“A Handful of Stars” by Cynthia Lord

Have you ever raked blueberries? If not, consider yourself lucky because blueberry raking is one of the most labor-intensive jobs there is. Well, in my limited experience, anyway. I
raked blueberries the summer I turned 13, and it was my introduction to the work force. Every job I had after that had far fewer physical demands, and didn’t result in daily sunburns.

Ok, why am I telling you this? Well, because Cynthia Lord’s new book “A Handful of Stars” takes place in Downeast Maine on the blueberry barrens. I definitely can’t think of another book with this as a setting. I thought it was incredibly unique and helped to shine a light on a side of Maine that people probably don’t know much about. Sure, people may know that Maine is the leader in wild blueberries, but are probably unfamiliar with the process in collecting them. There is a significant portion of rakers that come from outside Maine, and this group of people is known as “migrant workers”, as they typically travel from place to place, usually doing seasonal work. Keep reading to see how all of this connects to the book. I promise it does!
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Summary

Lily lives with her grandparents in a coastal Maine town. In the summer, her grandparents’ store get a lot of traffic, as more and more people come to the area to rake blueberries. It’s during this time that Lily meets Salma, a young girl who’s traveled from Florida to rake blueberries in Maine. Many migrant workers travel to Maine during the summer to do just that. Salma is staying with her parents in a one-room bunk house in a compound with other seasonal workers. Though Lily has spent a lot of time around blueberries, she’s never seen what life is like for workers like Salma and her family.

Lily and Salma form a quick bond. Salma offers to work with Lily to paint and sell bee houses to help raise money for Lily’s blind dog, Lucky. Lily learns a lot about the difficulties of traveling around the country to make money. She’s also sensitive to the fact that there is an obvious prejudice toward migrant workers, and Lily cannot understand why people would dislike anyone as nice as Salma.

The climax of every Downeast summer is the Blueberry Queen pageant. This year, Salma decides to enter because she’d love to have the grand prize: a college savings bond. In her borrowed dress, Salma takes the stage and impresses the judges with her knowledge of blueberries and dazzles them with her wit and charm. Before the talent portion of the show, Salma gets so nervous that she nearly abandons the pageant. But her new friend Lily helps encourage her, and even goes up on stage to help Salma be more comfortable. Despite her best efforts, Salma takes second to a blonde-haired, fair-skinned local girl.

Though she didn’t win the savings bond, Salma does get a gift certificate. She selflessly gives her prize to Lily so she can use it to buy Lucky a seeing eye dog. Though Lily doesn’t think it’s a good idea at first, she changes her mind as soon as she sees Lucky’s enthusiasm toward his new puppy friend. The sweetness of this moment is slightly tinged with sadness as Lily thinks about how she’ll soon have to part with her friend, Salma. But, as “star friends” do, Lily and Salma know that they’ll never truly be apart if they’re looking up at the same stars each night.

Final Thoughts

 I think the themes of friendship and acceptance of those different from us will make this book a frequent recommendation by teachers and parents. Young readers will enjoy it because it has relatable characters and situations. And who doesn’t love a happy ending for an old, blind dog? A nice treat for readers is this free printable calendar featuring the beautiful Lucky!

Aside from being a wonderfully talented author, Cynthia Lord is also a genuinely beautiful person. She often visits schools, responds to fan mail from young fans, and even works with teachers and librarians. She’s also been known to do giveaways, and has sponsored teachers to help them attend professional development conferences. After you leave this blog, I recommend you do two things: 1) Check out Cynthia Lord’s website and 2) Read “Rules” if you haven’t already. Enjoy!


Title: “A Handful of Stars”

Author: Cynthia Lord (connect with her via Twitter:

Pages: 192

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publish Date: May 26, 2015

You might also enjoy: “Rules” by Cynthia Lord

My recommended age range: 4th-6th grades

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“Listen, Slowly” by Thanhha Lai

“I tell you of loss, my child, so you will listen, slowly, and know that in life every emotion is fated to rear itself within your being”

Are you a reader who’s working on your Newbery Award predictions? If so, you’ve probably heard people raving about Thanhha Lai’s “Listen, Slowly”. I have to admit, I bought this as soon as it hit shelves, but didn’t read it right away. At the time, I had been reading a lot of “heart fiction” and needed a break. Now I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner. There’s a reason so many people are talking about this title!

Twelve-year-old Mai has a very strong voice, and is a very believeable adolescent. In fact, she’s so believable that readers may initially be frustrated by her thoughts and actions! She definitely has the attitude and mannerisms of a pre-teen. I really appreciated how she developed and changed as a result of her experiences, but not so much that she became artificial or ingenuine. Her transformation takes place slowly, which I think makes it less jarring for the reader. Thanhha Lai has done a fantastic job of creating a character that middle grade readers will be able to relate to.

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Summary

Like most twelve-year-olds, Mai wants to spend her summer vacation at the beach with her best friend and her new crush. Instead, she’s told she’ll be accompanying her father and grandmother to Vietnam. Her family has received news from a detective there that he has information about her grandfather, who went missing during the Vietnam War. Now, Mai will escort her grandmother, Bà, while her father performs oral surgery on children in the country.

Needless to say, Mai is resistant from the start. She does everything she can to expedite the trip, and begs her mother to let her come home. While they wait for news, Mai and Bà visit with relatives in the village and Mai settles into a routine life in Vietnam. As she explores her family’s childhood village and gets familiar with her roots, she becomes less guarded and even makes a new friend. Finally, the detective brings the news they’ve been waiting for, and explains that they need to prepare for a trip to the southern part of Vietnam. During the war, Mai’s grandfather spent time as a captive digging underground tunnels, and it’s there he left a message for his wife.

Mai can tell how desperate her grandmother is to have closure on the most tragic event of her life. Bà gets sick just riding in a car, but on this journey, she’s been in cars, flown in planes, and is now preparing to descend underground. Mai’s father joins them for the climax of their trip. When they arrive in the former Saigon, they’re escorted to the tunnel where Mai’s grandfather was assigned to dig. In the darkness of the tunnel, Mai realizes she’s breathing the same stale, hot air as her grandfather did decades ago. Once through the tunnel, they come to a wider opening where they can finally stand upright.

Deep under the earth, Bà finally reads the message left for her so long ago by the man she loved. Mai watches, completely in awe, and finally realizes the importance of their journey half-way across the world. Something changes within Mai as she witnesses these tremendous acts of love. First, from her grandfather’s message, and second, from her grandmother’s trip to this hallowed place. Though Mai has sacrificed part of her summer to make this trip, her grandmother has dedicated most of her life to finding out what happened to her husband. At the end of their journey, Mai has a new appreciation for her family and her heritage, so much so that she’s willing to spend the remainder of her summer in Vietnam with her father and grandmother.

Final Thoughts

Unlike her last book, “Inside Out and Back Again”, “Listen, Slowly” is not written in verse, but it’s just as lyrical. I loved how the story unfolded through character interactions, dialogue, and setting descriptions, though the author could have easily favored one over the others. Each character was appropriately and thoroughly developed, even the secondary characters.

Going through this experience with Mai was extremely moving. I often felt moved to tears, particularly in the scene with her grandmother in the tunnel. I think this book will be popular with middle grade readers, though as an adult, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on myself as a teenager. It made me wonder how many opportunities and experiences I may have missed because I was so wrapped up in my friends or what was going on at school. It certainly gave me a renewed sense of admiration and appreciation toward my family, and a hope that I can keep that feeling alive in the hearts of my young students.


Title: “Listen, Slowly”

Author: Thanhha Lai

Pages: 260

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Publish Date: February 17, 2015

You might also enjoy: “Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan

My recommended age range: 5th-7th grade

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“Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer” by Kelly Jones

In my humble opinion, anyone who can write a book this good about chicken farming is a genius. And that’s exactly what Kelly Jones has done with “Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer”. I thought it was really unique how the story is told through a series of letters and magazine articles. The illustrations are adorable, and they made me grow especially attached to Henrietta the chicken, even though she’s cranky and prone to mood swings. (I never imagined writing such a thing about a chicken!)

Don’t worry! You don’t have to own chickens to fall in love with this story. But you will love it. Reading “Unusual Chickens” will be the part of your day you look forward to. It’s the perfect book to come home to after an especially long or hard day. It probably won’t take you long to read, but it’ll make you smile and think cute thoughts in the time you spend with it. And really, it’s cute thoughts that fuel us. (Not food and water as some people might believe.)

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Summary

Sophie, along with her mom and dad, has just moved from Los Angeles to her uncle’s old farm. She has no siblings, and because it’s summer vacation, she hasn’t had a chance to make any friends yet. Farms are big, so there aren’t any next-door neighbors like there would be in a city. To pass the time, and to feel less lonely, Sophie writes letters. She writes letters to her deceased aunt and uncle. And she also writes to the Redwood Farm Supply company after finding their catalog in her uncle’s barn.

While her parents are off doing parent stuff, Sophie tidies up the property and takes inventory of her uncle’s belongings. From the bushes, Sophie drags out what used to be a chicken house. She props it upright and decides that if she’s going to live on a farm, she might as well give the whole farmer thing a try. The next morning, Sophie heads out to start her farm work and discovers a little white chicken hanging around the old chicken coop.

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But Henrietta is no ordinary chicken, that’s obvious from the start. Being the good farmer she is, Sophie tends to Henrietta by feeding and watering her. Sophie swears her chicken has special powers, and continues to write to the Redwood Farm Supply, asking for advice. After a few persuasive and pleading letters, she finally gets a mysterious (and poorly written) response from Agnes at the Redwood Farm Supply advising her to never let anyone take the chicken, and to keep Henrietta a secret.

Over the next few weeks, more and more chickens start coming around, each with their own special ability. Sophie gets the occasional letter from Agnes, and starts taking an educational course through the mail so she can take proper care of her unusual chickens. A boy from a neighboring farm tells Sophie that he has information on three more chickens that belonged to Sophie’s uncle. They’re being held captive by Ms. Griegson, who has already tried once (unsuccessfully) to chicken-nap Sophie’s powerful poultry.

After the daring rescue, Sophie shows up at the local poultry show with a purpose and a plan. She bravely faces the chicken thief and, without naming the culprit, gets the whole town to vow to protect her brood. Back at her farm, Sophie reunites her chickens and is in awe over just how special they are. In fact, they even help her connect with Agnes without having to mail letters back and forth. Unusual chickens, indeed.

Final Thoughts

Initially, Sophie’s letters were tinged with sadness. Her one friend from home ignored her letters, and her parents were always busy, as grown-ups usually are. Sophie was left to deal with a pretty freaky situation all on her own! As you read Sophie’s correspondences with her aunt and uncle, it’s reassuring to see that her responsibilities with the chickens give her a sense of purpose and independence. You can almost feel her loneliness melting away. Of course, we always want a happy ending for our protagonists, but I thought Sophie was especially deserving of such a resolution. You really have to read this book, just to see how magically it ends.

“Unusual Chickens” has great potential as a read aloud, both for classrooms and young listeners at home. Additionally, it would be appropriate as an independent read, as the format makes it accessible even for young readers. I can definitely see this book being read and shared among classmates and families. This is one of those books that demands to be giggled over in groups.


Title: “Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Author: Kelly Jones (Connect with her on Twitter: @curiosityjones)

Pages: 224

Publisher: Knoph Books for Young Readers

Publish Date: May 12, 2015

You might also enjoy: “Audrey (cow)” by Dan Bar-el

My recommended age range: 3rd-5th grade

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“Enchantment Lake: A Northwoods Mystery” by Margi Preus

Travis Jonker (aka @100scopenotes) shared recently shared a post on the School Library Journal website listing 2015 books written by past Newbery winners. (If you haven’t checked out this list yet, do so after reading this post.) One of the covers that immediately caught my eye was “Enchantment Lake”. It was dark and mysterious, yet attractive to the eye. I also recognized the author, Margi Preus, from the Newbery Honor book “The Heart of a Samurai”.

It was exciting to see the title on NetGalley and even more exciting when I got approved to read it! Unfortunately, that’s about where the excitement ended. As I read, I kept feeling like this was the second book in a series, and that I was missing references made by the characters and the author. The main character, Francie, is seventeen and living on her own in New York. Her father died under mysterious circumstances, and nobody will give her any information about her mother. Again, I felt like I something was going over my head that I was supposed to have learned in a previous installment. Seeing as this is a mystery story, I’ll try to give you a summary without including any spoilers.

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Summary

After receiving a panicked call from her aunts in Minnesota, Francie immediately packs her bags and makes the long trip there from New York. When she arrives, she learns that her “crazy” aunts are in no immediate danger, though the residents of the lake where they live are not so lucky. So many of them have died of what at first appear to be freak accidents. But Francie’s aunts aren’t convinced, and they ask her to look into the suspicious happenings at Enchantment Lake.

She’s not a real detective by any means, but because she played one on t.v. as a child, people just assume she is. Francie takes advantage of those assumptions and starts looking into who would want to bump off owners of lakeside property. She interviews and interrogates everybody she comes in contact with, and starts to narrow down the list of suspects. The victims were impeding progress on a proposed road that would have made the lake more accessible, and refused to sell their property. Francie starts to wonder if perhaps her father’s death might not have been an accident after all.

The investigation becomes personal when Francie’s aunts are thrown in jail for murder. They’re accused of killing the town’s real estate agent, one of Francie’s leading suspects, with a poisoned casserole. Now Francie is especially motivated to find the real killer.

One of her leads takes her to a nearby island, but when she goes to leave, she notices her kayak is missing. She tries to lay low and wait for someone to send help, but that becomes problematic when the island is set on fire and spreads rapidly. Francie has no choice but to get into the boat of someone she thinks may be a killer. Before they get very far, the boat starts taking on water. Someone has sabotaged their only means of escape.

The climax of the story brings together an unusual group of characters, and the villain confesses to the treachery that’s been happening at Enchantment Lake. In the resolution, everyone who’s still alive has a happy ending and gets together to celebrate their victory.

Final Thoughts

So many aspects of this book just felt weird to me. While Francie bumbles through the case and “solves” it in the end, many of the other mysteries go unresolved, the biggest one being her parents. She gets no closer to figuring out the circumstances behind her father’s death, and nobody in the town, or even in her family, have given her any information about her mother. I found that frustrating as a reader, so I imagine that Francie would be extremely irritated. In the end, the mystery of the murderer was solved, but there were a lot of unanswered questions still lingering.

There were also way too many times where something happened that felt too convenient, or when Francie blew something off that I suspected should have been more important. One example of a convenient coincidence was when Francie tried to hire a lawyer for her aunts, but he was out of town fishing for the week. The lawyer’s assistant, a handsome young boy about Francie’s age, ended up being her sidekick and rescued her from the predicaments she got herself into. This, in turn, developed into somewhat of a love story, though thankfully it’s not the kind of swoony teenage romance that you may usually encounter in books.

I had a few other issues, but another sticking point for me was that I couldn’t pin down what age group this book would be most appropriate for. The main character is seventeen, but I don’t see that this book would be appealing to older teens, unless maybe they were looking for a quick read. And though I think it may be suitable for middle grade readers, there is smoking, drinking, and, obviously, murder in the story.

This definitely does seem to be the first book in a series, so I’m definitely interested to see where the author goes with this. I think readers of this book would be pleased to have the opportunity to learn about Francie’s father and why, exactly, is everyone so secretive about her mother? For me, that was the REAL mystery. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to find out!


Title: “Enchantment Lake: A Northwoods Mystery

Author: Margi Preus (Connect with her on Twitter: @MargiPreus)

Pages: 200

Publisher: Univ of Minnesota Press

Publish Date: March 11, 2015

You might also enjoy: “The Boundless” By Kenneth Oppel

My recommended age range: 7th-8th

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“The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth” by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo

Since I introduced “El Deafo” into my classroom, the popularity of graphic novels has exploded. When I read the 2015-2016 list for Maine Student Book Award choices, I was very excited to see how many graphic novels had made the cut! “El Deafo” is on the list, obviously, but there are lots of other great graphics worth your time and attention. One that I hadn’t heard of before was “The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth”.IMAG0888_1

This hilarious reenactment of Shakespeare’s classic play “Macbeth” is presented in five acts with zoo animals as the stars. As soon as the lights go out in the zoo, and the keepers leave for the night, the stage lights shine and the actors take their places. Though they do an outstanding job, my favorite part of the story was actually the reactions of the audience members. There are two little monkey siblings who can’t seem to agree on which is worse: the fighting scenes or the kissing scenes.
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imageSummary

Our hero, Macbeth, is heroic in every way. He dresses heroically, eats heroically, and, of course, even kisses his wife heroically. Macbeth, played by a handsome lion, is known for being the strongest and most skilled warrior in all the land. One day, Macbeth follows his nose through the woods to locate the source of a delicious smell. He comes upon three poorly disguised witches, one of which is still trying to perfect her evil laugh. The witches encourage Macbeth to eat the king, which will result in him gaining the throne. While Macbeth loves a tasty meal of pizza, tacos, and hot dogs, he really isn’t sure if he’s ready to eat the king.

At home, Macbeth talks to Mrs. Macbeth about his strange encounter in the woods. When she puts two and two together, she realizes that with Macbeth as king, she would be queen. So she starts in with some very persuasive tactics. Finally, he can take his wife’s pestering no longer and decides to go ahead with the eating of the poor, innocent king.

Once Macbeth devours the king (with the help of several bottles of ketchup from the prop department), he enjoys a very short reign of peace. It turns out that the circumstances of the king’s death are rather suspicious, and Detective Macduff starts poking his beak around, looking for the carnivore responsible for the king’s death.

Macbeth starts to sweat. Too many critters start nosing around, and the already full lion has to eat everyone who even starts to suspect his involvement with the crime.  (This is accomplished party with the help of a truckload of ketchup.) A small group of animals who have managed to stay away from the lion’s jaws gathers together to march on the castle. Organized and lead by Detective Macduff, the group approaches Macbeth for what they expect to be an epic battle. Much to the little monkey’s dismay, Macbeth’s ever expanding gut prevents him from putting up much of a fight.

There is a happy ending (for most of the zoo creatures) and the troupe takes their final bow on stage before retiring to their cages for the evening. The appreciative audience is left with a teaser for the next episode: “Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet”.

Final Thoughts

I’m positive none of my fourth graders have read or seen the play, but like Macbeth, they’re eating this book up. The humor and animal characters make this graphic novel accessible and enjoyable for a wide audience. I cannot wait for September, which is when the next issue of The Stratford Zoo is scheduled to be released. Hopefully those cute little monkeys make another appearance!

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Title: “Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth”

Author/Illustrator: Ian Lendler (Connect with him on Twitter: @ianlendler) and Zack Giallongo

Pages: 80

Publisher: First Second

Publish Date: September 30, 2014

You might also enjoy: Amulet

My recommended age range: 4th and up

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“The Red Pencil” by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Novels in verse have been amazingly popular this year, likely due to “The Crossover” winning the Newbery award. But there were plenty of great prose on shelves last year, like “Caminar” and, of course, “Brown Girl Dreaming”. Recently I had the pleasure of discovering “The Red Pencil” by Andrea Davis Pinkney, which also came out in 2014. Unlike the previously mentioned books, “The Red Pencil” seemed to come and go somewhat quietly. And what a shame!

This book would fit nicely in a collection of multicultural literature or a study in diversity. Amira and her family teach us about what life was like in Sudan during years of war and unrest. Her use of similes and metaphors allows Andrea Davis Pinkney to help readers better visualize the world Amira is living in. Even young readers who may be unfamiliar with the setting will be able to understand Amira’s desire to make something better of herself.
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Summary

Amira and her family live in a dangerous time and place. The Janjaweed of Sudan are terrorizing villages and destroying people’s homes. Her parents often warn her of the militia, but Amira is more concerned with her sheep and drawing in the sand. She dreams of one day being able to go to school and learning to read and write. Though her father encourages her, her mother does not. In fact, her mother insists she focus on preparing to be a good wife for her future husband. Shortly after her twelfth birthday, the Janjaweed arrive, and Amira has more pressing concerns than school or marriages.

The family is awakened in the night by the sounds of helicopters, guns, and screams. Amira is surrounded by the shrieks of her neighbors and threatening flames. Black smoke fills the air, adding to the horror and confusion. While many are able to make it out alive, Amira’s father does not. Standing among the ashes and smoldering remains of her village, Amira and her family prepare for the long journey to refuge.

Kalma, the refugee camp, provides relative safety, but little comfort. The fences are made of barbed wire, and homes are made of rice paper bags. Each person is given one gallon of water per day, and meals do little to keep hunger away. Amira has little hope, until one day an intake worker comes to the camp with a bag bursting with gifts. The children gather close for their treats, and Amira is rewarded with a beautiful red pencil, her first writing utensil that’s not a stick or twig.

When Old Anwar, a family friend, sees Amira drawing with her red pencil, he offers to teach her how to write. Though it’s not the same as going to a real school, Amira takes him up on his offer. Her mother becomes furious when she learns of the plan, and insists that the lessons stop. To keep herself from becoming a permanent fixture of the camp, Amira decides to run away and go to the school she’s heard about on the news. So under the cover of night, she escapes through the barbed wire gates and strikes out alone across the desert.

She doesn’t make it far before a shadow lurks up from behind. Old Anwar offers to keep her company on her journey, as he cannot let her walk alone. The book ends with a poem called “Flight”, in which Amira describes flying high over Kalma like a sparrow, never looking down upon the camp.

Final Thoughts

“The Red Pencil” offers readers a unique way to learn about geography, culture, and character. Amira shows resiliency we hope to see in ourselves and our learners. Being a novel written in verse will make this accessible to readers as young as fourth grade. Though they may not be able to understand the motivations of groups like the Janjaweed, it will certainly be an inspirational story for them to savor. I often found myself rereading poems and pages just so I could fully digest and appreciate the beauty of the language. So go ahead and read “The Crossover” and “Brown Girl Dreaming”, but make sure to read “The Red Pencil”, too!


Title: “The Red Pencil

Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney (Connect with her on Twitter: @AndreaDavisPink)

Pages: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publish Date: September 16, 2014

You might also enjoy: “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai

My recommended age range: 4th and up

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“The Case of the Cursed Dodo: A Jungle Noir” by Jake G. Panda

We FADE IN on a panda typing a book review behind a computer screen. CUE the sound of click-clacking from the keyboard. CUT TO a shot of the book “The Case of the Cursed Dodo” nearby on the desk.

“The Case of the Cursed Dodo” is the first in the “Endangered Files” series. It’s unique in that it’s written in a style similar to a noir movie script. The movie script format will make this book an easy sell to readers! You can almost hear the voice over as you read, and the story plays out like a movie in your head. Young readers will love the humor, including an elephant who rides a bike and a fortune-telling wild yak.wpid-imag0846_1_1.jpg

Summary

Detective Jake G. Panda works out of a busy hotel called the Last Resort. Much like the other hotel guests, he has quite the knack for finding trouble. Or does trouble find him? In fact, Jake begins telling his tale from captivity. He’s being held in a small pen somewhere in the Moroccan forest. Yes, Jake gets into more than one sticky situation in this story, but that’s in the job description of a detective.

In this case, Jake first needs to come to the aid of the Professor, a hispid hare who lives and works out of the Last Resort, but is traveling in Morocco. As Jake is talking on the phone with the Professor, the line suddenly goes dead, and Jake is convinced something has happened. Without hesitation, Jake immediately hops a plane and makes the long trip to the last known whereabouts of the Professor. Though Jake is able to successfully track down his old friend, he’s not able to return home without getting mixed up in another mess.

The detective and his associate carry home a battered suitcase that was found in the desert. It’s secrets remain hidden because of the lock on the outside. It would seem that its contents are valuable, because Jake’s not the only one interested in what’s inside. More than one group of ne’er-do-wells tries to obtain the suitcase through unsavory schemes.

The suitcase actually belongs to The Colonel, a dodo who was thought to have faded into extinction long ago. The suitcase holds an object that could fetch a lot of money to criminals, but, to The Colonel, it’s worth more than any amount of money in the world. Jake goes up against some pretty tough adversaries, including a gang of rats, a sticky-fingered salamander, and a crafty crocodile, just to name a few.

Jake uses his detective know-how and a few crazy plays that may not have been in the detective handbook, but in the end, Jake solves the case of the cursed dodo, and even helps The Colonel unlock a surprise that he’s been waiting decades for. But this isn’t the last we’ll see of Jake G. Panda. In the closing scene, we’re able to get a sneak peek of his next misadventure.

Final Thoughts

“This is not your garden-variety book. It’s actually a long-lost movie. And the story’s written in a rare film format called ENDANGER ‘D’ SCOPE. That means it might read a little different than what you’re used to. Don’t be alarmed. Think of yourself as a brave explorer, venturing into an uncharted type of fiction. Something I’m calling Jungle Noir. Now grab yourself a bucket of popcorn and kick back. The show’s about to begin…”

The author’s note helps readers get the feel for the adventure they’re about to have with “The Case of the Cursed Dodo”. I’m really fascinated with the way the book is written as if it were a movie. While I think this will appeal to young readers, I hope they’ll have the background knowledge needed to understand this format. I think with a short explanation of terms like “fade to”, “dissolve”, and “noir”, readers will be able to slip into the world of Jake G. Panda without issue. Even having the first chapter read aloud would be helpful. This will be a fun and exciting undertaking for readers in third and fourth grades, for sure!

At times, I found myself getting mixed-up between some of the critter characters. There are some fascinating animals mentioned in the story, and most of them have names. Because of this, I ended up losing track of who was who, but it was easy to keep track of the main characters. This may not be a problem for young readers, as they probably spend a lot of time talking about their book with other readers, teachers, and parents. Maybe that’ll teach me not to binge-read!

One of my favorite things about his writing is that Jake includes the names of some really interesting critters! Readers will want to do some investigating, like Jake, about these animals to learn more about them. Before this book, I had no idea what a tehuantepec jackrabbit was, or that a hispid hare is one of the world’s rarest animals! There are so many opportunities for exploration that will stem from reading about Jake and his investigations!


Title: “The Case of the Cursed Dodo

Author: Jake G. Panda (Connect with him on Twitter: @JakeGPandaPI)

Pages: 173

Publisher: Woolly Family Studios

Publish Date: December 15, 2014

You might also enjoy: “Varjak Paw” by SF Said

My recommended age range: 3rd-5th

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