February 02, 2016

West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher

by Liam O'Donnell
Illustrated by Aurélie Grand
Owlkids Books
128 pp.
Ages 7-10
October, 2015

It's evident from page one that Myron is a little different from most third graders.  With a new baby in the household (OK, Sofia is 8-months-old but that's pretty new still) and the move to a new neighbourhood and a new school, West Meadows Elementary, Myron is apprehensive.  Unlike his Gr. 8 sister Alicia who makes friends fast and embraces newness, Myron acknowledges that he does not like new.  However, he does like solving mysteries and his analytical mind and natural super powers are going to come in very handy.
No one can ever smell things I do.  Just like they never hear the things I hear.  Mom says I have superpowered senses.  I can hear what radio station the neighbour three yards over is listening to on a sunny day.  I can tell when Sofia needs her diaper changed even if she's in the other room.  As far as superpowers go, I would rather have X-ray vision. (pg. 24)
Within minutes of entering Room 15, a special class Myron will attend mornings with Mr. Harpel, Myron is drawn to a crisis in the school kitchen where Mrs. Peterson, the chef, discovers a huge mess and the theft of the school's morning snack.  Myron's strong sense of smell leads him to a licorice-snacking girl named Hajrah hiding in the closet.  Hajrah, one of Mr. Harpel's four students, instantly insinuates herself into Myron's "investigation" and declares them to be the West Meadows Detective Agency.

Myron suspects a number of students in the thefts, including Hajrah, another Room 15 classmate Glitch who was known for thefts the previous year, and Smasher McGintley, the cousin of a bully from Myron's old school. But can Myron sift through the evidence before Mr. V, the custodian, starts cleaning up each mess?  And is there any relationship between the storm that took down a massive tree and damaged the school?  The solution may have been obvious to this reader but I suspect that early readers will enjoy solving the mystery alongside Myron.

Liam O’Donnell has become a mystery-writing aficionado starting with his Max Finder mysteries in Owl Magazine.  While he has capably relayed that prowess into his Graphic Guide Adventures and Tech Tales, these series are better suited for the middle-grade reader.  West Meadow Detectives is perfect for a slightly younger audience, hence Myron’s Grade 3 status, and these younger readers will appreciate both the writing, the thinking and the humour found within this first book in the series.  Moreover, they will appreciate the diversity of characters, both in their ethnicity, their strengths, their quirks and their experiences, ensuring that every reader will find themselves relating to the story easily.

I suspect that younger readers will also appreciate the black-and-white illustrations provided by Aurélie Grand and the quirky footprint page dividers that break up the text while still providing readers with an authentic novel of greater length in which to immerse themselves.  The font is large, the story is brisk and the graphics help  bring readers into solving the mystery alongside Myron.  Liam O’Donnell, a teacher as well as a writer, has penned The Case of the Snack Snatcher at a perfect level for young readers and has gotten all the elements right for engaging and entertaining them through text.

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