Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

   Twelve year old Steve Brixton is a detective.  He’s learned his trade by reading all 58 volumes of the Bailey Brothers mysteries as well as pouring over The Bailey Brother’s Detective Handbook.  He has a magnifying glass, a notebook, and a keen eye for thugs and hoods.

Steve’s detective skills are put to the test when his teacher assigns him an 8 page report on early American quilting.  Despondent over this task, he heads down to the local public library and checks out a book called An Illustrated History of Early American Quilting.  Suddenly, the library is attacked by a gang of masked henchmen!  They kidnap Steve and inform him that his book holds the clues to finding a priceless early American quilt.  Steve must call upon every sleuthing skill from the The Bailey Brother’s Detective Handbook to escape and solve the mystery.

Author Mac Barnett does a wonderful job of spoofing the Hardy Boys in this new detective series.  This book is funny for both children and adults.  I eagerly recommend for kids ages 8+.

The Walls of Cartagena by Julia Durango

  It is the 17th century in Cartagena of the Indies (modern day Columbia), a time and place in which the slave trade is alive and well.  Thirteen year old Calepino, orphaned by his mother who died on a slave ship, finds himself in comfortable circumstances.  The  noblewoman Dona Isabel has taken him in and shown an interest in his education.  Through his studies, Calepino shows an affinity for languages and soon is fluent in 11 of them, both African and European.   This talent serves him well when, on his 13 birthday, he is taken in by the local Catholic priest Father Pedro to work in the monastery.

Father Pedro introduces Calepino to a cruel world that he only narrowly escaped.  They board crowded and stinking slave ships to care for the sick and dying.  They visit slave holding cells to administer last rights.  Through their work together, Calepino meets Mara and Tomi, a mother and son slave who have recently been brought over and are now working for a cruel master.  Mara and Tomi remind Calepino of his own past and he feels obligated to help them.

Calepino creates a plan to free Mara and Tomi and allow them to escape to the palenques, a hidden settlement of escaped slaves.  To do this he must reach out to his friend Dr. Lopez who treats patients at the local leper colony.  But Dr. Lopez has his own problems when he is hauled before the inquisition courts on charges of practicing his Jewish religion.  Through all of this, Calepino will learn how dangerous it is to help others in a time of great cruelty.

This is a wonderful juvenile historical fiction novel for anyone interested in the slave trade, 17th century South America, or early Columbia history.  Ages 9-11.