian.  The stories about Alex are fast paced and full of action.

He is the hero of Anthony Horowitz’s nine strong series that starts with Storm Breaker.  The second volume is Point Blanc. I have read both of these in school with what are termed ‘reluctant readers’ to great success. I would imagine the rest of the series would go down equally well.

Storm Breaker sets the scene of Alex’s recruitment into the secret service and his first mission, infiltrating the Storm Breaker project, brainchild of an evil millionaire set on dominating the globe.

Point Blanc follows on with Alex’s second mission, in which he returns reluctantly to his role within the Secret Service, to infiltrate an exclusive boys school in the Alps where things are not always as they seem.

The books follow a tried and tested formula.  There are short chapters, which are predominantly focussed on action rather than giving lots of background information. The characters are fairly thinly drawn, and revert to well known types, which make them easy to understand without the author having to go into long, drawn out explanations of what makes them tick.

Much like the original James Bond series by Ian Fleming, they are far fetched in terms of plot, but whip along at such speeds that it is easy to forgive and forget any loop holes or lack of ‘realism’.  Horowitz doesn’t really strive for realism at all and makes no apologies or explanations for the things he glosses over or leaves out altogether.

These are very much marketed at and written for boys. There are few female characters, and the ones that are included are very sketchily drawn.  The plots revolve around fast paced chases in vehicles of one description or another, acts of physical derring do, and violence. What description Horowitz includes is often limited to things like observations about makes of car or the power and capacity of motorbikes/helicopters etc.

It may sound like these are criticisms of the books.

Far from it.

The books are unashamedly pulp fiction, and none the worse for it. They are well written and fun to read, and perfectly conceived and created for the target market they are aimed at.  These are fantastic books for boys aged 10 and up. Younger, more confident readers will also enjoy them, but the content is quite graphic in terms of violence, and concerned teachers/parents are well advised to vet them beforehand.

I have found these books very popular with nearly all the boys I’ve tested them on. They are particularly successful at hooking boys with a high level of comprehension, but perhaps a lower level of fluency than is desired.

There are various reasons for this:

  • The shortness of the chapters is a key point. The child can make good headway with the book and start to speed through it with little difficulty.
  • The plainness of the language.  The language is not too sophisticated, much of it revolves around the action, and the language is quite visual.  It is easy to read and can create images in the mind of the reader which are much more filmic than many books.
  • The books are written as if they were being written for film or television, media the children will be much more comfortable with than more ‘literary’ works.
  • The plots are straightforward and easy to follow. There is great comfort in knowing what to expect and having that fulfilled.
  • Alex Rider is a very accessible character for boys.
  • The action sequences are graphic and punchy and move along with great speed. They are fun to read.

My suggestion, if you have a child who you think would benefit from reading a book like this, but who may need a little prompting to get into it, is to start, not at the beginning, but at a key point in the action.  I have tried this in school with excellent results.

I described the initial chapters to the children in question and set the scene, so they would understand the background of what we were about to read.  We then started the book further in, at a point where an action sequence was unfolding.  We read the sequence together and then discussed what it would be like to be Alex in this situation, and how we might behave under such circumstances.

We then set achievable targets for the children to read when they came back to see me the following week.

What I found, with this approach was that the children actually did read the book rather than pretending they had read it (easy to elicit by getting them to answer questions and/or discuss the section they should have read), and were keen to read more the following week.

Other useful things about this series are the accompanying series of graphic novels, which are graphic adaptations of the actual novels rather than separate entities. If you cannot get a child interested in the text first, try the graphic novel and then use that as a bridge to the actual novel.

There is also a film of the first book, Storm Breaker, and one of the children in school who I read the book with, had seen the film and he used prompts from the film to keep him on track with the book. It made the story much more familiar for him and meant he was comfortable with what he was reading and was able to make greater headway with it.

Horowitz is a prolific author for children of all ages (and some adult books).  His full range of works can be found on his website, which you can reach if you click here.  Because he writes across a wide age range,  if you are buying for a child, or lending a book to a child my suggestion is that you research whether it is appropriate beforehand either through reading a range of reviews on a site like Amazon, it or reading it yourself, just in case the material is too adult for the child in question.

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