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Who Really Killed Cock Robin? (Eco Mysteries) Paperback – May 20, 1992

4.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jean Craighead George wrote over one hundred books for children and young adults. Her novel Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973, and she received a 1960 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain. She continued to write acclaimed picture books that celebrate the natural world. Her other books with Wendell Minor include The Wolves Are Back; Luck; Everglades; Arctic Son; Morning, Noon, and Night; and Galapagos George.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

(1)

Cock Robin

Cock Robin lay on his back with his feet in the air. A red breast feather twisted in the wind, his clove-brown wings folded like a dancer’s fan. It was seven minutes past six a.m. on the twenty-fourth day of May. He was dead.

Many robins have died without notice by the human race, but this was a particular robin, the Cock Robin of Saddleboro, and his death was a crisis.

At nine minutes past six on that memorable morning, the telephone rang in the kitchen of 65 Elm Street and awoke Tony Isidoro, who was sleeping in his room at the top of the back steps. He uncurled all of his five feet three inches, put his feet on the floor, and shook his head. Slowly he ran his fingers through a crop of shining black hair. The phone jangled again, and he stumbled downstairs to answer it. As he grabbed the receiver, he tripped over his eighth-grade math book, which he had left on the floor by the kitchen door so he would remember it when he left for school. Kicking it sleepily aside, he mumbled, "Hello."

"Cock Robin is dead!" a voice exclaimed. Tony recognized it as that of Mary Alice Lamberty, the daughter of the wealthiest man in town. For a moment he did not answer.

"He’s dead!" she repeated, and this time he asked her how she knew.

"Mayor Joe just called my father," she replied. "He accused Daddy of killing Cock Robin because our mill still dumps aniline dyes in the river. That is not true."

"Why are you telling me?"

"You know perfectly well why I’m telling you. The Mayor gets all his information about robins from you, and he’s going to ask you who killed Cock Robin. I know he will; and I just want you to know right now that if anyone murdered him, it was the Mayor with all his fancy garden sprays."

Tony rubbed his eyes with his fist and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He was about to say something, but Mary Alice hung up before he could collect his thoughts. He shrugged and went back to his room, picked up his field glasses, and focused them on Mayor Dambrowski’s lawn across the street.

There lay Cock Robin with his feet in the air. Several silver-winged bugs slipped out of the bird’s feathers and disappeared into the grass. Their departure was as clearly a sign of the robin’s death to Tony as rats deserting a ship are a sign of its sinking. His brow crinkled with sadness; then he put down his binoculars and walked to his desk. Reaching behind a terrarium of plants and caterpillars, he picked up a small pocket notebook and opened it.

The first entry was dated April 29: "A male robin arrived from the south in the maple tree across the street just after sunup," he read. "He hasn’t sung yet, so I don’t know if he is on his way to Canada or is home. However, he acts as if he were home, for he is inspecting the limbs of the trees, preening his feathers, and looking down on the yard."

The next note was dated April 30: "The male in Dambrowskis’ yard sang the territorial song of the robin who is home from the south." Farther down on the same page, Tony saw, he had made a note of other male robins. "One is singing from somewhere near the library. Also in the Town Park, also on Pine Street."

Tony was keeping these notes for his older brother, Izzy, who had been drafted into the Army before he had been able to finish his graduate-school thesis on the robins of Saddleboro. A few days before leaving last fall, he had asked Tony to keep tabs on "his" birds when they returned in the spring. Flattered by such a responsibility, Tony had assured him he would do his best.

Although Izzy was eleven years older, he had often taken Tony on his rounds of the streets and yards of Saddleboro. They counted robins, mapped their territories, and numbered eggs and fledglings. The night before departing for boot camp, Izzy had sat down with Tony and showed him how to take notes.

"Good notes are the basis of scientific research," he told him. "If you take them well, they’ll reveal the truth." He had then taken Tony around the town again, told him to jot down weather, plants, anything unusual or even usual, then suggested he make one round alone. When he came home, Izzy had been surprised by his powers of observation and had told him so with a real pat on the back.

Six months had passed since then.

Tony studied his notes, then went to Izzy’s office-bedroom to brief himself for the phone call from the Mayor that Mary Alice had told him to expect. He took out a map of bird territories and saw that where there had been many pairs of robins four years ago, there now were very few. He was shocked. Like all the people of pollution-fighting Saddleboro, Tony was under the illusion there were more, not fewer, robins. Since Mayor Joe and his Clean Environment Party had come into power, everyone assumed that Saddleboro was a model town where man, plant, and beast were in balance. There was good reason for this assumption.

Joe Dambrowski—or Mayor Joe, as he was called—had been elected to office after campaigning against DDT, automobile exhaust, and the sewage pollution in the Missatonic River that ran past Saddleboro. He obtained funds from the state and town and built a sewage-disposal plant. He also walked to work instead of using his automobile to avoid putting carbon dioxide and lead into the air, and had organized the children to find every can in town that contained DDT. These were collected by the Saddleboro sanitation trucks, then buried in wet cement near the town dump.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 830L (What's this?)
  • Series: Eco Mysteries
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1 edition (May 20, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0064404056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0064404051
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #887,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Environmentalist, ecologist, naturalist, and writer Jean Craighead George, the Rachel Carson for children, will win her audiences once again with this story. The plot revolves around Tony Isidoro, a young biologist who is bent on solving the mystery of the death of his hometown's feathered mascot, Cock Robin. As he uncovers assorted clues strung throughout the town--chemical activity, sudden loss of frogs and birds--Tony must try to convince his naive neighbors that not just one thing is responsible for the bird's death, but many imbalances in the town's ecosystem, which everyone is convinced is the cleanest around. Since it's an eco-mystery, the story is grippingly told in the style of a crime investigation. From the beginning you want to know Who Really Killed Cock Robin: "Cock Robin lay on his back with his feet in the air. . .It was seven minutes past six A.M. on the twenty-fourth day of May. He was dead." There are endless possiblities for the cause of the bird's death, and at times it's a bit unrealistic when Tony immediately dismisses some types of poisons and investigates others. Younger kids may have no idea what DDT, PCB, and 2,4,5-T are, though the author does try to explain them. However, the story, the dedication--"To sunshine, clear water, and sparkling skies and to the kids who are cleaning up the Earth"--and Ms. George's supportive Author's Note in the new paperback version will surely inspire kids to clean up their environment and veer away from the use of harmful, chemical-containing products. If one enjoys this Eco-Mystery, check out the others in the series--THE CASE OF THE MISSING CUTTHROATS; THE FIRE BUG CONNECTION; and THE MISSING 'GATOR OF GUMBO LIMBO.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This was one of my favorite library books as a child, and it's really a very cool book for any child who wants to understand how ecology works. The death of the mascot of a small Massachusetts college town becomes a cause celebre as two interested schoolchildren and a graduate student from the local university trace the impact of human activity on the local environment, discovering hidden damage in many corners of the town from fertilizers, pesticides, industrial toxins, and other pollutants and try to track what effect it had on Cock Robin, his mate, and their mostly-failed clutch of eggs. After the book has done an effective job of illustrating how local effects can have wide-ranging consequences, the town takes a turn towards greenness in Cock Robin's memory; however, a twist ending reveals a hidden variable that shows just how far humans have to go to truly understand the world they live in.

The book takes an interesting position that is absent from much ecological literature written for adults -- it's important to be aware of and mitigate your footprint on the environment, but that fanaticism and snap judgements, even in the defense of the environment, are counterproductive, a message that is perhaps a bit too subtle over three decades later in a world of black-and-white politics ruled more by emotion and prejudice than reasoned responses. The need for a measured response even in the face of immediate danger is lost on many in the hard green movement, even as the opponents of environmentalism deny that there is a problem in the first place. Who Killed Cock Robin? makes this point quite eloquently. There should be more books like this for children.
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Format: Paperback
Very well written, not so deep so that kids can't understand it. It is unique in that it doesn't lecture or preach, like many ecological books.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Love this author. I bought these books for my now 25 yr old grandson and them donated them. Now I have more and younger grandkids who I didn't want to miss the opportunity to enjoy these books.
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Format: Paperback
Simply put, this book is boring. We really wanted to like it, because we like mysteries, and we love the environment, but a boring book is just not worth reading. Life is too short.
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