April 2012

A tough code to crack

By Lauren Child
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Get ready, puzzle lovers! There’s a new book on the scene that will satisfy the sleuth in all of us. Author Lauren Child (Clarice Bean, Charlie & Lola) introduces Ruby Redfort, a young code-cracking genius who gets caught up in a great mystery. Like Petra and Calder in Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and Reynie in Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, Ruby is a precocious kid who thrives on difficult problems and tricky situations.

The story moves along fluidly, although some elements are a bit cartoonish: Ruby’s unbelievably stupid parents; the spy agency that only seems able to crack codes with Ruby’s help; and the fact that billions of dollars in gold are coming to the small town of Twinford, USA. Despite these elements—or perhaps because of them—the story is a fun romp through Ruby’s interesting life.

Child does an excellent job of subtly alerting us that the story takes place in the 1970s and that Ruby is an American. (Child is British.) The author also includes some interesting puzzles and a difficult code to decipher. (This reviewer, who prides herself on her own decoding abilities, had to resort to the Internet for help.) And there’s plenty of page-turning action as Ruby gets closer to solving the mystery.

Though Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes will appeal to all ages, middle-grade girls will especially identify with Ruby’s disconnect from her parents, her efforts to be independent and her struggle to be heard by the adults in her life. This lighthearted caper also carries a valuable lesson as Ruby learns that trusting her instincts can help her crack the toughest cases.

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