THE POTATO CHIP PUZZLES (The Puzzling World of Winston Breen) by Eric Berlin
When I picked up this galley, I wasn't aware that it was a sequel. Somehow we missed the first one at my former job, and I do mean missed: I think we would have sold THE PUZZLING WORLD OF WINSTON BREEN quite well in hardcover. Well, now they'll sell it quite well in paperback, and I'll tell you about the sequel. You certainly don't have to have read the first book to enjoy the second, although now that I've enjoyed book two so much I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of book one as well.
This book is going to appeal to kids who like THE WESTING GAME, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET, SHAKESPEARE'S SECRET, THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY...in other words, this book has some pretty wide-ranging appeal.
The basic plot is this: the owner of a local potato-chip company sets up a puzzle hunt for area school kids, and Winston's school gets an invite. His principal asks him to head up the school's team, and he picks his two best friends to be the other participants (a move unappreciated by the math teacher who ultimately becomes the chaperone, as he'd hoped the participants would all be Mathletes). Winston and his team head off to the factory to meet the other teams and set out on the puzzling quest that will end with one school winning fifty thousand dollars. Along the way they'll have to deal with cheaters, math experts, bad tempers, and a teacher who doesn't seem to believe that they can win.
The puzzles are sprinkled throughout the book for the reader to solve (answers are in the back). I'm terrible at math and terrible at most puzzles, so I skipped 95% of them. They're an enhancement to the reading experience, but not central to the plot - I didn't miss anything by skipping them, as far as I can tell. But for a math or puzzle obsessed kid, the puzzles will only make reading the book that much more awesome.
Winston and his pals are smart and funny, but not dwelling-in-the-basement-geeky in that stereotypical way a lot of smart kids can be portrayed in. In fact, this book does a remarkably good job of not painting any of the math...enthusiasts? as mouthguard-wearing pocket-protector-having nerds. This book actually makes math and puzzles seem...fun. (Just writing that made me feel a little faint - math hasn't been my friend since 7th grade Algebra I.) I would have loved this book in middle school. I think it'll be a big hit in its target age range, whether a kid likes math and puzzles or not.