Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Zebra Box Mystery! Meet the Crew at the Zoo (Mystery on Zoo Lane Series #1) by Patricia Reilly Giff

The plane roared to a stop. Luke's throat burned. He told himself he was too old to cry.

"You'll love this place, Luke," said Dad. "With the new Zoo!"

Luke tried to nod. If only they were back with Abuelo, his grandfather, at the zoo in Florida.

Dad is so proud of his new job as a zoo physician in New York City that Luke doesn't want to let him know how unhappy he is with their move. His little sister Benita seems excited, but Luke's heart drops when they drive up in front of a row of rather shabby houses with the zoo right behind them. Their old house was nicer, and since Abuela was also a zoo doctor and Luke had a lot of good friends back in Florida, Luke can't see anything better here for him.

The next morning Dad rushes him out to the zoo, telling him a new black spider monkey was going to be born soon, and Luke trails along to the Baby Zoo House. On the way in, Luke notices a door that says STAY OUT. He starts to ask about the door, just as his dad calls him to see the baby spider monkey. On the way out he meets a lady cleaning the ponds who tells him about how anteaters use their long snouts for snorkels and tells her to call her Nana-Next-Door. On the way back home Luke spots a boy sweeping the walkway. Both of them see a striped box partly under a bush and reach for it at the same time.

They rolled in the path.

"Hey!" cried Luke. The boy yelled "hey," too! Were the kids terrible here?


"Sorry!" The boy let go of the box.

"Are you the new kid?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I'm the old kid. I've always lived here. Let's see what's in the box!"

Inside is a little green collar, Luke's favorite color, and a dollar bill with a note saying it was for lunch the first week. Just as the boys are puzzling over the contents of the stripped box, a girl named Tori comes by. It's not hers, she says. Mitchell tells Luke it may belong to a kid named Alex.

"He never stops talking," he warns Luke.

And Luke soon runs into Alex, who claims the box might be his. But when Alex can't describe what was in his box, Luke keeps walking, leaving Alex going on and on about how hard his whole name is to spell! Mitchell was right about Alex, Luke thinks.

Later that day Luke meets another kid, Omar, working with his dad in the Blue Zoo Stand. Omar points out the waste basket with lots of blue striped food boxes in it and says he is missing one of the boxes, too, but he has no idea what he put in it. A blue cookie? A pen? That solves the question of where the unusual box came from, but Luke feels no closer to solve the mystery of what is in the box. Still, he has managed to meet all the kids in the row of houses beside the zoo, except Tori's brother Ken. But Ken tells him he found his box, and Tori notices some faint writing on one side of the mystery box.

"SEE DAD!" it says.

And Dad takes him back to the Baby Zoo House and opens the door with the STAY OUT sign, and now Luke knows who the small collar is for!

All's well that ends with new puppies for Luke and for Benita. It's mystery solved, in two-time Newbery Award-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff's first book in her new beginner novels series, Meet the Crew at the Zoo (Mysteries on Zoo Lane) (Holiday House, 2020). The author of the top-selling Kids of the Polk Street School mysteries, Giff's return to the early chapter book genre will be well received, and with engaging illustrations by Abby Carter, a group of diverse characters, and a setting just right for intriguing mystery adventures, this one will be welcomed by young readers transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

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