Middle-Grade Review: Penny Draws a Secret Adventure by Sara Shepard


About This Book:

Little by little, Penny Lowry is making it through the fifth grade—with a bit of help from her friends Maria, Kristian, and Rocco, as well as her lovable dog Cosmo. And there’s a lot of change to deal with this year! Penny’s newborn twin brother and sister have everyone in her family on their last nerve with their crying. Her friends Maria and Chloe are spending a lot of time together without inviting Penny along, making her worry they might be getting tired of her. And on top of everything, Penny and her friends discover a very old map in her attic that sends them on a wild scavenger hunt all over town in search of treasure!


Can Penny get her worries about her friends and family under control, and lead her group of friends to find the hidden treasure?


*Review Contributed By Mark Buxton, Staff Reviewer*

Battling self doubt

What worked:
The format of this book is easy to read and should appeal to reluctant readers. The narrative is written as if Penny is talking to her dog Cosmo and almost every page has some type of drawing. Many of the illustrations are written as comic strips or with voice bubbles to fill in parts of the story not written in paragraph form. The chapters are fairly short so young readers can quickly finish them and feel frequent success.
A big internal conflict affecting Penny is an overactive brain when it comes to worrying. It’s not as bad as in the previous books but it still magnifies concerns that come up. Luckily, she still has a feelings teacher at school who helps her adjust to the new twin babies who’ve just joined the family. Two new babies in the house almost guarantee one of them will be crying at any time. Another major problem for Penny is that two of her friends are practicing for a spelling bee without her. Penny doesn’t like spelling and she doesn’t think she minds them getting together but she’s afraid she might be losing her importance as a friend. She previously lost her friend Violet to another girl so Penny fears it might be happening again.
The secret adventure arises when Penny finds a treasure map in a box, located in the back of her garage. The map shows locations around town but it was created decades ago. It references places inside her house, at school, and in the neighborhood so Penny wonders how the person knew about them back then. Readers will follow Penny and her friends as they solve the clues left at each location in order to locate the treasure. Penny also learns about the special relationships in her life and the true meaning of friendship. The treasure map takes Penny and readers to places they’d never expect.
What didn’t work as well:
The secret adventure feels more like a neighborhood scavenger hunt than an actual adventure. The biggest drama in the narrative comes from Penny’s lack of self-confidence so some readers may want more.
The final verdict:
This book is best for readers in elementary school due to the writing style and format of the book. The casual tone will be appealing to young readers and Penny is easy to root for. Overall, the book tells a fun tale of friendship and I recommend you give it a shot.


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