A couple of years ago, our family visited Washington, D.C. There were a few things the kids really wanted to see: the Washington Monument, the Spy Museum, and The National Museum of American History. How did these iconic American sights end up on the radar of two Canadian kids from the other side of the continent?
When my son outgrew Dan Gutman’s uber-popular My Weird School series, I was thrilled to find The Genius Files for middle-graders. It was the perfect blend of Gutman’s trademark humour and silliness, combined with a more challenging plotline. Dylan devoured the first book in a few days, and then his sister gladly picked it up too.
The Genius Files is a five-part, action-packed series about 13-year-old twins being chased across the United States by villains. They have some close calls: almost being pulverized in a shredder, nearly drowned in a vat of liquified SPAM, and being kidnapped on a high-speed roller coaster. I skimmed the beginning of the first installment, Mission Unstoppable, to get a sense of the writing. The opening line was irresistible: "There were ten items on Coke McDonald's to-do list on June 17, but JUMP OFF A CLIFF was not one of them." This was followed by the hilarious explanation of why the twins are named Coke and Pepsi.
It’s an appealing read. Gutman weaves together history and geography as the McDonald family's epic road trip takes them to real-life places and tourist sights. He interacts with readers, asking them to look up random facts, follow along on Google Maps, and to check the cover of the book (“Go ahead, I’ll wait.”). It’s fundangutman.com/dans-books/the-genius-files/ to have the author speak directly to readers. “That’s all you need to know right now…let’s move on to the good part,” he says. We purchased the entire series, and based on how many times it's been read and re-read by the kids, it was a worthwhile investment.
Back to our visit to Washington. Our experience at the National Museum of American History was enhanced by the fact that our children were the ones excitedly leading us through the exhibits. The museum is one of the stops in the second book, Never Say Genius, and the kids wanted to see everything Coke and Pepsi did: the Star Spangled Banner, the Greensboro Lunch Counter, John Bull, and Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers. Dylan even knew that Dumbo the Flying Elephant was on the third floor because he remembered that's where the twins found it in the story.
The Genius Files is a fantastic choice for young readers who enjoy fast-paced suspense with lots of humour. Parents will love that they are learning something too.
Books in Series: 5
The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable
The Genius Files: Never Say Genius
The Genius Files: You Only Die Twice
The Genius Files: From Texas With Love
The Genius Files: License to Thrill
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.