Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trackers by Patrick Carman

Trackers is a story many middle grade readers will engage with immediately. At first readers’ interest may be more curious - There’s movies? Online? With the story? - but the story itself will quickly surpass the curiosity. Kids who have read Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek books will be familiar with the format, but Trackers is less spooky, more tech-y, with equal amounts of tension and anticipation.

Trackers is told in a conversation - an interrogation, really - between an apparent government official and Adam Henderson. Adam explains that he and his friends Finn, Emily, and Lewis are trackers in the same way as old-time mountain men who could track lost hikers in the forest. They just do it digitally.

What, exactly, Adam is being interrogated about is not immediately revealed. Adam takes control of the interrogation, offering his story at his own pace and in his own manner. He explains some things himself and lets video recordings explain others. Videos are given to the interrogator and readers by passwords included in the book at Trackers Interface. Eventually readers learn that billions of dollars are missing for banks around the world, and the Trackers are the main suspects.

How did a bunch of sixth graders get so technologically savvy? Adam’s father owns a computer store in Seattle. On Adam’s ninth birthday his father gave him the Vault, a backroom in the store and permission to use anything that gets left behind. Adam started to tinker, create, and learn. He was a technological prodigy: “Mozart with a mouse.” By fifth grade the vault had become a network of monitors, keyboards, and computers running complex software and hidden surveillance cameras, and helping Adam make tons of virtual money which he in turn used to purchase more complex equipment. In sixth grade Adam met Finn, Emily, and Lewis, and the rest is history.

Trackers is heavy on technology which will attract kids who spend a lot of time online but won’t scare away kids who don’t know an IP address from a PO box. Everything is explained sufficiently without sounding like a computer programmer’s textbook. Readers will be fascinated by how Adam and the Trackers use cameras and computers to monitor the world around them and interact with one another, and readers will become more interested when they realize that the Trackers could possibly be “out-tracked” by mysterious adversaries.

Once again readers become participants with another multimedia series from Patrick Carman. With Skeleton Creek it was videos recorded by main character Sarah and an online message board debating reality vs. fiction. The 3:15 iPhone/iPod app has readers listening to audio, reading text, and watching movies. Another book/app, Dark Eden, is scheduled for release this fall. The covers of the Trackers books say, “Read the book. Watch the Videos. Break the Codes.” Trackers includes video recordings of important events, given to readers one by one as Adam makes them available to the authorities. Readers can see additional videos, participate in online discussions, and complete missions to reveal even more information about the characters and gadgets at the Trackers Book Website.

Trackers is a great series for upper elementary and middle school students. Just make sure there’s a computer available to readers (although transcripts of each video are included in the book). The Trackers Interface site also has a mobile version, so students with iPods and wi-fi access can also view the movies.

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