The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions Book Poster Image
Sweet, wacky series start has strong values, scary moments.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will learn a bit about exotic creatures, including endangered species, and their ways -- such as the pangolin's skunk-like habit of shooting foul-smelling gas from his rear end when stressed. (This is not belabored once the idea's introduced.) They'll probably pick up a bit of foreign vocabulary, too, as one character loads his speech with random bits of French, Spanish, Italian, and more, while others comment in Yiddish. Also there's a bit of silly wordplay, as with the team of crocodiles named Miss, Bee, Hay, Vee, and Orr.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of kindness, friendship, and working together in situations where everyone's talents come in handy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Even silly characters have a way of coming through with what's needed at the right moment, and even villainous ones turn out to be driven by what seem like good intentions, such as saving their families. Dawn, the serious, level-headed fox, and Tobin, the shy, loyal pangolin, are appealing characters and stalwart friends.

Violence & Scariness

There are some scary moments, especially when the friends find themselves plunged into a dark prison. Some characters behave badly because they're trying to keep their loved ones from being killed. The only real harm that occurs happened in the distant past, when a character's family was killed by poachers.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mysterious Abductions launches a new, Madagascar-tinged series about three animal friends -- Dawn, a fox; Tobin, a pangolin; and Bismark, a loudmouthed, tiny sugar glider -- and their adventures. There are frightening moments, as entire animal communities are disappearing for no apparent reason, and the friends are plunged into a dark prison and forced to play scary games that recall Alice in Wonderland's flamingo croquet. But there are also strong messages of friendship, kindness, teamwork, and making things better -- along with a lot of silly stage business.

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What's the story?

Three creatures of the night, a fox, a pangolin, and a sugar glider -- THE NOCTURNALS -- meet by chance in the forest and hardly have a chance to get acquainted before they're plunged into a dark prison, where, in the wake of THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS, many animals, often entire villages, are being held captive by crocodiles. But instead of giving in to despair, they set out to save themselves and their fellow prisoners -- an effort that involves all their individual talents, as well as forming new friendships and alliances.

Is it any good?

With numerous sequels already in the pipeline, Tracey Hecht's whimsical animal adventure is poised to deliver a raft of silliness, sweetness, and positive messages for years to come. More sophisticated readers may find it a tad derivative -- Hecht acknowledges the influence of Madagascar, which brings exotic critters and zany humor, and a crucial athletic contest is straight out of Alice in Wonderland. But there's a lot of charm here, enhanced by Kate Liebman's colorful illustrations that bring sensible Dawn, shy Tobin, and wacky Bismark to life. And the exciting adventures include plenty of positive messages about cooperation, friendship, courage, and doing the right thing.

Several characters load their speech with words in French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Yiddish, which may not make a lot of sense in a tale of wild animals but will add to the fun for many readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about being nocturnal -- that is, being active during the night and sleeping during the day. Would you like to live this way, instead of being up all day and asleep all night? What would be different?

  • What do you know about endangered species? What does it mean when a species goes extinct? Can you think of any animals that used to be common but don't exist any more?

  • Why do you think it might be hard for animals from different species to be friends? How might they work things out?

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