By Mary Pope Osborne, Illustrated by Sal Murdocca
Random House Children’s Books, $12.99, 114 pages
Jack and Annie are off on their 48th mission for Camelot, this time to China in the year 2008. A Perfect Time for Pandas is their last trip to find the objects their Arthurian friend, Teddy, needs to reverse the spell on Penny, Merlin’s penguin. In a quest to discover a strange type of bread, Jack and Annie browse a Chinese menu (fried stinky tofu has them in fits), meet pandas and their caretakers at the Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda and survive a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. The adventure doesn’t stop there. In fact it’s only the beginning. This story highlights the often complex relationship between animals and humans (who can be both destroyers and saviors).
“‘So the bike guy told me to go up this street and turn left onto the highway,’ Annie said. ‘Then we just stay on it until we come to the panda center.’ ‘Cool. How far away is it?’ asked Jack as he put on his helmet. He snapped the strap under his chin. ‘Not far, just five or six miles,’ said Annie. ‘What?‘ said Jack.”
As always, Mary Pope Osborne’s intrepid Annie and steady Jack do a marvelous job of taking big issues and presenting them in kids-sized bites. Children will delight in the siblings’ exploits as they make important decisions, help adults and romp around with little supervision. Cultural mishaps provide great humor and the pace will keep kids reading until the end. Watch for flashlights under the blanket past bedtime!
Reviewed by Andrea Klein