Cinematizing the Novel for Reluctant Readers: Kidnap Kids by Todd Strasser
If you know a kid whose wedded to the tube, watching sitcoms and videos aimed at young audiences but reluctant to pick up a book, have I got an author for you! Todd Strasser is a talented writer who has walked away with children's choice awards (where actual young readers do the voting) in New York, Indiana, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kansas, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, as well as awards from the adult industry (American Library Association, International Reading Association, New York City Library, to name a few). Strasser's books as literature are well crafted, but have the eerie sense of being novels written as screen plays or television scripts.
Case in point: Strasser's Kidnap Kids begins with two boys doing the old ice water bucket trick on their evil Swedish nanny, who angrily stalks out the door just as the boys' frazzled lawyer mom returns from working late. Twelve-year-old Steven and little brother Benjamin haven't seen much of their high-profile parents in months, as their dad roams the Pacific rim for a communications megacorporation and their mom is lead prosecutor for a front-page trial of a homegrown terrorist militia. After losing five nannies in a month, the only supervision their mom Megan Marks can come up with at midnight is Dewey, a home security guard, a young ne'er-do-well who lets the kids skip regular meals, baths, and tooth brushing, and enjoy the use of their swanky home as an opportunity for extreme wall climbing practice.
Desperate for their attention, Steven and Benjy hatch a plot to "borrow" Dewey's handcuffs and security gear to kidnap their parents, and confront them with their need for some kind of home life. This plot is made easier by the parents' sudden purchase of a remote vacation home, and when Mom and Dad turn the promised quality-time weekend into a 48-hour workathon, the kids go through with the plot, tossing their parents cellphones, Blackberries, and car keys, and begin serious negotiations for a change.
Then on a trip to the nearby country store, Steven overhears a couple of suspicious-looking guys asking about their parents' whereabouts and realizes that the "Nut Bombers" are there to halt the trial by killing his mom. Steven calls 911, but can only give them the name of the river near the house as their location. Back at the house Steven urges his parents to flee into the woods just as the militia members approach. When the family tries to cross the river to call for help from the same little store, they discover that the bridge is already in the hands of the terrorists.
At this point, Steven's cool head and Benjy's extraordinary climbing skills, honed on the family's staircase, finally get the boys and their mom across the river via the bridge's underside. The final chase scene features Megan Marks stealing the terrorists' truck and fighting off a militia member with her high-heeled shoe just as the local police arrive on the scene. As you would expect, the parents then recognize their kids' real needs and vow to change their own workaholic ways.
"...now your real mother is going to tell you both to finish your milk and make sure you brush your teeth before you go to school this morning," said Mom.
"Aw, Mom, do we have to?" Benjy whined.
"Hey," Mom said with a smile, "no complaining. You wanted your real mother. Now you got her!" [FADEOUT/RUN CREDITS]
Equally cinematographic and enticing for the able but reluctant reader are the books in Strasser's Help! I'm Trapped series, beginning with Help! I'm Trapped in My Teacher's Body, in which a science project gone terribly wrong gives Josh a chance to experience life and learning from the other side of the teacher's desk. Great literature these books are not, but great fun they are for an easy read that's more complex and engaging than the typical mindless kids' show or movie.