As a long-term fan of Judith Viorst (probably best known for her Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day series), I was excited to see her come out with something new for children with Lulu and the Brontosaurus in 2010. Lane Smith‘s illustrations were a perfect companion to her off-kilter writing style, where the narrator directly addresses the reader; a style somewhat reminiscent of Lane Smith’s previous collaboration with John Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man: And Other Fairly Stupid Tales.
The duo reprised their success with Lulu Walks the Dogs in 2012, but a change occurred with the third book in the series, Lulu’s Mysterious Mission. Though Lane Smith did the cover illustration, Kevin Cornell produced the internal illustrations, bringing a wilder, harsher interpretation of Lulu, rather than Smith’s more contained, over-sized, cartoon renderings. Similar chapter page styling (colored polka-dotted pages between each chapter) and text (stylized cursive matching the color of the polka-dotted page for the first word in each new chapter), helps to maintain the integrity of the series and minimize the disruption the new illustration style brings to the reading of something that should be more familiar.
The story itself follows the classic Lulu style – somewhat bratty, spoiled child slightly tricked into learning a lesson – complete with little sing-song ditty that makes these books a treat to read aloud. In this book, Lulu’s parents are going on an adult-only vacation for the first time EVER, leaving Lulu with a babysitter. Lulu, as you might imagine, is not happy with this plan. Not only does she not need a babysitter (no longer being a baby), she is also not pleased at being left behind. She comes up with a number of plans to ensure first that her parents don’t leave, and then when they do, that the babysitter will call them right back again ASAP. Despite her best efforts, every single one of her plans is foiled by Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky, the country’s (and possibly the world’s) best babysitter. Lulu can’t figure out how Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky can figure everything out so quickly, until Lulu finds out that Triple S used to be a spy! And if Lulu promises to behave, Triple S will teach Double L all her spy tricks. Soon the week flies by with lessons like R&R (Repair & Recovery) and H&C (Hack & Code), and by the time her parents get home, Lulu is more than happy to have her parents take lots of vacations so Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky, the best babysitter in the country (maybe world) can come back to teach her more. If you’re wondering where the “mysterious mission” part of the plot comes in, well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. Fans of the picture book Miss Nelson is Missing by Henry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall will enjoy graduating to this story. In my opinion, the writing definitely fit into the Lulu series and was worth reading, though the illustrations didn’t speak to me in the same way Lane Smith’s did.
It was when I was adding this book to my Goodreads list that I stumbled across a list of children’s books that include scavenger hunts (which this book does at the very end – part of that mysterious mission I briefly mentioned). One of the books that caught my eye will be released tomorrow: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Here’s the publisher’s description:
“A hidden book. A found cipher. A game begins . . . .
Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold’s attackers make them their next target.”