I’m moving from last month’s theme of setting to this month’s theme of plot. This story component is the one I struggle with the most. Characters pop into my mind with little effort, exploring and describing settings is a delight, but plotting–that’s where the hard work comes in. If you fall into that camp, read a book from the Swindle series by Gordon Korman. These middle-grade novels are densely plotted, but they’re easy to study because they’re written for ten-year-olds. They’re also a hoot.
The books feature six middle school kids and their whacky adventures as they attempt to foil the plans of crooked adults. In the first book, Griffin Bing is swindled out of a million-dollar baseball card. His parents and the police are no help. Only one thing to do: steal it back.
The plots depend on the personalities and talents of the six kids:
- Griffin Bing–the Man with the Plan
- Ben Slovak–smallest kid, a worrier, and Griffin’s best friend.
- Logan Kellerman–professional actor (the books take place on Long Island)
- Antonia “Pitch” Benson–athlete
- Melissa Dukakis–science whiz
- Savannah Drysdale–animal lover
In this second book of the series, Savannah’s pet monkey Cleo disappears. While on a school field trip to a zoo that motors up and down in the east coast in a paddle wheeler, the kids discover Cleo on exhibit in the ill-kept boat. The owner, Mr. Nastase, says he has proof of purchase of the monkey. Again the parents say they can’t do anything. So Griffin decided to spring Cleo.
The execution of the zoo break, all the twists and turns, is so much fun to read and even more helpful for a writer to analyze. Such as, once the kids sneak aboard to free Cleo, Savannah is so appalled at the living conditions of the other animals that she insists they take them all or she’ll remain on the boat. If she gets arrested for breaking and entering, at least, the cops will see how awful the zoo is. This plot twist is in keeping with Savannah’s personality, which was established in the first pages.
The kids free the other animals and are about to make their escape when they can’t find the boat they used to row over to the paddle wheeler. But Griffin remembers a yellow box he used to help Ben reach a vent. It’s a life raft.
Once the kids makes it home with the animals, Savannah plans on calling a scientist at a well-run local zoo. But the woman is out of the country for two weeks. The kids now have to divide the animals between their homes until the scientist returns. Eventually, this proves so difficult that Griffin devises another zoobreak, this to to break animals into the good zoo.
This book is second to last in the Swindle series by Gordon Korman. The school science fair is coming up. Griffin and Melissa both have entries, and a rivalry heats up, with the friends taking sides. Then Melissa’s invention disappears.
This one is so much fun because you think you’ve picked out the adult the kids are going to face off against, and Mr. Korman pulls a hilarious switcheroo. This story is also heaped with plot twists, but every one makes sense from the way the author lays his groundwork throughout the story.
What books do you recommend to learn about plotting? Or what book does plotting exceptionally well?