At my kids’ suggestion, I finally got around to reading my first Geronimo Stilton book, Geronimo Stilton, Secret Agent. It’s more or less what I expected—a sparse plot but visually interesting. Geronimo is the only character even slightly developed in the story. I was fascinated, though, to learn that the books are originally written in Italian! Considering all the word play—both visual and textual—and crazy analogies, that translator must really go above and beyond. The author of the books is listed as “Geronimo Stilton” and they’re written in first person, so it seems like Geronimo is telling his own stories.
The Geronimo Stilton series has more books than most kids could read before moving on to some other series, but my kids still enjoy them (even though they typically read them in one sitting). Visually they’re interesting—many of the words are called out in unique fonts, often ones that suggest the meaning of the word or demonstrate patterns within the text. There are also maps and charts and illustrations that recap bits of the plot. These seem ideal for readers who would benefit from experiencing the text/story in a variety of ways.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The whole book is very slap-sticky. Lots of falling down and near misses. Nothing realistic or truly life threatening, although Geronimo’s nemesis has her bodyguard lock him in a closet because he knows Geronimo is terrified of the dark.
It’s not a major theme, but Geronimo is obviously attracted to the beautiful and mysterious secret agent who is also the sister of his childhood friend. Geronimo has several fans based on his previous adventures, and he ends up with a date with one because he doesn’t know how to say no.
A lot of the funny situations in the book come from things like a seagull pooping on Geronimo’s head. He’s searching for a letter that’s blown away, and he ends up in all the garbage cans, the dump, and eventually the sewers. It’s all pretty gross, but in a typical elementary-school-humor kind of way.
Stupidity & Bad Decisions
Geronimo simply doesn’t seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. If he were just a little brighter, the plot would get resolved much faster—or wouldn’t happen in the first place.
Also, when his usual friends aren’t available, he chooses not to ask the people who have offered to help him. He decides it’s embarrassing to ask for help. Of course some of them end up helping him anyway, although it takes him forever to figure that out. The reader knows long before he does.
When Geronimo is searching for the missing letter, he explores the recycling center and dump. There’s a quick overview of recycling and what happens to the things we throw away, which includes the reminder that you should think about whether you need something before you buy it. I appreciate the inclusion of that step. It also suggests reusing in addition to recycling and encourages the reader to figure out how to build a boat out of a plastic ice cream tub.
So, it’s not a great plot, although I think many books in the series might be better. My kids told me after I read it that the ending made them both say “Huh. Really?” But visually it’s wonderful, with vivid illustrations and many layers contained in the visual play. I think this series will encourage young or struggling readers to spend time looking at the books because they’re well rewarded with jokes and lessons that aren’t necessarily in the main text.