Review: Lotto’s Super-Awesome Unbelievable Park Adventure, by Jan Ellen Ferrigan

Fantasy meets travelogue in an adventure novel for middle grade readers. 

Eleven-year-old foster kid Lotto Lewis is gifted, but he wants to be cool and watch more TV. Lotto also wishes that his old brother Armond would stop giving up on himself and act like he used to when their mom was alive. Life and luck changes for Lotto, Armond and their younger sister Riley when their mom’s long-lost cousin invites the siblings to spend a summer solving a park challenge that involves travelling to seven different state and national parks. at each park, the siblings encounter a magical person, animal or geological formation that provides a scrambled word that is part of a message. To solve the secret message and grow together as a family, Lotto, Armond and Riley must overcome self-doubt, believe in magic and stay one step ahead of a grumpy, silly, bad guy named Mr. Finklestink. 

Lotto’s Super-Awesome Unbelievable Park Adventure is a nice light read that I found myself able to get through fairly quickly. It serves as a nice book for kids who like to solve a puzzle, with words to unscramble and a clue they can solve alongside the characters.

Near the start of the book, the characters are given a list of fourteen parks in Canada and the US. Seven clues lead them to a different park in turn, which (I admit) I had fun solving. (I still get a sort of childish glee when I solve a puzzle like that. I’m not crazy!) The clues aren’t too hard for an adult reader, but for the kids for whom the book is written, they’re a bit of a challenge and at the very least a kid will feel good knowing they got it right.

The writing could at times be a bit over-descriptive and older readers might feel at times like it’s pointing out the obvious. A kid reading the book won’t find this so bad, but this could get annoying for older readers. It’s easy enough to ignore most of the time, and shouldn’t be too much of a bother to someone looking for a pleasant light read.

The characters were the strong point of the novel; all of them were clearly defined and very real. The way dialogue was written fit well with the character’s ages and personalities, making it easy to tell who was speaking. The mystical creatures the characters encounter were interesting and imaginative, and a couple of them were quite unusual.

The beginning and end of the book were slightly rushed, though I’m pleased to say Ferrigan gave the villain actual motives for his activities instead of making him the card carrying evil guy so often seen in children’s (and, quite frankly, adult’s) fiction. I would have liked the ending to be drawn out more to make the villain’s turn-around seem less abrupt, but I can understand wanting to get the story started quickly, as a kid might get bored otherwise. The story itself is fairly good, with themes running through it and characters figuring things out with their smarts instead of relying on dumb luck or violence to solve the problem. A couple plot threads that thought they would be important turned out not to be, which left me wondering a little, but they’re minor enough that they’re not likely to be a problem for most people.

This book would be especially ideal for classrooms; a teacher could read this to their class and have the students figure out the clues and the scrambled words as the characters do to keep the students engaged. The history of each of the parks the characters visit is well-researched and explained in the book, along with pictures that add flavour and show the sorts of environments the parks include (though unfortunately some of the pictures can be rather small). It’s ideal for a kid who just wants a nice story, and is short enough that an otherwise reluctant or occasional reader won’t get daunted. It’s worth a read-through, even for adults, and will be enjoyed by anyone who likes camping.

Overall rating: 4/5

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