I’m so happy to have discovered the Detective Gordon series! I honestly believe it’s right up there with the Frog and Toad collection. There’s Detective Gordon, a cerebral, lethargic toad, and his sidekick Buffy, an extroverted, excitable mouse. Ulf Nilsson’s humorous writing and Gitte Spee’s dynamic, full-color illustrations lovingly bring this pair to life.
The immense appeal of The First Case and the two other books in the series lies in the exquisite rendering of the characters. As in Lobel’s Frog and Toad books, the omniscient narrator makes each of the characters fully relatable and likable. The stark differences in their outlook and abilities are explained by their very different ages. The mouse is “no years old” while the toad is headed for retirement. The joys and frights of a friendship between two very different personality types are beautifully captured without a single note of moralizing. Detective Gordon’s creator, Ulf Nilsson, totally gets what it’s like to be a child. Even though the detective is of retirement age and refrains from moving much (unless it’s to open up a tin and eat a little cake), he delights in swiveling in his office chair and using his official stamp with a satisfying Kla-dunk.
Each of the books in the series centers on a case that occurs in the circumscribed neighborhood of the forest: “Detective Gordon’s police district.” (There’s a captivating story map in the end pages of each book.) In The First Case, the catalyst for the drama is the disappearance of a squirrel’s store of nuts. Detective Gordon enlists the mouse to be his assistant, and thanks to her creative thinking, they devise a method that ultimately succeeds in outing the thieves. As in all beginning mystery books, there are classic elements of detective fiction: real clues, false clues, suspects, and the eventual detection of the culprit. But for me, the strength of this book is not in the details of the case (though I concede that children will enjoy following its twists and turns.) I view the case as a convenient backdrop on which to watch the interactions of Detective Gordon and Buffy.
The Detective Gordon books are wonderful read-alouds. They are not mainstream beginning chapter books because although the sentences are relatively short, Nilsson uses many advanced vocabulary words like reluctant, plundering, and significant. Besides, the delight they inspire is definitely something to share with others. Here’s a sample of Nilsson’s humor:
“I must ask you to come with me to the police station,” said the detective firmly.
The mouse said nothing.
The detective stood with difficulty. He was mighty cold and stiff and his legs seemed to creak and tremble when he straightened them.
“I must also ask you to help me get to the police station,” the detective said.