Russell is thrilled to be chosen for the Race the Wild competition, but dismayed that the rules have changed and instead of being with the four friends he applied with he's been moved to a team of strangers. He's also upset at his erstwhile friends' growing unsportsmanlike behavior. However, there's not too much time to dwell on his troubles since they're in the Amazon rainforest, racing to snap pictures of rare animals, solve clues, and beat the other teams!
Kaban's black and white digital illustrations looked blurred and it was difficult to make out the details of the rainforest and the children. However, you can put that down to either my need for new glasses and/or a poor printing run. I really liked her art when I looked it up online, but either it doesn't translate well to black and white or it's cheap reproductions or some of both.
Each chapter ends with two pages of information about an animal or aspect of the rainforest, with pictures. There is a preview of the next book, Great Reef Games and ads for other Scholastic series in the back.
The story is brisk and well-paced and there are enough loose threads left by the end to entice readers to continue the series. How will Russell handle the problems with his former "friends", what secrets does his new team have, etc. I did feel that there were quite a lot of tantalizing hints that weren't followed up, like hints about where Mari's background knowledge comes from. I also had trouble keeping the four straight, but as this first book primarily gives a good introduction to Russell's character, I assume later books will focus on the other characters more.The book features a very diverse cast, but it's not part of the plot. Russell thinks about how the different teams are formed, but more in the gender than racial diversity aspect.
Verdict: Is this likely to win awards? Nope. The writing is a little choppy, the pictures not printed well, and the plot has too many loose ends. Do I recommend it? Heck YEAH. Adventure, a diverse cast, realistic characters, just a hint of mystery, and nonfiction included. Exactly what your beginning chapter readers want and need to get them hooked on reading. It took me a while to get my hands on a copy to review, they've been flying off the shelf all summer. Buy them all! Buy two copies! Recommend them to I Survived fans!
ISBN: 9780545773539; Published 2015 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library