Race the Wild #1: Rain Forest Relay
Rain forest science adventure
Russell and four of his friends from his flag football team have won a coveted spot on The Wild Life race, where the prize is a million dollars! However, the size of the teams was cut to four, and Russell finds himself separated from his friends and put with three strangers: Mari Soto, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of wild life; Dev Patel, who is great with technology; and Sage, whose go-getting attitude brings the team together. Each team gets clues that need to be followed and instructions of a picture of an animal they must take, and when that is turned in, they get another clue. Russell's friends are cheating a little bit and not being particularly nice when they manage to get an illegal scoop on clues, but Russell and his new group try their best to learn about the creatures in the forest, be respectful of the environment, and work together as a team.
It's nice to see diversity in the characters, and there are a fair number of illustrations in the book that show this diversity.
Russell's sense of dismay when he is assigned to an unknown group is understandable, and the four children are somewhat awkward together at first, which is very true-to-life. Each character brings his or her own assets to the team, and they slowly begin to trust each other and rely on their team. It's also realistic that Russell's friends are working against him, and it's something that readers this age will struggle with themselves.
I especially liked the descriptions of the rain forest, and all of the flora and fauna in it. There are note pages between the chapters that give more information. Since the plants and animals are an integral part of the adventure, these notes seem necessary, instead of like info dumps to make this STEM friendly, and add interest instead of just slowing down the plot. I can see these books being very popular in elementary science classrooms because of this. I learned a lot of things-- the pink Amazon River Dolphin was especially interesting. It's not easy to work science information into a chapter book, but I thought in this case if was handled beautifully.
Readers who enjoy Fish Finelli or Cooper and Packrat will enjoy Russel's trip into the rainforest! It would be a great idea to pair this title with an informational book about rain forests and rain forests creatures.