Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes

Star Dunes

It’s hard to believe the fourth book in this appealing adventure series has hit the shelves. It was less than two years ago when I featured The Nebula Secret, an exciting debut for National Geographic into the world of MG fiction.  Next came The Falcon’s Feather followed by The Double Helix.

This description from the publisher should bring you up to date:

Follow 12-year-old Cruz Coronado during his time at the prestigious Explorer Academy, where he and 23 kids from around the globe are training to become the next generation of great explorers. In addition to making new friends and attending cool classes, Cruz must also work to unlock clues to his family’s shadowy past if he is to solve the mystery of his mother’s untimely death. In this exciting follow-up toThe Double Helix, a major discovery catapults Cruz and the Explorer Academy team into the limelight and they head off to Africa.  Cruz and his fellow recruits tackle challenging missions to dispense life-saving medications to gorillas, thwart pangolin poachers and capture images of the last known cheetahs in Namibia — all the while discovering that protecting the world’s threatened species is dangerous business!  After yet another strike from Nebula, someone close to Cruz ends up on the brink of death, leaving the ship in turmoil and Cruz and his team down a major player.  The discovery of his mom’s next clue leads Cruz to a vast desert — and just when he thinks he’s run out of leads for solving the mystery of her tragic disappearance, an unlikely ally helps him pursue another piece of the ongoing puzzle. Can Cruz and his team stay one step ahead of Nebula and find the next piece of the hidden cipher?


Starting a series with the fourth book is usually not a good idea, but this time you wouldn’t be too lost if you began with The Star Dunes. You will miss out on the character arcs developing with previous stories, and if you do start here the pull to go back to book 1-3 will be strong. The series is captivating.


Cruz is now 13 and a friendship with another student is turning into a crush. It’s a small thread in the plot as the emphasis is on scientific exploration and solving the mysterious clues left behind by Cruz’s mother. There’s also someone trying to kill Cruz and another junior explorer may be involved. The 24 chapters are fast paced and exciting. The visit to the gorilla camp facing a virus was an interesting sidelight to our own current world crisis.


Overall, The Star Dunes is a fun read where the excitement of learning science will appeal to both girls and boys. Look for Book 5—The Tiger’s Nest— in October.


BOOK BIRTHDAY: March 17, 2020  PAGE COUNT: 216



49906409THE STAR DUNES by Trudi Trueit49906409

1. Colored illustrations appear throughout the book and are nicely spaced with the text. I had to go back and look at them again after finishing the story.

2. The mostly real life science presented on the pages always had me learning something new. It’s a sneaky and effective way to get kids excited about a science career.

3. The puzzles, including the mystery of who the bad explorer might be, is a great exercise for any age brain.

4. The back section is called the Truth Behind the Fiction and is look at five real explorers and the work they do. Great reading.

5. This one like the others ends rather abruptly. Most of the plot points are completed except two crucial ones which will most likely will not be solved until the final book. It serves it’s purpose as I can’t wait to see what unfolds.


TRUDI TRUEIT has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, but she knew her calling was in writing. Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences, and her fiction novels include The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her expertise in kids nonfiction encompasses books on history, weather, wildlife, and Earth science. She is the author of all the narratives for the Explorer Academy series, beginning with Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret. Trueit was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Everett, Washington.

SCOTT PLUMBE is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and fine artist whose work appears in books and magazines, games, interpretive centers, private collections, and more. His illustrations have been featured in magazines such as Communication Arts (US), Applied Arts (CA), Creative Review (UK), and 3×3 (US).

Be sure to check out the ambitious and fun Explorer Academy website.


I received a copy of the book for my honest review. Comments are welcome below.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes

  1. Awesome covers. They pop.

  2. Natalie Aguirre says:

    This sounds like an exciting adventure series that teaches about science too. A perfect combination.

  3. Shared on Great Middle Grade Reads on Facebook 👍🏻

  4. I’ve always wondered about this series. The books sound like some great middle grade science fiction. I like a book with puzzles and I like that this one has a section on truth behind the fiction. Sometimes, young readers don’t get that. Thanks for sharing this series and for hosting MMGM.

  5. I remember thinking on your last review I should check this out. I like that National Geographic has some involvement in this fiction series and is interested in targeting the next generation of kids with science in an interesting way to encourage them to care about their planet. Like that they share the “truth behind the science” at the end. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I always enjoy books that include interesting information while you read. This series sounds fascinating!

  7. I love a good adventure, and it’s fun to learn something along the way. I will have to check these out sometime. Thanks for the review.

  8. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    This sounds like such an exciting series! It’s neat to see that it ties in some real science and history as well. Thanks for the great review!

  9. I love when authors are able to sneak in science and other facts when we’re not looking. This adventure series sounds like something I would definitely read – not only for the adventure, but I love puzzles. But, I have a question – the title Star Dunes definitely steers my initial thoughts of the story being within the science fiction genre where the characters are off adventuring on another planet. But the description sounds more like a mix of national geographic/indiana Jones adventure here on Earth. Is it a combination of both? Or is it truly non-science fiction?

    • All the explorations in the 4 books are on Earth. The only unreal aspect are some of the gadgets they have to do their research. The Start Dunes are a specific type of dunes that occur in Africa. The cover shows the climatic scene occurring toward the end of the story. I’m sure you would enjoy the adventures as much as I have.

  10. I missed this series, so will start with the first book. Thanks for sharing.

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