When a book title signals the presence of wordplay, it declares to the reader humor is sure to follow. This is an equation no one can resist. These two elements plus a misleading mystery add up to a captivating escapade.
If you multiple this by dynamic artwork, the volume you hold in your hand might be the new collaboration by author Tara Lazar and illustrator Ross MacDonald. 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney Hyperion, May 16, 2017) is guaranteed to have readers calculating the odds of a numerical riddle resolution. Let's start compiling the facts.
I was dozing in my chair when an urgent banging on my office door bolted me awake.
Private I watches as 6 races into his office, panic vibrating over every curve. This guy figures his life span is about to be shortened. He hears 7 is following him (and not in the usual way).
9 is missing; presumably consumed by 7. It's only a matter of time before 6 gets gobbled up too. Private I leaves the premises to stroll the streets, conduct some interviews and solve this problem.
8 is absolutely no help fleeing in fear. A chat at the local diner, Cafe Uno, confirms the word 6 heard. In speaking with 11 the first crack in the code of this case appears. Moving from the docks back uptown Private I sees someone who changes the entire focus of the investigation.
Rushing back to his office he discovers the answer. A heated conversation and new arrivals confirm his results. In the end numbers simply can't lie.
The clever narrative penned by the equally clever Tara Lazar reads like the old crime dramas on television with the detective acting as the teller of the current tale. This first person voice blended with dialogue gives the story an authentic you-are-there impression. The puns and homonyms are hilarious with their mathematical (and other) references. Here is a sample passage.
As a Private I, I'm used to his type---
numbers. They're always stuck in a problem.
But I knew about this 7 fella. He was odd.
"Take it easy, 6," I said. "What's 7 up to?"
"Word on the street is that 7 ate 9!
And now he's after me," said 6.
"Well, technically, he's always after you."
I said. "There's 5, then 6, then 7."
"See, that proves it!"
The image on the right of the matching dust jacket and book case moves over the spine to the left, on the back. The sight of the hungry utensil-carrying 7 chasing 9 down the sidewalk certainly gets your attention. With Private I, on the back, leaning against a lamp post with these words
Why is 6 afraid of 7?
it's fairly easy for readers to draw the obvious conclusion but...is it?
The opening and closing endpapers are like an investigative case board. Across the two pages are fourteen labeled pictures of numbers and places in the city. The captions offer clues and commentary. On the title page a shadowy 9 is over the door to Private I's office. His name above an eye is AL F. BET.
Rendered using colored pencils, watercolors and 19th-century wood type, then composed digitally using Photoshop the illustrations by Ross MacDonald enhance the overall mood, time and place of the story. All the details point to an earlier era. Most of the images extend across two pages focusing our attention on the characters and their highly animated features. Can you spot the tiny character in the detective's office?
One of my many favorite illustrations is when Private I stops for a piece of pi at the Cafe Uno. The sign reads:
On a plate is a piece of pi in the shape of the symbol for pi. The waitress B is placing a big scoop of ice cream on the plate. The diner counter, stools and black and white checked floor are a step back in time as is the attire on B. Private I in pink and waitress B in green contrast nicely.
The pairing of Tara Lazar and Ross MacDonald for 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY is ideal. Her words and his artwork work beautifully to convey a sense of mystery, mathematics, fun and detective drama of days from the past. Read it aloud as often as you can. Be sure to have a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.
To discover more about Tara Lazar and Ross MacDonald and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access informative websites. At this additional link to a page on Tara's website you can find more about this title. Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, premiered the book trailer on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.