January 07, 2010


Nate the Great and the Hungry Book Club. By Margaret Weinman Sharmat and Mitchell Sharmat. Illustrated by Jody Wheeler. Delacorte Press. $12.99.

Grk Smells a Rat. By Joshua Doder. Delacorte Press. $15.99.

     Nate the Great’s dog, Sludge, may not get credit in the title of the latest Nate book, but he is an important part of the case and its solution. The redoubtable boy detective – Marjory Weinman Sharmat has chronicled his adventures since 1972, sometimes (as in the newest book) with the aid of her husband – faces a double mystery in Nate the Great and the Hungry Book Club. The source of both mysteries is Rosamond, who has started a book club that includes eight people, four cats and a dog. Rosamond wants to make treats for the club, but she discovers a page missing from her cookbook – and the game is afoot. It gets more complex when another page turns up missing – this one from the Harvard Hedgehog book that the human members of the club are reading. A page monster is loose! Young readers, ages 6-9, will enjoy the many twists and turns here, particularly Nate’s discovery that there may be two different reasons for the two missing pages – a clever follow-through on the boy detective’s comment, “You are trying to reuse a clue.” And where does Sludge fit in? Aside from chewing on a bone while Nate eats pancakes and thinks about the case, Sludge gives Nate a clue about eating habits that helps him figure out what is going on – at least where the first ripped page is concerned. And another dog, Fang, plays a big part in the second missing-page incident. The book’s straightforward (if rather repetitive) narrative will be easy for beginning readers to follow, and the illustrations by Jody Wheeler (who previously did the pictures for Nate the Great Talks Turkey) help carry the story smoothly along.

     The adventures of the dog Grk – and his owner, Tim Malt – are for slightly older readers, ages 9-12. These adventures take place all over the world – British author Joshua Doder (pen name of Josh Lacey) is a world traveler himself – with Grk Smells a Rat occurring in India. Exotic locale aside, this is a fairly straightforward adventure story for preteens. Tim and his parents, along with friends Natascha and Max Raffifi, are in India for Max to compete in a tennis tournament, and all they want to do is see some sights before the tourney. But Tim and Natascha – accompanied, of course, by Grk – meet a boy named Krishnan, who puts them on the trail of the nefarious Blue Rat Gang, which enslaves children and forces them to sew garments and make and sell illegal copies of CDs and DVDs. The dialogue is often pretty bad, as when Krishnan says, “As soon as I saw you, Mister Tim, I knew that you are a kind man. Yes, you are a good man. A man who knows right things from wrong things.” But the action scenes are better. It turns out that there are real rats as well as the human kind: “Grk strained on his lead and growled softly. He wanted to chase the rats and clear them out of the room. Rats are usually scared of dogs, but these ones weren’t. …For some reason, they seemed completely confident that the small dog wouldn’t or couldn’t attack them.” Eventually, after a suitable number of chases through alleys and other derring-do, the young adventurers come face to face with the head of the Blue Rat Gang – and an honest-to-goodness blue rat. And that is the point at which Grk shows his mettle. Eventually, with the photos Tim has taken of the Blue Rat Gang’s victims and the help of a rich man who conveniently happens to be sponsoring the tennis tournament in which Max is competing, action is taken against the gang – which simply sets the scene for a climactic confrontation in which Grk once again takes a starring role. By the older end of the target age range, readers will likely find Grk Smells a Rat too obvious to be much fun, but younger preteens with a penchant for adventures in interesting settings should enjoy getting their teeth into it.

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