Lantern Sam is a rare male calico cat who lives aboard a train called the Lake Erie Shoreliner (New York to Chicago in under 20 hours!) in the 1940s. Ostensibly in the care of conductor Clarence Nockwood, Sam is an intelligent and independent cat who has the ability to share his thoughts with some humans. Clarence is one of them, but when 10-year-old Henry Shipley comes aboard, Sam finds he can “talk” to him, too.

It’s just as well, because when Henry’s new friend Ellis Strasbourg is kidnapped on the train, he’s going to need Sam’s help to rescue her. Together, Sam and Henry will have to figure out many clues and outwit the kidnappers before it’s too late.

As author of the Red Blazer Girls series, Michael D. Beil is no stranger to middle grade mysteries. His prose is readily accessible, and the danger is mild but bound to be exciting to most third- and fourth-grade students. The story unfolds in alternating chapters between the first-person voices of Henry and Sam. This format is initially confusing, but Beil does a wonderful job of establishing their separate personalities, and the swap soon becomes fluid and easy. Plus, Sam’s chapters are a countdown of his nine lives, which makes the reader wonder: What happens when he gets to his last one? That and many other mysterious questions will keep kids reading to the very end.


Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through eighth level Catholic school.

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