On the cover of the book, above the author’s name, are the words “Academy Award-Winning Actress.” Cue the eye roll. “Oh, great,” you think as you roll your eyes, “because winning an Oscar sooooo qualifies you to write a children’s book. Writing books for kids is sooooo easy.” The actress in question is Octavia Spencer, star of The Help, among many other things. Very talented actress. But can she write? I saw her speak at the BookExpo Children’s Breakfast this past year where she did seem genuinely enthusiastic about writing and reading children’s literature. It was a good sign. Another good sign is that it’s about a ninja detective… a girl ninja detective!
Cut to two days ago when I handed Randi Rhodes: Ninja Detective to Olive. “Here,” I said, “You’re going to love this.” And love it she did. We’ve had a couple battles about staying up late to read more chapters. It’s that kind of page-turning mystery.
Randi Rhodes is the daughter of mystery writer Nick Rhodes, who created a crime-solving character named Glenn Street. From their apartment in Brooklyn, Randi takes what she has learned from her dad’s novels and solves mini crimes around the neighborhood, like finding out who keeps cutting down flowers around the neighborhood. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a black belt. No one in the neighborhood knew it was her solving the crimes, least of all her dad.
After Randi’s mom dies, her dad decides to change locations to a rural town, much to his city girl daughter’s chagrin. Brooklyn needs her! What could she possible find to do except die of boredom in Deer Creek, Tennessee? The town used to be a robust tourist destination but tourism has fallen off and the town is on the brink of financial disaster. Everyone is counting a 200-year-old time capsule opened at the Founder’s Day Festival, maybe even by the President of the United States, to draw news and bring tourists back to the town. But then the time capsule is stolen, and Randi gets the biggest mystery of her young career to solve, a mystery woven through family feuds and 200 years of local history.
Randi picks up two new friends along the course of her adventure. There’s D.C., the son of the woman who owns the apple orchard. He shares Randi’s interest in Kung Fu, and has always had hearing problems so he has the superpower of reading lips. There’s also Pudge, who’s a city kid like Randi, and who is also struggling with his relocation. They make a great trio, both as friends and as detectives. Last year at school, Olive and three friends started a “Mystery Club” at school, where they tried to solve cases like their teacher’s missing stapler. I knew she’d like this book with the thought of sinking her teeth into a real mystery. The appendix of the book even has some tasks to become a ninja detective. Some are just recipes that go along with things happening in the book, but others include practical knowledge like how to take a cast of a footprint. Cool!
The mystery is a well-structured page-turner. Olive has watched enough Scooby Doo to know to rule out the obvious suspects, but even with her knowledge of mystery conventions she was still surprised by how the mystery unraveled. This is a great middle-grade pick for both boys and girls.