Review by Wendy Bermudez
Mickey Rangel, boy detective, has a case to solve when a new student joins his fifth grade class. Natalia is quiet, sits alone in the cafeteria, and wears old shoes and tattered clothes. Students quickly start fabricating stories, some more outlandish than others, to explain Natalia’s origin. Mickey takes on the case to prove to Bucho, his rival, that he is indeed a great detective.
Gradually, the clues start falling into place and Mickey discovers that Natalia is actually an unaccompanied minor from Guatemala. She crossed the border with two cousins who disappeared on the journey. Mickey struggles with choosing to reveal the truth of her identity to the whole school and cement his status as a genius detective, or to remain quiet. In the end, Bucho, who is referred to earlier in the book as, “once a bully, always a bully,” is the one who surprises readers when he stands up for Natalia. He convinces Mickey to leave her alone because, “She’s hurt plenty already.” Mickey learns that some mysteries are best left unsolved.
The mystery genre is interesting and exciting for young readers, and teachers can usually integrate them across many areas of the curriculum. This book is a good introduction to the topic of immigration, but it fails to be a good mystery book. Readers will know right away who Natalia is because the biggest clue is revealed at the beginning of the book. This story would be more compelling if the characters actually made an effort to get to know Natalia. Bucho defends her and shows compassion towards her, but does he befriend her or sit with her in the cafeteria? The biggest mystery of all is why adults in this school do nothing to integrate this new student into the school community.
For more resources on Central America and by Central American authors, visit Teaching Central America.
Wendy Bermudez is a 5th grade bilingual teacher in Arlington, VA.
Read alternate De Colores review here.
A Mystery Bigger Than Big / Un Misterio Mas Grande Que Grandisimo: A Mickey Rangel Mystery / Coleccion Mickey Rangel, Detective Privado by René Saldaña Jr.
Published by Piñata Books on 2016
Genres: Bilingual, Central America
Review Source: De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children
Buy at Powell's Books
Publisher's synopsis: Rumors are flying about Natalia, the new girl in school. She's so quiet that everyone is sure she's hiding something. Was her father a drug lord in Mexico, killed by rival gangs? Or were her parents Russian spies, caught doing what spies do? Maybe she's the sole survivor of a plane crash?!? Mickey Rangel, detective extraordinaire, knows all of the stories going around are bogus. But when his arch rival, Bucho, challenges him for the answer, Mickey vows to crack the case of the new girl. He'll prove once and for all that he's the real deal, a private detective! Natalia is peculiar. She's very skinny, and eats her lunch so quickly that Mickey wonders if she got something more appetizing than he did. She never talks, and her shoes and clothing are worn and shabby. But his efforts to discover the girl's secret come up empty, until he overhears a conversation. Is Natalia really one of those undocumented children he has heard about on the news? Did she really travel all the way from Guatemala by herself? Why would she leave her family? And why would her parents let her go? In this fourth installment of the bilingual Mickey Rangel Mystery series, acclaimed author and educator Ren Saldana, Jr. writes a thought-provoking novel for intermediate readers that explores the contemporary issue of immigration from a young person's perspective. And in this case, Mickey learns some hard truths about being a detective and a good person, ultimately realizing that some mysteries are best left unsolved.