Ignore, for a moment, the fact that there are trading cards and websites and games and prizes all associated with The 39 Clues. Pay no mind to the kids who might spend as much time, if not more time, studying the cards and entering and deciphering codes and wondering what the heck is up with Nessie Lives (look closely at the copyright page).
Okay, just kidding. Don't ignore that stuff. First of all, when the cards, game, prizes, website, and $100,000 are all mentioned on the front and back covers, you can't ignore them. But second, and I'll admit it here, but only in small font: that stuff is kinda cool. And I'm not saying it again. It sounds sort of blasphemous to a reading teacher. But facts is facts.
The Maze of Bones follows Amy and Dan Cahill, members of the most power family in world history. Every important event in world history has been orchestrated by someone from one of the four branches of the Cahill Clan. When Grace Cahill dies, her will dictates that 40 family members may take $1 million or participate in a contest to track down 39 clues and become the most powerful Cahill ever. Despite no financial resources and no adult assistance, Amy and Dan burn up their $1 million checks and start the competition ... by nearly dying in a house fire. (Unrelated to their burning checks. Just saying.)
Their quest takes them to the library (of course), Philadelphia, Paris, another library (woo-hoo!), and underground. They nearly die (this is just top-of-the-head recall, now) three times - in the aforementioned house fire, getting lost underground, and being buried in wet cement. Wait! Four times! There's a bomb too. There's probably more, but I'm moving on.
Amy and Dan encounter invisible ink, maps, codes, anagrams, diagrams, and signs in foreign languages. They are instructed to trust no one. Non-stop action, near death experiences and narrow escapes, puzzles and codes (one even hidden in the page numbers) all will draw readers into the book and, indeed, the series. One student of mine hasn't finished the book yet, but he's already registered at The 39 Clues website, has all his cards entered, and has obtained exclusive online cards as well.
Without much effort, here's some pieces I've stitched together. A code in the book says that Anne Cahill did not drown. On the cards included with the book, Nella Chain is listed as a passenger on the Titanic. Here name is an anagram for Anne Cahill. Another card says that a Titanic expert's prize artifact is a cameo from room B77 on the Titanic. Who stayed in room B77? According to the passenger list on another card, it's Nella Chain.
Another admission: I'm registered on the website too. Don't tell my wife. Or my principal.
Know any kids who would get into this? The second book, One False Note by Gordon Korman, will be released in December 2008, and the third book, The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis, soon after in March 2009. Book One author, Rick Riordan, has mapped out the ten-book series, but different authors will write each book.