Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

MUDSHARK by Gary Paulsen

I’m a big fan of Gary Paulsen’s work. The author can turn out heartfelt stories like Tracker and The Cook Camp that resonate emotionally, write adventure that fills the imagination with the outdoors like Hatchet, and he can tickle your funnybone unmercifully. One of his newest books, Mudshark, is the latter variety and kept me glued to the pages.

Lyle Williams is a 12 year old prodigy who’s a keen observer like Sherlock Holmes. He’s also uncannily quick, capable of having a thought and moving at the same time. He has three younger sisters, triplets, and preoccupied parents that often leave him in charge of them, so he’s had to learn how to think on his feet.

Those skills have pushed Mudshark, as he’s become known after a particularly memorable game of Death Ball, into the school’s unofficial detective. When something goes missing (including a brain, a cat, and a brand new car), Mudshark is the one that everyone goes to. Generally he solves everyone’s problems just by being observant, logical, and persistent.

However, when the school librarian brings in a parrot that apparently has psychic powers, Mudshark faces the toughest mystery’s he’s ever encountered in his young career. Is the parrot really psychic? Everyone thinks so, and they start going to the parrot instead of Mudshark. And what’s happening to the school’s erasers and the faculty lounge.

Young readers need to share this book with their parents. It’s meant to be read aloud. I wish I’d held off reading this one to share with my 12 year old, but I passed it off to him as soon as I was finished. This short novel (83 pages) is packed full of good humor and imagination. This is the kind of storytelling a lot of writers have gotten away from. I could imagine Gary Paulsen sitting in front of me, spinning this tale with broad exaggeration and a twinkle in his eye.

The mysteries are well-thought out as well. Alert readers (and their parents) can catch onto clues and solve most of the puzzles themselves, but they won’t always get the motivations behind the culprits. Paulsen outdoes himself by adding an extra depth to that part of his story.

I don’t know if Mudshark is going to spawn any sequels, though there is a hook left at the end of this one, but I’d gladly pick them up if Paulsen writes them. I loved his Hatchet spin-offs, and Mudshark is a character cut from the same dynamic cloth after his own fashion.

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