Middle Grade Monday Book Review: West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Berry Burglars by Liam O’Donnell

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Release Date:  October 15, 2018

Publisher:  Owlkids Books

Page Count: unknown, read a digital ARC

Genre: Intermediate reader, chapter book, mystery, autism.

Appeal (in my opinion): Boys or girls ages 6 – 11, children with special needs. Any curious child that likes the idea of solving mysteries.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Bookstagrammer Bits: Unknown – read a digital ARC via NetGalley

Conversations with Kids: Autism and other special ed students, stealing, bullying, empathy, dealing with a sick parent. Great kids mystery book.

Synopsis:

Myron, the third-grade detective who loves logic, facts, and solving mysteries, gets the chance to crack a third case when he finds out the school garden has been trampled and the strawberry plants are missing. Are raccoons to blame? Or did the baseball team sabotage the garden to take back their outfield? When neighborhood gardens are also found short of strawberries, Myron and his friends are on the case.

Myron’s unique perspective from the autism spectrum and his eye for detail make him a top-notch sleuth. Similarly, the other neurodiverse kids in his resource room have unique talents that come in handy. Tech-lover Glitch’s satellite image-plotting skills, artsy Jordan’s mould-making abilities, and super-social Hajrah’s interview tactics come together to track down the culprits.

Black-and-white spot illustrations accompany the text in the final West Meadows Detectives mystery, a fun and accessible page-turner for independent readers.

review 5 star

Review:

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This books was an excellent read, especially for 2nd – 3rd graders. I enjoyed the inclusion of characters on the spectrum for autism and ADHD but it wasn’t the focus of the story at all. It lightly touched on some of the internal feelings and sensitivities such as feeling like his head is buzzing when things are different or a heightened sensitivity to noises. It also was excellent to see the friendship between Myron and Hajrah (Character with trouble sitting still) and how Hajrah was always considerate of pushing Myron (character on autism spectrum) past his comfort zone in a positive way but not pressuring him or teasing him when he is nervous. She was so supportive of him and knew what bothered him, always offering to help, whether it was getting him the noise cancelling headphones when he couldn’t concentrate in class or offering to go back from their investigation during recess when she could tell Myron was uncomfortable.

There was also an older student (Simone) with autism and it was great to see the idea of sensory exploration and a girl with autism. Simone buries her hands in the garden dirt to calm and teaches Myron to do the same. She also tells him how people may tease her when she does it but she ignores them and teaches Myron to do the same. I liked the inclusion of an older role model and a realistic way to deal with bullying or teasing. This scene between Myron and Simone and Hajrah is possibly my favorite part of the entire book. It gave me an opportunity to not only discuss empathy with my kids but also bullying, kindness and friendship. 

“I sat down beside her and stuck my hands into the soil, too. Suddenly, they were wrapped in a heavy cool. It reminded me of crawling under a heavy blanket. It did feel nice. 

‘When the weather is warm, I come here every morning and dig in the dirt.’ Simone’s voice grew soft. ‘It helps me get ready.’ 

‘Ready for what?’ 

She nodded toward the school. ‘To go in there. Some days it’s just so loud it feels like my head will burst.’ 

I thought about the PA again. ‘And the noise doesn’t bother anyone else, right?’ 

‘You got it,’ Simone said. ‘No one else thinks the sounds are loud, so they tell you to ignore them. But that’s like asking someone to ignore the heat when they’re standing in the middle of a volcano.’ 

‘So what do you do?’

 ‘This.’ She pushed her hands deeper into the soil. I dug deeper, too. The weight of the earth pushed down on my hands. We sat and said nothing for a long time. The sound of footsteps pulled me away from my thoughts.

‘Hi , guys!’ Hajrah sat on the ground beside me. her eyes darted to the edge of the garden. ‘I don’t want to upset you, and this looks like fun, but some kids are staring at you and laughing.’ 

I looked around. Everyone had arrived for school while Simone and I had our arms deep in the soil. now several older kids were pointing at us and giggling. Hajrah was right; they were laughing at us. In the group, I spotted Lauren. She was laughing, too. She turned away quickly when she saw me looking at her.

My face burned. i wanted to pull my arms out of the soil, run away, and never return to the garden again. But I didn’t. Instead, i looked at Simone. She hadn’t pulled her arms out. She didn’t even look around. She just closed her eyes and dug her arms in deeper.

‘People will always stare, Myron,” she said. ‘And they will always laugh. Even when you try to be what they what you to be, they find a reason to laugh at you. Some people are missing out on so much, and they don’t even know it.’

Hajrah started at the older kids. Then she turned to Simone and smiled. 

‘I like you, Simone.” My detective partner rolled up her sleeves and dug her arms deep into the soil.”

Too often, books try to paint an overly optimistic approach of being nice to a bully or including them in your play and then suddenly all the bullying stops. I feel like that is too idealized and not realistic so I much prefer the message in this book where we see some of the teasing and see Myron and Simone coping by continuing to do what calms them and ignoring the taunts. 

I enjoyed the pacing of the story and the level of challenge to figuring out the mystery was very age appropriate. It reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown which I loved when I was young. There was a good story line, a good amount of clues to help reader try to solve on their own before the ending but not so many clues that it was obvious from the beginning which would take the fun out of the book. It was well-written and my 8- and 6-year-old both enjoyed it very much and provided a good opportunity to open up some conversation touch points about kids who seem “different” and treating other kids nicely, what happens when parents get sick, stealing, etc.

I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait to read more in the series with my kids.  #owlkidsbooks #owlkidspublishing #netgalley #owlkids #ARC

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