Book: Alex Flint: Super Sleuth: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure
Author: Jill Santopolo
Illustrator: C. B. Canga
Age Range: 7-10
Alex Flint: Super Sleuth: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure is the first book in a new mystery series aimed at younger elementary school kids. The book is written by HarperCollins editor Jill Santopolo, and published by Scholastic's Orchard Books imprint. I ran a contest on my blog a couple of weeks ago in honor of the book's release, but am only just now getting around to the review.
Alec Flint is the son of a police officer. Alec is also an aspiring detective. He's the kind of kid who practices eating his cereal as quietly as he can, in case he needs to eat while on a stakeout. When the Christopher Columbus exhibit that his father has recently guarded is stolen, Alec sets out to solve the mystery. He enlists the help of a new classmate, Gina Rossi, after noticing that Gina is smart, knows how to write messages in code, and looks a bit like Princess Jasmine from the Aladdin movie. Alec and Gina collect clues and do research, and eventually solve not one but two mysteries that have left the adults stumped.
The fact that the adults are as stumped as they are is a tiny bit implausible, but of course this is hard to avoid in a mystery aimed at this age group. And I think that Santopolo does a nice job of making what the kids are and aren't able to do on their own realistic. For instance, they go to do research at the library, but they need Gina's mother to take them there. Alec is not allowed to be at home on his own after school (his mother is out of town on business). But he still manages to find and collect clues.
I think that kids will find this book a lot of fun. Alec and Gina regularly exchange notes written in code. Although the translated versions are included at the end of the book, I like to think that kids will enjoy decoding the messages themselves. I know that I would have when I was in elementary school.
Santopolo's writing is punchy and humorous, filled with sensory details. For example:
"Perp is what Officer Flint called a bad guy. Alec liked the word. Perp. He said it a few times in his head for fun." (Chapter 1)
"As Alec squeaked down the hallway, trying to make his sneakers sound sleuthier, he heard a third pair of shoes. These shoes swish-swished on the ground. They sounded sneaky. And not like sneakers sneaky, like plain-old-sneaky sneaky. Alec couldn't even tell how close they were. Swish-swish. Swish-swish. Pop!" (Chapter 1)
"But detective watches weren't really jewelry as far as Alec was concerned, and they certainly weren't made of gold. They were only sort of jewelry. The kind that was okay for a boy to wear without feeling girlie." (Chapter 1)
Certain historical facts about Christopher Columbus are essential in the solution to the mystery. These facts are conveyed to the reader relatively painlessly - it feels like Alec is learning interesting stuff, rather than like the author is forcing facts onto the reader. Alec makes a report for school about "the way Christopher Columbus's life would have been different if plastic had been invented in 1492."
All in all, this first Alec Flint, Super Sleuth title is an excellent pick for eight or nine year olds, especially if they enjoy solving mysteries and/or codes. The book is quite boy-friendly (see the above paragraph about the noises that Alec's sneakers make), but I think that girls will enjoy it, too. Gina is actually brighter than Alec (he admits this), and her younger sister Allegra is smart and a bookworm (she tries to eat pizza with one hand, so that she can hold her book with the other - a kid after my own heart). Because of the relatively long chapters and coded notes, I would put this book more at the second or third grade level, rather than giving it to brand new readers, though C. B. Canga's occasional illustrations do provide a break for younger readers. This is a book that I'll definitely be giving as a gift to kids in this age range. I look forward to the other books in the series.
Publisher: Scholastic / Orchard Books
Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Reviews: Big A little a
Author Interviews: Through the Tollbooth and The Longstockings
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.