Muskrat sleuths back for more fun

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Local author Michael Hutchinson has found plenty of receptive fans for his series of mid-level books, The Mighty Muskrats Mysteries. They will welcome his latest offering, The Case of the Rigged Race (Second Story Press, 232 pages, $12, paperback).

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Local author Michael Hutchinson has found plenty of receptive fans for his series of mid-level books, The Mighty Muskrats Mysteries. They will welcome his latest offering, The Case of the Rigged Race (Second Story Press, 232 pages, $12, paperback).

During the Trappers Festival of the mythical Windy Lake First Nation, the attractive foursome — Atim, Sam, Chickadee and Otter — trade good-natured repartée with detective skills. They set out to solve the mystery of who is attempting to sabotage the annual dog race that brings fame and tourists to the community.

Hutchinson manages to include plenty of educational material on Indigenous culture, as members of the community face off against animal rights activists who are protesting hunting in the area. As Chickadee and her friends try to understand the protesters’ point of view, an elder cautions, “Knowledge is good but wisdom is better. Wisdom is good, but understanding is better.”

The best feature of these books is the delightfully natural quality of the Muskrat characters. In both dialogue and action they come across as loyal, intelligent, funny and extremely realistic. For ages 9-12.

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An aging Victorian mansion, the Regency Apartments, has two floors without access and one room you must never enter. It’s a formula to tempt anyone, right? And certainly Jack, a young man who is forced to live in the dilapidated apartment building when his single mother loses her job.

Kevin Sylvester has written a thrilling mid-level mystery in Apartment 713 (HarperCollins, 240 pages, $22, hardcover) that combines time travel, adventure and compassion.

As Jack gets to know the other inhabitants of his building, he must solve the riddle of the locked room — and of the unfinished masterpiece to which it leads him — in order to keep the Regency Apartments from being torn down. He also comes to appreciate the challenges faced by the remaining tenants in the building.

Highly recommended for ages 9-12.

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If you’ve got a young book lover who likes to follow along with a rollicking text, Sharon, Lois & Bram’s One Elephant Went Out to Play, by Randi Hampson with artwork by Qin Leng (Tundra Books, 32 pages, $22, hardcover), is a delight.

Basing the story on one of the most popular songs by the iconic children’s entertainers, Sharon’s daughter Randi has woven together the elephant’s adventures as he invites more and more forest friends to join him in the home of the friendly spider. As the rhymes invite the reader: “Come join us in the jungle/ Where the animals roam free/ So we can share this song with you/ ‘Neath the forest canopy.”

Little book aficionados will chuckle as monkeys, a snake and even a crocodile are added to the treetop playhouse. Qin Leng’s ink and watercolour illustrations are humorous and quirky, and add to the attraction of this volume. Highly recommended for ages 4- 9.

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For another charming picture book with a spider, try When Spider Met Shrew by Thornhill, Ont., author Deborah Kerbel, with illustrations by Geneviève Côté (Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $19, hardcover).

Kerbel, who has written numerous mid-level books as well as picture books, including This House Is Home, tells a tale of blossoming friendship as a homeless spider links up with a lonely shrew, gradually adding other abandoned creatures.

Like the ancient rhyme “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly,” each new coupling adds to the growing list. This book helps young readers understand homelessness as well as appreciate compassion for the less fortunate.

Côté is an award-winning Montreal artist who has won the Governor General’s Award for illustration. Her lively watercolour pictures enliven the pages of this early-years selection.

Helen Norrie is not too fond of spiders but makes an exception with these picture books.

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