Return of the Homework Machine

Return of the Homework Machine

4.4 55
by Dan Gutman

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Brenton, Snik, Judy, and Kelsey are all back for another year of school and another mystery. When they discover that the superchip that made The Homework Machine possible has fallen into the wrong hands, they are determined to get it back. Combine that with their quest to discover a rumored Egyptian treasure below the rim of the Grand Canyon and readers are in for

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Brenton, Snik, Judy, and Kelsey are all back for another year of school and another mystery. When they discover that the superchip that made The Homework Machine possible has fallen into the wrong hands, they are determined to get it back. Combine that with their quest to discover a rumored Egyptian treasure below the rim of the Grand Canyon and readers are in for another entertaining and thought-provoking book.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Maggie Chase
That this is a sequel to Gutman's first book is no mystery; in fact its beginning is so much like his The Homework Machine that I almost put it down. I am glad I did not. Though parts of it seem a bit contrived and hard to believe, the story itself, the humor, and the distinct personalities of each of the characters kept me reading to find out how the dilemmas presented in this iteration were going to be solved. It turns out that when the kids dumped their homework machine over into the abyss of the Grand Canyon, an important—and potentially menacing part—was not destroyed. They must find it and destroy it before an evil-doer gets his hands on it. In the process, they and their sixth grade teacher, Mr. Murphy, become fascinated with a missing explorer's report that ancient Egyptian ruins are hidden in a cave in the Grand Canyon. When you combine several quests with the physical drama of hiking the canyon, throw in a bit of rocket science, then a few dead bodies, you cannot help but turn the pages! Reviewer: Maggie Chase
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6–Brenton, Snik, Kelsey, and Judy thought that they had disposed of their homework-completing computer at the end of The Homework Machine (S & S, 2006), but the device apparently isn’t quite off-line yet. Brenton remembers that the main power chip was still live when they pitched the machine into the Grand Canyon, and the friends believe that the powerful component has never been recovered. The kids decide to retrieve the chip, but discover that two old adversaries are also interested. Ronnie, the school bully, wants to build a similar contraption, and con-man Richard Milner has a more sinister scheme in mind. When the children’s teacher proposes a treasure-hunting expedition into the heart of the canyon, the four are excited, but they find that Ronnie and Milner have the chip and are also after the Egyptian artifacts that are rumored to be hidden in the park. Slightly darker than the first book, Return also has some welcome touches of humor, particularly concerning the online religious cult the kids start as a prank. There is a lot going on here–lost Egyptian hoards, Japanese gangsters, even model rocketry, but it all comes together. The unconventional and challenging narrative consists entirely of excerpts from police interviews (conducted after the treasure-hunting expedition, when one character is killed) that depict the action from multiple viewpoints. Familiarity with the first book is helpful but not essential. An exciting choice.–Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Sitting in the local police station, sixth graders Snik, Judy, Kelsey and Brenton and their teacher recount the events that led them there: the loss of a unique computer chip and their search in the Grand Canyon for Egyptian treasure. Readers of The Homework Machine (2006) will welcome the return of familiar characters and appreciate the addition of a classmate whose plans for the superchip are less than savory. This sequel stands alone, however, satisfyingly suspenseful in its several strands. Besides the search for the chip, there is Brenton's creation of a web-based doomsday cult surrounding the Grand Canyon, their new interest in rocketry and old newspaper reports of an Egyptian treasure. With their teacher, they hike to the canyon bottom, raft on the river and scale the walls to find treasure, a corpse and a dangerous man. Gutman weaves this all together, revealing it chronologically through the voices of those involved, a complicated structure that is surprisingly easy to follow. Briskly told, this middle-grade adventure should have wide appeal. (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


What do you want me to say? My name? Again? Don't you have it from the first time? Okay, I'm Sam Dawkins, but everybody calls me Snikwad, or Snik, on account of that's my name spelled backward. It's a snikname. Get it?

Do we really have to go through this whole thing all over again? I mean, sometimes freak accidents just happen. There's nothing you can do about it. Nobody means for them to happen. They just do. It just did. We're all sorry it happened. If any of us had known what was going to happen, we never would have done any of it. Can I go home now? I really don't like being here.

I can't believe I'm sitting in this room again. I want you to know that this is just the most humiliating thing that ever happened to me in my entire life. I'm not a criminal! It was an accident. We're sorry. None of us knew it was going to get out of control, I swear! I have worked so hard all my life to get good grades and sign up for lots of extracurricular activities and go to church and always do the right thing. I have been on the Principal's List every marking period since second grade. I'm not talking about the honor roll, where you can get Bs on your report card. The Principal's List! That's straight As. And now this happens...again! It makes me question why I try so hard to be good. I mean, really, what's the reward? If this keeps me out of the Ivy League, my mom will never let me forget it.

I assure you, my daughter will never be involved with anything like this again. Not if I have anything to say about it. I teach my children to learn from their mistakes. She is on permanent probation.

We are all really sorry. I'm not just saying that because we're in trouble. We really felt terrible about what happened. It was just one of those freak accidents. Do I really have to tell the whole story from the beginning? Okay.

I have to confess, it was kinda cool seeing my picture in the paper the first time and everything. Y'know? Even if it was because we got caught heaving the homework machine into the Grand Canyon. It was even mentioned on The Today Show! Can you believe that? We were a little famous for a while. We had our fifteen minutes.

I mean, don't get me wrong. I felt bad and all because what we did was wrong. But you can't help but get a little tingle when you see your picture in the paper. I cut it out and put it in my scrapbook.

But this...this is getting old. I promise you won't see me in here again. I promise.

First let me say it was all my fault. The others were there, of course. But I built the machine in the first place. I have to take responsibility for anything that was done with it.

I wonder if it might be possible to invent a time machine. I have no desire to go to the past or future, personally. But if one had a time machine, anytime you made a mistake in life, you could just go back a few seconds and erase it. Just like the eraser on a pencil. Do it over. Then you would never make any mistakes. You would be perfect. Except, I suppose, for the mistakes you don't know about. You can't fix a mistake if you don't even know that you made one.

May I have a drink of water? Thanks.

You wanna know what I thought about the whole thing? I'll be honest. I thought it was great that Brenton, Snik, Judy, and Kelsey got caught throwing their homework machine into the canyon. What a dumb thing to do! And people always say I use bad judgment! It served 'em right. That's how I felt. I laughed all day.

Of course, this is a different story. I was involved. I admit it. If you need to throw me in reform school or something, well, I guess I deserve it.

They are all good kids. They really are. I felt partly responsible for the first mess because it happened on my watch. I was a first-year teacher at the time. If I had been more experienced, I probably would have noticed that their homework was so similar. I might have figured out that they were using a machine to do it for them. Ah, but you live and learn, right?

You want to go all the way back to September? Okay. Well, that's my favorite time of year because the tourists have gone home. The leaves fall from the trees. It's quiet around the canyon and you don't have traffic jams and RVs all over and people everywhere with cameras and coolers. We have the Grand Canyon all to ourselves, it seems. It's like our backyard. I think we take it for granted. Sometimes I'm out with my mom in the car and we don't even look into the canyon. I've heard that people who live in New York City never even visit the Statue of Liberty. If I lived in New York, I'd be there every day!

A lot of kids are here in the summer, but they're just tourists. There aren't many kids who live around here, which kinda sucks because you just see the same old faces day after day after day. It's boring. Our school is small. Everybody knows what everybody else is up to. So you do one silly thing like dye your hair and it's, like, front-page news. I bet if I lived in a big city, nobody would even notice me.

We have only one sixth-grade class, so the four of us were together again. They wouldn't let us sit together, though. Oh no, they weren't about to make that mistake a second time.

It's a shame what happened. That's all I can say. Take it all the way back to the beginning? Okay.

I'm retired United States Air Force, and I worked on the space program at NASA for many years. I guess I was just drawn to the canyon, like a lot of people. You know, one of the seven wonders of the world, and all that. I used to go rafting out here on the Colorado River in my younger days.

My wife and I moved from Houston to retire, but I couldn't stand doing nothing. I started hanging around the library, researching strange things that happened at the Grand Canyon. I thought maybe I'd write a book on the topic. But I'm the restless type. Can't sit still. So I went to school and took a few classes so I could get a teaching certificate.

The kids say I'm strict because I don't tolerate any foolishness. I suppose that's why I was hired. They wanted somebody who could keep the class in order, especially after what happened with those four. An authority figure, y'know? A military guy who would keep them in line.

But what happened, happened. I'm partly responsible, because I was there. I will never forget it. I feel deeply sorry about it.

Mr. Murphy looked like one of those drill sergeants you see in the movies. You know, he has a crew cut you could balance a soda can on. When he walked into the class for the first time in September, I thought we'd all have to snap to attention or start marching around the playground. I was afraid he was gonna take one look at my long hair and suspend me for life.

But my dad was in the military, so I'm used to guys like that. Mr. Murphy is cool, in a way. You know where you stand with him. He doesn't say one thing and mean something else, like a lot of other guys. If he's mad, he tells you. And if you do something good, he tells you that, too.

Mr. Murphy told us that he actually met Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and all those other astronauts when he was working at NASA. Can you imagine? And here he was, teaching us. It was pretty neat, to think that there was just one degree of separation between me and the first man to walk on the moon.

Yeah, when we came back to school in September, we knew we would have to go back to doing our homework the old-fashioned way — with pencils and papers and our brains. Ha! What a drag. I missed the homework machine. It was just so easy, sliding a work sheet into the computer and having your homework pop out of the printer a few minutes later — finished, perfect, and even in my own handwriting! Man, that was great. I'm sure Snik missed having the homework machine around too. It probably didn't matter much to Brenton and Judy one way or the other, because they're geniuses anyway. I think they actually like doing homework. They're freaks.

I still hate homework. What a waste of time! But what are you gonna do? Kids don't rule the world. We've got no power.

Let me see, what did we learn this year? Dividing by decimals. That was interesting. I had completely forgotten how to do it without a calculator. I had to learn all over again. I taught the kids the parts of speech too. A lot of kids have trouble with adverbs and adjectives. I like to tell them that it was a lot easier when I was their age — there were only three parts of speech back then. American history was a lot easier to memorize too, because there were only thirteen states. Sometimes the kids don't get my jokes.

Mr. Murphy is pretty funny, for an old guy with a crew cut. He would let us joke around with him a little. But you had to be careful. If you crossed the line, he'd cut you down with a stare and let you know it was time to knock it off.

And of course in the sixth grade, we teach about ancient civilizations — Egypt, the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the ancient Americans, too. The kids always joke that I know so much about that stuff because I lived through it. They crack me up.

I found the history of the Grand Canyon to be fascinating. We think of this area as just a tourist attraction, but for more than ten thousand years, people lived right in the canyon! We know, because they left behind pieces of pottery, trails, and drawings carved into the rocks. The Anasazi — that's what they are called — actually grew cotton, corn, and beans here. Apparently, there was a long drought that forced them to migrate to other parts of the West. Later, the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo Indians lived in the Grand Canyon. I went to the library to learn more about it.

What a dead bore! All that ancient history stuff was such a drag. I mean, who cares whether or not people lived here a thousand years ago? What does that have to do with us? There were actually times when my eyelids were falling down during class.

I have done some of my own research, and there are people who believe that four thousand years ago an alien spacecraft crash-landed in the Grand Canyon near Comanche Point. This is true. I mean, it is true that some people believe this. It may or may not be true in reality. But anyway, the spaceship apparently was atomic-powered and used a magnetic steering system. The government found it and the craft is being hidden in a secret location. Or so they say.

They seemed like a very nice group of youngsters to me. Very different, very interesting, each in their own way. Brenton seemed to be a real bright bulb, the kind of kid whose brain simply operated on a different, higher, level than everyone else's. A little odd, yes. But someone who looked at the world and saw things the rest of us overlooked. This is the kind of kid we were always looking for at NASA. Divergent thinkers. Judy was also very bright. She will go far. Sam was a smart one too, but he didn't want anyone to know it. One of those kids who is too cool for school, you know what I mean? Kelsey is probably a late bloomer. She hasn't come into her own yet. But she's a good judge of character. I think she has potential.

Late one night in September, I got an e-mail from that guy Richard Milner. He was that weird stalker who had been bothering us when we were in fifth grade. He wrote something like, "I read in the paper that you and your friends catapulted your homework machine into the canyon. I hope you picked up all the pieces." He was weird. I deleted the e-mail.

It was around the beginning of the school year when I noticed for the first time that Brenton had a nervous habit. He would pick at the skin around his nails. He didn't bite his nails, like a lot of people do. He would just pick at his fingers. Usually he did it with his hands under a table or out of sight. I didn't mention it to anybody, certainly not Brenton.

He was quieter than before too. This all happened after we got caught throwing the homework machine into the canyon. I asked him if anything was bothering him, and he said no.

Most people didn't even know that Brenton and Judy were boyfriend and girlfriend last summer. They were so cute together, y'know, the two brains. Two peas in a pod. I mean, they really liked each other, but at the same time they seemed completely awkward when they were together.

Snik and I were going out for a while too. It wasn't any big secret or anything. The four of us got to be pretty close during the whole homework-machine episode.

In the fall, the leaves started to turn colors and drop from the trees. I thought that was a good metaphor for Brenton and I. Or is that a simile? I always get those two mixed up. Anyway, the point is that we broke up. I told Brenton it was because he seemed so nervous all the time. But the truth is that I just wasn't ready to have a boyfriend. I mean, we're only in sixth grade! We've got our whole lives ahead of us.

Kelsey and I broke up in September, right after school started. It wasn't any big deal. I mean, we're still friends and all. I just felt strange holding hands and stuff with a girl. Guys at school were making fun of me, because Kelsey is kind of weird. Like, she used to have pink hair and stuff.

Even though we weren't "going out" anymore, I think the four of us had a bond. After a year of being part of the group and everything that happened, we had...something. You can't go through what we did and just walk away like nothing ever happened.

Snik had become friends with Brenton because they were both obsessed with chess. And Kelsey and I had become friends too. I guess sometimes like attracts like, and sometimes opposites attract. You never know.

I gotta admit, it was cool to be part of a group for a change. I never had a lot of friends at my old school. The kids didn't like me. I remember hearing them talk about their birthday parties, and feeling bad that I wasn't invited. My mom wanted to throw me a party, but I didn't think anybody would come, so I told her I didn't want a party. Even though I really did. I still remember that.

My birthday was coming up in October. I guess I started hinting around that Brenton, Judy, and Kelsey should get me presents. It was obnoxious, I know. But if you don't tell anybody your birthday is coming up, how are they supposed to know?

One day Brenton didn't know I was looking at him, and he was picking at the skin on the side of his thumb. I mean, really picking at it to the point of making himself bleed. So even if he was not my boyfriend, he was still my friend, you know? And I pulled him aside and demanded to know what was bothering him. You don't do stuff like that to yourself unless something is bothering you, right?

At first he said nothing was wrong. But when I pointed out that his finger was bleeding, he kind of sighed and admitted something was bothering him. "What is it? What is it?" I begged. And he said, in that cryptic way of his, "Okay, I'll tell you. But not here." Copyright © 2009 by Dan Gutman

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