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.)
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.
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.
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.