West Meadows Detectives, The Case of the Snack Snatcher was written by Liam O’Donnell, illustrated by Aurelie Grand and published by Owlkids Books (2015). This short mystery (124 pages) is appropriate for emerging independent readers, grades 2-4.
Myron, the main character, is in the third grade and starting at a new school. He’s not happy about it. In fact, he is very nervous. He tells us that the prospect of meeting new people makes his brain itch (wonderful description!). The novel which is told from Myron’s point of view is full of his delightful and keen observations. This is good–because Myron is a detective.
A scream from the school kitchen interrupts Myron’s conversation with his new teacher. Myron follows Mr. Harpel there and they discover that the kitchen is a mess. It is also–as Myron tells the reader without hesitation–a crime scene. The mid-morning snacks are missing.
Myron is disappointed with Mrs. Peterson, the cook. She has ruined the evidence by walking through it, making it hard to solve the mystery. However, he announces, the thief is eating licorice. He can smell it, though nobody else can. (Myron tells us that he has a heightened sense of smell and hearing.) As Myron passes the closet, the smell of licorice becomes particularly strong. A girl, Hajrah, jumps from the closet. She declares that she is not the thief, though Myron initially has some doubts.
Before long and despite some resistance on Myron’s part, Hajrah becomes his detective partner. The mystery deepens as more curious events occur. Myron and Hajrah investigate. Together they interview possible witnesses, consider suspects, discover clues, encounter bullies and even get their first client. (I suspect it will not be their last. This book is the first in a series.)
Myron and Hajrah make good use of their skills and energy, persevering in spite of setbacks until the mystery is solved. (Spoiler alert: The culprits are a family of raccoons displaced by a storm.)
Both Myron and Hajrah are “special needs” children. Myron has autism and Hajrah, probably has a form of ADHD. She describes herself as someone who “bounces around too much.” In the morning both children attend a special class on the school grounds, but in the afternoon they mainstream into a third-grade class.
There is so much about this novel that I like. The storyline and the characters are appropriate for young readers. Myron and Hajrah are interesting and fun to follow. The school environment is one that children will relate to. Adults are for the most part friendly and helpful. Mr. Harpel assists our young detectives at different points and school employees allow the children to ask questions of them. There are bullies at the school and they are a little threatening, but teachers also keep order and watch out for their students. In a sweet twist, one of the bullies even turns out to have a kind heart.
There was one small misstep on the part of the author that did concern me and I thought you should be aware. Hajrah tells a lie to throw the bullies off. Myron does call her on it, but they get away with the lie and there are no consequences. I think this plot choice could have been handled differently. How Hajrah and Myron might have done differently could be a discussion point for you and your child should you two decide to read the book.
One more interesting point in the book’s favor: in the acknowledgements the author thanks a university professor of early childhood studies for his advice and guidance. The professor is himself autistic.
Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.