Race to the South Pole (Ranger in Time, #4) by Kate Messner, (June, 2016; 160 pages) is another winner in this series recommended for second through fourth graders. I have read and reviewed the first three. (link to one of my reviews) The great thing about Ranger is that he is so dang helpful and comforting, but in a very believable, regular-dog kind of way. True, he can time travel to the past, but he doesn’t have other magical powers. Although he is far more helpful in a crisis than your average canine, the author is always able to attribute Ranger’s skills to his extensive search and rescue training history. In each book in the Ranger in Time series, he appears on the scene to a protagonist who is starting a challenging journey or a move to a new place, and Ranger quickly becomes the kid’s trusted sidekick. Messner often shows what the dog is thinking and it humorous when Ranger is thinking about food, and poignant when Ranger is thinking about the modern-day family from which he has been separated and which he is missing. Ranger saves lives, but also provides a great deal of assistance just through his warm presence and willingness to snuggle.
Ranger, the time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training, joins an early twentieth-century expedition journeying from New Zealand to Antarctica. He befriends Jack Nin, the stowaway turned cabin boy of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship. They’re racing against a rival explorer to reach the South Pole, but with unstable ice, killer whales, and raging blizzards, the journey turns into a race against time… and a struggle to stay alive.
One complaint I have regarding this story is that I felt in desperate need of a map while reading it. The story started in New Zealand, but I don’t know exactly where New Zealand is relative to Antarctica, nor could I follow the progress of their journey. How can there not be a map in a book that, like all books in this series, has multiple detailed drawings, as well as an author’s note, plus suggestions for further reading?
Also, re the plot, I would have preferred there to be fewer dangerous episodes but more extensively developed. As it was written I felt a little like, here we go again with someone falling in a crevasse, here we go again with someone being marooned on an ice floe… However, it is positive that young readers do not have to be scared for long because dangerous situations are resolved rather quickly.
I have a third beef with this story. At the beginning of the book Jack makes the somewhat precipitous decision to ditch his family and sneak aboard the ship. He wants to go on an adventure, but more importantly, he wants to earn money to support his family. Yet no conversations are shared between Jack and the captain about how much he will earn, or when exactly he can collect. If Messner’s storylines were not all so ultimately reassuring, I would worry that he might get stiffed. 🙂
Still, these are minor complaints about the latest installment of this warm-hearted series, the only time travel series I know of in which a dog figures so prominently. It’s basically well-researched historical fiction delivered in an appealing way. This series delivers just the right amount of peril for the target age group.
The next Ranger in Time book is being released Dec. 27, 2016, and I will definitely snap up a copy! For more middle grade book reviews, follow the links on Shannon Messenger’s blog.