BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE EYE Solves the Case and Reinvents the Form

Lynn: Well, Brian Selznick has done it again: reinvented a format, that is. This time, it’s a whole new incarnation of an early chapter book, and what a delight it is! Selznick and David Serlin’s enchanting Baby Monkey, Private Eye (2018) has 192 pages—long for the format, but in these innovative hands, it works so well.

The important elements for early chapter books are all there: lots of white space, short sentences, simple vocabulary, and plenty of repetition. Each of the book’s five mysteries begins with a client walking into Baby Monkey’s office. Then Baby Monkey looks for clues, takes notes, eats a snack, puts on his pants, and solves the case—usually right outside his office door. This simple formula is spot-on for newly independent readers, but in true Selznick fashion, there is SO much more to the book.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

The details of Baby Monkey’s noir-style office vary from client to client. The chef who needs help locating his missing pizza sees a map of Italy, a photo of the Roman Colosseum, a movie poster for The Italian Job, and bust of Michelangelo’s David. The authors bring clever variations to each subsequent repetition, and Baby Monkey’s struggle to don his pesky pants gets funnier with every chapter.

Young readers will love this new twist on an old form, their new reading skills supported wonderfully even as their funny bones are tickled. Trust me: the 192 pages fly by, and readers of all ages will immediately flip back to the beginning and start again, picking up more fun details each time.


Cindy: What’s black and white and re(a)d all over? Baby Monkey, Private Eye! I don’t care how you catalog this book: beginner reader, early chapter book, or graphic novel (and I’ve seen all three mentioned in reference to collection placement). It doesn’t really matter, as it won’t ever stay on the shelf! The emerging readers who want to carry a BIG book will love that they can read this one, celebrating the accomplishment of finishing a nearly 200-page book while laughing at Baby Monkey’s antics. The adults who help them read it the first few times will enjoy the visual treats, including a painting with a scene from George Méliès’ 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, last seen in Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabreteven the books that this private eye reads while waiting for his next client are thematically tied to the case. Rounding out the fun: a bibliography of these books, and a key to the art in Baby Monkey’s office.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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