Review: The Lost Kitten

Brilliant artwork, yet the execution of this elementary school mystery flummoxed me.

Katie Fry, Private Eye: The Lost Kitten by Katherine Cox, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.
Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Mystery, 32 pages.
Lexile:  450L .
AR Level:  2.2 (worth 0.5 points)  .

Katie Fry loves to solve mysteries.  This may be the first book starring her, but it’s not her first mystery.  She’s solved the mystery of the early bedtime and found the lost glasses!  Now there’s a lost kitten.  Can she solve this new mystery too?

Katie Fry the Lost Kitten cover resized
Katie Fry, Private Eye #1: The Lost Kitten by Katherine Cox, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

This review contains spoilers relating to how the mystery is solved, if you are worried about that, scroll down to the final paragraph for my overview.

I wanted to love this, but there were a few things that were a bit odd.  Katie talks to the animals and they talk back to her, meaning the big solution actually comes from talking to a bird rather than following clues.

It’s not clear who the intended audience is supposed to be.  The book is clearly labeled as Pre-K to 1st grade, but some of the words (refund, confused) are tough for that age group.  It’s a 32 page picture book with no more than a paragraph of writing on each page (and full-page pictures on every page), but it’s broken up into four chapters.  I think this is intended to be a transitional text like Little Shaq, but it doesn’t work the same way.  Picture book readers will need an adult’s help or possibly get frustrated, and early chapter book readers aren’t likely to find this one or might be turned off by the Pre-K label.

Katie Fry does lay out the basics of mystery solving – find a mystery, look for clues, gather information from witnesses, think about what you learned to solve the case.  She just doesn’t actually do the final step, instead relying on a deus ex machina from a talking bird.  Not exactly the role model I want to be setting for the girls (or boys).

However, I could see this being used in a classroom as part of a mystery unit if your first, second, or maybe early third graders were looking at different genres.  Usually this is studied with proper chapter books, but black girl detectives are pretty rare in the elementary school book market, so we can’t afford to overlook this title.

Katie Fry the Lost Kitten p 10-11 resized
Katie Fry, Private Eye: The Lost Kitten pages 10 and 11.

Now, to be completely fair, all of the problems I had were with the actual story, text, and branding.  The artwork is fabulous.  Vanessa Brantley Newton has a distinctive style and she delivers.  Her cheerful illustrations which work the text cleverly into the book design at several points are what saved this book and kept the kids reading it.

As stated earlier, I wanted to love this elementary-school book about a black girl solving mysteries, but if you are looking for diverse mysteries, Nate the Great has a multicultural supporting cast and the mystery solving is much better.  Since the cat appears on the cover of the next book as well, my guess is that talking animals solving the mystery (and removing the agency of the title character) will continue to be a feature.

A valiant effort, but overall a bit of a miss.  The kids love mysteries but we’ll get any further ones from the library rather than buying them.  We’ll try reading the next one but would like to see Katie Fry actually solving the mysteries instead of running around talking to animals that magically know the answer – I’ve got Disney movies for that.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Lost Kitten”

    1. We were very disappointed. It’s a prime example of when publishers think just having a POC character is diverse. Actually I thought it was more damaging to the kids that the ONE early reader mystery we found with a black girl detective wasn’t able to solve the mystery herself.

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