"Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things" by Cynthia Voigt, illustrated by Iacapo Bruno; Knopf for Young Readers ($16.99, ages 8-12)
Readers who wish their families were more interesting will be hooked, as I was, on Cynthia Voigt's "Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things," the first of a planned three-book series featuring an inventive and endearing boy named Max.
Max's parents are actors, and their lives are unpredictable. The drama only increases when the family gets an invitation to create a theater company for the maharajah of Kashmir.
Ms. Voigt, a Newbery medalist, tips expectations: Instead of a story of adventure in India, the tale has Max's parents board a ship without him and seem to disappear. Immediately, the most important "lost things" he's eager to find are his mother and father.
Max becomes, at 12, an independent young man. Grammie lives adjacent, and she is as worried about the missing couple as Max is. No one is sure whether the couple ran off on a lark or are the victims of something much worse. And who are those people with long earlobes creeping around?
Max decides it would be smart to keep a low profile until he can figure out what's happened to his parents. Needing money, he scours the city for work. When he inadvertently discovers a lost toddler and returns him to his mother, he earns $50 -- and gets an idea.
Kind and intrepid, Max is also schooled in disguises and talented at finding things other people cannot. He begins to work as something of a detective, a problem solver -- an occupation he comes to call "solutioneer." Thanks to referrals from the toddler's mother, he gets work finding a lost dog, a family heirloom, even a lost love.
Grammie, a librarian, can be more than a bit impatient with the theatrics. But she is firmly in Max's corner as they sort out life on their own -- at least for a while -- in this fun, clever mystery.