Calling all summer sleuths
Boys and girls tackle the mysterious in four new books for ages 9-12.
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Meanwhile, Rex finds an address book and, in trying to return it to its owner, meets a beautiful damsel in distress. But his nascent detective career causes him to miss the “Our Mistress Day” – excuse me, Armistice Day, ceremony – bitterly disappointing his father, a veteran still haunted by World War II. While the other books reviewed here are fine for younger children, parents will either want to be available to talk about the issues in “Rex Zero,” or read it with anyone younger than a fifth grader.Skip to next paragraph
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Naturally, that’s the book my 6-year-old chose for his bedtime story, so I distracted my art-loving first-grader with the mobiles of Alexander Calder (ooh, shiny!). Calder’s whimsical-yet-sophisticated art is at the center of Blue Balliett’s new puzzle novel, The Calder Game (Scholastic Press, 375 pp., $17.99, ages 9-12). Those unfamiliar with Balliett’s work should start with her Edgar Award-winning “Chasing Vermeer,” but fans of that book will be thrilled to join Calder Pillay and his friends Petra and Tommy on another adventure. This time around, Calder and his father have gone to Woodstock, England, where an Alexander Calder sculpture has just been donated to the 1,000-year-old village. The villagers are less than thrilled to have the modern art plunked down in the middle of all that quaintness, and Calder Pillay also feels less than welcome. Then, both boy and sculpture vanish overnight and Petra and Tommy rush to England to help Calder’s father find him. Balliett’s mixture of art, math, history, and philosophy is definitely a winning one, but the resolution to the mystery isn’t quite as satisfying this time around. There are a few too many coincidences, and a sour character’s overnight (off-screen) transformation strikes a false note. But to counterbalance that, Balliett fills the book with British guerrilla artist Banksy; a castle, complete with maze; and Pummie, a giant, one-eyed black cat. All that, and a coded message embedded in Brett Helquist’s illustrations.
Younger readers will get a kick out of Morgy’s Musical Summer, by Maggie Lewis (Houghton Mifflin 100 pp., $15, ages 9-12). Morgy MacDougal-MacDuff is off to music camp with his trumpet and his name carefully labeled on everything, including the soap. Sadly, the camp, run by Col. Hiram Profundo, is on shaky financial footing and is in danger of being turned into condos. And Morgy keeps seeing strange visions in the woods at night. Plus, being a “promising beginner” in a camp full of prodigies can be tough, and Morgy comes in for some bullying as he struggles to master his part in the Concerto Fabuloso. The plot is a touch crammed, but the Morgy books are good fun (and fun to read aloud). Readers heading off to summer camp for the first time will enjoy this outing.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.