Which part is historical and which part is fiction? My Semi-official 39 Clues Rant

Book 10: Into The Gauntlet

It’s by the fantastic writer Margaret Peterson Haddix. What’s there not to like?

This post might get me in trouble with my kids, but so be it.

In case you don’t know The 39 Clues is a book series for middle grade readers (roughly kids 8-12). I think the initial target audience was older, but that’s who’s reading this series in my neck of the woods.

Kids love these books. They are exciting and are so engaging as to be addictive. Tweens clamor for more titles, which are delivered to bookstores at an astonishing rate. They are written by some top names in kids’ lit, like Rick Riordan, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and (one of my faves) Linda Sue Park. What’s there to dislike?

Here’s my beef.

The 39 Clues series freely borrows from historical fact, then elaborates on this to create a thrilling adventure for kids. The likeable central characters draw kids in. The intricate backstory weaves in historical figures and events. Tweens collect The 39 Clues cards and swap  theories about the elaborate, paranoid conspiracies contained in each novel.

But my kids–and I’m sure they aren’t the only ones–have a big problem. They simply cannot tell the differences between the elements of the stories that are real and the ones that are made up. Over and over, I hear them refer to historical figures as “Vespers” or “Cahills” or “Ekats” or the like (each of the appellations is attached to a different group in the novels). Periodically, they offer up “historical facts” gleaned from the books that are actually wacky paranoid details created by the authors. When I question the accuracy, the source they inevitably cite is–you guessed it–The 39 Clues.


And so, I feel the need to write this rant. Maybe the alternative title should be “39 Clues-less.”

How do you readers out there feel about this blurring of the line between historical fact and fiction?

One thought on “Which part is historical and which part is fiction? My Semi-official 39 Clues Rant

  1. I actually love that these books aren’t all accurate. My son and I are reading them and we are going to do an all out study by researching the historical figures and all the locations. It will not only teach him a lot of history and geography, but will also tech him to double check his facts.


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