2010's Buckeye Children's Book Award winner for grades 3-5 was Zoobreak by Gordon Korman. I had previously re-read the first book in this series, Swindle, just last year for a 3rd grade book group, so it was easy to dive into the second!
Our main characters from the first book return, with ring leader Griffin and his best friend, Ben immediately thrust into a problem: their friend Savannah has lost her pet monkey, Cleo. Griffin and Ben are sent into action when a banana seems to show that the monkey was kidnapped (petnapped?) but have trouble coming up with a lead. That changes when their class visits the floating zoo -- a zoo on a boat -- and Savannah is appalled by the horrible care the animals are getting. The last animal happens to be a monkey, which Savannah immediately recognizes as Cleo. Thus, Operation Zoobreak is born! Griffin, with the help of his friends, plans to break not only Cleo out of the zoo, but all the other animals as well. With a few hiccups along the way, the group manages to do it, but then run into a whole other problem -- where do you put all these animals? But Griffin isn't the Man With a Plan for no reason, and has each team member create a special environment for specific groups of animals, until he decides they should break into the local zoo and place the animals there. But Darren, the greedy bully of the group, decides to try to sell the animals and gets caught, spilling the team's secrets to the awful zookeeper, who chases the rest of the team to the zoo. It all comes to a head when the mean zookeeper traps Griffin, but the zoo security gets on the scene and stops anything too severe from happening.
Following the main theme from the first book, Zoobreak delves into the idea that this is an adult world, and kids have no say in it. So what's a kid to do when adults are wrong -- or won't listen? Many kids will enjoy the series simply for that premise. This book is also full of fun facts about animals and animal care (which the first book isn't, as animals aren't the focus) which almost always interests kids. Darren is a kid you don't root for, and yet somehow he doesn't quite make it to "villain" level, so you also don't completely despise him, which makes for a good conversation with students and also allows them to think more complexly about characters and people. Throw in some hilarious hijinks, and you've got a solid, entertaining book for kids. I can see why it was voted as a winner! I think I prefer Swindle -- somehow breaking into a house seems more dangerous than breaking into a tiny zoo on a boat -- but I appreciate this follow up. I'll need to read the third book next, Framed.
I do have one gripe, but it isn't about the story. It's about the cover. I know authors don't get any say in their covers, so this isn't directed towards Mr. Korman, but the story talks about Cleo always sitting on the back of Luthor's neck/head. So why is there a ferret sitting on Luthor's head? It's such a small thing and yet...it drives me batty when the covers don't match the story right.
My next book will be a fast read -- and a first of it's kind for the 3-5th grade winner -- a picture book! I can't believe we only have 5 more!
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