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A warm, well-paced follow-up in an inclusive series that will keep readers coming back for more.

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The Grandma Gang is back and ready to embark on another adventure in Pepe’s third volume of a mystery series.

Not since Donny, Mary Grace and the Dognappers (2022) have Mary Grace, Donny, and the Grandma Gang uncovered a culprit as devious as the one they find in this installment. The author’s brother and sister protagonists visit their great-grandmother Gigi at her residential facility near their home in Lompoc, California, only to find themselves accidentally embroiled in a major smuggling operation. Five-year-old Donny has Down syndrome and is friends with Ed, the 13-year-old son of the facility’s manager, Mrs. Knight. Donny and Ed share a strong affinity for marbles, and together they enjoy playing marble games during weekly visits to the facility. Then one day, an employee at the facility’s reception desk asks fifth grader Mary Grace and Donny to bring a package up to Ed’s room for him, but when they arrive upstairs, they notice the wrapping is already open. Despite Mary Grace’s reservations, Donny peeks inside to find a Chinese checkers set that includes “ugly marbles” alongside the normal playing pieces. They reveal this issue to Ed, and the three go to the toy store, where the owner suggests these extra tokens may be raw diamonds and not marbles. Mrs. Knight dodges any questions about the package, and a new problem arises that distracts the key players in this mystery: A family wanting to lead church services at the facility is not willing to open the choir to people from other faiths, and tensions are steadily rising. “Well, we already have one mystery to solve!” says Donny, “About the ugly marbles in the box. Maybe this can be another mystery; how everyone can sing songs!” More ugly marbles appear over the weeks as Donny mulls these two questions, until he and Ed have removed so many of them from the Chinese checkers sets that everyone finds themselves in danger from the men who asked Mrs. Knight to receive these packages. With the help of local police and Gigi’s friends—the Grandma Gang—Donny and Mary Grace must stop the diamond smugglers and return harmony to the facility.

Written in the vein of James Preller’s Jigsaw Jones (1998), Pepe’s early elementary school mystery novel is one of the few currently on the market to feature a disabled main character. It treats Donny with respect, making sure that his Down syndrome is emphasized without making it the sole focus of his character. Like Donny, Ed is also “a little different from most kids,” and the other characters, like Mary Grace and Grandma Cathy, do a good job of modeling interaction with him and Donny. The entire story is briskly paced and smoothly integrates its two intersecting plotlines, one about the diamond smuggling and the other concerning the tensions surrounding church services at the facility. The mystery keeps readers on their toes while remaining realistic about the children’s involvement. The choice of broken English for smuggler Jorge as well as the use of a sports analogy to explain religious discrimination are the only questionable moments in the book. Fans of the A-to-Z Mysteries by Ron Royand Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series will enjoy this mystery, which begins with an innocent, everyday activity and ends with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

A warm, well-paced follow-up in an inclusive series that will keep readers coming back for more.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2022

ISBN: 9781088072189

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2023

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From the Rafi and Rosi series

A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape.

The fourth installment in Delacre’s early-reader series centers on the rich musical traditions of Puerto Rico, once again featuring sibling tree frogs Rafi and Rosi Coquí.

Readers learn along with Rafi and Rosi as they explore bomba, plena, and salsa in three chapters. A glossary at the beginning sets readers up well to understand the Spanish vocabulary, including accurate phoneticization for non-Spanish speakers. The stories focus on Rafi and Rosi’s relationship within a musical context. For example, in one chapter Rafi finds out that he attracts a larger audience playing his homemade güiro with Rosi’s help even though he initially excluded her: “Big brothers only.” Even when he makes mistakes, as the older brother, Rafi consoles Rosi when she is embarrassed or angry at him. In each instance, their shared joy for music and dance ultimately shines through any upsets—a valuable reflection of unity. Informational backmatter and author’s sources are extensive. Undoubtedly these will help teachers, librarians, and parents to develop Puerto Rican cultural programs, curriculum, or home activities to extend young readers’ learning. The inclusion of instructions to make one’s own homemade güiro is a thoughtful addition. The Spanish translation, also by Delacre and published simultaneously, will require a more advanced reader than the English one to recognize and comprehend contractions (“pa’bajo-pa-pa’rriba”) and relatively sophisticated vocabulary.

A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape. (Early reader. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-89239-429-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Children's Book Press

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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