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Monday, September 9, 2019

King & Kayla and the Case of the Found Fred by Dori Hillestad Butler, Illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Photo of DaNae Leu, courtesy of DaNae Leu
DaNae Leu is an elementary school librarian at a K-6 school in Kaysville, UT. For the past few years she has conducted a Mock Geisel for her first and second grades and is impressed with their passion for evaluating the books created just for them. 

The Edgar Award winning early chapter book series, The Buddy Files has long been a favorite with my students. Years ago, its first title, The Case of the Lost Boy was placed on our Battle of the Books list. But before Buddy was Buddy, he went by King and before he Lost a Boy, he lived with a girl named Kayla. King & Kayla and the Case of the Found Fred is the fifth installment of this early-reader chapter book series, already honored twice by Geisel (The Missing Dog Treats, honor title, 2018 & The Case of the Lost Tooth, honor title 2019). As a prequal to the meatier Buddy Files, the King & Kayla installments lose none of their ability to sketch out a mystery, drop down the clues, toss in a few red herrings, and bound toward a satisfying reveal, tails waving high all around. 

King & Kayla and the Case of Found Fred 
by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated 
by Nancy Meyers bookcover
That detective duo, Kayla and King are on vacation at Grandma’s lake house. As usual, golden retriever King is thrilled to be there, but then again, King is supremely thrilled about most everything. While the two are out rollicking in the sunshine they come across a small, white dog, Fred, who seems to have lost his way. Between a mix of human deduction and canine ingenuity, Fred is ultimately reunited with his family. 

This book deftly straddles the difference between human and dog understanding, while keeping the reader fully briefed on all sides. Butler is clever in her delivery of how King shares his insights with Kayla and Grandma, she puts quotation marks around his dialogue but immediately lets the reader know the humans have not understood a word. 
Image of King the dog jumping on Grandma's lap from 
King & Kayla and the Case of Found Friend 
by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
Also, there are times when the dogs’ view of the world is skewed from humans. This often allows the reader to be smug about knowing more than the characters and is frequently used humorously. 
Image of Fred the dog telling King the dog about the scary fireworks from King & Kayla and the Case of Found Friend by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
King is a force of optimism in the world. Not only does his peppy personality show through in Butler’s dialogue but is perfectly calibrated in Nancy Meyers’s expressive illustrations. The illustrations do double duty both in decoding new vocabulary and giving clues to the mystery at hand. 
Image of dogs, King and Fred, leaving paw prints on lost and found dog posters from 
King & Kayla and the Case of Found Friend by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

The Case of Found Fred is a perfectly calibrated early-reader chapter book. It meets emerging readers right at their level of understanding and allows them to feel just a little bit smarter than the characters. Over the summer I had a rising second grader read and evaluate it. She claimed there was nothing she didn’t like about it and the only word to give her pause was ‘Ditective’. This is the type of format that I see my second-stage readers return to over and over. Once they master the most rudimentary picture books, they seem to find comfort in revisiting comfortable characters. 

King & Kayla have taken home two Geisel Honors, will Found Fred be the one to grab the gold? I, for one, wouldn’t be at all surprised.

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