The Book Scavenger Series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

The Book Scavenger Series is an engaging middle grades mystery series for book lovers and puzzle aficionados.

Book Scavenger Series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Square Fish.

book scavenger series
  • Book Scavenger, 2016 (reprint). 368 pages.
  • The Unbreakable Code, 2018 (reprint). 384 pages.
  • A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star, 2019. (reprint). 272 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12.

Recommended For: Middle Grades, age 10-12.

Calling all book lovers! Bonus if you enjoy solving riddles, breaking codes, and heading off on treasure hunts.

Book Scavenger Series #1: Book Scavenger

Book Scavenger (book scavenger series #1)

Emily’s family hopes to live in each of the 50 states, and they’re headed to San Francisco for their next adventure. Emily, aged 12, and her older brother Matthew face these moves with different reactions. Matthew, with his off-kilter Mohawk and music always playing, seems to make new friends effortlessly. Emily, on the other hand, knows how to eat lunch on her own and practice being invisible. But she’s not invisible online; her alter ego, Surly Wombat, is a Book Scavenger extraordinaire. She loves nothing better to hunt down a book based on a clue, log it on her profile, and hide books for others to find. The best thing about San Fransisco is that the Book Scavenger founder, Garrison Griswold, is also from there!

No sooner does Emily move into her new home than two surprising things happen: she makes a new friend (James, her landlady’s grandson), and Griswold suffers an attack. People are after his new book and the game that goes with it. Can Emily and James figure out what’s going on? After all, James is just at good at solving riddles as Emily. When Matthew gets involved, the threesome are quite a team.


  • Language: Slang that hints at stronger words: “Geez,” “What the –” and so forth (a small amount, perhaps 2-3 instances).

Book Scavenger #2: The Unbreakable Code

the unbreakable code (book scavenger series #2)

When this book opens, Emily is settled into her new school with actual friends. In addition to James, she’s also managed to meet other kids at her school, and she’s even on the dance committee! Emily also works part-time at Hollister’s bookstore. She and James (and Matthew) are also part of Mr. Griswold’s Book Scavenger Advisory team. Things are looking up.

But then, word gets out about an unbreakable code. Linked to Mark Twain, a real life Tom Sawyer, and San Fransisco’s own history, the unbreakable code is said to be cursed and fireproof. Is Mr. Quisling, their history teacher, trying to solve it? Can Emily and James beat him to it? Are the strange fires popping up around the city somehow linked to the code? And can Emily and James help Mr. Griswold feel more like his old self?

Book Scavenger #3: The Alcatraz Escape

alcatraz escape (book scavenger #3)

Mr. Griswold is definitely up to his old tricks, fully recovered from his near-fatal attack in book 1. And his new game is an in-person event on Alcatraz Island. In true Book Scavenger fashion, all participants must solve a riddle in order to get an entry ticket. Emily’s personal riddle has her stumped, and she desperately hopes she’ll be able to join her friends for the game.

Once at the ferry landing for the Island, participants must solve another challenge in order to officially get passage. Thankfully, Emily has made it this far, and together, her team manages to move to the next step. The extra exciting news is that one of James’s favorite authors is also a part of this new game. The only things dampening their enthusiasm are the strange threatening letters Emily has been receiving. Does someone not want her to participate? Is she really in danger?


  • Sexuality: An offhand comment about a family with two women and two children is made; the woman are not called “mothers,” and nothing more is said about the family.

Book Scavenger Series as a Whole

This is a series for book lovers. First and foremost. The number of books referenced in the first book alone was what prompted one of our original reading challenge categories way back when: “book mentioned in another book.” Those who enjoy solving riddles and codes will also enjoy the books.

The books do contain a thread of the familiar “choose your own destiny” and “you’re in control of your story” ideas. To some extent, that’s a true idea: we can choose how we react to situations, whether to step up and be brave or hide away in fear. But ultimately, the Lord is the author of our stories, and those who rest in His grace are more equipped to react to the situations and people around them.

All in all, these books are lively and fun quick reads with strong themes of friendship and family. Over the course of the series, Emily struggles with many typical middle school feelings (social awkwardness, needing/being a friend, learning more about her parents, etc.). She and her brother Matthew form a stronger relationship through the books, and she and her parents also grow closer together. James is Chinese American, and his mom and grandmother cater, so there are lots of fun foods mentioned in the books, too. Adults such as their teacher Mr. Quisling, Hollister (a bookstore owner), and Griswold are not only healthily invested in the kids’ lives, but they also must work on their own adult relationships. It’s good to see such a well-rounded picture of community in a middle grades book. This series makes for a great vacation-read series; look for it at your local library!

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5

  • Literary/Artistic Rating: 4
  • Worldview Rating: 4

Read more about our ratings here.

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Buy Book Scavenger from Amazon.

Buy The Unbreakable Code from Amazon.

Buy The Alcatraz Escape from Amazon.

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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