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Gary Paulsen, the prolific writer of award-winning books for boys, introduces a new character in his latest effort. Mudshark, aka Lyle Williams, loves to play death ball. He earned his nickname by making an amazing tackle during a game. But Mudshark is known for much more than his incredible ball-playing abilities. He has lightning-fast reflexes (honed from hours of chasing after his triplet sisters: Kara, Sara and Tara), and because he has a great memory and keen sense of observation, he is also good at solving mysteries.

Strange things start happening at Mudshark’s elementary school. Erasers are disappearing in large numbers from the classrooms, a gerbil is on the loose somewhere in the building, and there is a problem in the faculty restroom. The Principal calls on Mudshark for help.

All the students know Mudshark is good at solving mysteries. If you lose your homework, you can count on him to find it. He is certainly up to the challenge of solving the “mystery of the disappearing erasers,” but his mission is complicated by the librarian’s pet parrot, who not only can talk, he also can observe things and speak in full sentences about them. For instance, when Betty wants to know where her recipe for lard is (Betty is always experimenting with formulas and recipes for all manner of concoctions), the parrot says, “Check the window ledge in the girls’ restroom.” Sure enough, the recipe is there. The students are amazed at the parrot’s ability and believe he is psychic. They also think he might be as good as, or better than, Mudshark when it comes to solving mysteries.

But the parrot doesn’t solve the mystery of the missing erasers. Mudshark does after much observation and deduction. Answering that question, though, leaves him with a bigger one. The culprit admits to stealing the erasers, but he is doing so for a good cause. Mudshark is willing to keep the custodian’s secret, but he has to find a way to prevent the parrot from spilling the beans. He does this with a plan that involves a cat, a fair helping of “Odors to Repel” (one of Betty’s concoctions) and a bit of magic.

Obviously, MUDSHARK is not of the serious HATCHET variety as it is humorous through and through. This newest cast of characters also includes Ms. Underdorf (the zany librarian who thinks a handbag is an armadillo) and Bill Wilson (the culturally educated custodian who collects art). Paulsen has written the book in such a way as to leave open the very real possibility of a sequel. Let’s hope he adds more titles to the lineup with Mudshark as their star. The lively writing style and short chapters make it a quick and fun read for just about any age, especially for its target audience.

Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on June 8, 2010

by Gary Paulsen

  • Publication Date: June 8, 2010
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling
  • ISBN-10: 0553494643
  • ISBN-13: 9780553494648