The Jaguar Stones Book One: Middleworld

The Jaguar Stones Book One: Middleworld
Author: J & P Voelkel
Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: Revised edition (April 27, 2010)

Action Alert!

Middleworld has been called a Percy Jackson meets Indiana Jones story.  While I’ve not ever read a Percy Jackson book, this adventure set in the Mayan jungle is somewhat reminiscent of a young Indiana Jones chronicle.

The story is a fascinating and absorbing tale full of amusing characters, plots that twist & turn, and plenty of adventure to keep kids turning the pages until the end.

Some Characters in the Book

Max: a typical teenage boy, whose parents are archaeologists specializing in Mayan culture and antiquities.  He lives in Boston, prefers video games to the outdoors.  His parents do a disappearing act on one of their expeditions.  In this book, Max learns that the Maya aren’t as boring as he once believed, as well as comes face to face with his selfish tendencies.

Lola: a teenage Maya girl who was taken in by the head of a village at a very young age since she is seemingly an orphan.  She helps Max navigate the jungle as they look for his parents.  Saving him from harm more than once!  Lola’s mentor is Hermanjilio, a local whom Max’s parents were with to tap into his expertise of the Maya.

Zia: the strange and mysterious housekeeper of the Murphy’s back in Boston.  Zia doesn’t say much but  inexplicably knows what’s going on…

Ted Murphy: Max’s uncle living in San Xavier, where Max’s parents have gone missing.  Uncle Ted seems to be involved in sinister and underground activity.  Can Max find out what’s going on, and did Uncle Ted have something to do with his parents disappearance?

The characters in the book, ALL end up in danger some how some way.  The culture and ruins of the Maya civilization bring interesting facts and adventure to the novel.

This is an enjoyable and gripping book that will have readers waiting for the next book in the series.

For home educators and teachers there are lesson plans for Middleworld and other activities related to the Maya available at

I had a chance to ask Pamela a few questions about the book and the writing of it.  Here’s what she had to say…

I really thought the character of Max was believable, how did Max evolve on paper to be the character he is?

Thank you very much for that.  A few reviewers have complained that Max is not very likeable at the beginning of the book. I’m guessing those reviewers didn’t have teenage sons because, like it or not, fourteen is a difficult age.  But teenagers in the USA are almost encouraged to be moody and self-centered, because that’s what people seem to expect from them. In Max’s defense, I would also like to say that his materialistic attitude is obviously his parents’ fault. He’s used to being left alone to make his own entertainment; even his drums are the silent electronic kind that you use with headphones. Max has to unplug himself from his iPod and cellphone and Facebook, and learn to connect with the world face to face.  At home, he thinks of himself as the center of the universe.  In the jungle, he has to find his place in the web of life. As we were writing the book, we realized that the rainforest is a lot like middle school – so many different species crammed into a small space, all fighting for their little bit of sunlight.  So I guess Max evolved in an experiment to see if we could start with a less than perfect character and keep the reader’s sympathy while he learns all the lessons he must learn.

Was it more challenging to write the teenage experience from Lola’s point of view, since culturally she is very different than the average American teen?

Yes, it was a lot more challenging to write the character of Lola because the Maya are at such a crossroads right now.  We’ve traveled to Central America several times and talked to as many Maya teens as we could.  They all have different opinions about what it means to be Maya and what the future holds for them.  In the book, Lola is very knowledgeable about American culture, due to her constant contact with the stream of archaeology students coming to study at Itzamna. She doesn’t envy anything about Max’s life and she’s proud to be Maya – but, equally, she doesn’t want to be trapped in the old ways.  It was important to us to have a strong, contemporary Maya heroine, who’s as comfortable with email as she is with Maya hieroglyphs.

Are you working on, or developing, any other adventure stories for kids besides the Jaguar Stones series?

Not yet.  Book Two of The Jaguar Stones: The End of the World Club is written and that will be out on 12/28/2010.  We’ve just started Book Three and that’s taking all our time and energy at the moment. It’s so exciting to be bringing together all the loose ends and finally revealing where Max and Lola’s wild roller-coaster ride is headed.   Plus we spend a lot of time visiting schools and teaching about the Maya, so we’re always working on our lesson plan CD and adding new features.  (NB: it’s free for educators from our website:  When we’ve finished Book 3, we do have some ideas for another series.  But right now it’s painful to even consider saying goodbye to Max and Lola after everything we’ve been through together!

What kind of advice would you give to kids who are interested in writing stories or novels?

Well, the usual advice is to write about what you know.  I spent twenty years as a copywriter in advertising, daydreaming about writing a novel but not wanting to write about the world I knew.  When I discovered the world of the Maya and all their fascinating secrets still waiting to be uncovered, it was like a switch going on and I knew I’d found my subject matter. So I’d say, if the world around you doesn’t inspire you, find another world that does.  Also – and this is particularly important in those middle school years when every day brings triumphs and disasters – write it all down.  Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings, being as precise and as honest as you can.  I say to my daughter: “Hope you win your game.  But if you don’t, that’s going to work out better for your book!”  Failure and challenges are more interesting than success.   Even the worst day is a good day for a writer: it’s all grist to your mill.  So write it all down.  It’s a great way to process all that emotion – and you’ll thank yourself when you’re older and sitting down to write your first New York Times bestseller.

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