Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Review #37: KIDNAP AT THE CATFISH CAFE by Patricia Reilly Giff; illustrated by Lynne Cravath

illustrated by Lynne Cravath

Pub. Date: October 1998
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Hardcover, 80pp
Age Range: 7 to 11
Series: Adventures of Minnie and Max Series
ISBN-13: 9780670881802
ISBN: 0670881805

Description (from the publisher):
From the creator of the best-selling Kids of the Polk Street School series comes The Adventures of Minnie and Max, a new series about a spunky female detective and her trusty feline sidekick, Max. In Kidnap at the Catfish Café, Minnie's detective business is kind of slow--until one day a stray cat drops into her life, along with her first case. Soon Minnie is investigating a crime wave, and she's hot on the trail of a thief who would steal anything--even a cat!

My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars - not this author's best work, but entertaining nonetheless

My Thoughts:   I thought this was a fun little book, not without flaws, but nevertheless engaging, interesting, and entertaining. Minnie is an orphan who lives with her older brother, Orlando, owner of The Catfish Cafe. She's roughly 10 or 12 years old and allowed a tremendous amount of unsupervised wandering - not typical of today's average kid. Having attempted to get a number of "businesses" off the ground, Minnie has currently hung her hopes on being a detective. Since no one will hire a kid, she finds a case of her own to solve right in the neighborhood.

I found the characters and the setting of KIDNAP AT THE CATFISH CAFE to be extremely interesting. While the town is never named, it overlooks "Sharkfin Bay" and boasts a large Russian community. It's clear some people are second and third generation while others are more recent immigrants. Oddly, The Catfish Cafe specializes in southern cooking, which to Orlando, proprieter and chef, means each dish includes some form of peaches. There was quite a lot of discussion of amber, where it comes from and how valued it is within the community. The characters are many and varied; I quite liked the sympathetic depiction of Mrs. Vorr, an elderly woman living on her own.

There's a lot of detail, action, and themes in this little book, sometimes too much for middle grade readers and a book of only 80 pages. There's the fact of Minnie being raised by her brother, Orlando; Orlando's failing restaurant, bizarre recipes, and his interest in a mysterious red-headed lady--who really knows how to cook; references to their deceased parents and a story about how this brother and sister came to be named as they are. There's also the aging Mrs. Vorr, abandoned by her beloved Misha and victimized by a purse snatcher; the clumsy undercover cop, Kitty, who becomes a role model for Minnie; and Cash, the young boy who may or may not be behind the recent thefts, as well as Leo the Lazy, a pathetic man who hangs around, asks for handouts, and thinks wearing a necktie over his t-shirt is "sprucing up." Any of these characters or storylines would have been interesting if they were developed further, but they cannot all be contained comfortably within the framework of such a short novel. 

Another thing that I had difficulty with were the names used in the story. There are several boats mentioned frequently, The CometThe Crab's Legs, The Amber Cat, and The Black Dog, as well as a truck called Lumber Jack. On my first reading, I found it hard to keep all the boats straight and remember which one belonged to whom. It was also disconcerting to me to have a human character named "Kitty" in a story in which an actual cat has such prominance. It's kind of funny to me that I felt so overwhelmed and confused by a kid's chapter book, but if it gave me trouble, it's bound to confuse at least some kids!

On the other hand, I really liked this book because the main characters are interesting and fun; sometimes the story even made me giggle. The community in which Minnie lives is populated with friendly personalities who look out for one another, making everyone seem like a member of a huge extended family. And there's more than one mystery solved by the time the reader reaches the (predictably) happy ending.

I read this book twice, once on my own and again with my niece and nephew. It seemed that like me, they were captivated by the characters and storyline, but sometimes got tripped up and "confuzzled." They do want to pick up the second book in this series, MARY MOON IS MISSING. I want to read it, too.

I also want to take a peek at this author's better known and best-selling Kids of the Polk Street School series. Patricia Reilly Giff has also written several historical fiction novels and the Newbury Honor winners PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS and LILY'S CROSSING. I'm particulary interested in reading those!

I read this book for the Middle Grade Book Challenge hosted by
Linda Ellen at Bambi Reads.

My review copy came from the Portsmouth Free Public Library, so this also counts toward the 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.


bermudaonion said...

I don't think I've ever read any of this author's work, but I do have Wild Girl in my TBR pile. I'm glad to know that you generally like her work.

Zibilee said...

My daughter might like this book. It sounds more unusual than the books she typically reads and I think I am going to look into grabbing it for her. Thanks for the awesome review! I am glad you liked the book!