The Gecko & Sticky: Villain's Lair by Wendelin Van Draanen

Cindy: Here’s a fun new series for elementary and younger middle school readers. In volume one, The Gecko & Sticky: Villain’s Lair (Knopf, 2009), Dave has a talking pet gecko named Sticky, who gets him involved with a dastardly, demented villain due to a magical Aztec wristband Sticky has stolen that Damien Black (said villain) wants to get his hands on. Damien has the powerful ingots that when placed in the wristband bring the wearer magical powers. The first ingot that Dave gets his hands on gives him the power to climb walls and after a daring rescue, he becomes an anonymous local super hero named The Gecko. This humorous parody of superhero and adventure series stories is written by Wendelin Van Draanan, author of the popular Sammy Keyes mystery series and the Shredderman series (which has the genesis of this series in its Meet the Gecko volume.

This is the perfect book to hand to young elementary kids reading way above reading level because of its vocabulary and sophistication but lack of mature content. At the same time, it will be welcomed by middle school teachers looking for lower level reading for their students that doesn’t seem too babyish. Dave is 13 in the book, and in fact, it was a gecko-owning high school freshman in our book club who first raved about the good writing in this story. The book ends with Dave acquiring another ingot with the power of invisibility and he and Sticky poised to start another adventure. Damian is sure to get out of jail, for as Van Draanen cautions: “…if there’s one thing you should never do it’s underestimate the determination of dastardly, demented villains.” Watch for the next installment, The Gecko & Sticky: The Greatest Power coming May 26, 2009, to a superhero independent bookstore near you.

Lynn: I’m learning a lot lately with this blogging gig and I’ve figured out that reviewing funny books makes me nervous. Humor is tricky! Not only is humor highly individual but it is also variable. When Cindy first talked about these books I thought, “Cool, super hero powers, talking geckos, over the top word play – what’s not to like?” But when I sat down to read Villain’s Lair, it didn’t really seem all that funny to me. Sure I smiled here and there and I even worked up a chuckle but on the whole I wasn’t all that amused. My funny bone was in a cranky mood and I knew I shouldn’t trust it. Still I avoided the second book, Gecko and Sticky: The Greatest Power, for at least a week before Cindy started to nag. In this story, the dastardly villain, Damien Black holds up a bank, escaping with cash and a tiger’s eye ring. Sticky and Dave are on the case and pursue Black to his sinister mansion. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed this one, even laughing out loud. I don’t know if it was the mood I was in while reading the first one or whether the second is just better. Test these on your own funny bone. The important thing is that the kids think both books are both hilarious and that is what counts. I’m left worrying about just one thing with these books. Sticky has a decidedly latino flavor to his speech and I’m hoping that some professor of Gecko Studies somewhere doesn’t scold us for promoting a book that does not accurately reflect the Gecko Experience. As I said, there’s a lot to be nervous about!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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