The Teaser: In this early elementary series, Sharon M. Draper follows a group of four African American boys, who call themselves the Black Dinosaurs, as they get into adventures and find trouble. In the first book, the Black Dinosaurs discover a box of human bones buried underneath their clubhouse and try to uncover who cut down the basketball hoops in their neighborhood. In the second book they get stuck in a tunnel that was once used as a part of the Underground Railroad.
What Stood Out: The mysteries, at least in the second book, are exciting and gripping. The historical basis is solid and could easily lead the children reading the books to want to find out more. I wouldn't hesitate to use Lost in the Tunnel of Time in conjunction with factual resources for an introduction to or a unit on the Underground Railroad. The four main characters: Jerome, Ziggy, Rashawn, and Rico are great. Best friends with wildly different personalities and interests, young readers will be able to easily identify with at least one of them. In addition, only Rashawn lives with a traditional nuclear family. I thought it was great and rarely seen for a book to treat non-nuclear families so casually and not make it a driving part of the story or the character's identities.
What Didn't Work: Mon, Ziggy's Jamaican patois is grating. Apart from that, parts of the books reek of tokenism, with African heritage words being thrown in with little or no context. Both of the books that I read relied on a kindly old man for exposition and both related back to his grandfather, an escaped slave. I can't see this troupe remaining interesting or offering anything new in future books. Finally, the mysteries wrap up quickly and with no follow-up, kinda like the end of an episode of Scooby-Doo.
Anything Extra Special:
Black Kids in the City
I started reading the Clubhouse Mysteries series (first published as Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs) because I'm always looking for early readers featuring black kids. I think it's important for children to recognize themselves and their experiences in books and the majority of early elementary series feature middle class white kids in the suburbs. I really appreciated Draper's portrayal of black kids in an urban environment. I'm not personally in love with this series for reasons mentioned above, but I will be recommending it wholeheartedly and I'm excited to start the author's Sassy series, aimed at African American girls of a similar age.
Lost in the Tunnel of Time was exponentially better and more interesting than The Buried Bones Mystery. If the series continues up this path, I'd be happy to keep checking in it periodically.