Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Zach & Zoe Mysteries: The Missing Baseball; The Half-Court Hero by Mike Lupica, illustrated by Chris Danger

 Zach and Zoe are eight-year-old twins who love sports, especially basketball. This isn't surprising since their father and grandfather were both players in the NBA and their father is now a sports reporter.

In The Missing Baseball, Zach's new, signed baseball goes missing. Some suspect Mateo Salazar, who's new, and Zoe doesn't get what's the big deal. Zach has lots of baseballs after all. But this is signed by Will Hanley, Zach's favorite player! Luckily Zoe loves mysteries and is determined to find the solution; even if she doesn't care about the baseball herself, she wants to support her brother.

Their second mystery is formed around basketball, their favorite sport. The Half-Court Hero features a summer weekend competition, coached by their dad. The twins are excited since they don't usually get to play together. But the court at the rec center is in poor repair; missing nets, splintered benches, and faded paint. After the twins mention the problems, someone starts fixing it up and Zoe is determined to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, they still have a competition to play.

Black and white drawings mostly show Zack and Zoe, with occasional pictures of their father, grandfather, and friends. I am not really a sports fan, so I while I do purchase plenty of sports books I don't often read them myself. However, I was intrigued by the addition of a mystery and the younger audience. Frankly, I was very disappointed. The writing is trite and pedestrian, even if you are the type of reader who likes blow-by-blow descriptions of sports. The mysteries are trivial and seem like an afterthought. In The missing baseball there is at least a theft (or possible theft) but it seems to be there mainly to give Zoe an interest. The Half-Court Hero is even more pointless, since the whole mystery is to find out who is fixing up the ball court - even the characters in the book are confused as to why Zoe has to "solve" this mystery.

Both Zach and Zoe are white, as are most of their friends and teachers. Zoe's interest in sports is frequently brushed aside in favor of her interest in "mysteries" and to feature Zach. Their mother is a complete nonentity, there only to distribute platitudes and meals. There's no conflict in the sports themselves; the kids make every shot they take, even when it's been explicitly said that they're not very good at sports (both Zach and Zoe are, of course, excellent players at all the sports). The frequent exhortations to be a good sport, have fun, and not worry about winning come off as bland platitudes when the kids win constantly anyways. The two are relentlessly upbeat, cheerful, and extremely irritating. A final, minor annoyance is that there's no indication that this is a series to be read in order; however, if you read both books it's clear that the baseball title comes first since it's referred to in the basketball title.

Verdict: Lupica is a popular author for the middle grade crowd; I can only suppose that he was heavily edited or really didn't know how to write for this age group. The lack of diversity is another strike against this series. Purchase only if you have avid sports fans who need more to read, otherwise stick with David Kelly's excellent sports mysteries or the Jake Maddox titles.

The missing baseball
ISBN: 9780425289365

The half-court hero
ISBN: 9780425289396 

Published May 2018 by Philomel/Penguin; Review copies provided by the publisher

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