Bruce Murphy
About the author
Christian Paniagua
About the illustrator
Recommended age group : 6 to 10
Bruce Murphy
Bruce Murphy is the author of The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery and two editions of Benet's Readers Encyclopedia. He is also an award-winning poet. He lives in Rome.
Christian Paniagua
Christian Paniagua is an illustrator and graphic designer. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and two daughters.
"One of the best mysteries for kids I've ever read."
Irwin LaLune is a skunk detective who likes the smell of a good mystery. But he gets more than he bargained for when a squirrel tips him off to the antics of the panda Ling Ming--the local zoo's star attraction. Someone is driving the panda crazy, but no one's saying who—not even the panda himself. Can Irwin solve the mystery before things get really out of hand? Irwin's mission will take him from the anaconda cage to the lion's den—and that's before it gets really dangerous!
The Case of the Paranoid Panda is a funny adventure for 6-10 year-olds.
  • ISBN pbk 978-1-940021-09-6
  • ePub 978-1-940021-13-3
  • Pbk: $7.99
  • eBook: $1.99
  1. 1.
    Sometimes a mystery story is called a "whodunit." What do you think that word means? What are some of the things Irwin (or any detective) has to do to find out who did what?
  2. 2.
    Sometimes Irwin needs to find things out from animals who are afraid they might get in trouble for talking about what they know. Can you find an example in the story? Have you ever been afraid you might get in trouble for talking about something?
  3. 3.
    Irwin has a particular way of investigating. The way he does his job is called his procedure. (In fact, this kind of mystery story is called a procedural because it follows the detective as he does his job.) Irwin's procedure is this: (1) First, he gets all the known facts of the case. (2) Then, he tries to learn more, by talking to witnesses (animals who may have heard or seen something useful to the case). He takes notes in his notebook about things that puzzle him. (3) These things that puzzle him are clues and they lead him to ask more questions, which can lead to more clues. (4) Once he has talked with all the witnesses, he uses informants (like Sabrina) to follow up on the clues he's written down. (5) And finally he starts to pursue leads—wherever the clues lead him. Can you think of an example of each of Irwin's five steps?
  4. 4.
    Most detectives use a procedure. Can you think of any other jobs that have procedures? Do you have any procedures of your own? Perhaps when you play a game, or ...?
  5. 5.
    Pierre the sloth isn't like the other animals. For one thing, until he talks to Irwin, he doesn't have a name except "sloth." Why is it important to have a name that is your own? Does it matter what the sloth wants to call himself?
  6. 6.
    Pierre hangs from a tree branch most of the time. But he suggests to Irwin that maybe everyone else is upside down, and he's upside right. Pierre says that it "depends on your point of view." Irwin doesn't actually tell him he's wrong. Why do you think that is? Did you ever have a point of view, or opinion, that seemed like it was different from everybody else's?
  7. 7.
    Felix the magpie knows a lot of animal languages. Can you find two places in the story where this is really helpful to Irwin?
  8. 8.
    Felix likes to talk about the different meanings of words, including ones that look and sound a lot alike, like hlooblunk and hlooblenk. (And do you remember what animal uses those imaginary words?) Can you think of any words we use that sound the same, but mean something very different? How is it useful to know a lot of different words?
  9. 9.
    There are some things about Roger the raccoon that are just part of being a raccoon, like his mask. Every raccoon has a mask, that's part of their nature. But Irwin also says Roger's mind is "one of the most original animal minds" he knows. Can you think of one thing that is part of Roger's nature (being a raccoon), and something else that Roger has, but other raccoons don't have? Something that is part of Roger's own one-of-a-kind personality? What's part of Irwin's or Larry's one-of-a-kind personality? What about your personality, or one of your friend's personalities?
  • In the story, Irwin plays the rhyming game with Lisa the lion. Here's how you can play: (1) The person who goes first asks a simple question. (2) The second person has to try to answer the question, but make the last word of what they say rhyme with the last word of the first person's question. For example, QUESTION: Is this a story about a skunk? ANSWER: Yes it is, and that's not junk. (3) Players switch, so that the second person asks a question and the first person has to give an answer that rhymes with the question. But please don't threaten to eat each other!
  • Most of Irwin's investigations take place in the zoo—the reptile house, the panda pen, and so on. Can you make a map of all the places Irwin goes in the zoo?
  • The author never describes Suzie the waitress. Do you think she's a person or another kind of animal? Can you draw a picture of her?
"One of the best mysteries for kids I've ever read."

I can think of only a few books for middle grade readers that do a convincing job of creating animal characters that act like real animals. For me, one of the most appealing books is "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH", although books like "Watership Down" or the Redwall cycle certainly have their champions. (As does, of course, "The Wind in the Willows".) All of this is the long way around to saying that convincing animal books for younger readers are hard to find. This particular book struck me as particularly good.

Because the story is set up as a mystery and because our skunk hero is a detective and has to interview loads of zoo animals, we get to meet dozens of animal characters. A twitchy squirrel, a nosy magpie, a thoughtful but distracted sloth, an elegant anaconda; the list goes on. Each animal has a few characteristics that identify its nature. Each animal has a distinct personality. Each animal has its own language, some intelligible to the skunk and some very hard to make out, (seal language is sort of blubbery). In addition, each animal has an attitude and a general presence that fits with its nature. (You approach a lion in an entirely different fashion than you would a lizard, and you conduct yourself differently.) This is subtle, thoughtful and clever stuff. A lot of it might go over a little reader's head, but maybe not. Either way, it means the book has different rewards for readers with different levels of experience, which widens the target age range for this book considerably.

Detective noir works really well here. It isn't all that noir, and the detection is basically there to keep the story moving, but the hallmark of that style for young readers is crisp, clear and direct dialogue, short declarative sentences, methodical development of a story, and logical thinking and deduction. That is an ideal way to structure a book for little readers, especially a mystery with an action component. (For what's is worth, the mystery is pretty good. It's a lot more satisfying than the puppy-stole-your-socks stuff that you often find for this age group. It also involves solid deductions drawn from real clues.)

Finally, the hero works. Irwin LaLune, (great name or what?), has presence and radiates confidence, competence and authority. He is not cutesy; he has a dry sense of humor and just a slight touch of that world weary noir sensibility. He is an awfully sophisticated character to lead a young reader animal/zoo/mystery story, but kids can connect with him. He is complemented by Larry, a super-eager young squirrel assistant, Roger, an old school raccoon partner who's always hungry but is the epitome of stealth for night work, (he even already has a mask), Felix, a nosy magpie, and a host of other animals who slip into all of the remaining noir conventions.

This is a very carefully thought out and constructed book. It is well crafted and well written, and is paced by some very clever and witty dialogue, some funny bits and set scenes, and some just slightly edgy throwaway observations. Some of the humor is a touch dry or deadpan, but the tone is always just right and the whole project treats young readers with a great deal of respect for their ability to get what's going on. (The know-it-all magpie explains the meaning of some words to young inexperienced Larry the squirrel. What a clever way to help out young readers.)

So, I thought this would be, at best, a light weight entertainment, which is fine as far as it goes. I was delighted to find that I was honestly impressed by and truly amused by this book. An admirable find.

(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)

Joel Smith,NetGalley Reviews

A smart skunk as a detective... a scrappy little squirrel for a partner... and a paranoid panda as a client. Such is the charming mystery of The Case of the Paranoid Panda.

Irwin is a famous detective and when Larry the squirrel relays a message he heard from a raccoon at the zoo, Irwin decides to get involved. The panda from China has been acting really strange, everyone is out to get him and no one seems to believe his story. Irwin with Larry tagging along begins to dig deeper into what just might be causing the panda's issues.

This is a perfect book for kids new to the mystery genre. It is cute, easy to read with adorable illustrations. The characters fill the pages with funny dialogue and seem true to their species (squirrel is crazy fast and a little distracted). A good read for mystery lovers as well as animal lovers. Would definitely read another.

Ruby Blotzer
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is delightful! I laughed out loud many times while reading it, and frequently appreciated the cleverness.

This book is a really wonderful offering from Bliss Books -- my new favorite micro-press, because they are all about quirky, unexpected books with a lot of heart. It was such a welcome surprise, bringing smiles and laughs on a rainy afternoon. If you like sweet, clever stories and don't feel like you are just too darn cool for school, give The Case of the Paranoid Panda a try!

…delightful…The Case of the Paranoid Panda is an enchanting little story that will amuse both children and adults. It is full of wit and adorable characters that everyone will be able to appreciate.

Christian Paniagua has provided charming illustrations of the characters throughout the book, which will greatly appeal to youngsters. Although this is the only Irwin LaLune mystery so far, there is great potential of developing a series of stories with animal-related cases for the skunk to crack.

Hazel Stainer, Blogger

This is a great animal detective book that children will love and laugh with. The Case of the Paranoid Panda is an enchanting little story that will amuse both children and adults. It is full of wit and adorable characters that everyone will be able to appreciate. Some of the humor may not be detected by younger readers, but that is why their parents will enjoy it as well. Christian Paniagua has provided charming illustrations of the characters throughout the book, which will greatly appeal to youngsters.

Carla Johnson-Hicks, teacher/librarian
Why We Love This Book
Irwin LaLune is a skunk detective, working a city beat—not your typical gumshoe. He can crack wise when he wants, but what he’s really good at is listening and taking the time to stop and think. (We believe those are good things, even if you’re not a sleuth. Or a skunk.) Part of the thrill of a good mystery—one that follows “fair play”—is that you get to look over the detective’s shoulder and see what they see, and try to figure it out for yourself. We think that’s great. Irwin even lets you look in his notebook sometimes. Action is great, too—and Irwin’s case includes a lot of action—but thinking leads to solutions. As Amel Larrieux says in her song “Moment to Reflect”—“I got a butterfly net / In which my thoughts I collect / Puttin’ the head and heart to the test / to come with something better.” The thoughtful, serious sides of our kids don’t always get the attention and time they could, so we’re happy to bring you a book that speaks to that—and is still funny and exciting.
That’s a big part of what we want to do at Bliss Group Books—reach readers who are underserved, present characters who are seldom seen, and bring out new kinds of stories.
We’ve read how Australian Aborigines say that good stories hunt the right storyteller. Bruce Murphy—a poet who also wrote The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery—is the right storyteller for Irwin. The Case of the Paranoid Panda unfolds by highlighting not only the elements of the crime, but also words and ideas and characters. To work the case, Irwin often has to look at things through others’ eyes, and like in real life, events look different depending on where you’re sitting—or floating, or hanging, or slithering. We like the sloth in the story who’s asked what it’s like to hang upside down all day and says, “Maybe I’m not upside down; maybe you are.” And we hope you’ll agree with the rhyming lion cub who says, “I like the tale, keep talking sleuth / the truth and nothing but the truth.” Chris Paniagua’s beautiful drawings give a vivid picture of Irwin’s friends and foes, bringing the story even more to life.
—Amel Larrieux
—Laru Larrieux
—Alan Bradshaw
—Bliss Group Books