Welcome to the latest installment of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, where we provide you with engaging books and book-inspired activities young readers can enjoy together. This month’s pick, Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans, is a lively adventure filled with tricky puzzles, smelly ninjas, and world travel. To find their missing Uncle Paul, Samantha and her little brother Nipper follow an unusual map inscribed on an old red umbrella. Together, they travel the world searching for clues while trying to avoid sword-wielding ninjas.
About the Book
Best For: Kids ages 8 – 12.
You’ll Like It If You Like: Quirky, globe-trotting, puzzle-filled adventure stories featuring super-smart siblings.
Major Themes: Family, problem-solving, good vs. evil, global perspective, cooperation, and self-reliance.
What It’s About: Samantha’s Uncle Paul unexpectedly disappears. Even more mysterious is that he leaves Samantha and her siblings wildly different gifts: Samantha’s sister receives $2.4 billion, her brother Nipper gets the New York Yankees, and Samantha is gifted a beat-up umbrella. To her surprise, Samantha and Nipper discover a strange-looking map on the underside of the umbrella, which they hope will lead them to Uncle Paul.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Samantha must decipher the map’s clues, starting with how to get in and out of the secret travel stations, as well as solve puzzles at each location. Even worse, she and Nipper are attacked almost immediately by ninjas at their first stop in Paris. Luckily, they successfully defend themselves using a day-old baguette. (Yes, it’s as funny as it sounds.) The map leads them to super cool travel methods, including a speedy magnetic train, a water slide, and a wind tunnel. But will the kids stay ahead of the ninjas long enough to find out what happened to Uncle Paul?
Why We Picked It: Not only is Samantha Spinner a fun-filled, action-packed global mystery, but readers also get to solve puzzles as they read along. Add in two likable siblings, stinky villains, wild escapades, and chapters about historical landmarks and treasures like the Hope Diamond and the Louvre, and you’ve got a book that’s hard to put down.
The Book Club Meeting
Throughout the story are maps and puzzles. As you read, try to figure out the puzzles before you continue. But if you don’t figure them out, that’s okay, too! Keep reading to see how Samantha solves them. At the back of the book, the author shares more puzzles to solve — puzzles you might have missed embedded in the story and illustrations, like the word search hidden in the ID tags of Samantha’s journal or the secret messages in everything Missy Snoddgrass says.
- How does Samantha feel about getting an umbrella as a present? Does her opinion of this gift change during the story?
- Who would you take with you on a super-secret map adventure around the world? What makes them a great adventure partner?
- Which door would you take first and why: Dynamite, Paris, Baraboo, Duck, ZZYZX, Edfu, Wagga Wagga, or Wahoo?
- Which travel tunnel would you prefer and why: Magtrain, pneumonic wind tunnel, or water slide?
- What’s the most boring store ever that makes Nipper and the ninjas fall asleep? In your opinion, what would be the most boring store ever that’d make you fall asleep?
- Why are the ninjas so stinky?
- Did you solve any of the puzzles? Which ones? Share with the group how you figured out one of the puzzles.
- What does Uncle Paul say about why he stole the umbrella? What do you think about that?
- How does Samantha know her Uncle Paul is alive?
- What do you hope will happen in the next book?
Activities to Dive Deeper into Samantha Spinner
Go on a Treasure Hunt: Samantha’s search for her uncle is also a treasure hunt for clues. Make your own treasure hunt with riddles for any location, such as a park, backyard, or house. Don’t forget to have a prize at the end. Maybe a red umbrella?
Map Out the Characters’ Travels: Do you know where in the world Samantha and Tipper traveled? See if you can track their movements on a world map. Using a printable world map, plot the siblings’ starting and ending point in Seattle, Washington, USA.
Make Your Own Super-Secret Map: Samantha discovers an unusual map on the underside of her umbrella, which shows locations all over the world. Make your own super-secret map with six interesting world locations, starting with your hometown. Remember, your map doesn’t have to look like a typical map. Add clues and puzzles to help your readers decode your map’s mysteries.
Think Laterally with Brain Teasers: Think outside the box with perplexing puzzles and riddles. Middle school English teacher Eric Peterson recommends The 125 Best Brain Teasers of All Time. Or try the MindTrap game, which contains more riddles, brain teasers, and logic problems to engage your brain.
Decode and Write Ciphers: Ciphers are secret codes that use letter or symbol substitutions. Learn two common ciphers, then practice writing and decoding secret messages with them. First, try the Caesar Cipher, where you change each original letter to the subsequent letter in the alphabet. Next, learn the Pigpen Cipher. For this, draw two grids, add in the alphabet, and substitute the shapes around the letters for each letter.
What to Read Next
If you liked Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans, check out these other great books of action-packed adventures, silly humor, world travel, and puzzles.