Friday, February 3, 2017

Key Hunters: The mysterious moonstone by Eric Luper, illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

Bold, active Cleo and her friend, shy, timid Evan, are very upset that their favorite librarian is gone. Ms. Hilliard has been replaced by mean, unfriendly Ms. Crowley and Cleo suggests something mysterious is going on. Evan scoffs until they discover a huge underground library and a magical key. It takes them back in time to Victorian England where they help a teen detective solve the mystery of the mysterious moonstone, a cursed jewel. Along the way they discover the meaning of the magical keys, some of Ms. Crowley's secrets, and the fate of Ms. Hilliard.

Black and white illustrations show dark-skinned Evan and exuberant Cleo transformed into Victorian dress and dropped down in the midst of a Sherlock Holmes atmosphere, including a mysterious Indian butler named Kumar.

On the one hand, this is a fast-paced mystery that kids will enjoy. It looks like the two protagonists will be traveling through history a la Magic Tree House and encountering various mysteries along the way. On the other hand, I thought the story was badly written. The writing was choppy, the dialogue stilted, and the characters stereotyped. Events happen and characters appear with little explanation or backstory. Additionally, there are some glaring historical anomalies - yes, it's a fictional story, but a girl and a dark-skinned boy couldn't just walk into high society with a teenager (why is Watson employed by the police anyways?) without a lot of questions and consequences. While I like the effort to add diversity to beginning chapter books, I don't like it coming at the expense of historical accuracy and whitewashing the treatment of minorities and women in the past.

Verdict: I'll keep looking for other chapter book series to offer my readers. I think time travel fantasy should be more historically accurate.

ISBN: 9780545822053; Published 2016 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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