91 - 93. Barnes & The Brains Series ( Part One) by Kenneth Oppel

In 1994, three years before Kenneth Oppel wrote his award winning, best selling YA novel Silverwing which propelled him into international success, he began publishing an early chapter book series of mysteries called Barnes & The Brains. Harper Collins Canada has reissued the six book series this year with brand new 21st century covers redesigned by the original illustrator. The first three books are already out and the last three have just been released . The books are not available in the US at this time, as far as I can tell from searching online. Here I've reviewed the first three:

#91. A Bad Case of Ghosts by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 61 pages. Ages 7-10. - Giles Barnes moves to into an old fixer-upper house just at the beginning of the summer. He founds the house creepy and is not looking forward to going all summer with no friends. He hears all sorts of noises in his room at night, even what sounds like bird wings. Then one day, right outside his front step he meets Tina and Kevin Quark, geniuses, studying his house with a strange machine Tina has invented. Seems it's a ghostometer and Giles house has heavy readings of ghost activity. It isn't long before the ghosts show themselves and with the help of Tina and Kevin, Giles try to get rid of the ghosts once and for all. Easy to read and short, therefore pretty much all action and plot. But still one can see Oppel's unique storyline. These are not just your average ghosts! Well written and an intriguing story that kept me interested. Despite the short length the author has managed to give the characters distinct identities and there is plenty of humour to go along with the adventure. Young readers are sure to enjoy! 4/5 (Canada)

#92. A Strange Case of Magic by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 62 pages. Ages 7-10. Tina Quark has enlisted the help of her brother, Kevin, and Giles Barnes to locate some books for her at the library for her latest invention. Of course, they end up in the basement in a dusty old room, where no one would ever want to read these ancient tomes. While searching Giles sees books floating and Tina checks her trusty ghostometer but does not get a single ghostly reading. If not a ghost, then why are magic books floating? "It's just me" replies a voice and Barnes & The Brains now match science and wit to figure out how to help poor Mr. Kapoor, beginner magician who made himself invisible and can't reverse the spell. Totally independent from the first book, though it does briefly mention events from that book. This book also gives a quick rundown on the characters and their status for those who haven't read the first book. I really enjoyed this one, even more than book 1 (Ghosts). The introduction of the bored librarian who was excited to help them in any small capacity was funny and she had some giggle inducing lines. I'm attached to the characters and I can see some growth in their relationship. Another well-written, unique plot and highly recommended first chapter book from Oppel. I look forward to reading book 3. 4/5 (Canada)

#93. A Crazy Case of Robots by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 56 pages. Ages 7-10. Tina Quark is at it again and this time she's gone too far. For her science fair project she creates an intelligent robot called the Tinatron and from there plans to build many more to replace people the world over. Her mum and dad can't stand the thing so she convinces the Barnes' to look after it for a few days while she works on her parents. Well, the robot's insistence on everything being perfect drives Giles and his dad crazy but his mum is found having tea with it in the living room one day discussing mathematical equations (she is a math professor) and they become best buddies working on the ultimate equation. But then Tinatron's circuits spark and start to overload and they have a rogue robot on their hands who runs away. Can they find her and fix her before something terrible happens? Another great entry in the series. The most noticeable aspect here is that Kevin Quark's character has evolved from the dopey but happy slave of his brainy sister to a more regular kid who is overshadowed and bossed around by his brainy sister, making him a more believable and likable character. Otherwise everyone else is true to form. Tina is hit with some situations where we find that under that smart alek exterior there really is a kind heart. I really enjoyed the inclusion of Giles' mother in the story. Plus this book adds some variety by being science themed rather than supernatural in nature as the first two. I'm loving this little series that has great appeal for both boys and girls, but certainly is one to add to the list of early chapter books for boys. 4/5 (Canada)


  1. Looks like a fun series that I'll have to add to my daughter's reading list! I'd guess at least the last one could lead up to some science discussions, which we are very big on at the moment...

  2. My son is reading them now and loving them!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts