Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Case of the Stinky Socks (Milo & Jazz Mysteries #1) by Lewis B. Montgomery, Amy Wummer (Illustrator)

I'm fishing for transitional readers that don't put me in a slack-jawed Friday night daze. Not easy. This type of book is designed to have a simple vocabulary and plot, but frankly, choices are slim. I find many of the series boring and flat. Harpoon me an interesting character, a bit 'o humor, and some depth and I'm a happy gal. Milo & Jazz succeeds in these areas and I was pleasantly surprised by a good story.

Milo gets a spy kit at home and proceeds to try and figure it out in a klutzy way that is funny. He pokes fun at himself and then tries to spy on his family and a neighbor girl, named Jazz, that goes to his school. It's hard to be sneaky when you are clumsy. She outs him pretty fast and asks if he is playing spy or detective? Milo responds that he has a spy agency and she quickly comes up with an advertisement that includes herself in the agency slogan even though Milo never said she could join him. When Milo starts to protest, they hear Jazz's brother, Dylan, screaming and discover their first case that involves a pair of missing lucky socks. Jazz is a take charge person and comes up with a plan, but Milo doesn't want to hear any of it. This is his spy kit and his idea. Jazz is a bit too pushy and tells him she wants to be his partner and that he needs her brains. When she insults Milo by implying he is dumb, he is convinced that he really doesn't want an overbearing partner that tells him what to do.  He wisely runs away from her.

Dylan is on a winning streak as pitcher for the Westview Wildcats baseball team. When he tells a local TV crew the reason for the wins is his lucky socks, they get stolen from his locker. The funny illustrations of reporters and opposing team members plugging their noses as Dylan shows off his smelly socks had me laughing. But more humorous is the poke at the superstitious athletes (particularly pitchers in baseball) that resort to superstitions to prolong winning streaks. I remember being grossed out by the Twin's pitcher that didn't wash his shirt when he was pitching well. And don't think this only happens in the United States. I was at a baseball game in Taiwan where a man led the crowd in cheers having us shout and stand. When a batter got a hit he would tell us we brought the team luck by standing up and we needed to stay standing. All in good fun, but some superstitious folks believe it. At work if someone wins a door prize the women from Taiwan will touch her for good luck.  When you read aloud books over and over with kids I appreciate a story like this one that tosses in some adult humor.

When Milo tries to solve the mystery he makes mistakes and keeps adjusting to improve his skills; whereas, Jazz is smarter and more logical than Milo, but talks condescendingly to Milo making her unlikable. They struggle to become friends at first because they don't know how to work together and talk to each other. Milo makes quite a few missteps as he learns how to solve mysteries. This quality makes him very real and kids (and adults) will root for him as he perseveres with figuring out clues. When Milo pursues clues in the locker room and comes across the older boy, Chip, that's a tennis player putting mousse in his hair, readers will laugh at the play on words and self-centeredness of Chip.

Ethan, Milo's younger brother is annoying and funny. He pretends he's a dinosaur and is even more impulsive than Milo. When he bites the Wildcat mascot, Milo is the protective older brother and it is easy to see similarities in their crazy actions. When an older boy that is the school mascot chases after Ethan for biting him, he is not only mad at Milo's brother, but he's disappointed that his job of mascot has not let him meet cheerleaders. This addresses the mascots motivation for chasing Ethan rather than giving up after a bit. The mascot boy, Willie, is not only angry with Ethan, he's angry that his sole reason for being a mascot has not produced the results he wanted which was to meet girls. The mascot also leaves the first good clue to what might have happened to Dylan's socks.

Jazz comes back into the picture as she's been clue searching without Milo. She compliments him on his plan not realizing that he was hiding versus carrying out an actual plan. He doesn't tell her and thinks maybe she wouldn't be a bad partner. Whether she is conscious of her actions or not, she is more effective complimenting Milo than insulting him. It shows how to make friends and work as a team.  As the two ferret out clues, it becomes clear that Chip is a big jock at the school with an even bigger ego. Chip seems a bit cartoonish in his stereotype of a narcissistic tennis player at the diner, but it still is funny. And you've gotta love Jazz. When Milo insults her purple notebook she has a nice comeback. These two are an unlikely pair but their love of adventures and mysteries seems enough to help them become friends.  They have some rough patches but they keep learning how to work together and Milo is able to solve the mystery.

The mystery misleads the reader as to the culprit. There are enough clues to figure out the true villain, but it would take a detailed reader to figure it out. My adult brain thought that at one point I would have just bought a pair of identical socks and tossed them in the dumpster and told Dylan I'd found his socks. I know, what a spoil-sport. The lesson of believing in yourself and not substituting luck for mental toughness is worthwhile along with other themes that layer this short book: teamwork versus self-centeredness, friendship versus hurtful words, being annoyed with siblings versus protecting them, and so on. It is also  nice that Jazz is from a different ethnic background. Like I said, if I can find a transitional reader with some nice depth and character development, I am hooked. Thanks for the heads up on this series Verna!

5 Smileys

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