Book One of the Hocus Pocus Hotel series
By Michael Dahl
Illustrated by Lisa K. Weber
Available now from Stone Arch Books (Capstone)
HOCUS POCUS HOTEL is the first book in a middle grade mystery series. Tyler Yu is the biggest seventh grader at Blackstone Middle School. Charlie Hitchcock is a geek. But Ty is saving up to buy a motorcycle using the money he makes working at his parents' hotel: the Abracadabra Hotel. However, he won't have enough money if he can't get Mr. Madagascar's rent - and Mr. Madagascar has vanished. So he asks Charlie to help, since he has an acute visual memory and thus can remember everything he sees. They're also helped by Mr. Brack, one of the old elevator operators.
Due to Charlie's ability, I was reminded of the Cam Jensen mystery series which I absolutely loved back in first grade. Current young mystery lovers will probably get a kick out of HOCUS POCUS HOTEL, especially since there are two mysteries to be solved instead of just one. Magic fans will enjoy it too. The Abracadabra Hotel is full of magicians, secrets, and riddles - the perfect atmosphere for tricks. Each trick is explained with a diagram, although they probably can't be done at home due to the complicated mirror set-ups needed.
Lisa K. Weber's art is an excellent accompaniment to Michael Dahl's story. Her illustrations have big expressions, clean lines, and detailed backgrounds. The hotel is as much a character as the boys and Brack and her work helps bring it to life. There's no whitewashing either. Ty is clearly Asian in the artwork. You can click on the link to the series' website at the top of this review to preview Weber's art.
If you know a young mystery reader, you might direct them towards HOCUS POCUS HOTEL. It's quick and cute with a great setting. Dahl also sets up a couple of ongoing plotlines for the rest of the series. Now that Tyler and Charlie have bridged the geek-jock gap by solving mysteries together, it might be time to act like friends at school too. They're also going to help the magicians put on a show at the Abracadabra for the first time in fifty years, in order to help restore the hotel to its former glory. It's nice to know there will be ongoing storylines and characterization rather than each book standing alone.