Lantern Sam is a dual narrative: one part told by 10-year-old Henry Shipley and one told in flashback by Lantern Sam (a male calico cat). Henry’s narration relates the events on the Shoreliner (a famous express train taking passengers from New York to Chicago–960 miles–in less than 20 hours) in 1938 when he and Sam first meet, while Sam’s story is his autobiography up to the point where he meets Henry.
Henry, his mother and baby sister are traveling home to Ashtabula, Ohio after a rare trip to New York. In the Observation Car he meets wealthy young Ellie Strasbourg on her way to ride the brand new Blue Streak Roller Coaster. Clarence Nockwood (the porter) gives them a tour of the train during which they meet Clarence’s cat, Lantern Sam. Henry realizes almost immediately that he can hear Sam speak. Both children are passionate about detective stories like Dick Tracy and Nancy Drew and they discover that Lantern Sam has been involved in detective escapades aboard the Shoreliner. When Ellie is kidnapped on the train and held for ransom Sam and Henry–with some help from Clarence–must solve the crime.
Henry tells the story of their adventure together and Sam tells of his life before meeting Henry in alternating chapters. Henry’s story is engaging and well-paced; Sam’s narrative drags on a little too much for me. Sam relates his many close calls with death and danger(using up eight of his “nine lives”). Although the final two of Sam’s stories were interesting and enjoyable to read, I would have preferred to have Henry and Sam’s adventure on the Shoreliner as the ONLY story. Sam’s history truly wasn’t necessary as his character is well-developed and clearly crafted.
The mystery and detective adventure on the train is exciting and grows steadily in suspense and danger. While it contains ‘red herrings’ for its targeted young readers the plot is clearly defined and its resolution is both pleasing and satisfying. As an adult reader I could see where the plot was going without much trouble, but I have more experience reading mysteries than the target audience for Lantern Sam, who I believe will thoroughly enjoy the adventure.
Age-appropriate danger and logic, a flawlessly constructed plot and vivid characters, Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits is a nice choice for a read-aloud or independent read for ages 7 or 8 to 12yrs who enjoy remarkable animal characters, mystery and adventure.