17 April 2009

Review and Interview: Zamora's Ultimate Challenge by M. K. Scott


Twelve-year-old Mason Clover is serious about school and gymnastics. His younger brother, Carter, is artistic with a soft spot for animals. Fortunately, the boys find common ground when it comes to playing their favorite video game, Queen Zamora. That'd be great, except they are always being interrupted by their baby sister, Izzy.

One evening, the boys' parents decide they can leave the kids home alone for about an hour. After all, Mason is almost a teenager, and he can certainly be in charge for such a short time, especially if baby Izzy is already in bed. As soon as their parents leave, the boys start up the video game. But this time something is different, and Queen Zamora's face fills the screen. She tells the boys that she has kidnapped Izzy and will soon take over their sister's soul, infiltrate the Clover family, and from there take over Earth.

The boys have no choice but to enter the game themselves and rescue their sister from Queen Zamora's castle. Once the boys figure out how to get inside the video game, they are greeted by the sage Seyem. The wise man gives the boys a few gifts and then tells them the secrets to surviving the game and successfully saving their sister: (1) Always believe in yourself, (2) always believe in and love each other, and (3) always trust your inner light.

Scott's short tale is geared toward nine-year-olds and up. The idea of entering into a video game and using skills, gifts, and instinct to move from level to level and escape danger will have a strong appeal to preteen readers. The boys behave a lot like normal kids: They try to hide their bad behavior from their parents, they bicker and compete, and they make mistakes.

During their journey in Queen Zamora's world, the boys meet many creatures and people, including a flying horse, a mermaid, a hungry shark, and a lava monster. The boys struggle to meet the challenges so they can save Izzy, all the while learning the truth of Seyem's rules.

Three Questions with M. K. Scott

BFR: One of the lessons Mason and Carter learn is the power of love. Did you think about how this is something that is learned only by experience and cannot be simulated in a game?

MKS: The game is really just the setting for the book. It's a tool to draw kids in. I think today's kids can relate to the video game, and once they get sucked in by that, the messages come out through the characters that they meet and the lessons the boys learn about themselves along the way. I tried not to be preachy about the lesson of the power of love and allowed the characters to teach it and show it. I think that teaching about the power of love in any kind of story format is possible. It would be nice if there were video games that did this rather than what many seem to teach, which is the power of violence. Imagine what the world might be like if we started teaching kids through the tools they use in their lives about peace and love and courage? Call me a Pollyanna, but I have hope.

BFR: Another good lesson for kids is that things are not always what they seem to be: faeries can be bad and pirates (as in the doctor) can be good. The pirate doctor also shows us that good can be found in unexpected places. I think kids today are often forced to be more careful when picking their friends than were kids of previous generations. Do you think that's true?

TW: I absolutely think it's true that today's kids are often forced to be more careful when picking their friends than in previous generations. I think the media plays such a strong force in our world that we are inundated with negative images constantly. I believe we've become a very fear based society, and we've put that on our kids. We send them messages of what good looks like and what bad looks like. I do think it's important for everyone to be cautious, but more important than what someone looks like, sounds like, or where they come from is how they treat others. I also think kids have good instincts, and teaching them to listen to their gut is a powerful tool. If they feel someone isn't of good character or maybe not the best person to be hanging around with, then they should trust that. The gut almost always never lies. That is something I tell my kids all the time.

BFR: The other big message is the importance of teamwork. At home, Mason and Carter mostly play the game as individuals. But in Zamora's world, they really need to rely on each other to have any hope of saving their sister. Do you think this is a difficult lesson to teach kids, except maybe through team sports?

TW: I think team sports teaches this message, but I also think this type of message is one that can be taught at home by having kids help out. In our house we don't do allowance. Doing chores is part of being a family. Hanging out in the kitchen and helping Mom make lunches or dinner is a part of being involved with the family. Teamwork can be as simple as having your kid get out the bag of popcorn to pop for a video night with the family. Teachers and schools can do a great job teaching teamwork. I work in the classroom weekly, and the kids break up into groups of three and four and help each other develop story lines, characters, themes, etc. Even if someone is a single parent with one kid at home, you can teach the importance of teamwork. It's vital as we are all dependent and interdependent on each other, and we can all really help one another succeed and have a great time on this journey called life.

Published by Quake, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781590806098
Challenges: YA, 999, New Author, 100+
Rating: B+
YTD: 31


Anonymous,  4/17/09, 9:03 AM  

That's interesting about the pirates. The newspapers have been talking a lot about the mixed image of pirates in the media - Johnny Depp on the one hand, vs. Somalia on the other, e.g. Good interview!

Julie P. 4/17/09, 9:09 AM  

My daughter and I both enjoyed this book!

Meghan 4/17/09, 9:13 AM  

You've pointed me in the direction of another intriguing YA book! Great questions.

Margot 4/17/09, 10:57 AM  

Excellent interview. Good questions led to good answers. I liked reading Ms. Scott's insight into today's children and their unique challenges. The fact that kids today have to be more careful when picking friends is so true. Reading her "take" on children makes me more inclined to get this book. I have a 10 year old granddaughter (who loves video games) who I think would get a lot out of this book.

bermudaonion 4/17/09, 12:06 PM  

This sounds like a book my son would have enjoyed.

Belle | MsBookish 4/17/09, 5:24 PM  

What a great idea - having to go into a video game on a rescue mission. I am adding this one to my list. Great review, and nice interview!

Sandy Nawrot 4/17/09, 5:59 PM  

This one would suck my son in quicker than quick. He is a video game genius, if I were to give an unbiased opinion! He wants to design video games when he grows up. I'm going to look this one up!

Nise' 4/17/09, 8:21 PM  

I applaud any effort/means used to teach kids that gets them to listen. This book sounds like it has done just that.

Amy 4/17/09, 9:57 PM  

Hey, award for you at my blog!

Carrie K. 4/17/09, 10:25 PM  

This sounds like one my sons would absolutely love - I'm adding it to my birthday/Christmas idea list.

Jenners 4/17/09, 10:27 PM  

This sounds like an interesting book that will appeal to lots of kids ... and I love the messages involved. Great review and interview! : )

Lillysong 4/18/09, 6:08 AM  

Excuse me, I am in china Lilly.I am no marry, no children.However, I used to be a teacher.I think,the essence of this book is: (1) Always believe in yourself, (2) always believe in and love each other, and (3) always trust your inner light.This is a belief and the quality of education is a social atmosphere.I believe that the United States there is such a social atmosphere. Children honest, independent, trustworthy, kind-hearted, warm, frank. Mr. TW experience is correct, tell the children to be honest, there is team spirit. I think that on the children's education, parents as role models, as well as the appropriate guidance, is very important.In China, for their children's education, is very critical. Because China's children, many of them are the only son. How can mutual trust, caring, have team spirit? Is the subject of Chinese parents.I would like to ask, this book, and ziggy, have the opportunity to come to China?Lilly

A.K. Alexander 4/18/09, 1:47 PM  

Thank You Everyone for all of the wonderful comments! I hope you will all read and enjoy the book.


M.K. Scott

Beth F 4/18/09, 2:17 PM  

I want to add my thanks to Michele's.

Lily: Thank you so much for commenting. It's wonderful to hear the views of someone from another country.

Ladytink_534 4/19/09, 3:50 AM  

Lots of kids today enjoy playing video games more than they like to read so this is an interesting way to bridge both worlds. However, the story itself reminds me of a modern Jumanji/ Zathura.

You asked some great questions (and the author gave great answers too!).

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