The author most recently of the Bad series (Bad Magic, 2014, etc.) returns with a new series opener for somewhat younger children.
It’s clear he loses none of his comedic touch with this shift in audience. The narrator invites readers to the story of 8-year-old generous-spirited Oliver, a Jewish boy and a beginning magician. He hasn’t yet developed the confidence to pull off the card trick he’s rehearsing in front of twin friends Beatriz, or Bea, who loves games involving math and science, and Martina, or Teenie, who loves running and acrobatics. As encouraging as they are truthful about Oliver’s skills, the twins do Oliver a favor and get him invited to 9-year-old classmate Maddox’s birthday party, who invited everyone in third grade but Oliver. Oliver’s debut flops…and becomes a diversion for someone stealing the robot cat Bea and Teenie give to the tantrum-throwing birthday boy, who accuses Bea, Teenie, and Oliver of stealing said gift. The robustly multicultural cast—Bea and Teenie are Mexican-American and have two dads; Maddox’s gal pal Memphis builds architectural models; and Jayden, who’s drawn as black, is a tech whiz—is introduced naturally. With a talking rabbit on the lam, this amusing story of friendship, failure, and success (and an erupting candy volcano) neatly slips in vocabulary along the way.
Readers shouldn’t have so much ridiculous fun with a book as they do with this one.
Lark and Connor Ba, twin detectives, are back at work when the town’s annual baking contest starts off with a sabotaged sweet.
The fourth book in this chapter book’s series finds Lark Ba, the spunky and personable heroine, logically outlining the steps to find the culprit. Before the baking competition began, everyone thought Sophie, Lark’s classmate, would win first prize. When her babushka’s kutia pudding is found splattered on the ground, the whole event is in jeopardy. Who would do such a thing? With their distinctive banter, the mixed-race Ba twins (of Korean and Kenyan descent) carefully search for clues, their methodical process encouraging readers to solve the mystery along with them. Cutler’s illustrations set the emotional tone of the story, showing a wide range of reactions from the familiar, notably diverse cast of characters. As in the rest of this series, Deen serves up notable side dishes while the detectives search for the main course. Lark continues to struggle with vocabulary words and jargon, an issue all new readers will recognize. With her trademark humor, she reaches for (and misses) complex vocabulary words that are revealed in the backmatter. Even with these challenges, careful logic and thoroughness earn the Ba twins the respect of the town’s adults.
This is a solid and growing detective series for transitioning readers, with a dyslexic multicultural heroine—an inspiring role model for today’s world.
A young detective and her friends investigate a recent string of dognappings in her neighborhood.
Biracial, Japanese-American fifth-grader Kazuko Jones is a young detective always looking for clues and trying to solve cases. On her paper route one morning, she spies some suspicious activity she thinks must be linked to a chain of dognappings and reports it to the police. When her suspicion turns out to be wrong, she is told to stop meddling. But when her neighbor’s pet is taken due to her mistake, she is determined to find both the culprit and the missing dogs. Along with her BFF and ginormous, loyal dog, Genki, she finds evidence that points to a suspect. Unfortunately, the police don’t believe her. But as more and more dogs disappear, Kazu knows she must solve the case without putting herself, her friends, and Genki in too much danger. Holyoak creates a well-paced mystery with approachable characters and issues. The dognapping case and the go-get-’em attitude of Kazu provide just enough suspense and action without being too scary. Holyoak sprinkles in topics of growing up, including friendship, relationships with parents, mean people, and telling the truth. With Kazu’s mom a second-generation Japanese-American (her dad seems white), Japanese language, food, and cultural concepts are interwoven into the story. The book otherwise adheres to the white default.
A not-too-scary, diverse mystery for those who love action, dogs, and spunky heroines.
The Mighty Muskrats, four mystery-solving cousins from Windy Lake First Nation in Canada, find themselves in the big city searching for a relative who went missing decades ago.
Tech-savvy Chickadee and her cousins—muscled Atim, bookworm Samuel, and guitar-strumming Otter—travel to the city for a week of fun at the Exhibition Fair. When Chickadee tells them about Great-Auntie Charlotte, Grandpa’s little sister who was “scooped” to a residential school before being adopted out by the government, the group decides to make finding her their next mission. But the lure of the fair, an opportunity to see a favorite rock star in concert, and a chance encounter with an old friend from the rez split the team’s priorities, taking them in different directions and threatening the case. Unless they regroup, they may never cut through the red tape and uncover what happened to Charlotte. Though the harsh realities of Canada’s historical treatment of First Nations are central to the plot, the complexities of the subject matter are age-appropriate and easily digestible. Fans of Hutchinson’s (Misipawistik Cree) first entry in his Mighty Muskrats Mystery Series, The Case of Windy Lake (2019), will eagerly join the crew once again, and all the twists and turns one expects from a good mystery will quickly hook new readers.
A compelling “urban bush” adventure that offers light and reconciliation to dark truths.
After receiving a letter from her incarcerated father, whom she’s never met, 12-year-old Zoe sets out to prove his innocence.
It’s the summer before seventh grade, and aspiring pastry chef Zoe sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills to audition as a contestant on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. One day, she receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who was sent to prison for murder right before Zoe was born. She’s never met Marcus, and her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. So Zoe keeps the letter a secret and begins corresponding with Marcus on a regular basis. He shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe’s baking-competition dreams. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is shocked: How could someone innocent end up in prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe begins to learn about systemic racism and how black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than white people. Zoe’s relationship with Marcus is at the center of the novel, but her relationships with her mother, stepfather, grandmother, and Trevor are also richly conveyed. This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way.
An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.
Another of Milford’s Nagspeake tales, brimful of intrigue, plucky wannabe adventurers, and some suspiciously artful iron.
Marzana Hakelbarend and Nialla Giddis are bored. Supremely bored. In the Liberty of Gammerbund, “the place where nothing happens,” they stake out even the most innocuous of interactions in hopes of uncovering some dastardly plot—alas, to no avail. A mysterious dinner guest from the city proper, however, upends the Hakelbarends’ tranquil domesticity with news that a mayoral candidate’s 11-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. Marzana’s parents don’t seem to consider the girl’s being held in Gammerbund a possibility, so Marzana, sick of being denied access to her parents’ pasts and (mis)adventures, decides to spearhead her own investigation with the help of an assembled six-kid band dubbed the Thief Knot. The offbeat, impassioned narration twists through uncertainties, anxieties, failures, and triumphs at a jaunty clip. Observant readers will delight in piecing together the clues to puzzle out the knots alongside the Knot as these well-drawn individuals grow from awkward semiacquaintances into a close, cohesive team. Colorful supporting characters further populate this complex world. A particular strength is Milford’s depiction of parent-child relationships; rather than taking the easy way out and making the parents dead, abusive, or absent, she makes them affectionate, invested enough in their children’s well-being to grow livid upon discovering they’ve been conspiring behind their backs to get involved in a dangerous crime. Marzana is biracial, with a pale mother and dark-skinned father; Nialla presents white; other characters are diverse.
A fascinating, intricate tale of friendship and rescue.
Girl detective Goldie Vance moves from graphic novels to middle-grade prose.
Crossed Palms Resort valet and permanent resident Goldie Vance is a hopeful apprentice detective waiting for a big break. When movie star Delphine “the Temptress of the Ocean” Lucerne comes to Goldie’s decidedly unglamorous Florida town to shoot a film, her arrival is soon followed by a theft—the 10-pound, diamond-laden swim cap made for Delphine’s character in the film. What makes this complicated for Goldie is that clues seem to be pointing toward her mother as the culprit. But that can’t be true. Now Goldie has two tasks, not just one: find the swim cap and clear her mother’s name. Rivera’s novel for teens Dealing in Dreams (2019) was filled with creative, believable, and consistent slang and jargon; here she shows herself to be skilled at combining noir language conventions with contemporary sensibilities in a way that doesn’t feel anachronistic but is just a gas! Like Nancy Drew, brown-skinned Goldie is a teen girl, but her adventure really is entertaining and accessible for all ages—without the wooden characters or racism of the Carolyn Keene classics and with a little insertion of comics courtesy of Power to remind us where she came from.
This biracial, LGBTQ protagonist seamlessly shifts from comics to prose in a winner of a series opener.
Stylish 10-year-old Jada Sly does not believe that her diplomat mother died in a plane crash; can her new top-secret spy crew help her decode the mystery behind her disappearance?
Jada’s father has been named the new director of the African-American Sly family museum, causing the little family to relocate from France to New York City. Papa calls her a “strong little black woman,” but she’s been having panic attacks since that crash. She also insists that her mother is alive. After all, Jada’s convinced Mama was really a spy, so her disappearance must just be part of a mission. At her new school, she befriends Brooklyn, another African-American girl, who introduces her to the secret spy club, and Jada is thrilled to enlist their help with her real-life mystery. All Jada knows is the name of a co-worker her mom mentioned before rushing off to allegedly catch her flight. Armed with that knowledge and glimpsing furtive men everywhere, she hatches a plan with her friends. While Jada’s family history and her interest in art are memorable, her narration doesn’t quite find its footing, at times sparkling but at others repetitive. The thriller plot is aimed squarely at genre beginners, requiring readers to follow Jada’s reasoning without question in order to find satisfaction in the over-the-top conclusion. The book’s design, however, with both Winston’s own grayscale illustrations and select text picked out with red highlights, is as snazzy as Jada.
A beginner thriller with some real gems in it.