Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Mystery of the Lost Recipe {Book Review & Book-Inspired Activities}

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I was given the opportunity to read and review the new children's book "The Mystery of the Lost Recipe" by Jerome Jones.  Please note that the book was provided to me, free of charge, but all opinions expressed below are mine and not influenced by the free product.  The author has also given me permission to use pictures from the book.


"The Mystery of the Lost Recipe" is a book about Tommy and Abby, two mystery-solving kids from the beach town of Pismo.  Upon hearing the news that a local restaurant's lasagna recipe has been lost, the two kids set off to solve the mystery, all while making healthy choices along the way.

The first thing that caught my eye about this book were the illustrations by Jose Galeano.  When I first started reading this book with the boys, they were instantly drawn to the illustrations.  How could they resist?  They are bright and colorful and I find there is a certain whimsical feel to the illustrations.


I took a children's literature course while pregnant with K and I remember how important it is to consider all aspects of the book when deciding whether or not it's a "good" book.  Good being entirely subjective, of course.  Anyway, I remember that the book's layout was something to consider.  Well, I did consider it and I often found there was too much text on the pages.  I would have preferred it to be more spread out.  However, according to Amazon's description of the book, the target audience is ages 4-8.  For that age group, the amount of text would be appropriate.  For a busy 20 month old and a 3 year old, not so much.

I also love how the book's main characters are two young kids who solve mysteries around their town because I know, as a child, I would have loved to have been that mystery-solving kid.

The book was a great way to discuss many health concepts with the boys, such as nutrition, the importance of physical activity and exercise, and bike safety.  Bike safety is something we are really getting into lately.  There are no city bylaws or anything here that enforce wearing a bike helmet and my husband and I certainly did not wear helmets growing up.  However, we feel that it is time to start modeling some bike safety to our children, starting with buying a bike helmet for my husband for his birthday since he bikes to work every day.  So while reading the book, I made sure to point out to the boys how the book's characters were wearing bike helmets.  I also explained that locking their bikes up, like Tommy and Abby did, was to safeguard themselves from bike theft.

It was nice to start talking to the boys about what's healthy versus unhealthy when it comes to nutrition.  We could use the examples of foods from the book of foods to reinforce what's healthy or not.  So I enjoyed that aspect of the book.

I also liked that the location for this book was a beach town.  We live in the heart of the Canadian prairies so the boys have never seen the ocean.  And river/lake shores hardly compare to the beach.  The lack of an aquarium doesn't help either.  So we have no viable field trip options here.  However, the book gave me the opportunity to explore oceans and beaches with the boys.  It also gave me an excuse to pull out some of my scrapbooks to show them some pictures of the coast in British Columbia and beaches in the Maritimes.  There were even a few pictures of whales and some pictures from the Vancouver Aquarium to share with the boys.  I think I may even have videos from our trip to the Aquarium, which I could have shown to the boys as well, but I'm not entirely sure where they are.

J looking at some pictures of the Vancouver Aquarium.
As most children's books are, the story was simple and predictable.  I didn't really like the ending.  I thought it made the adult character, Mr. Nut, look like an idiot, but hey, it made the kids in the book look like heroes and gave them warm, fuzzy feelings and a sense of accomplishment.  And I'm all for kids feeling proud of themselves for being altruistic and doing good things.

Few other things I didn't like.  The subtle gender stereotyping being one of them.  The text specified that Abby had a pink notebook.  Why did it have to be pink?  A look at the illustrations also shows a blue bike for Tommy and a pinkish-red bike for Abby.  Ugh.

And the kids had laptops.  I know we're a technology-driven society, but somehow I was irked by the kids owning laptops.  Call me old-fashioned, but why couldn't they just keep using their notebooks?

Like I mentioned before, the book was a great way to explore different topics concerning health and nutrition, but now it's time for the really fun part about reading books with the kids: the activities inspired by books!  This book was simply awesome for creating book extensions for a toddler and preschooler.  Seriously.  Here are some of the activities that we did to go along with this book (be sure to click the links for more details and photos):

Make a felt lasagna.
We hid the recipe first and solved a little mystery ourselves.
Tape Resist Surfboard Art
Seashell Letter Match Sensory Bin with 
Coconut Cloud Dough Sand
Then we did some activities to explore the ocean.  First, we made a jellyfish in a bottle (read how to make one at Growing a Jeweled Rose).

J checking out his jellyfish.
Then J did a whale craft inspired by the whale craft found here.  It uses pipe cleaners, craft foam, paint, googly eyes, and a little terra cotta pot.

Painting the pot.
The finished whale.  Extra hot glue because I didn't place the eye in the exact spot J wanted it.
J playing with his whale.
There are also plenty more activities that could be done based on this book such as:
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Make freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Cook lasagna from scratch together
  • Pretend play restaurant complete with setting the table, reading a menu, ordering, eating, paying for food, and cleaning up
  • Look at nutrition labels on cans, boxes, etc.
  • Sort food (healthy vs. unhealthy)
  • Pretend surfing
  • Ocean sensory bin
  • Beach sensory bin
  • Ocean sensory bottle/bag
  • You can also check out more ocean activities and crafts on my Pinterest board
Overall, it was a cute book to read together and I love how much fun we had doing activities based on this book.  If you are interested in purchasing "The Mystery of the Lost Recipe" by Jerome Jones, you can purchase a copy of your own from Amazon or from the book's website.
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