Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula SecretExplor­er Acad­e­my: The Neb­u­la Secret
Tru­di Truett
illus­trat­ed by Scott Plumbe (with a blend of photos)
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2018
ISBN 978−1−4263−3159−6

Done with the Har­ry Pot­ter series, maybe not quite ready for the Alex Rid­er series, what do you suggest?

Explor­er Acad­e­my. Emphat­i­cal­ly. 

The book opens in Hawaii, where Cruz Coro­n­a­do (not quite 13) is get­ting packed and say­ing good­bye before he heads to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to attend Explor­er Acad­e­my. His moth­er worked there. His aunt Marisol is a pro­fes­sor of anthro­pol­o­gy, pale­on­tol­ogy, and cryp­tol­ogy. Cruz des­per­ate­ly wants to go. Out for a last surf before his dad dri­ves him to the air­port, some­one grabs his ankle and tries to drag him down. Cruz sens­es dan­ger and man­ages to escape.

That’s just the first few pages. Arriv­ing at the Acad­e­my, we are treat­ed to sat­is­fy­ing descrip­tions of Cruz’s fel­low stu­dents, his teach­ers, the fan­tas­tic build­ings of the Acad­e­my, and the library with its spe­cial col­lec­tions room. Cruz meets his room­mate, Emmett Lu, who is inven­tive and great best friend material.

The stu­dents are vying for the North Star award, giv­en to the most promis­ing stu­dent at the end of their first year. That sets up some ten­sion but it’s the sim­u­lat­ed envi­ron­ment explor­ing they do, much of it to aid in con­ser­va­tion efforts, that proves to be risky and turn-the-page engrossing.

There are sev­er­al lay­ers of sto­ry here. Cruz’s moth­er died at the Acad­e­my sev­er­al years ear­li­er but no one knows why. She left clues in code for Cruz because she’s con­fi­dent he’ll fig­ure out what’s going on. Some­one always seems to be fol­low­ing Cruz and there are sev­er­al char­ac­ters who pop up along the way who are unset­tling. All of this and his class assign­ments are dif­fi­cult but fas­ci­nat­ing. Who would­n’t want to go to this school?

The char­ac­ters will become the read­er’s friends: Sailor, Bryn­dis, and Emmett will become close friends, a team, and Dugan, Zane, Ren­shaw, and Ali round out their explor­er group. Back in Hawaii, Cruz’ best friend Lani helps him  think things through, do inter­net research, and whips up life-sav­ing mea­sures because she sens­es he needs them. There’s even a dog! 

Each of the chap­ters is chock full of cool gad­gets, cut­ting-edge sci­ence, astron­o­my, anthro­pol­o­gy, every bit of which had me look­ing things up on the com­put­er. At the end of the book, there’s a thought­ful sec­tion of real-life sci­en­tists pur­su­ing the research and inven­tions described in the book, let­ting us know what’s real and what’s near­ly real. 

As always, this Nation­al Geo­graph­ic book is so well designed that it becomes anoth­er ele­ment of the sto­ry, pulling us through. (At one point, I flipped through to see what oth­er intrigu­ing illus­tra­tions there might be.) Scott Plumbe com­bines good char­ac­ter stud­ies with cool maps and exam­ples, some of which are blend­ed with pho­tos. Alto­geth­er the look and feel of the book sup­port this fast-paced, well-writ­ten thriller of a story.

I can’t wait for book two, The Fal­con’s Feath­er, because Cruz’s moth­er chal­lenges him to a quest that will take him and the explor­ers all around the world and this read­er wants to be by their side.

High­ly recommended.

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