Thursday, July 29, 2021

Homer on the Case and They'll Never Catch Us

Cole, Henry. Homer on the Case
April 1st 2021 by Peachtree Publishing Company
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Otto and his Granddad are interested in homing pigeons and are training Homer to race. He makes good time returning to his rooftop home when they release him some distance away, and sometimes even beats them back! Homer has learned to read from the newspapers that line his cage, and takes a great interest in the human world. He also talks to Carlos, a park pigeon, and makes the acquaintance of Lulu, a parrot who has moved to the area with her girl, Charlotte. When Homer sees a rat stealing a woman's bracelet, and later sees other crimes committed by cats, he is startled to see the crimes reported in the paper. Like the comic character of whom he is fond, Dick Tracy, Homer wants to solve the mystery. It's not easy to do, but when Granddad's pocket watch, which housed a picture of his beloved wife, is stolen, Homer redoubles his efforts. By watching the park closely, Homer and his friends are able to see the thieves steal things, and manage to follow them to their secret underground lair. Once they find the culprit, though, they must figure out a way to communicate their findings to the children, who must then struggle to be believed. Fortunately, things work out, Addison Park is once again safe, and the children even get written up in the newspaper. 

I wasn't quite sure when this book was set, since there was a comment about the picture of Granddad's wife being taken "during the war", the inclusion of Dick Tracy comics (which are, apparently, still being published but which flourished in the mid twentieth century), and small mentions of things like pocket watches and fountain pens. This gave the book an air of a classic title, although it seems to be set in the present day. This is a great way to introduce young readers to all manner of artifacts from the last century; I wonder how an eight year old would react to the idea of a fountain pen!

The mystery is one that is easier for the animals to solve, since they are able to observe the world from a different vantage point than humans. It's fun to see how Homer and Lulu try to communicate with their humans through newspaper clippings and the squawking of seemingly random words! The perpetrator something of a shock, and young readers should be warned against climbing into sewers, no matter how important their quest. 

Cole's pencil illustrations are the real draw here, and will appeal to fans of Garth Williams' or Brian Selznick's illustrative style. Sadly, there are no mice, like in A Nest for Celeste; I have a soft spot for pictures of mice, and some certainly could have been worked into the park scenes!

This reminded me a bit of Eve Titus' Basil of Baker Street, one of my favorites from my childhood, and joins the ranks of books with animal detectives, such as Hale's Chet Gecko mysteries, Gardner's Horace and Bunwinkle and Quinn's Birdie and Bowser or Queenie and Arthur books. 

This was a bit young for my middle school readers, who like a lot more murder with their mysteries, but I can see this being very popular in an elementary school library. 

Goodman, Jessica. They'll Never Catch Us
July 27th 2021 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Stella Steckler and her younger sister Ellie have had a hard time of it. Their parents struggled with jobs when they were young, and the mother had challenges with her severe alcoholism, but now that the girls are in high school, the parents are successful real estate agents, the mother is sober, and high school cross country has given them an outlet. Stella had a rough time the previous year, and is dealing with so many anger issues that her parents sent her to a summer training camp that specializes in anger management. It seems to have been successful, and she comes back for the fall season stronger than ever. There are problems, though-- Ellie is almost as good as her sister, and another excellent runner, Mila, transfers from another school. The small town at the foot of the Catskills where the girls live, Edgewater, is sometimes known as "Deadwater" because of the murders of three girls years previously. All three were on the cross country team, and were killed while out running. Ellie struggles with her boyfriend, Noah, who is dating Tamara. He won't break up with her, because her father can write him a letter of recommendation to his Ivy League dream school. When Mila goes missing, the whole town is thrown into chaos. Will the Steckler sisters be able to help solve the mystery of her disappearance without ruining both of their lives?
Strengths: I can see how people who read this for the mystery aspect might think there are too many details about running, but I looked at this as a running book that also had a mystery. The cross country details, especially since Stella channels her anger into the physical activity, are wonderful. Not enough of them, if you are a runner! The town's history, as well as Mila's disappearance, is all too true to life, and a reminder to young runners that safety protocols should be observed when running. I liked the drama on the high school team, even though middle school team drama is much different. Definitely a great thriller, with some nail biting moments, and an excellent cover!
Weaknesses: While I would definitely buy this for a high school library, it is more of a Young Adult book. Not only are there multiple f-bombs and underage drinking, but it also had a more slow moving, introspective quality that, combined with high school concerns like getting into college, would make this less attractive to middle school readers. 
What I really think: I won't purchase this, but will definitely recommend it to our high school librarians. 

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