Thursday, April 29, 2021


by James Ponti
Recommended Ages: 11+

Florian Bates, age 12, is a kid who's seen a lot of the world. And I mean, really seen it, in laser-focused detail. Having moved around a lot – with stays in Boston, Paris, London and Rome – he has developed a survival strategy for navigating the social snakepit of a new school. He calls it TOAST, which stands for the theory of all small things. He ignores the obvious and reads the truth from excruciatingly tiny details. And now, as he starts seventh grade in Washington, D.C., he puts his secret to uses he never thought of before – like making a new best friend and solving an art heist at the National Gallery.

Best friend first: Her name is Margaret, and she soon shows a gift for TOAST herself. She has a mystery of her own that she would like Florian to solve for her – just a small matter of who her birth parents are. As partners, they become secret assets of the FBI, foiling an espionage plot and, yes, finding the stolen paintings and who dunit. Florian gets to train at Quantico, the FBI training facility in Virginia. He gets to meet the head of the bureau and mingle with high-level agents. But along the way, Florian gets kidnapped by a Romanian gangster, he finds the secrecy of his secret identity at risk, and his precious new friendship is put to a terrible test.

All right, there isn't much to that synopsis. But it's a fun book, full of kid-friendly mystery, action and humor, as well as some eye-opening information about art and the FBI. The clues and the deductions they lead to make it especially fun. It might even inspire some young Sherlocks to try a little TOAST.

This is the first of three "TOAST mysteries," also billed as "Framed! novels," by the author of the "Dead City" trilogy, two "City Spies" books and several junior movie novelizations.

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