This graphic novel jammed pack with sleuthing, friendship, and diversity is perfect for ages 8 and up. The inclusive cast shows motive and growth keeping anyone from being entirely good or completely villainous and strikes a wonderful balance of insight, community building, and relatable fun. From the main character’s mom wearing hijab, and random hijabis in the background panels, to characters of color, and characters with social obstacles, there are also bullies, cancer survivors, a character with two moms, working parents, and a missing gecko all coming together over 221 pages to leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.
Jamila has just moved to the neighborhood and with older brothers as role models, she just wants to spend her summer shooting hoops and taking it easy. Her mom, on the other hand, wants to send her off to science camp. Shirley, is incredibly perceptive and wants to spend her summer solving neighborhood crimes, the ones adults won’t or can’t help with, but her mother has signed her up for dance camp. When the girls cross paths at a yard sale, Shirley uses her wits to convince her mom and Jamila’s mom to let them spend the summer together at the basketball courts, thus both girls get what they want. The two girls aren’t exactly friends, but the arrangement benefits them both, and the days go smoothly, until a gecko goes missing and Shirley and Jamila have to decide to break their parents’ rules to leave the courts and venture to the swimming pool to investigate. Jamila and Shirley hit a snag in their understanding of one another and realize they want to be friends, something neither of them currently have. As they work Oliver and Vee’s case to find Enoch the gecko, the reader meets lots of neighborhood characters, from life guards to daycare informants. And as the clues come together so do a group of kids, all needing friendship, kindness, and a little understanding.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the Nancy Drew, Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown, vibe of the story. It is funny and plausible and about so much more than just the case. It is quick and well drawn, and really just a joy overall. I love the diversity and teamwork and innocence of a summer and some good old fashion kids using their brains to save the day.
Other than the mom wearing a scarf when out of the home and a few hijabis in the background there is no textual mention of religion. The mom at one point says something in Urdu and the family has Muslim names.
One of the side characters mentions that she has two moms. It is mentioned once, it isn’t dwelled on, and in many ways I think a great way to explain to your kids, if they mention it, that they might have friends and classmates with different family structures. I love that fiction allows for this conversations to occur in the abstract so to speak, you can guide your children how to handle these differences while talking about fictional characters, and imparting your families view of such matters in an open and hopefully non judgmental or hateful way.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
As always with graphic novels, they just aren’t the best format for book clubs as they are usually quick reads. The target audience for this is middle grades as well and while middle schoolers might enjoy it, they would read it in less than a half an hour and there really wouldn’t be much to discuss once the case is solved. I would highly recommend checking your local public library for the book, that is where I found my copy, and happy reading!