NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society is a fast-paced, kids-as-spies thriller and spoof. The main characters are, well, nerds, who have been recruited by a top secret government agency to combat villains by using nanobyte technology. Jackson Jones, once a cool 5th grade jock and very much full of himself, plummets from social acclaim to nerd status when he is fitted with the most tortuous set of braces ever designed. Amazingly, his braces become a secret weapon, but in the end, Jackson’s indomitable spirit, along with a newfound humility, save the day. Almost.
The author, Michael Buckley, creates this wacky and hilarious story which is the first in a series of five books featuring the NERDS secret society. Buckley’s characters are straight out of upper elementary or middle school, with lots of “ew!” moments. Each nerd spy is outfitted with a weapon system built around his or her weakness, which is an interesting concept (see social skills application below). Students will not be disappointed in the high tech features of this story. It’s an action packed adventure that travels the globe, just like James Bond movies. The entire book is written as a transmission of sorts and the reader must provide increasingly (gross) samples of DNA to receive the next level. There’s no way to keep a straight face as a kid is hunting for ear wax to put on a sensor! Eventually, the author is makes an all-out ploy for cash, which is just as funny as the rest of the book.
I was surprised that Buckley kills off some folks in this book. When facing an evil genius bent on destroying the world, I guess there must be casualties. The “violence” is tempered by humor; pinatas with missiles can really mess up a birthday party. The book is a fast read, features astounding artificial intelligence, and suggests that Michael Buckley is one quick-witted but wacky guy. Visit his website for more spy fun; kids can join the NERDS team by answering a set of questions and being assigned a code name. Very cool.
Special education application: This is a 5 star book with special appeal to kiddos with learning and social challenges. The distress and humiliation of bullying is not glossed over, despite Jackson’s total denial that he ever bullied anyone. In fact, the entire plot is predicated on the good, the bad, and the ugly of elementary and middle school social mores. NERDS makes a great read aloud for social skills groups, with an abundance of topics to explore.