Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Small Readers: Murilla Gorilla and the Hammock Problem by Jennifer Lloyd, illustrated by Jacqui Lee

I was skeptical about the first title in the series; it just seemed a little too quirky. However, I've gotten more into the series since then and really enjoyed this one, although I do still have a few reservations.

Murilla Gorilla's latest investigation is told in six brief chapters, suitable for an intermediate reader who has some fluency but isn't ready for full chapter books yet.

There's nothing but a stinky old shoe in Murilla's refrigerator, so she makes a trip to the market. Right away, she hears Okapi has a case for her. She makes her way through the market, greeting friends, until she reaches Okapi's hammock stall. The mystery: One of Okapi's hammocks has a hole in the middle! Murilla looks around with her magnifying glass, observes the scene of the crime, and writes down her clues in her notebook. Soon the trail leads to the river and Murilla must disguise herself to find the culprit. Murilla has solved the case, now she just needs to finish her shopping.

I really love Lee's artistic style. It has a clean, modern feel but with exciting colors and distinctive images. The endpapers show a pattern of Murilla in several poses and her crocodile friends fishing and swimming, all set against a bubbly light blue background with smiling blue and orange fish. Much of the deadpan humor in the series comes from the art, like the sequence where Murilla takes out a mirror instead of a magnifying glass, then detects her own foot.

My main reservation about this series is that it's set in the generic "African Rainforest". I can see where the creators didn't want to specifically identify a country, but there are so many books that kind of lump all the vast variety of cultures and landscapes into one "Africa" that this is bothersome to me. My other reservation is just that this is different - the setting, art, and even the text flow a little differently than the average easy reader. Kids learning to read at this stage generally are focusing on the mechanics of reading, not the content.

Verdict: Despite my reservations, I do think these are lovely books that would appeal to strong intermediate readers. They're adorable and quirky and kids who love mysteries, animals and humor will enjoy these. They'll just need a little extra booktalking to get them into the kids' hands, since they're a little different than the average easy reader.

ISBN: 9781927018477; Published 2014 by Simply Read; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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