‘Code 7’ Challenges Kids to Lead an Epic Life

Books Entertainment Reviews

I keep a busy e-mail inbox. Organized, yes, but busy. Due to the constant inflow of messages, I tend to scan by sender and subject before deciding what to open and address first. As a backer of the now-filming Code 8 movie, I’ve been receiving a lot of production updates over the past few weeks. Picture, if you will, sitting down with a cup of coffee, firing up the laptop, and skimming through the inbox when you see a request to review a book titled Code 7.

“They’re not even half-way through filming and there’s already a prequel novelization?”

No. Code 7, by Bryan R. Johnson, is not a prequel to the film Code 8. Instead, Code 7 is a book targeted toward readers in grades two through six, that tells the stories of seven kids and how they establish their own codes to live by. Simple codes that can be condensed down to things like “honesty,” “integrity,” and “being true to oneself.”

The premise sounds good, but what could I have to say about a book like Code 7? At best, I could tell other parents whether or not their children would benefit from reading a book with a positive message—or in this case seven positive messages—but what could I say of any value to the intended target audience? Very little, I decided.

But, I have three kids living under my roof, running up my electric bill, eating all the food, and using roll after roll (after roll) of toilet paper—seriously, what is it with using so much toilet paper—who represent the full spectrum of the target audience. The youngest just completed second grade, the oldest completed sixth grade, and the middle child completed fifth grade this spring. So, rather than decline the review opportunity, I accepted.

Once the book arrived, I sat the kids down and explained to them how this was going to go. Each night, they would read a chapter from the book. Seven chapters, seven different stories. On the eighth night, we would sit down and they would share their thoughts on the book, which would form the meat of this review. There was a small amount of grumbling at first (at which point I reminded them of how little I ask from them in return for the roof over their heads, the power to their devices, the endless supply of healthy food in the pantry, and all those rolls of toilet paper), but by the second or third night, what had started out as an assignment became something they looked forward to doing. “Grumble grumble dad grumble book grumble grumble,” was replaced with “Oh, that was a good one,” and “I liked this one tonight.”

So, without further introduction, here is an abbreviated transcription of their review of Code 7.

Dad: “So, did you guys like the book?”

All three kids: “Yeah.” “Yes.” “Yup.”

Dad: “What did you like about it?”

Julia (5th Grader): “I like the last chapter, when it has all seven of the kids in it.”

Josie (2nd Grader): “Yeah.”

Jacob (6th Grader): “Well, I just mostly liked the stories.”

Josie: “I liked the first chapter.”

Dad: “What was that?”

Josie: “It was about this kid who needs to paint something—”

Julia: “Mural.”

Josie: “—for a three-story white wall. And then, all these people have ideas, and he needs to draw something and he has a few weeks to do it but no one can decide on a painting.”

Dad: “So what does he do?”

Josie: “He just makes one on his own.”

Julia: “Pretty much he takes all the ideas that the kids want, but he doesn’t want to make the teachers angry, so he takes all the ideas that the teachers want, so then the janitor, I think, who’s mowing the lawn, he’s just like, ‘Why don’t you put your ideas in,’ so the kid did his idea for the mural.”

Dad: “So he did his own idea instead of everybody else’s?”

Julia: “Yeah, because he was too stressed out trying to please everybody.”

Dad: “There are seven different stories. What are the others about?”

Josie: “Problems. Like, they have problems and they have to fix them.”

Jacob: “Basically, their different personalities. And they learn a lesson and whatnot.”

Julia: “I like the chapter when the kid sells the candy.”

Josie: “Yeah. I like that one, too. That was a shocking chapter.”

Jacob: “Basically, the lesson learned was ‘do the right thing’ and stuff.”

Dad: “So, each chapter is a different lesson.”

All three kids: “Yeah.”

Julia: “There was this one chapter about not giving up on your dreams. There was this one girl who wanted to sing, but everyone wanted another girl to sing…”

Josie: “That was the sixth chapter.”

Jacob: “And chapter four was ‘don’t give up’ because it was the fishing one.”

Julia: “And there was another chapter… wait, we’re not doing these in order.”

Jacob: “And there was one on responsibility, and all. It was the kid who had to clean his room.”

Julia: “Yeah, this kid refused to clean his room and his parents weren’t gonna do it for him, so there were these rats and owls all in his room.”

Josie: “And it became radioactive or something,”

Julia: “So they made a city law that kids had to have their rooms checked or they had to go through cleaning training, kind of. Like they had to scrub toilets and clean stuff.”

Jacob: “Some of it was a bit over-the-top.”

Julia: “The last chapter was with all the kids doing a group project to try and make the world a better place.”

Josie: “That one actually turned out pretty good.”

Jacob: “Yeah, they turned it into a documentary.”

Julia: “Because everybody wanted to do separate things. So they ended up making a video.”

Dad: “So what you liked most about the book—”

Jacob: “Was that it was just a bunch of different stories.”

Julia: “I like how it revolved around different people and at the end they all came together.”

Dad: “Would you recommend Code 7 to others?”

Josie: “Yes.”

Jacob: “I guess.”

Dad: “To other kids?”

Julia: “Yes.”

Jacob: “Depends which kids, to be honest.”

Dad: “Is this book more informational or entertaining?”

Julia: “Entertaining.”

Jacob: “It’s kind of balanced.”

Julia: “I felt like there was more entertainment. I would recommend it to a bunch of different people. If you’re a theater kid you’d like this chapter and if you’re an artist you would like this other chapter. The stories revolve around different kids with different interests.”

Dad: “Did you learn anything from the lessons in the book?”

Jacob: “I guess… but not really, since I already knew this kind of stuff. You know, like responsibility, follow your dreams, don’t give up. That kind of stuff.”

There you have it. My three kids liked Code 7, more for the entertaining stories and the way they were structured to come together in the final chapter than for any moral lessons. As a parent, finding something that they enjoy reading is my first priority. If they can glean a positive message from it, all the better. If you’re looking for something light for your young reader to pick up this summer, then it is worth it to pick up a copy of Code 7.

Note: Upon finishing the book, the author encourages readers to head to the Code 7 website and take the Code 7 challenge. My children were not interested in doing so, thus that interactive challenge was not a part of this review.

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