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Review: Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers

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Looking for new books to share with your child? Check out the book review below! Each week we bring you the latest reviews of books geared toward children in grades K-5 from the creators of "Sweet on Books", a locally-based initiative with reviews written for you exclusively by mothers, as part of our ABC7 Learning Section Enjoy!

Title: Riley Mack and Other Known Troublemakers

RileyMack250 Author: Chris Grabenstein

Themes: Books for Boys, Bullying, Detective Stories, Ethics, Family Life, Friendship

Published: 2012, 320 pages

'Sweet' book summary:
Reviewer: Melissa G.

Who wouldn't want to hang out with Riley Mack? He's a good friend, he likes to have fun, and he's a bit of a prankster. He's also a quick thinker who can figure his way out of just about any sticky situation. Even better, he's humble, looks out for others and is always ready to step in when he sees someone being bullied.

In this action-packed adventure, Riley may be in seventh grade, but he faces enemies of all ages. He uses his wits to go up against a high school bully, a nasty police chief, small-town bank robbers, his mom's creepy boss, and a grandma with a mean streak.


Riley leads his "Gnat Pack" crew, Mongo, Jake, Briana, and "newbie" Jamal, on one caper after the other. First they rescue Jamal from Gavin, the police chief's son, who also happens to be the biggest bully in town. After that, the missions get more complicated. Adult characters play a significant role in the story, and Riley and his friends get involved in some very big, real-world problems. They rescue Mongo's stolen Goldendoodle, free more than 50 dogs from grandma's puppy mill, bust up a bank robbery, and save Riley's mom from being framed for embezzlement.

Riley is a strong character who says, "Bullies are cowards. They just need to be reminded of that fact from time to time." Other good advice comes from his dad, who tells him to "protect your country, protect your family, protect your friends, and defend those who cannot defend themselves. And while you're doing it, try to enjoy the ride." Riley takes this responsibility very seriously. Like I said, who wouldn't want to be friends with this kid?

Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers is very current, with references to texting and pop culture, but still manages to feel somewhat timeless with underlying themes of friendship, small-town adventures and standing up for what's right. With its fast-paced dialogue, techy lingo and entertaining characters, the story moves along quickly. Each chapter focuses on a different scene, making it comfortable for readers to enjoy a chapter or two at a time. Just make sure your reader is ready to follow several different storylines (although they all converge in the end) and is able to keep track of characters that are introduced and then not heard from again for several chapters. The cover image may give a younger impression, but Riley Mack should appeal to older readers as well.

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What You Need to Know:
  • Riley Mack and his friends work together to fight back against bad guys, young and old.
  • This book is a great new selection for boys, but it will appeal to girls as well.
  • Riley Mack's dad, a Colonel, is stationed with the Special Forces in Afghanistan.
  • This book is the first in a new series. Book two, Riley Mack Stirs Up More Trouble, will be released in April 2013.
  • Although it never feels truly dangerous, the action does escalate, and at one point, the kids even run from gunfire.
  • Great vocabulary words, like extricate, altruistic and diminutive, are introduced by a character who likes to read the dictionary and shares what he learns with his friends.
  • Chris Grabenstein is a former improvisational comedian.
If you liked this book, try:
  • Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
  • Skinny-Bones by Barbara Park
  • It's the First Day of School...Forever1 by R.L. Stine
  • Alex Rider: Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
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