Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson have teamed up to create an impressive body of adventure stories for young and middle grade readers. Both of these authors are well known to adult readers: Pearson for his suspense and mystery thrillers and Barry for his creative nonfiction in the Florida press and countless books of his humorous observations of our lives.
While I enjoy both these authors in their adult work, I find that where I get really excited about their stories is in their books for younger readers. Pearson’s fast-paced, electric narratives are exciting and interesting while Barry’s sense of humor and psychological insights offer extraordinarily entertaining and accessible characters.
I will refer, today, just to their adventure series surrounding the story and characters in J.M. Barrie’s original story Peter Pan.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS was published in 2004. The idea of what Peter and the lost boys might have been before the events of J. M. Barrie’s well-known (and loved) Peter Pan is intriguing. I found the series to be rife with adventure, danger and just enough of a hint of magic thrown in to make the storyline weave together really well with the Peter Pan characters that were already so firmly implanted in my imagination. I recommend this series for 3rd grade and up. The books are longer, which is sometimes intimidating to young readers. Although the series is appropriate and enjoyable for both boys and girls, my experience in the classroom seems to indicate that it is primarily boys who are drawn to and excited about these stories.
THE NEVERLAND SERIES: Escape from Carnivale, Cave of the Dark Wind and Blood Tide are written to be accessible to a slightly younger audience than Peter and the Starcatchers. These books are shorter and have slightly less difficult vocabulary. The main characters in this series are both the lost boys (stranded on Mollusk Island in the Peter and the Starcatchers series) and the children of Fighting Prawn, the leader of the Mollusk tribe on the island. Captain Hook and his pirates are also present, stranded on the opposite side of the island from the Mollusk people. Although the lost boys’ and the pirates’ existence on the island is due to the events in the other series of books, it is not necessary to know that to fully enjoy these adventures.
I have read all the books in this particular series–and am hungry for more. I enjoyed each one more than the one before it! I also like the fact that the main characters in each story vary. Sometimes the girl characters take the lead, and sometimes the boy characters do so. The encounters between the children and the pirates are action-packed, but with a slapstick flair. I think these could be read as early as 2nd grade. I would consider using these stories as read-alouds in 3rd or 4th grade, but as yet I have not so.
If you enjoy adventure these are fantastic choices for early middle readers. In my opinion they offer the advanced adventure narrative many children begin to seek in 2nd & 3rd grade, without age-inappropriate language or violence.