The Buried Bones Mystery (Clubhouse Mysteries #1) by Sharon M. Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson.
Aladdin, imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, New York, 1994, my edition published in 2006.
Elementary/middle school mystery fiction, 94 pages + excerpt from book two.
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points)
NOTE: Previously published under the title Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs.
Rico and his three best friends have nothing to do this summer now that the closest basketball court is ruined. So they’re going to start a club, first building a clubhouse. But then they discover a mysterious box, and something important turns up missing. What could be going on?
This book was something of a leap of faith for me. I had never read a book by Sharon Draper before, although several were on my TBR list. So many of her novels have come so highly recommended, that I went ahead and ordered this book in hardcover, sight unseen. I’m so glad, because I foresee it getting a lot of use.
The writing in this is gorgeous. To be honest, it’s unexpected to find good descriptive writing in a club book about preteen boys, but I certainly enjoyed it just the same!
This reminded me strongly of the book I just finished in many ways, although it seems to be aimed at a slightly older audience and has some other differences.
One problem I had isn’t aimed at the book but rather at the tagging used for it on several sites and in some synopsis which marked this book as being Native American. I read through it twice trying to figure out how on earth this was considered Native American with nary a reference in the whole book. Finally I concluded that SPOILER the desecrated graves were assumed to be Native, even though the book explicitly states that they were black and the character involved is African-American. /SPOILER END
I was really upset about that and assumed that the descriptors were being racist, until, preparing for this review, I found out that there is a book in this series (#3, Shadows of Caesar’s Creek) which does have Native characters. So maybe there was a mix-up and some reviews and information for that book got connected to this one instead? Even so, it bothered me.
Another difficulty that I had was telling two of the boys apart. Rico and Ziggy were quite distinctive, but I couldn’t do voices for Jerome or Rashawn because they seemed too similar. There definitely were differences – Jerome lived with his grandmother and constantly babysat his younger sisters, and Rashawn seemed a bit wealthier and had a convenient detective father. But they sort of blended together both for me and for the kids. I imagine that as the series goes on and the characters are developed more, this will no longer be an issue – it’s hard to fit four distinct characters into less than a hundred pages!
One detail I didn’t notice until reading this aloud to the kids was that Rashawn’s family is Muslim. It’s very subtle (his dad mentions going to the mosque), and I don’t know if his mom wears a hajib since she wasn’t in any scenes. Honestly, I didn’t notice this the first time I read it, until one of the younger kids asked what the word mosque meant. I especially liked that they were portrayed as a respectable middle-class family with a traditional structure and I can’t think of any other book about a Muslim boy who’s a middle class African-American!
There are eleven chapters, and at less than ten pages the individual chapters are quite short (we often read two at a time). I think this would be suitable for a classroom or home read-aloud, or of course for a child to read independently. Definitely there is a lot of suspense at times, and a few times we had to stop and have the “don’t do this at home” talk, but the kids could handle it.
The children are certainly in some ways more independent than I would expect for students who just ended fifth grade. The covers, while nice, are a bit off as they depict the boys as being about 2nd or 3rd grade. The interior artwork (about one page per chapter) is much closer to what the boys are described as in the text.
[Normally I would have pictures of the interior for you, but there is no way I’m going to get to them today. Instead, here is a coloring book (PDF) based on the illustrations for the series. It does contain images from the later books in the series that could be considered spoilers.]
I suspect this was originally written as a high-low book, intended to be read by middle school students who are reading at a somewhat lower level. All the reviews I’ve read indicate that Draper is excellent at capturing the attention of middle and even high school boys, and I definitely could see myself handing this series to the reluctant middle school readers in my school just as I could see myself handing it to a high-reading third grader. While the new covers are visually appealing, I just wish they represented kids closer to the age range shown inside (because most kids will read about an older kid but not one younger than them).
This book is not really about the crime solving. I mean sure, they figure it out in the end, but it’s not an investigative mystery. This is more of a book about the close friendship between four very different boys.
The kids have been asking for more mysteries, so I pulled out two I’ve found, this one and Precious Ramotswe’s first mystery and the kids definitely wanted this one. They asked if the author was black before choosing this book over Alexander McCall Smith’s series. I’m not sure if they would have done that on their own or if my book blogging is rubbing off on them.
This book got a double thumbs up from the kids, who want to know when we’ll have the rest of the series. They’re enthusiastic about reading a real mystery series with black characters. Recommended, and hopefully in a few months I’ll be back with a review of the next installment.