“Nobody believed me when I said two skunks stole my old trike. But I’d seen those stinkers take it. Swear.”
Fourth grade brings its share of troubles for Mateo Martinez. His former best friend, Johnny Ramirez, starts to hang out with a couple of bike-riding bullies. Mateo finds a new best friend in Ashwin, an Indian-American boy with a streak of weird in him. Both he and Ashwin spend their lunchtimes at the library, checking out books on knights and medieval warfare. Meanwhile, Mateo must behave as a big brother should with his 5-year-old sister, Mila, a headstrong girl who wants his old tricycle. One night a pair of skunks steals the desired toy. Weird. Things get even weirder when Mateo hears these skunk thieves talk during a stakeout. Yardi packs a lot into such a slim novel, and it’s a testament to her skill that it never once feels like too much. Utilizing a gentle sense of humor and incisive insight, the author negotiates Mateo’s developing identity with aplomb, especially his Mexican-American heritage: “Trying to speak Spanish makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong, and I hate that.” Mateo finds no easy answers, and that’s OK.
A magnificent novel that defines what it is to be an older brother, a friend, and, yes, even a knight. (appendix) (Fantasy. 8-12)