Monday, January 13, 2014

The Missing Skeleton Mystery: Gooney Bird and All Her Charms by Lois Lowry

"Mrs. Pigeon I think I'd better make my announcement right away. Otherwise it might come as a terrible surprise!"

The kids in Mrs. Pidgeon's second grade look forward to Gooney Bird Greene's announcements. She's a girl who is full of surprising ideas for her class, and since she's wearing her special charm bracelet, the kids know this one is going to be a doozy.

But just as Gooney is clinking her bracelet, there is another surprising announcement.

The intercom speaking made a sudden buzzing sound.

"Mrs. Pidgeon? We have a guest here who says he is delivering a gift for your classroom. It looks heavy!"

"Don't freak out!" said Gooney Bird. "It's connected to what we're studying."

"HE'S BRINGING US A HUMAN BODY??" Chelsea shouted.

The mystery guest is Gooney Bird's great-uncle, a professor of anatomy, and the "gift" is a real human skeleton by the name of Napoleon Bonyparts, on loan for the month of March.

The class is abuzz. Keiko and Felicia cover their eyes, Malcolm flaps his arms excitedly, and Tyrone has a rap almost ready to perform. But Professor Oglethorpe takes over, unpacking his biological specimen, delivers a quick lecture on joints and bones, and starts a running joke about the "humorous" upper arm bone, the humerus. Barry the Brain comes up with some intelligent questions, and suddenly Gooney gets one of her ideas.

"We need to take Napoleon traveling. We have been talking about the brain. So we need to show him using his brain. Where would that be in this school?"

Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. "The library! Of course!"

And so, in the interest of educating the whole school, Napoleon spends a few days seated in the library, wearing reading glasses, and "reading" a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, to show how the brain takes in data through the senses and learns. And during the next few week, Napoleon "dines" in the cafeteria, wearing a bowtie and bib while the school learns about the digestive system and sits on the floor of the gym wearing a sweatband on his skull and holding a basketball while they study the muscles. Everyone in the school, from Principal LeRoy down to Mr. Furillo the custodian, enjoys Napoleon and his costumes--everyone, that is, except Mrs. Gooch, a grumpy parent who adamantly complains about any study of the human body, especially skeletons.

Then it is time to learn about the lungs, and Mrs. Pidgeon suggests that they let Napoleon sit outside on the steps to the playground to get some fresh air. But when the class comes back to retrieve their display later, they find that their skeleton, wearing a jaunty scarf and mittens, seems to have vanished into thin air!

Gooney Bird takes charge as detective-in-chief, and the class fans out to look for clues, and it doesn't take long for the class to sleuth out the perpetrator and the location of the purloined Napoleon Bonyparts to solve the case, in Lois Lowry's sixth in series, Gooney Bird and All Her Charms (Gooney Bird Greene) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2013). Like her notable predecessor, Beverly Cleary, Newbery Award-winner Lowry knows how to create believable characters and school situations with humor and insight, putting those skills to work in the curriculum-reinforcing series that follows a group of second graders through their year. Gooney Bird Greene is full of surprises and her classmates impromptu comments will keep the readers chuckling, especially those from Tyrone, who wraps up the anatomy lesson, as usual, with a rap:

"The noise you hear, is it a car or a train?
Who knows the difference?"

"Mister Brain!" calls out the class, laughing.

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