Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 8 to 12
- Grade: 3 to 7
Men in Black meets middle school! A school project takes an alien turn when three kids uncover a secret society whose aim is to keep sneaks--mischievous interdimensional sprites--from slipping into our universe!
When Ben Harp sees his teacher's watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming.
But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak—an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object.
He figured this school year would be bad—his best friend moved away, the class bully is circling, and he’s stuck doing a group project with two similarly friendless girls, Charlotte and Akemi. Still, he wasn’t expecting aliens!
And he certainly wasn’t expecting that the woman he and Charlotte and Akemi are assigned to interview for their “living local history” project would be a Sneak expert. Or that she’d foist an old book on them to keep safe . . . and then disappear.
Now Ben, Charlotte, and Akemi are trying to understand a book that seems to contain a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them.
Can three misfit kids decode the book in time to stop an alien takeover? And if they do, will they get extra credit on their group project?
About the author
Catherine Egan is a debut fantasy novelist with Shade and Sorceress, the beginning of the Last Days of Tian Di trilogy. Her short fiction has been published in Canadian and US journals. Catherine is a world traveller who has lived in Canada, the UK, Japan, and China. She currently resides with her family in Princeton, NJ. You can find Catherine’s experimental twitterstories – tales told in three tweets a day – by following her on Twitter @ByCatherineEgan.
Excerpt: Sneaks (by (author) Catherine Egan)
Monday, September 24
Watches Don’t Crawl
Ben Harp saw the wristwatch scuttling sideways across the hallway, crablike, as he and the rest of his sixth-grade class filed into the library on Monday morning. It was there among the feet of his classmates, and then it was gone.
“Ew! Was that a cockroach?” cried Jessica Masterson, who had nearly stepped on it.
“I think it was a mouse!” Audrey Banks clutched Jessica’s arm.
Ben had seen it clwearly, if only for a second: the leather strap, the round white watch face. The strap had been curling and flattening like a caterpillar, but moving much faster than any caterpillar. A watch crawling across the hall and into the library of its own accord is hard to process at ten in the morning, however. Cockroach, his brain stoutly tried to persuade him. Or mouse. But he felt uneasy as he sat down on the carpet in the library.
“There’s a cockroach on your sweater!” Jae Park yelled at Jessica Masterson; the girls shrieked at him in mock fury.
Ms. Pryce, the school librarian, silenced them with a slight widening of her eyes. When Ms. Pryce first came to their school last year, the kids thought they could get away with anything, because she was new and looked so young, but she disabused them of that notion very quickly. She was a petite woman, the only Black teacher at their school, and the youngest by nearly twenty years. She wore big glasses with red frames and tailored outfits in bright colors. Her clothes said fun, but the expression on her face said something else altogether.
“Class, today we are beginning the Livingston history project we discussed last week,” said Ms. Pryce. “I want each of you to find a partner, quietly.”
Even though Ben had known it was coming, his stomach dropped.
This had never been a problem before sixth grade. Before, when a teacher said, “Find a partner,” Ben and Ashok gave each other the thumbs-up, and that was that. They had been best friends since first grade.
But Ashok and his family had moved to Paris for the year, for his mom’s research. He would be back for seventh grade, but that still meant Ben had to get through the whole of sixth grade without his best friend.
When Ms. Pryce told them to find a partner, his cheeks grew hot, and he delayed a few seconds, which sealed his fate. By the time he looked around, Ryan Yu and Felix Cross had already moved closer together. Malcolm Church had partnered with Jason Huang. He looked at the other boys in his class with mounting panic. Even Danny Farkas had paired off with Jae Park—not that he would have partnered with Danny Farkas anyway. Jake Bernstein and Lekan Bassey. That was all of the boys. The girls had made even quicker work of partnering up according to years of habit.
The new girl, Akemi Hanamura, was sitting next to Ben on the carpet. She glanced at him for a second or two, but he felt strangely frozen by the situation and avoided meeting her eyes.
Akemi had made the lethal mistake, during her first week at Livingston Middle School, of beating out Jessica Masterson for captain of the girls’ basketball team in tryouts. Jessica Masterson—and the whole town really—was fanatical about basketball. Jessica Masterson was also the undisputed queen of sixth grade. Akemi was shut out after that. Now she looked resignedly at Charlotte Moss, who had a face like wobbly rice pudding and always smelled of instant noodle soup. Akemi didn’t have any other choices, though. She moved closer to Charlotte on the carpet.
“Does everybody have a partner?” asked Ms. Pryce.
Murmured yeses. Ben’s no got stuck in his throat.
“Good.” Her eyes skated across the class. “Ben Harp—who is your partner?”
“I don’t have one.”
It came out too quiet. Ms. Pryce frowned, leaning forward.
“I can’t hear you,” she said.
This time it came out too loud: “I don’t have a partner!”
Danny Farkas snickered and then fell silent under Ms. Pryce’s frosty glare.
“I forgot that we’re an uneven number,” said Ms. Pryce. “Join Akemi and Charlotte to form a group of three, please. Class, you have two weeks to complete the project. This will be a lot of work, so I hope you’ll all start early, rather than leaving it for the last minute. I want it back Monday, October eighth.”
“October eighth?” cried Jessica Masterson. “But we have our first basketball game against Rylant Middle School that day! We need to practice a lot—our team isn’t very good this year.”
She shot Akemi a venomous look, muttering something that sounded like “new captain.”
“If you can’t balance your extracurricular activities with your schoolwork, you shouldn’t be on the team,” said Ms. Pryce, handing out work packets. “Ben Harp, join your group, please!”
Danny Farkas smirked at Ben. Ben missed Ashok worse than ever—Ashok, who seemed, whenever they texted each other, to be having such an amazing time in Paris, who actually liked his new school and had already made new friends, just three weeks in.
Akemi smiled brightly at him. Charlotte gave him her standard blank, rice-pudding stare. He felt, for a moment, so lonely and miserable that he almost forgot about the watch crawling into the library.
"An action-packed adventure that focuses on friendship and teamwork." —Kirkus Reviews
"The action comes early and doesn’t let up. A thrilling, speedy adventure where the positive ending is assured but the path there is not so easily predicted." —Bulletin
"[A] friendship-focused puzzle novel. Combining the whimsically written Sneaks with an underlying threat of invasion, Egan places a strong emphasis on camaraderie and forgiveness as the protagonists learn to trust and support one another."—Publishers Weekly