Steampunk Book Review: The Secret of the Great Red Spot (Jupiter Chronicles #1)



Author Leonardo Ramirez sent me this book in exchange for an honest review, and with the following context: “Just want to quickly mention that the book is intended for reluctant readers / 3rd Grade. My wife is a Children’s Librarian with a degree in Early Childhood Development and her biggest challenge is to find interesting books for kids that don’t like to read.”

As an adult reader, I got through this short chapter book in just over an hour. In addition to the story, Ramirez includes several pages of fun facts about Jupiter, and information about some of the elements of the story. He clearly intended to share not only a tale of adventure, but provide a chance for young readers to learn along the way.

The story centers on a brother and sister team, Ian and Callista (Callie) Castillo. Their father has been missing for five years, ever since he disappeared on Ian’s 7th birthday. On that fateful day, Peter Castillo had given his son a telescope, which now sits gathering dust in their attic. 9-year-old Callie, the more adventurous of the siblings, can’t resist pulling away its covering and taking a look. Little did she know that this would be the first step on a journey that would send she and her brother across the galaxy and into the clutches of an evil emperor.

There are some fun, age-appropriate things that kids will enjoy. The flatulent automaton, aka Stinky Frank, will certainly entertain the third grade set. This is also a story of empowered kids who save the day and emerge victorious. Callie keeps a journal and her entries, which she often reads aloud in order to needle her big brother, are cute and funny. Adults learning English as a second language may also be a good audience for this book because the prose is simple and somewhat repetitive.

callie-castilloRamirez also told me that he has had trouble getting a lot of support from the Steampunk community for his book. I think writing for children, especially reluctant children, is a very difficult task, and I applaud his effort to reach this audience. At the same time, the book felt somewhat incomplete and without much attention to detail. In addition to writing traditional books, Ramirez is also a comic book author, so I have no doubt that he had very clear pictures in his mind of everything in the story. But as a reader, I would have like more description and context.

For instance, with only the book to go on I couldn’t have told you when and where the story was taking place. There was a passing mention of a horse and carriage and Nikola Tesla, but other than that I really didn’t know when I was reading about. This was further confused by some of the details that were mentioned, like the fact that the little girl put on a pair of pants, and some of the language choices (“dweeb” and “twerp” for instance). It was only after I visited the website for the series that I learned it was set in 1892, which was not clear in the text itself.

ian_castillo-narrowI wonder also if Steampunk enthusiasts are turned off by one of the very last lines in the book. In Callie’s final journal entry she says, “Oh, and by the way, this is how Steampunk started.” Ramirez was probably trying to help his target audience by giving them the name the genre, but as a person who spends a lot of my time immersed in it, this felt forced and akin to lying. It is one thing to punk the steam era, but fans are probably a lot less amenable to an author actually punking Steampunk and claiming to have created it.

On the Jupiter Chronicles website, there are some great character illustrations. Though it would not fulfill his original goal of writing a chapter book for young, reluctant readers, I wonder if perhaps this story would be better served as a graphic novel? That way the images could have taken care of visual details while leaving the language simple and age-appropriate.

The third book in the Jupiter Chronicles series is coming out this Spring. If you’ve got an elementary aged kid in your life and you want to introduce them to an imaginative, steam-powered world, check out The Jupiter Chronicles.

Have you read any of the books in this series? Or any other Steampunk books for kids?


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