The story begins with Kyle and his mom returning to her home town of Windrose Valley. She has signed Kyle up for Camp Pathfinders, hoping he will make some friends instead of just drawing all the time. Kyle is a pretty easy-going kid and makes friends with two boys, Harry, a would-be magician and Nate, an inventor whose inventions aren’t always as useful as he hopes. Both quickly clue him into the social hierarchy of Camp Pathfinders, especially that they have no chance with cheerleader Victoria, even if she and local historian Beth are assigned to their table. Victoria turns out to have a photographic memory and be a math whiz, both of which she tries to keep secret.
They start out together on a scavenger hunt, but it quickly turns into a treasure hunt as they each bring skills and work together to solve the mystery of the moon tower and discover the hidden treasure that will, hopefully, save Pathfinder Camp. Through flashbacks, Beth’s knowledge, and even a little time travel, they learn about the history of the Pathfinders Society and the founder of the camp, Henry Merriweather. He was both an explorer and an inventory, and mysteriously disappeared at a huge party in the 1930s. With Victoria’s photographic memory and math skills, Kyle’s art, Beth’s local knowledge, Harry’s eye for detail, and Nate’s inventive smarts, the five kids explore the past and present, solve clues, and hope to survive long enough to find the treasure.
The art is easy to follow and engaging, showing the kids in sharp outline and clearly recognizable throughout although their surroundings change from mysterious fog, to sepia-toned times of the past, to drenching rain. They all have the same large eyes and pin-point pupils, and all but Nate are thin. The kids are all dressed differently, with varying hair styles and skin colors, but their uniform body types give them a general feeling of sameness.
Although the kids spend quite a bit of time tromping through the woods and scenery of the valley, readers don’t get a really good idea of what this area looks like. The art in the mansion and Moon Tower is more exact, showing numerous hidden doors, mysterious keys, and strange inventions. In the images from the past, gray and sepia tones give an old-fashioned feel to the events, with Merriweather and the other people shown sporting sideburns, beards, and mustaches and dressed in stylish clothes.
The story ends in a dramatic cliffhanger, but with the multiple loose ends and haphazard plotting, it’s hardly needed. Readers will either give up or be determined to wait for the next book to try and figure out exactly what’s going on. Back matter from the authors gives more information about real-life traveler, designer, and polyglot Henry Mercer.
This is an interesting story and kids who enjoy mysteries, codes, and treasure hunts will be intrigued. It does have several drawbacks, not least being the somewhat confused storyline and multiplicity of plot points, as well as the lack of character development. The plot of a wealthy (white) explorer who leaves behind a treasure and the hints at an evil developer are rather hackneyed and there is no acknowledgment or mention of the negative effects of dilettante explorers like Merriweather.
While this is not a must-purchase item, libraries with fans of Kabuishi’s Amulet series, Selznick’s work, and readers who enjoy low-stakes mysteries and treasure hunts will find this a useful addition to the collection and young readers are very likely to eagerly await more information and details in the sequel.
The Mystery of the Moon Tower
By Francesco Sedita & Prescott Seraydarian
Art by Steve Hamaker
Penguin Viking, 2020
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits: Black,