3 out of 4 stars
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Cat Detectives in the Korean Peninsula, by R. F. Kristi, is the eighth book in The Inca Cat Detective series. Inca and his entourage travel to South Korea with their “humanoids”, Missy and Solo. Missy has been invited to be a judge at a French patisserie competition, hosted in the demilitarized zone.
The “Inca & Company” crew befriends a local tour guide, Ye-Jun, and his Jindo dog, Baram. They learn that Ye-Jun’s sister, Ji, and her beautiful cat, Bo-Mi, left to visit relatives in North Korea and were never allowed to return home. Ye-Jun and Baram are understandably distraught over the way their family has been torn apart. The competition that Missy has come to judge will include chefs from both sides of the border, and hope soars when they learn that Ji will be among them. Ji never goes anywhere without her beloved cat, so Bo-Mi should be there, too. Will Inca and his friends be able to help reunite this family and keep their humans safe? Or will something go awry?
This story has many positive characteristics that kept me engaged until the end. The book has high visual appeal. Its playful font and colorful illustrations solidly set the stage for the tale. There is plenty of white space created by frequent paragraph changes, making it easy for a young reader to track the text. Creative character development is a strength as well. Inca, the narrator, records this dangerous quest in his diary. He is a bit of a braggart, describing himself as “smart”, “svelte”, and as having “agile jumping skills”. His bragging ways are balanced out with his mischief and his big heart. The cast of characters is a bit long for a children’s book. However, the author includes a helpful chart in the opening of the book that shows a picture and description of each of the “Inca & Company” critters.
Another strength, my favorite part, was the gentle way the reader is taught about South Korea. Illustrations and brief descriptions of things, like a traditional Korean house and cherry trees in Namsan Park, help paint the visual landscape. The patisserie competition takes place in the Peace House in the demilitarized zone, which offers a valid context in which to explain what a demilitarized zone is and why it exists in Korea. While in the DMZ, the animals visit other iconic sights, including the Dora Observatory and the Freedom Bridge. Readers also gain insight into what Korean families and friends have experienced when they are separated by the border.
This story had some weaknesses, the most notable being a high number of editing errors. With the exception of a couple of awkwardly phrased sentences, the mistakes were not very distracting. Solo, Missy’s friend, played a large role in the tale, and yet his picture was never included. I found myself wanting to know what he looked like. I think an illustration of him would be helpful.
I joyously award Cat Detectives in the Korean Peninsula three out of four stars. Overall, it is an engaging, creative, kid-friendly tale. I recommend this book to older elementary-aged children who love animals or who enjoy learning about other countries. If you are a teacher looking for an engaging story to supplement a more factual learning experience about Korea, this would be a good resource.
Cat Detectives in the Korean Peninsula
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