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.
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.
“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)
Publisher: Woolly Family Studios
Publish Date: December 15, 2014
You might also enjoy: “Varjak Paw” by SF Said
My recommended age range: 3rd-5th