January is for Joker…
Green Lawn, we have a problem! When Bradley Pinto wakes up in the night to strange lights in his backyard, he wonders if there are aliens in town. When he sees three-toed tracks in the snow, he's sure of it. His twin, Brian, and friends Lucy and Nate aren't so certain. But then Lucy's cousin Dink, the twin's brother Josh, and Nate's sister Ruth Rose all disappear. Are there really aliens in Green Lawn? And where could they be taking Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose?
January Joker is the first book of Ron Roy's Calendar Mysteries series, a spin-off of the A to Z Mysteries series. It takes place two years after that series, when the A to Z Mysteries kids have moved from fourth to sixth grade and their siblings, who star in this new series, have grown from preschoolers to first graders. It's intended for a younger audience and stars younger children than the A to Z Mysteries series (in which the main characters were nine or so; here the main characters are six or so); as such, the mysteries are more child-appropriate than the original series. There's no crime solving and shadowing of evildoers to be found here. Just kiddie mysteries... which I like, honestly. Makes more sense to have elementary schoolchildren find missing pets and unravel pranks than to bust kidnappers and solve bank robberies.
Anyway, three out of four of our characters are kids we've seen before. These are Brian and Bradley Pinto, the younger twin brothers of A to Z Mysteries' Josh Pinto, and Nate Hathaway, the younger brother of A to Z's Ruth Rose Hathaway. Their group is squared off with the introduction of a new female character: Lucy Armstrong, a cousin of Dink's who is visiting for a year--the year, coincidentally, that makes up the titular calender. There's a mystery to solve a month, and here's the first.
Like I said, it's definitely intended for younger kids and what the characters get up to is much realistic. If you had a problem with suspension of disbelief in the A to Z Mysteries series, you might want to give this one a try; I think toning down the kids' capabilities was actually a great idea. If you loved the A to Z Mysteries series, however, you should also this one; the original kids still make frequent appearances (similar to the occasional appearances of the younger kids in the original books) while the Pinto parents (and the Duncans, to a lesser degree) are given significantly more pagetime, especially in the Mother's Day and Father's Day books.
Which brings me to the last difference between the two series: the basic premise. A to Z Mysteries had an alphabet thing going on, with one book to each of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. The Calendar Mysteries spin-off is based on the twelve-month Gregorian calendar, with one book being devoted to each month; some books, like The February Friend, revolve around annual holidays frequently celebrated by U.S. Americans that occur during the designated month (Valentine's Day, in that case), while others, like January Joker, have general mysteries that just happen to take place during the given month. In this case, it's a snow-set mystery about aliens with a refreshingly mundane solution.
I actually really like this series, though the books are a bit short for my taste (an obvious way to cater to the younger audience). So far, ten out of the presumably twelve books have been published, with the final two books being announced and set for release in 2014. I've read these first ten and enjoyed them, and I look forward to the last two, if they are indeed to be the last books in the series; I'm eager to see whether Roy lets this series lie once December comes and goes or if it will get a continuation like A to Z Mysteries got its Super Edition continuation. Or perhaps the Calendar Mysteries kids will get a great presence in the Super Editions. Or maybe Roy'll do another series with them.
Whatever the case is, I'll gladly keep reading Green Lawn mysteries as long as Roy is willing to publish them. Maybe something for older readers next time? Middle Grade, perhaps?