Arts & Entertainment, Last Word

The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are Alright

Miriam R. Kramer

Do you have a middleschooler who loves hiking and rock-climbing but doesn’t like to read? Or a grandchild interested in nature, science, geography, technology, and the environment? Or a son or daughter who loves videogames and puzzles? Trudi Trueit’s Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret is fast-paced adventure to hook them all. The first in a mystery series, it intends to entertain children while inspiring them to explore, collaborate with each other, and take responsibility for conserving the world around them. It succeeds.

This work is published by National Geographic Kids Books under a new imprint called Under the Stars. The Nebula Secret is an exciting mystery that incorporates some familiar themes in children’s literature. Cruz Coronado is a kind, intelligent twelve-year-old from Hawaii who loves surfing and solving puzzles. He has just been accepted to the Explorer Academy, an elite school that only accepts 23 students per year. Although his scientist mother passed away mysteriously while working in a research lab there, his dad reluctantly lets him enroll. Luckily for Cruz, his Aunt Marisol, who works as an anthropology teacher, can look out for him.

Cruz flies to Washington, DC to attend the prestigious school. There he finds an international band of equally precocious friends who already have some expertise in science, exploration, photography, and advanced technologies. A world-renowned faculty of Ph.D.s and explorers will teach them to become well-rounded scientists, journalists, and adventurers ready to seek truth, preserve the planet, and improve human existence. The Academy’s motto? “To discover. To innovate. To protect.”

If these lofty goals make this story sound too earnest or heavy for elementary or middle school kids, don’t be alarmed. Explorer Academy is like Hogwarts for talented teens interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. As in the Harry Potter books, new friends meet at an exciting institute that encourages their latent talents and abilities as they suffer their inevitable growing pains.

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret wouldn’t be a boarding school story without a few enemies in the mix. Before Cruz leaves Hawaii, he is almost drowned by a diver who tries to pull him off his surfboard. In the airport, his new classmates notice a mysterious man following him. In addition, Cruz’s unpleasant and jealous classmate, Dugan Marsh, threatens to undermine him.

At school Cruz employs his talents for solving puzzles and decrypting codes to find out more about the circumstances in which his mother died.  He gathers his friends to help him problem-solve and ward off the threats he experiences from a shadowy organization called Nebula Pharmaceuticals.

Trueit propels her quick-reading story with enthusiastic prose. The book’s occasional illustrations seem ripped from a graphic novel, enhancing the lively text. Her cast of characters comprises a multi-ethnic group of students and professors who will gain fans among children around the world.

While boys will identify with Cruz Coronado and his brilliant roommate, Emmett Lu, girls will also find role models among the many daring female students at the Academy. I’m reminded of Alexandria Villaseñor, a seventhgrader who has been standing in front of the United Nations once a week for the last two months to ask for protections against climate change. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish fifteen-year-old striking in front of the Swedish parliament for the same goals, inspired her. Now they regularly talk with other activist kids around the world. On March 15, thousands of young adults in two dozen countries and up to 30 U.S. states will skip school to protest governments’ failures in warding off global warming. None want to inherit a broken planet.

One of my favorite aspects of Explorer Academy ironically begins right after it ends. National Geographic follows the story with pictures of and blurbs about actual scientists and conservationists who are advancing their fields and creating technologies used in the book. The National Geographic fiction imprint, Under the Stars, will continue to publish books based on the inventions and explorations of scientists, journalists, and photographers.

Check out  for ways to learn more about various aspects of this series. You may learn as much from reading this adventure as your child does.

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