When we were asked to review the first book in a new adventure series for middle-graders, Arkie Sparkle: Treasure Hunter, my girls were super keen. They love adventure / mystery books generally, and books with strong female protagonists in particular. And the premise of these books sounded interesting - Arkie Sparkle, whose parents are archeologists / treasure hunters, has 7 days (or 7 books!) to find a series of treasures in order to ransom her kidnapped parents. Throw in a smart best friend, exciting machines and devices, a little history, plenty of action, and a cute dog, and surely that's a winner, yes?
We all three read it, and here's the verdict:
7 year old says: "It was good, and funny. Arkie Sparkle is a good explorer and really funny. I like Cleopatra the dog a lot. I want to read all of the books in the series!"
Almost-9 year old says: "The book leaves you in suspense! I think it would be great for ages 8-11. My sister read it at 7 but she is a good reader. I think it was very exciting. My favourite character was TJ, Arkie Sparkle's cousin. She is my favourite character because she's smart like me and has restrictive parents like me who won't let her go out so much." (Bwahahaha, Miss 9!)
I say: It was engaging, witty, and it had a decent plot. I am actually keen to see where the trail goes next, which means it had genuine dramatic tension, so it gets a big thumbs-up from me.
Overall, it's a really great kids' book; very enjoyable, nicely paced, intelligently written, and the start of what will no doubt be a much-devoured series around here.
Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter, through no fault of its own, arrived in our household and was read at the same moment that I was attending the Emerging Writers Festival, including the thought-provoking panel discussion on Women in Writing. In that session, Emily Maguire and Anna Barnes led a fascinating conversation about the gendering of books and stories, and how it starts in childhood. Emily, who teaches creative writing to school students, talked about how little girls will write stories with half-half male-female protagonists, and will read books about (and "for") boys as well as "for" girls, whereas little boys write stories where all the protagonists are male, all the time, and only read "boy books". From these seeds (and so many others, of course) grow the pervasive undervaluing of stories about women, stories told or written by women, stories identified as "women's domain". Books about men and by men are for everyone, because Man is the default human, in which women are enjoined to see themselves also reflected; books by women and about women are only FOR women, because men can have nothing to learn from a female voice.
So one thing, only one thing, I wish was different about Arkie Sparkle, and it's this: I wish it wasn't being marketed as "an adventure story for girls." I wish it wasn't selling itself short like this, because I actually think it's a great book that would be enjoyed by boys too, if that were "allowed". I wish it was OK for boys to look admiringly at a character like Arkie or TJ and see themselves reflected there, just as girls do all the time with the male characters they read.
Here's what I say to you - if you have children aged 8-11 who enjoy a good adventure story, give Arkie Sparkle a try. She's really great, and really worth it. We'll be snapping up each new volume as it comes through, that's for sure.
Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter: Code Crimson is available from 26 June for an RRP of $6.99 (ebook version $5.99). The second book in the series, Time Trap, is due for release in August.
Disclosure: I received not one, but TWO, complimentary copies of Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter #1: Code Crimson (one for each of my two big girls, which was greatly appreciated) courtesy of Pan Macmillan. No financial payment was offered nor accepted for this post. All opinions expressed are purely my own.