There’s something about initials in kids books. When I was a kidlet, all the best books were by people hiding behind initials – along with Point Horror writers Caroline B Cooney and D E Athkins, R L Stine is of course a good example, and I was so in love with him and his initialled compatriots that for a while all of my (numerous and terrible) stories were mostly me thinking up dramatic titles, writing the name F E Hardy in bold, then running immediately out of ideas. The trend continues with the Zac Power books, written by H I Larry, a pen name for a variety of excellent authors who have contributed to the series. H J Harper is no pseudonym, but an actual (and quite lovely) person named Holly, and her new Star League series starts as much fun.
Book one opens with movie star Jay Casey heroically stopping some bank robbers in a commercial for the drink Fizz Force. As the filming wraps up, we learn more about Jay: he does his own stunts, swinging down from the ceiling and kicking a burglar’s legs out from underneath him; he’s kind, showing concern for the actors he’s just beaten up; and he’s a lonely kid, orphaned and with only his uncle/agent Jefferson as a friend. Then Jay finds out he’s up for an audition with the famous director Ben Beaumont—but it’s not an audition for a movie, but to join a new bunch of kids with the ability to save the world. There’s robot S.A.M., animancer Leigh, zombie Roger (full name Roger Romero, which is why I love Holly right there), werewolf Connor and ninja Asuka, and the first book shows the team meeting for the first time, and thrown right in the deep end with a dramatic kidnapping as the evil and awesomely named Professor Pestilence tries to use Jay’s fame to his advantage.
I like early reader chapter books because I can knock them out in a short period of time and feel like a Successful Bookseller. It’s also great when I like them and then have some proper advice to offer those who want to buy a book for the eightish-plusish market. (Younger kids will probably like having it read to them and older kids, like for example twenty-nine-year-old ones, might also like to snare themselves a copy.)
Having male, female and androgynous-robot characters means that all types of kids can see that anyone can be powerful and courageous, and makes the series good for kids who think reading about the opposite sex is gross/smelly/weird/boring or the parents that assume their kids think that way. Though to be honest, in many ways the children’s book industry mops the floor with adult books, sexism-wise, because there are female spies and agents and adventurers all over the place in the kids section but not as much in the adult fiction section. Hopefully kids who grow up reading books like Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero will end up writing books like Star League: Equal Pay, Equal Badassness. Or perhaps they’ll think of better titles. Probably.
Lights, Camera, Action Hero is fun, adventurous, a bit different, and manages to tackle the serious issues of being ostracised and feeling lonely while throwing in terrifying evil professors, killbots (my favourite kind of bot!) and jokes. Basically, it’s all you could want in a kids adventure book, with the added bonus of originality and warmth. Nahum Ziersch’s manga-ish illustrations are excellent, energetic, edgy and other e-words too: it makes for a good-looking read to go with the clear but not patronising language. And if you/your kid/your grandma likes it, there’s five more books in the series. You know what, you should probably just go buy them all at once.