Swindle by Gordon Korman has become a modern classic. I was in fifth grade in 2008 when it first came out, and Gordon Korman was coming to visit my school! In preparation, our librarian had us read some books by Gordon Korman, and I was instantly hooked!
The common refrain of kids about Swindle is, “I finished it in three days!” Well, guess what; I finished Swindle the very night I got it! By the time Gordon Korman came to my school, everyone was in love with him, and tons of kids I know have read it.
Swindle has sold millions of copies and spawned follow-up books Zoobreak, Framed, Showoff, and Hideout. It has also been adapted into a movie by Nickelodeon (which I thought was rather subpar, especially compared to the book, by the way). So why is Swindle so popular? What makes this one of the best-selling kids books of recent times?
Also check out the video trailer on Scholastic’s website. It’s quite well done.
Swindle starts off with the main character Griffin Bing and his best friend, Ben Slovak, camping out in an old abandoned mansion. It was going to get knocked down the next morning, and Griffin had come up with a plan to protest by having some of his fellow seventh-graders camp out with him at the building.Tons of people said they were going to show up, but ultimately, he and Ben were left alone.
While exploring the house, Griffin finds a 1920 Babe Ruth baseball card. His father is an inventor who has fallen on tough times recently, and his family is facing the possibility of having to move away. Griffin is greatly upset by this. He doesn’t want to be separated from his town. Mainly, though, he doesn’t want to leave Ben.
Griffin is hopeful that the baseball card will be able to solve his family’s financial woes. After all, he’s heard of old baseball cards selling for a lot of money, and this card is still in good condition. When he takes it to Palomino’s Emporium, a shop owned by S. Wendell Palomino, the collector tells him and Ben that it’s actually a knockoff of the card from the sixties. Griffin is crestfallen, but sells it for $120.
A couple of days later, Griffin is furious to discover on TV that S. Wendell Palomino (now nicknamed “Swindle”) had swindled him out of an original 1920 card that was worth $974,000! $974,000 would mean the world to Griffin; not only being able to stay in Cedarville, but it would also put his parents constant arguments about money to rest forever.
Griffin can’t stand it when adults take advantage of kids. As Korman says, “The main theme of the book is kids taking matters into their own hands.” Luckily, Griffin is known as “The Man With the Plan” around town because he’s constantly making crazy and adventurous plans to accomplish whatever goal he wants to. In this case, he knows that if he wants that card back there’s only one thing to do: He’s going to have to steal it back.
To steal the card back from this thief is going to take the best plan of them all. Swindle has a tough guard dog named Luthor, a high-tech security system, a fence, and a safe. Griffin knows he and Ben can’t do it alone. Griffin compiles a team of people from his school whose talents he believes he can use to complete the heist.
Griffin and his team go to work trying to outfox Swindle. It comes down to an incredibly exciting ending, with the police eventually intervening. This book creates lots of exciting questions. Do they get the card back? Will Griffin’s family have to move away? What are the ethical consequences of what they’re doing? Who will ultimately win in the battle of Griffin and his friends versus Swindle?
This is a great, action-packed book. The characters are interesting and each have their own personalities. Griffin and his friends are regular, independent kids trying to make their way in the adult world. They also have an enemy named Darren Vader who forcibly joins their team and no surprise causes trouble. The team has to be extremely intelligent and good at what they’re doing if they want to snag the card.
This is a very original story, although it is the kind of theme that could be expected from Gordon Korman. Griffin isn’t about to let a crook like Swindle make off with what was his baseball card. Griffin has never seen an object he considers immovable, and although his team may seem to be made up of a bunch of random kids, he has carefully chosen them for the skills that possess that will be necessary to the heist. Swindle may have the baseball card under very careful guard, but that’s just another challenge to be solved for The Man with the Plan.
Kids just love Swindle. I’ve spoken to lots of kids who have read it, and that’s the only impression I’ve gotten. I highly recommend it, and all the books in this series.