Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley -- intriguing mystery & outstanding audiobook (ages 9-12)

Mysteries are great fun to read -- the suspense keeps you turning the pages. You have to read a mystery pretty carefully to pick up on the clues. Pretty soon someone is whisper-shouting, "I got it! I know who did it!" Many of my students love complex mysteries, where many threads come together in the end.

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley, is an intriguing mystery my 4th and 5th graders are thoroughly enjoying. I highly recommend the audiobook, with narration by one of my favorite narrators.
The Harlem Charade
by Natasha Tarpley
narrated by Bahni Turpin
Scholastic, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
A school project brings 12-year-olds Jin and Alex together, but they are initially wary of each other. Jin spends most of her time in her Korean grandparents' bodega; although she likes to observe and collect information quietly, she longs for adventure. Alex is strong-minded and assertive, yet she hides the fact that her parents are wealthy.

When Alex and Jin meet Elvin and learn that his grandfather has been attacked, they set out to help their new friend. These three begin to trust each other and learn that they'll need each other's help to figure out who attacked Elvin's grandfather. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they discover that Elvin's grandfather was a member of a Harlem artists' group in the 1960s that was committed to representing and creating a voice for the community. A real estate mogul is threatening to convert much of the community to a theme park in a bid for redevelopment.

Tarpley creates a complex mystery that pulls readers in deeper and deeper, winding many threads together. While one might argue that some coincidences enable her to move the plot forward at some key points, the diverse characters, textured setting and intriguing suspense lead to a richly drawn novel. It will automatically draw comparisons to Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, but it also makes me think of Carl Hiaasen's Hoot, with its focus on community activism.

Narrator Bahni Turpin conveys these complex characters, showing how their lives intersect. I know it's cliche, but she really does bring them to life. As the Audiofile Magazine wrote,
"Turpin excels at accents and emotions... She ensures that listeners comprehend the story's historical figures and quick-paced, suspenseful events."
I finished this book wanting to learn more about the art world of Harlem in the 1960s and the exhibit at the Met called "Harlem on My Mind." Tarpley effectively conveyed how important art and local voices are to creating a vibrant community. This message is both timely and persuasive for readers just beginning to understand larger political events and social pressures.

I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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