Today is the third day of the WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, and it is the Day of Action, which is to say, the day of buying books, and asking our libraries to buy books, and even just checking out lots of diverse books from our libraries, to show they are wanted. So I set off to my local bookstore to find a middle grade book with diversity in it that I didn't already have, preferably one that showed a kid of color on the cover which wasn't about the Civil War (because I've never really wanted to read about the Civil War).
Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile, by Marcia Wells, illustrated by Marcos Calo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), was a great book! One that I have no regrets about whatsoever! One that I wouldn't have picked up if it hadn't been for the campaign! (one that is making me use too many exclamation marks).
In any event.
Edmund is an African American kid in New York city with a photographic memory. When his talents come to the attention of the NYPD, they enlist him to help crack a case involving a ring of art thieves...and promise that if he can help solve it, they'll pay the tuition at his private school. Since his librarian dad just got laid off (side note: African American father, very present in son's life, who is a librarian--yay!, library lay-offs, not yay), the tuition offer is so very sweet it can't be turned down (not that Edmund wants it turned down!). And so Edmund starts staking out the art galleries of New York...and finds himself repeatedly squelched by the officer assigned to shepherd him through the detective work.
Fortunately Edmund has a buddy, Jonah, whose ADHD and OCD nature lends itself beautifully to the restless, obsessive compiling of data and searching for patterns. And the two of them, now maverick operators with no NYPD support, close in on the art thieves just as they are about to carry out their next crime...
This was an immensely fun book--I loved Edmund's voice and his self-deprecating humor, and I bet I was grinning as I read. I loved the relationship between his parents, and appreciated their realistic concerns for his safety. I can't really speak to the logic of the puzzle at the heart of the book, because I am a bad reader of puzzle books (I'm more interested in character than clues), but it all seemed to make a certain amount of (admittedly improbable) sense.
If you have a kid around who's ten or so who loves a good urban-kid-solving-mystery book, I pretty much can't recommend this more enthusiastically (although since I don't read this genre much, I don't have a solid basis for comparison).
If you want a book that shows an urban African American family with parents who are loving, well educated, and until recently able to afford an expensive private school; a book in which race is something that comes up naturally in the protagonist's thoughts and conversations without being an issue driving the story, and if you want a book that shows the black kid right there on the cover being the hero (in the book he's more organized and never lets his pictures fall like that)-- this, I can say without any doubts at all, is a great book for you!
It is also the only book I have ever read in which the hero puts on his mom's Beyoncé wig from a costume party as the finishing touch to his disguise as a girl scout.
"I pin the hair back with one of my mom's hairclips. Not bad, I think, turning to the side and checking out my new look. I am innocent. A sweet, geeky girl, perfect to let into your house and catalog your most expensive possessions.
I open the door. Jonah stands there, eyes bulging out. A strange noise gurgles in his throat. Clutching his pants, he turns on his heel and sprints down the hallway. I hear the bathroom door slam, followed by peals of laughter. He better not have peed on the floor mid run." (p. 200)
So I'm glad I bought it. And here's another review, at Ms. Yingling Reads.
(Just for the record, today I also bought Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, but that I had to order).