The Case of the Missing Trophy by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Robert Papp.
Scholastic, New York, 2004.
Elementary mystery, 135 pages.
AR Level: 4.0 (worth 3.0 points)
NOTE: This book is a sequel to The Spray-Paint Mystery, but has no spoilers for that book.
Cameron is so excited about the upcoming science fair. He can’t wait to be in fifth grade so that he can participate and maybe win the trophy back to his school for another year. The only thing more exciting is solving mysteries like his dad. But it’s no mystery why Cameron is always losing and forgetting things – it’s not easy shuffling between two houses each week now that his mom is back in Austin, Texas. Cameron’s spent so much time staring at the trophy in the display case, now it’s up to him and his three best friends to figure out where the trophy disappeared to!
I grabbed this book from the library because of the cover, blurb unread. Honestly I’m finding so many wonderful new-to-me authors this way, I nearly feel like I should choose all of my books based on the diversity of the cover. So I wasn’t aware this was a sequel. However, it doesn’t matter. The previous case is referenced a few times, but no details are given, adults just state that the case was solved last year.
There were so many things to love about this book. The promotion of science for young boys of color, the divorced parents who were loving, the lack of any sports anywhere in the book, the father who is a police detective, the inclusion of empanadas from his friend Miguel’s mother, the appropriate friendship between a boy and a girl, the drawings that actually got Tarann’s hair right…
There were a few things that weren’t perfect. For a seasoned adult or even teen mystery reader, the plot will be obvious. I, and one of the kids I was reading to, spotted the real story right away and we weren’t thrown by the red herrings. However the target age group (grades 2-5) are not so likely to be able to differentiate between real and false clues, and the 4th graders I’ve read it to already are mostly surprised by the ending. If the mystery doesn’t grip readers as much as it could, there is also the science fair plot to add suspense for overly savvy readers.
One reason I think this series is not continuing is that the main premise (Cameron is thought to have committed some mischief but devotes himself to solving the crime instead) does weaken after a few books. However that is easily solved by adults allowing Cameron to solve mysteries based on his previous experience, or by his father getting involved in some crime. There is only one mystery each grade level, so I would really love to see more of these books.
As a read-aloud, there are two things to watch for. One is Tarann. I had no idea how to pronounce her name, so I just decided to wing it and try on the fly. It was sort of awkward and I kept stumbling over her name whenever it came up. Pick a pronunciation and practice it as you would for a fantasy series and you’ll do better than my first attempt. The other is Jesse. Fresh off of last year’s read-aloud of The Boxcar Children, I kept on reading Jesse as a girl and confusing both myself and my listeners. The chapters are less than ten pages each and fairly consistent (although some are more cliffhanger-y than others), so this is a good choice for a classroom read-aloud.
Throughout the book there are black and white illustrations, which look like they were done in pencil. There is about one picture per chapter. The children and others are well drawn and culturally appropriate. Tarann wears the same hairstyle throughout, but I found that very reasonable as this book takes place over less than a week’s time.
The kids have already demanded that I find the previous book in the series, which wasn’t available at the library where I got this one. They, and I, had been hoping that this was a series, but it looks like this is the last book featuring Cameron and Tarann’s adventures. We have been really looking for a mystery series with black characters and this was just what was wanted – now to find more like it!
As you can probably guess, I wholeheartedly recommend this book for young readers and am looking forward to tracking down the first book. There is so much more I could delve into, but hopefully you will read the book yourself and then we can have a discussion.