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Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack Paperback – December 11, 2012

19 customer reviews
Book 15 of 18 in the Sammy Keyes Series

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

WENDELIN VAN DRAANEN's very first Sammy Keyes mystery won the Edgar Allan Poe Award.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Dot DeVries is Dutch.

Well, at least that’s her heritage. She was born here, but her parents are from Holland and they speak with an accent and say ja a lot.

And even though Dot acts like an everyday ordinary eighth grader most of the time, when the calendar flips over to December, the Dutch girl in her cannot be contained.

“Here!” she said before school on Tuesday, forcing a small chunk of what looked like black rubber into my hand. “Sinterklaas came last night!”

According to Dot, Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus. He’s a big man with a long white beard and he brings gifts to good boys and girls, only instead of using eight reindeer and a sleigh, he rides just one big white horse, and instead of putting lots of presents all at once under a tree, Sinterklaas gives a few little presents spread out over five days, and he puts them in your shoes.

Dot gets way into Sinterklaas, but this was the first time she’d shared anything from him with me. “What is it?” I asked her, staring down at the rubbery black nugget.

“Dutch candy!” she says, popping one in her mouth. “It’s delicious!”

“Really?” I ask, ’cause, honestly, it looks like someone diced up an old tire.

“Really!” she squeaks. “Yesterday was the first of December, so before bed we put our shoes by the fireplace, left apples for the horse, and sang the Sinterklaas song, and this morning we had treats in our shoes!”

I still wasn’t convinced, but she was so excited, I figured, What the heck? and put it in my mouth.

It was rubbery.

And bitter.

And bleeeechhhh.

“You don’t like it?” Dot says, ’cause bleeeechhhh is written all over my face.

I look around for someplace to spit it out.

“Give it a second!” she says. “Really! It’s delicious!”

But I can’t take it another second. It doesn’t just taste like something that’s been inside a shoe, it tastes like a shoe! I hock it like a big black nasty loogie into a bush and wipe my lips on my sweatshirt sleeve. “You seriously like that?”

“Your teeth are black,” she says, zooming in a little on my mouth.

“So are yours!” I tell her, inspecting hers, and we both hurry to the water fountain to swish our mouths out before class.

Then on Wednesday she comes up to me looking kinda sheepish and says, “Mom thinks you’ll like these better.”

I arch an eyebrow at the little paper-wrapped cube in her hand. “What is it?”

“Hopjes,” she says. “It’s coffee candy.”

“Black coffee?” I ask, picturing my teeth turning all icky again.

“No, no. It’s sweet. It’s really delicious.”

I just stare at it, ’cause coffee that’s been in a shoe sounds about as appetizing as tar. “You said that last time.”

But she forces it on me, and when I unwrap it, what I see does look edible.

It’s caramel-colored.


Like a piece of real candy.

So I pop it in my mouth, and after a few seconds Dot says, “Well?”

My eyes bug out a little. “This is the best candy I’ve ever tasted!”

“Told you!” she squealed.

Then on Thursday she brought a package of what looked like little waffle cookies. “They’re stroopwafels!” she said. “My favorite!”

They were also delicious, and since our friends Marissa and Billy and Holly were all there wanting to try them, they went fast.

“So, wait,” Billy says. “You sing a song at night and in the morning you get cookies in your shoes? Do you have to be Dutch to do this?”

Dot grins at him. “You have to be good!”

He laughs. “Well, that eliminates me.”

“And if you’re not good, you don’t just get a lump of coal. You get put in a sack and taken away by Sinterklaas’s helpers!”

“Seriously? They kidnap you?”

“Uh-huh!” she says, and her eyes are all sparkly. “But if you are good, then on the last day, Sinterklaas comes and throws pepernoten through the roof and leaves presents at your door.”

“Pepernoten?” Holly asks. “What are those?”

“Little spice cookies!”

I squint at her. “He throws cookies through the roof? How?”

Dot grins. “He just does! He’s Sinterklaas! You look up and see them falling from the ceiling.”

“Don’t they break?” Holly asks. “Don’t you get crumbs everywhere?”

Dot shakes her head. “They’re little, and they’re hard. They crash through the roof and scatter all over the house and the children race to pick them up. They’re delicious!”

Marissa squints at her. “You eat them off the floor?”

Dot shrugs and smiles. Like, Yeah, that’s what we do. Then she adds, “We keep it going because Anneke and Beppie are still little, and I’m glad--it’s the most fun holiday ever!”

“Who’s Anneke and Beppie?” Billy asks.

“My sisters.”

“A double dose of mischief,” I tell him, because last New Year’s the rest of us spent the night at Dot’s house and they were like a couple of nosy mice, spying on us everywhere we went.

“Wish I could be a fly on your wall,” Holly says. “That’s got to be wild.”

“It is! Especially because Troy and Stan go into combat mode and try to raid my stash of pepernoten.”

“Let me guess,” Billy says. “Brothers?”

Dot nods. “They think they’re so smart, but this year I’ve got a satchel ready and they’re going to have to tackle me for them.”

Marissa shakes her head. “So little hard cookies come through the roof, you guys collect them--”

“We dive for them!”

“--and put them in satchels so your brothers can’t steal them--”

“Well, I steal theirs, too. And they steal them back!”

“--and after they’ve crashed through the roof, scattered all over the floor, and endured an epic battle between you and your brothers, you eat them.”

Dot grins from ear to ear. “It’s tradition!”

Billy laughs. “Can I get a skybox seat?”

The rest of us laugh, “Me too!” and then the warning bell rings so we all scatter off to class.

Then on Friday Dot comes racing up to us before school, all out of breath and rosy-cheeked. “Guess what?” she pants, but this time she doesn’t have Dutch cookies or candy or little tabs of tar.

She’s got an invitation.

“Mom says you guys can come over for Sinterklaas tonight!”

We all look at each other, and finally Billy says, “Really?”

Dot nods like crazy. “No skybox seats, though. You have to get in and be part of it. Wear heavy socks and come ready for battle.” She gives a little grin and shrugs. “At least that’s what Troy and Stan say. Mom says as long as you don’t blow it for Anneke and Beppie, you’re welcome to join us.”

“Well, I’m in!” I cry, and Billy goes, “Me too!” and right away Holly and Marissa say they’ll go, too.

“Invite Casey if you want,” Dot says, looking at me. “The more boys we have to go up against Troy and Stan, the better.”


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 740L (What's this?)
  • Series: Sammy Keyes
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307930602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307930606
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Through writing, I open up my heart and soul in ways I never could in everyday life. The joy, the pain, the wonder and loneliness I felt in growing up, meld into stories which I hope will help kids believe in themselves and have compassion for those around them."--Wendelin Van Draanen

Wendelin Van Draanen is the winner of the 1999 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Children's Mystery Book for Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief. Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes is a 2003 Edgar Award nominee.

Visit Wendelin Van Draanen's Web site at for the lastest on The Gecko and Sticky, Sammy Keyes, Shredderman, and more!

How in the world did I wind up writing a book about a kleptomaniacal, talking gecko lizard? I'm the first to admit-talking animals are not my thing. First person, realistic fiction-that's what I like. And yet, after Sticky appeared as a sidekick television character in my Shredderman series and uttered his first "Holy guaco-tacarole!" I was hooked. He's so funny. And so full of mischief.
I always develop a backstory for my characters to get to know them. Even if they're secondary characters, I have to understand their background and motivations before I let them into the story. The premise of the third Shredderman book (Meet the Gecko) is that a television crew comes to town to shoot an episode, and Shredderman helps out the star of the show. Not wanting to deal with the legal complications of using a real television show, I made up my own: The Gecko and Sticky. In the process, I came up with the hero (Dave Sanchez-a boy who has the "superpower" of being able to walk up walls, and is known as the Gecko), the sidekick (Sticky who is, as you already know, a talking gecko with . . . h'hem, sticky fingers), the villain (the deadly, diabolical, and definitely demented Damien Black), and Damien's sidekicks (the Bandito Brothers, who are, in fact, not brothers, but a thieving mariachi band).
It was definitely wilder than anything I'd come up with before, but hey-it was just a made-up TV show, right?
Ah, how diabolically infectious made-up TV shows can be!
Sticky, you see, got under my skin. His "Ay-ay-ay"s and his "What the jalapeno was that?" and his "You cut me to the quick, senor" enchanted me, and I was sorry when his role in the Shredderman books was over.
After the Shredderman quartet was complete, I began getting lots of fan mail from kids (and teachers) asking me to please write more Shredderman books. It was tempting, because I love Nolan and the gang. But I'd completed my mission with the quartet; so instead, I started writing The Gecko and Sticky.
My first attempt resulted in an over 200-page manuscript. That was closer to a Sammy Keyes novel than a Shredderman book. So I hacked it up, threw it out, and started all over.
My next try had me at 150 pages-still too long, and something about it wasn't quite right. So I chucked it and asked myself what in the world I was thinking, writing in the voice of a lizard.
But then on a flight from New York to California, I started hearing a voice. It wasn't my voice. Or the guy snoring in the seat beside me. It was, you know, a voice. One in my head.
Yeah, we writers hear them, and although we will almost certainly deny it if you press us about it, we also listen. It's how I wrote Swear to Howdy; how Bryce appeared in Flipped; where Holly's poems came from in Runaway . . . and it's how the narrator took over the storytelling for The Gecko and Sticky.
It's a man's voice in my head. (Okay, I concede that I might need some help.) But he's funny as all get-out, and I like to listen to him. He's the voice of someone who loves the art of storytelling; of someone who will hold a child's wide-eyed attention as he shares the wild antics of a boy and his mischievous gecko; of someone I'd plead, "Just one more chapter, please?"
So I hope that explains it, because I really must go. He's talking to me again and I've got to get back to Dave and Sticky. They are, after all, in the midst of some deep, diabolical doo-doo . . .

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Sammy Keyes' town of Santa Martina is so chock full of odd folks that she thinks nothing could surprise her. Then she meets Justice Jack, who is a colorful character who believes himself to be a bona fide superhero, complete with stretch bodysuit (gold and red), red knee and arm pads, and a golden chest plate with a black lightning bolt and a red J. To complete his get-up, Justice Jack wears a utility belt, gold gloves, a fancy helmet and a black mask. Justice Jack rides around in a dirt bike called "High Roller" with a sidecar, flying a red pennant imprinted with a big gold J.

When Sammy first glimpses Jack, she and her friends are celebrating the Christmas arrival of Sinterklaas with their Dutch friend, Dot DeVries, which involves cookies falling through the ceiling and other exotic festivities. They hear someone knocking on the front door. When Dot's little sisters rush to the door, believing Sinterklaas has left gifts on the front porch for them, instead they find Justice Jack, who is carrying a peacock that he hopes to return to its rightful owner. Mr. DeVries points him in the direction of neighbors, but when Dot's dog needs to go outside, Sammy and her friends can't resist checking out the action. What they find is quite the scene: Justice Jack surrounded by men and Sammy's old friend, police officer Borsch.

Officer Borsch addresses Sammy by name, which absolutely stuns Justice Jack. It seems that her reputation as a crime fighter has preceded her. Justice Jack can't get over the fact that he is standing before the person who broke up a dogfighting ring, uncovered counterfeiters, brought a blackmailer to the attention of the law...and all the other amazing detective feats she has accomplished.
Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By bookcrazed2 on October 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Wendelin Van Draanen delivers another winner with her masterful storytelling. In the fifteenth book in the Sammy Keyes series, readers are introduced to Santa Martina's most colorful, zaniest character ever. Justice Jack rides around town on a dirt bike wearing spandex, a tool belt, and a mask. Is he a bona fide crime-fighting superhero, or just an attention-grabbing oddball?

Readers are entertained by 304 pages of mystery, relationships, dialogue, fascinating conversations, and crazy fun. The sub-plots intertwine beautifully with nonstop action that includes: a wild Sinterklaas celebration with Dot's family, the search for the missing resident and money from the senior high-rise (where Sammy secretly lives with Grams), the mystery of the city hall statue, and the real story behind Justice Jack's persona.

If you've never been introduced to the spunky, funny, leap-before-she-thinks Sammy Keyes, now is the time. Put this title on your must-read list, and enjoy the unforgettable ride. To the highroller!!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Merryteach on October 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am a middle school student who loves to read exciting mysteries like the Sammy Keyes series. I have been reading the books since the 4th grade, and the action and characters continue to capture my imagination. I love how Ms. Van Draanen mixes mystery with humor. Sassy Sammy is one of my favorite fictional characters because she takes risks and gets herself into all kinds of trouble, but she always finds a way to solve the mystery and defeat the bad guys. I think Sammy gets more interesting and daring with each book. When she comes up against the crazy, spandex-clad superhero Justice Jack, her detective skills are tested to the limit. Justice Jack's antics make me laugh out loud.
Ms. Van Draanen uses vivid language to bring the story to life. Her writing style is so creative and different from other authors. I can't wait to see how she brings the series to a conclusion and answers many of the questions readers have about her main characters. I will be sad to close the book on the final page of the final Sammy Keyes story, but she will live forever in my mind and heart. Thanks Ms. Van Draanen for creating an unforgettable character kids like me can relate to and watch grow up through the years. Read Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack! You won't be disappointed
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Format: Hardcover
This is the second Sammy Keyes adventure that I’ve read. I really enjoyed The Showdown in Sin City, and had high hopes for this quirky story, but it is disappointing. There is no question that Van Draanen is technically a good writer—great grammar, well executed chapters, her descriptors are spot on. The story is narrated, or should I say speedily run through, by Sammy who broadcasts a constant stream of chatter, and not always pleasant. Twice Sammy describes her friends as laughing so hard they almost pee their pants. Who says that? Also the word schmuck is used. Puh-leez. Sammy is very judgmental, derogatorily naming people behind their backs; again, not funny. Twice, Justice Jack’s sidekicks are shown to be drinking alcohol. And whereas in the previous book I read I didn’t think some situations were farfetched, this time they were annoying and unbelievable: Sammy lives with her Grams in senior housing, but must sneak in and out at all times so as not to be caught, up and down from the fifth floor fire escape, usually with her backpack on and skateboard in tow. Also, some of the characters are extremely unbelievable, such as her boyfriend, Casey’s mother. I did, however, like Justice Jack. He and Billy are the most sincere and genuine characters.
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