Thursday, May 11, 2006

Alvin’s Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks

Original copyright 1963, Reprint 2006, Bethlehem Books, 158 pp. softcover

Reviewed by Elizabeth Yank

Bethlehem Books are dangerous! When my children see the package in the mailbox, they want to gobble them up. Reading books is a good thing, but who wants to do school when a thrilling adventure or an exciting mystery awaits?

Alvin’s Secret Code is another Bethlehem Books winner. I confess; I polished it off in one day (It helps if you are stuck in an airport for a 2 ½ hour layover without any interruptions). My 8-year-old, Kateri, also polished it off in record time. She was so completely absorbed in it that she read it in two afternoons.
In this fun, mystery story, Alvin, his best friend Shoie, and Alvin’s younger sister combine their talents to unlock a secret message to buried treasure.

There are some great moral lessons in this story, but you don’t have to tell your kids that. After Alvin and Shoie accidentally find an encoded message, they are convinced that a lonely old man is a Russian spy passing on military secrets. They soon find out that overactive imaginations can lead to false assumptions.

In the process of decoding their mysterious message, they meet a World War II veteran who shares with them his knowledge of codes and ciphers. In our modern culture that segregates age groups, it is great to see these age barriers broken and different generations spending time together and communicating with each other respectfully.

Another “teachable” moment occurs when Alvin conscientiously returns 40 cents to the man he borrowed it from. Even though he would rather do other things, he returns it to the man out of his own accord, without any reminders from his parents and before he sets out to do anything else more important.

For me the most touching moment occurs when Alvin generously offers to help someone in desperate need, but I can’t give away all the details. For my daughter, her favorite part of the story is when Alvin gives his sister a medal, allowing her to become Secret Agent Z 13 ½. Even though Alvin refers to his sister Daphne as “the pest” throughout the story, he allows her to tag along and is never nasty to her. In fact, he does appreciate her contributions to solving the mystery and in the end rewards her. She idolizes Alvin as her older brother and that is why she wants to tag along.

If you are looking for an interesting as well as informative read, you won’t be disappointed with Alvin’s Secret Code. With a mysterious stranger in town, a damsel in distress, and the three “secret agents” looking for a mystery to solve, Alvin’s Secret Code is the perfect recipe for a fun adventure. After reading this book, don’t be surprised if your children start writing messages in ciphers and codes. There is an appendix in the back of the book with an explanation of ciphers and codes along with samples.

1 comment:

Dr. Thursday said...

Yes, I have a copy from the original edition, and have read it "recently" (as the dwarves tell Snow White when she asked when they last washed their hands!) I may be a computer scientist, but I haven't stopped reading the GOOD literature.

And this, like the other "Alvin" stories (I have three or four others) is a good story. The kids are great characters, and also introduces some basic ideas about "codes" or encryption, which is good mental exercise and a fun toy. I've known some computer people who wanted to tinker with it, and they always ended up working with prime numbers....

You want to know WHY???

Ssssh. Are you sure no one is looking over your shoulder?

(Come close to the screen so I can whisper it!)

"Spies like BIG PRIME numbers."

(No there aren't prime numbers in the book, too bad.)