Friday, November 28, 2008

Super Sleuthing: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure by Jill Santopolo

Leroy Brown, meet Alec Flint, Super Sleuth! Fans of Donald Sobol's still-going-strong Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown) series will love this new middle-grade gumshoe created by Jill Santopolo. Encyclopedia and Alec have a lot in common: both have dads who are police detectives, both have girl partners who add brains and brawn to the mix, and both keep their detective notebooks ready for any hint of an engaging mystery.

In this first book, Nina, The Pinta, And The Vanishing Treasure (Alec Flint, Super Sleuth) (Alec Flint, Super Sleuth), Alec wakes up to two enticing mysteries. On his way to school his dad takes him along to investigate a novel burglary--the overnight theft of some gold coins and other historical items from the local museum's Christopher Columbus exhibit. At school he soon learns from a new classmate, Gina Rossi, that the art teacher, Ms. Blume, suddenly seems to have left town, strangely only four days before her wedding to Dr. Glumsfeld, the museum's director. Gina is intrigued by the missing person mystery, and Alec can think of little but the museum mystery, and since the two puzzles seem to be related, the two decide to join forces to solve the two cases together.

The would-be sleuths visit the library to research Columbus' first voyage as part of their classroom study and uncover an enticing lead: all the historical evidence suggests that Columbus was seeking gold, not taking it along to trade to the hoped-for natives of Cathay. With the theory that the robbery was faked to collect insurance for the "anonymous donor" of the Columbus artifacts, the case develops quickly as Alec and Gina stealthily search the art room and Dr. Glumsfeld's office for additional clues--clues which strangely lead them to a sarcophagus in the museum's dark and dusty Egyptology section and a surprising prisoner inside.

Santopolo works in plenty of humor and detail--including a secret code Gina teaches Alec to use to good effect in solving their case--which will engage elementary readers instantly. Coded messages are deciphered in the appendix, which also includes some historical notes on the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Alec Flint, Super Sleuth falls handily into the Encylopedia Brown niche for elementary readers in the middle grades, with accessible length and reading level, solid plotting, and plenty of humor for readers moving on from such beginning chapter mysteries as Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries right into the solid fictional neighborhood where Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimble have been detecting local crime for decades. Look for more sequels to this promising entry!



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