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Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

Octavia Spencer; Illustrated by Vivienne To

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages : 224
Suggested Ages: 8-12
ISBN: 978-1442476813

Twelve-year-old Randi Rhodes has a big secret: she’s been successfully keeping her Brooklyn neighborhood crime-free for the past year, thanks to some savvy detecting skills she’s picked up from her father’s bestselling “Glenn Street” crime novels. Dad, grief-stricken and preoccupied after the recent death of Randi’s mother from cancer a year ago, has no idea that his daughter is the one responsible for bringing Brooklyn’s bullies, tulip thieves, and pigeon-nappers to justice. When he decides that a move to his childhood hometown of Deer Creek, Tennessee is the fresh start they need, Randi is furious. Who will protect the neighborhood? To make matters worse, he’s invited his former research consultant, the recently widowed Mei-Ling Cooper, to be their housekeeper and help keep Randi out of trouble. Deer Creek might be beautiful, but it’s no place for a born-and-bred city girl with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do! Convinced her detecting days are probably over, Randi leaves Brooklyn disgruntled, disappointed, and just a little depressed. 

However, once she and Dad arrive in Tennessee, Randi quickly realizes that Deer Creek might not be quite as sleepy as she remembered. The town has recently undergone a much-needed facelift in anticipation of the Founder’s Day Festival and the arrival of a Very Important Guest (could it possibly be the President of the United States?) The denizens of Deer Creek know this is their last chance to lure tourists to their charming but nearly bankrupt mountain town. The desperate hopes of everyone are pinned on the Festival’s success, as well as the highly-anticipated opening of Deer Creek’s 200-year-old-time capsule that is rumored to contain secret treasure belonging to the town’s founders. When the time capsule suddenly goes missing right after it’s unearthed, it’s up to Randi and her new friend D.C. – an aspiring Tae Kwon Do aficionado and Randi’s “Ninja Detective” partner – to track down the culprits, all while trying to avoid their parents’ suspicious inquiries and the threatening taunts of the town bully. 

First-time author Octavia Spencer’s characters are well-rounded and diverse, with each possessing realistic insecurities and emotions that kids will immediately relate to and recognize. Clever and resourceful in their own unique ways, these are characters that think, feel, and speak like real kids. D.C. is hearing-impaired, asthmatic and is being raised by a single mother who is struggling to keep their orchard afloat; Randi and her Dad butt heads over their differing ways of grieving for her mother; and Pudge Taylor, who joins the duo as the third Ninja Detective, is a wealthy city kid from Boston who has health issues of his own. Spencer keeps the action moving with plenty of plot twists and spooky locales that will keep kids reading to see what happens next, and she succeeds in creating a confident and sensitive heroine that is appealing to both boys and girls in equal measure. Randi’s loss of her mother adds an extra layer of vulnerability and depth to her interactions with both Mei-Ling and her father, and readers who have lost a loved one will likely identify with Randi’s multi-faceted emotions. Kids who are interested in martial arts will also enjoy all of the Tae Kwon Do talk and Bruce Lee references, while fans of mysteries and detective stories will look forward to trying out the interactive “Ninja Tasks” that are compiled in an appendix at the back of the book. These clever how-tos for budding detectives include easy-to-follow instructions for making a footprint cast, conducting a stake-out, and collecting a dusty footprint, as well as delicious-sounding recipes for chocolate-drizzled caramel apples and five-minute ice cream (because as every detective knows, “when a case is over, you deserve a reward!”) Overall, this is a fun and enjoyable middle grade read that will leave kids eager for the next installment of Randi’s detective adventures.

Reviewed by : JW

Themes : MYSTERY STORIES. FRIENDS. ADVENTURE STORIES. DISABILITIES.

If you love this book, then try:

Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. HarperCollins, 2012.

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Amulet, 2007.

Critics have said

"An entertaining, suspenseful read"
- Booklist