The janitors at Welcher Elementary know a secret, and it's draining all the smarts out of the kids. Twelve year-old Spencer Zumbro, with the help of his classmate Daisy Gullible Gates, must fight with and against a secret, janitorial society that wields wizard-like powers.
I went on the hunt for this book at the BEA because of a poster for it in the lobby. Brandon Mulls quote on the front, with the great art had me excited for this new middle school series. I was hoping for another fantastic series like Fablehaven, but I was deeply disappointed.
My number one issue with middle school books is when authors attempt to talk down to their audience. I don't think it's even intentional a lot of the time, and certainly there are variations of it, from out right talking down, to just a lack of sophistication in the way the story is told. Some authors suffer from it in the growing pains of their first book, and some seem to fall into it as a way of story telling. I can tell you that not a single popular middle grade book or series that I've read has ever fallen prey to it, which would lend credence to me when I say it's the wrong way to approach young readers- unless they're four and under.
Janitors was decidedly unsophisticated, the story and the characters were never really allowed to grow into something big and wild, attempts were made to challenge the imagination but then they were tightly pulled back again. The story often shifted into moralizing- the bad guys were obviously bad because they had Spencer and Daisy do things that got them in trouble (um, am I just wrong here or did Harry, Hermione and Ron not get into endless trouble?), mom is the most trustworthy person in your life thus you should tell her everything and keep no secrets- even if she likely won't believe a word of it, etc. It started feeling decidedly didactic and it grew old very quickly.
Worse yet was that Whitesides had this novel magical slant with the Janitors, their powers and the whole fight that was starting to go down with the BEM, but instead of giving it the depth it needed so it would be something you would invest in, he took the easy route. The BEM wants all children to be stupid and vapid, just because, no further explanation necessary because isn't that evil enough? This will break apart society eventually, which doesn't seem like it would benefit a small government agency, but apparently this is where you, me, and every child who reads this series is supposed to suspend their disbelief and just go with it. But I ask you, after they've read the incredibly complex tale of good versus evil that is Harry Potter, do you really think that's going to hold water with kids?
Fablehaven was a rich and fantastical tale with a gripping evil twist, I was deeply disappointed that Janitors was the follow up middle grade series Shadow Mountain Press decided to go with.
Janitors, by Tyler Whitesides
Published by Shadow Mountain Press, Aug 2011
My copy was acquired at the BEA