Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
In Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case, the title character lives his life by twos. He has two eyes, two ears, two lips, two hands, two feet, and two brothers and two sisters. Two of them are older siblings, and two of them are very much older siblings and Jacob is the youngest and he is two times two times two years old. It’s the third of the Jacob Two-Two books, and it’s also one of my most favourite children’s books ever.
In this book Jacob’s family has moved from England and back to good old Montreal. Things have settled—Jacob ends up in a prestigious private school called Privilege House, he has friends, he has his family. And then a bunch of weird events take place. The first event is that they get a new neighbour, Barnaby X Dinglebat, who claims that he’s a master spy who has eaten hamburgers in Hungary and gone hungry in Hamburg and other such feats. The second is that the new headmaster at Privilege House, Mr. I. M. Greedyguts, hires the incomparable Leo Louse to cook the meals for the school which end up being horrible, disgusting, tasteless, or all three. The spy case involves Jacob and Mr. Dinglebat figuring out why Leo Louse has the contract to feed Privilege House, all the while dealing with inept police officers, frustrated teachers, and no one believing Jacob because he’s the youngest.
This is a book for your young tweens. Although it might be a little young, it’s also a great book to read out loud if you’re still doing that with your tween, though there is one section that’s done in mirror writing so you’ll need a bit of a prop. There are plenty of ridiculous characters; since Richler spent his entire life as a satirist, they’re kind of obvious but joyously over the top and it’s a quick read which will help those readers who still aren’t feeling super confident in their reading. In addition to the mirror chapter, it also has a quirky magic trick that gets explained at the back of the book. The language isn’t very hard; Richler is aiming at a younger audience than his usual books, but he does have a certain flair for words and your young tween will probably need help on occasion even if you’re reading it aloud.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Jacob’s family spends a lot of time ignoring him. His oldest siblings (Daniel and Marfa) are now in their late teens and want nothing to do with him. His older siblings (Noah and Emma) have their own game that they play, and they only allow him in if he has food. Jacob’s father doesn’t believe him when he says things are terrible, he just takes him on what Daniel calls “Daddy’s Hard Luck Tour.” The only person who treats Jacob like he’s capable is the neighbour Mr. Dinglebat who takes him under his wing and helps him with his case.
Stupid Grown Ups
The book suffers from the Stupid Grown Ups syndrome. The headmaster, Mr. I. M. Greedyguts, is a maniac who enjoys the suffering of the kids. Leo Louse is every single slimy caricature rolled into one. He and his mother run their catering business from their basement apartment of the complex that they own and delight in going through the garbage to find what “treasures” their tenants have just thrown away, like un-licked mayonnaise containers and not fully used toothbrushes.
Ms. Sour Pickle is a hypocrite who admonishes the children for talking about hockey, yet she’s such an avid fan she gets dressed up in costume. She has such a hard time with the noise that the children make breathing that she wishes they didn’t have to in class. For the most part, grown ups are mean, horrible, and awful to the people around them. Most of the adult characters can have the Stupid Grown Ups label applied.
If you’ve got a younger tween (maybe 8-10), or if you’re still in a reading to the kids mode, this is a great book to pick up. The language is fun, the adventure is entertaining, and the story flows really well—not to mention the fun little quirky things the book does like the magic trick and the mirror text. Your older ones might want to listen, because the book is funny, but it’s unlikely to be something they pick up on their own.
Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case by Mordecai Richler
Published in 1995 by Tundra Books
3rd in the series (after Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur. Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas is a prequel written by Cary Fagan)
Read the paperback