Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Boys Love The 39 Clues

Last month, a homeschool mom friend called to ask me to give her the lowdown on The 39 Clues. Thing is, I didn’t know anything about it, other than I’d seen it on in their ads that say “customers who bought this also bought this”, but I had ignored the ads.

She explained it is a book series, with cards, and the books and cards have clues to solve a mystery. There is a website with online free games that intersects with the cards and book clues. Prizes will be awarded to some who solve missions.

That was all I needed to hear. I ordered the books as part of a Christmas present for my boys.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree so since my boys have learned of the existence of this series and have begun to play, they are telling any and all of their friends, trying to tempt them and recruit them into buying the books and playing the game. (At which point rather than worry that my kids are enticing other families to spend money I am thinking that boys discussing books with other boys can only be a good thing, so I’m not discouraging it by any means!)

We had participated as a family in the difficult clue solving inside a book quest that was for the book “A Treasure’s Trove”. Through that I learned of the early 1980s picture book based treasure hunt book “Masquerade”. Yet this was the first book, and a series, written for children aged 9-12. I did a bit of research and noticed that there are different authors of the books, yet all are authors who have published books previously that appealed to ‘reluctant reader middle school grade boys’.

Each hardcover book comes with six cards, the same six cards for that volume. Card packs are sold separately and contain 16 random cards in each pack, out of a pool of 55 cards in the set. These are packaged similar to other game cards such as Pok√©mon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in that there are a large amount of cards, some are common and some are rare, and that each pack has a random assortment of cards in it. You never know what each pack will contain. The full retail on the card packs is $6.99. As of today Amazon doesn’t discount them but they are running a promotion in the buy 4 for the price of 3 category (that can be combined with any other products in that category such as books not connected to this series). Each card has mysterious things on it that must be deciphered and pondered in order to solve the clue related to that card.

Of course you can imagine how children will like to show their friends their cards and brainstorm solutions, when together face to face.

My older son has been calling his friends on the phone nearly every day to discuss 39 Clues and the missions.

So let’s turn our attention to the Internet. What happens when books and cards intersect with the Internet? Information sharing! Yes!

The cards in the packs each have an identification code on them, each card has the same code. Children (and adults) can sign up for a free account on the official 39 Clues website. Within their account they can enter the ID code of each card they own in order to use it in their online game playing. Each week missions are unlocked to perform online games to reveal more clues. In this way a child can’t get a new account and sit down to solve the entire puzzle in one day. They have to wait for new missions to be unlocked each week. The official 39 clues site does not have any live chat features so there won’t be any online discussions with strangers that would put a child’s safety at risk.

One downside that I just realized today is that if one family buys one book, the cards that come with the book have one unique identification number (same code on all cards). Each book has the same cards. Yet if more than one child in the family wants to play the full online game, they are unable to enter the same card numbers as their sibling. In other words to load the cards (that come with the book) onto the computer account, each child in a family has to buy their own copy of the book. It is a little atypical for one family to have to purchase separate copies of each book for multiple children in a family. The books are full retail $12.99 in USA and this is a ten book series so to fully play the game on independent online accounts, it would cost (full retail) $129.90 per child to play. Ouch!

Wikipedia has an entry on 39 Clues that lists all the cards that come in the 'card packs', just in case your child is wondering what is on the other cards. There are links to websites that reveal the unique ID codes on each card, so players can cheat to gain access to all the card data in order to play the game more fully without spending a lot of money on multiple $7 packs to try to collect all 55.

There are also special promotional cards such as ones received if the book was purchased at a Scholastic book fair. All those codes can be found online for free on websites not run by the publisher (Scholastic).

As a good example of how today’s tweens are embracing the Internet, here is a YouTube video done by a boy who looks to be ten or eleven years old, sharing the cards he owns and reading off the ID codes for each card! I cracked up when I saw this! My boys thought the video was fantastic (despite poor video resolution quality).

Look, I see this is a money making thing, a big marketing thing. Scholastic is the publisher and they are going to make money on this. I was okay with the idea of buying one set of books for my two boys to share and with buying some card packs as holiday gifts or to have them spend their own money on. I do resent having to buy one book for each child though.

I think one friend of mine in particular is going to try to keep this series a secret from her kids in order to not be a player in the publisher’s game (and she didn't even know about the one book per each child in the family issue). However let’s be honest. Numerous stakeholders in our society want boys to read and to like reading. Encouraging middle school aged boys to read has been a challenge that has remained constant for a number of years. So the idea to lure in the readers who like the fantasy and mystery genre, combine it with spies, secret codes and involving the reader to crack the codes, with the temptation of winning real treasure (cash)—what is a boy not to love about the idea? Mix in the authors who have written books that boys already like to read, to author the books is nothing short of a brilliant idea. The authors involved with the project are: by Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, Jude Watson, and Patrick Carman.. Not to be sexist, but it is obvious to me the main kids who will read this will be boys, but of course as with anything, this book series may be of interest to girls too, especially those who don’t just gravitate toward uber girly-girl books about designer clothing, cliques and backstabbing friends.

Books one and two were released in the second half of 2008. Book three will be published in March 2009. Card pack series one pertains to books 1-3 and is out now. Card pack series two will pertain to future books.

Despite the money we’re spending on cards and the books, my only other complaint is the timeline. I am not sure that the series will remain interesting for a long series of books to be published over more than two years time. I realize a lot of kids have a short attention span that could be blamed but let’s be honest. Kids do grow up and out of phases and I’m not sure that all readers who start somewhere along the span of age 9-12 will still be interested by the end. Only time will tell, and I’m sure that it will vary by child. I just hope my boys find the series interesting enough to stick with through to the end.

I was thinking that public libraries might consider doing some programs to use this book series to promote reading. What could be done in a group setting as a library program, I don’t quite know, but I hope some children’s librarians are brainstorming about it. Actually Scholastic should come up with some ideas and publish them on their website for librarians to access to use!

One last thing. I have not heard media buzz about this book series. I have not heard a peep from the homeschooling community either. I find both of those things odd.

External Links:

39 Clues Products on Amazon:

Book One: The Maze of Bones

Book Two: One False Note

Book Three: The Sword Thief (available for Amazon pre-order at a guaranteed pre-order low price)

Card Pack volume 1 –silver box-- (contains 16 cards)

About The 39 Clues on official website

The 39 Clues official website home page

Wikipedia Entry for The 39 Clues

Informative blog post on 39 Clues at The Spotman and His World Blog

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LivingByLearning said...

It's funny. My 9yo boy read the books, but he hasn't embraced the game. My 12yo daughter; however, loves the game as much as the books. Her blog posts on the game have drawn a lot of readers.

Demas said...

My 9 YO boy actively doesn't like the book. Granted, he is already an avid reader, but the hook of making you buy more cards and going to play a game to really get value from the series does not appeal to him at all. He declined to read the second book, even from the library.

One20 Farm and BluGiRlinK said...

MY 9 YO daughter and I have been reading them together and love them. they remind me of an updated nancy drew. I catch myself reading on after I get her to bed! lol

Misty4me said...

I'm confused about needing one book per sibling. My son borrowed book 1 from his school's library and it still had some of the cards with it. (book 2 did not) We entered the code and it worked - (I think, only one card was added to his account, all cards had the same code) He can't possibly be the first one to enter it.

christinemm said...

Hi Misty4Me,
Yes each card has a unique number you can see they are black inked stamped on not printed nicely as the card is. You hit a coincidence by being the first to enter the card into the computer. Not all the kids who read the books use the website.

If another user tries to use those card numbers in your libarry book it will not work for them as your son used those codes.

If there was just one set of cards someone would put them on the Interent and all the kids would have all the cards on their online account and would not be purchasing the card sets that the publisher (Scholastic) sells separately ($8 a pack).


Misty4me said...

I actually found the answer somewhere else. With the first book, if the code is entered a second time, the player gets one card in his account (as my son did) The first person to enter the card number for any of the books gets 6 cards added to his account.