Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Maps: The Map Trap by Andrew Clements

Alton's thing for maps began before he was born.

It wasn't like there had been some kind of master plan to turn Alton Zeigler into a map nut. Lack of planning was what started it all. If Alton's mom and dad had planned better, they would have studied one of those "name your baby" books and had a name all picked out. But they hadn't done that. And therefore, as his dad was driving Alton's mom to the hospital, she pulled a coffee-stained Illinois road map from the pocket of the car door and began reading aloud from the long list of town names.

"...Alma, Alpha, Alsey...Alto Pass, Alton, Amboy--"

"Wait!" his dad said. That's it!"

"What?--Amboy! That's a terrible name for a..."

"No, no," his dad said, "Alton! Alton Ziegler!"

Alton it was, and to commemorate the naming, Alton's mom framed and hung the Illinois map over his crib. His family got in on the act, sending a rug with a U.S. map and a globed lamp of the earth to revolve over his crib.
And mappish things started to happen.

Alton's first crawl was on that rug, from Texas to Michigan. And by the time he was seven, the maps in the National Geographic magazines were his favorite reading matter. Soon Alton began to make his own maps, not just of places, but of other sorts of information. He started geo-caching in the primary grades, and eventually, his wardrobe featured nothing but map tees, and so, by sixth-grade, Alton Zeigler was known far and wide at Harper Middle School as their greatest geo-geek.

And that's when creating maps got Alton into a dilemma.

He had branched out into charting all kinds of information besides landforms. There was his map of the sizes of his classmates, done in the format of a topograpical map, from the shortest kid, Cal Virden as Virdon Valley to the tallest, Emma Wilson at five feet eight inches, as Mount Wilson. There was the map of "Mrs. Wheeling's Brain," complete with her mass of frizzy hair, and a Venn diagram of his class in the cafeteria, with circles for the nerds, jocks, nobodies, and the populars. There was even a chart of how often the principal said "um" when she made morning announcements. Alton thought they were pretty witty, but he had enough wit to realize that he'd be dead meat if his teachers and classmates got a look at them, so at school he kept them hidden behind a bookshelf near his desk.

That is, until the day when he couldn't resist showing some of his maps to Quint. Quint was smart, in the cafeteria's popular circle, and a pretty funny guy himself, and he thought those maps were a hoot. But the next time Alton reached for his folder behind the bookshelf, it was gone. He quickly determined that Quint wasn't the one who swiped the folder, but when he started finding mysterious ransom notes tucked into his books or desk, Quint realized that someone has his incriminating maps and knows just how to use them as blackmail. Surprisingly, Quint seems eager to help him figure out the whodunit, delighted to be a detective in what he calls "The Mystery of the Missing Maps." He even offered a suspect, Elena, who was watching them in the library when Alton showed Quint the maps.

And Alton knows he and Quint had better sleuth out the thief and get the maps back pronto, or he's going to be in big trouble with the principal, his teachers, and everyone in the sixth grade.

Andrew Clements' latest, The Map Trap (Atheneum Books, 2014), like his many middle grader novels, offers a main character who wants to do the right thing, whatever that is, along with solid supporting characterizations, witty dialog, and and crackling plot that leaves the real perpetrator in doubt all the way to the final pages. Author Clements amazingly turns out hit after hit, and this one is abetted by the drawings of notable artist Dan Andreason. As the New York Times punningly reports, "...this stand-alone story is off the charts."

Other killer-diller middle reader fare from Clements includes his perennial best-selling award-winner Frindle, No Talking, The Report Card, and Lunch Money.

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