A funny mystery

"Mudshark," by Gary Paulsen
"Mudshark," by Gary Paulsen

When homework goes missing or the Anchovy–Grape Jelly Turnover Surprise from the cafeteria induces a case of the spins, the students call in “Mudshark,” the uber-cool hero of Gary Paulsen’s new novel.

The kid is a natural problem-solver — and thank goodness, for chaos rules his school. According to the uproarious series of announcements that kick off each chapter, a gerbil is on the loose, chalkboard erasers are disappearing and the faculty washroom requires, well, “a rag and a strainer and a set of tongs.” A master of lively, highly accessible prose, Paulsen offers much in this short read, from kooky characters to stringent satire.

Yet most striking is the portrait of Mudshark as the embodiment of calm; he’s a one-boy lesson in Zen and the art of middle school. Ages 8 and up; Wendy Lamb Books, $13.