Detective Gordon: The First Case, by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gittee Spee (Gecko Press, 2015)

Featured as Booklist’s Review of the Day, 14 May 2015!

detective gordonWhat the book’s about

Squirrel is beside himself. A thief has been stealing the precious nuts he has been hoarding for winter. So he goes to the chief of police for help. Detective Gordon, a portly, philosophical toad with a fondness for tea and cakes, takes down Squirrel’s information and assures him that he’s on the case. But while Detective Gordon has “long experience,” he isn’t so good at climbing trees or staking out suspects. He’d rather be inside, thinking and drinking tea in front of the fire. Luckily, he happens upon a nimble, young mouse who makes the perfect assistant. While Buffy goes clambering up trees and spying on “the most dangerous and cunning animal of the forest,” Detective Gordon stays at the police station, making a list of suspects and stamping important papers. As the two struggle to solve the case, they develop a friendship that’s as sweet as chocolate cakes with black currant jam and as comforting as a warm cup of tea.

Lucky for readers of this new chapter book series, Detective Gordon and Buffy’s adventures have only just begun.

Three Activities for kids 1st through 4th grades, by Jessica Young

Activity 1: Same and Different

1st – 4th grades

Kids create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Chief Gordon and Buffy and then create another diagram to compare and contrast their own personal characteristics – likes and dislikes, things they’re good at, etc. — with those of a friend or classmate.


  • Paper (you can use the Venn diagram template here, or have kids draw their own)
  • Pencil or pen


After reading Detective Gordon: The First Case, brainstorm a list of the characteristics displayed by Buffy and another list of those depicting Detective Gordon, listing contributions on the board. Encourage students to note which characteristics Buffy and Detective Gordon have in common as well as ones they don’t share, including things they like or dislike, things they’re good at achieving, and other attributes.

Make a Venn diagram on the board, labeling the unique areas for each character. Invite volunteers to come up and write the characteristics in the appropriate places on the diagram (Buffy’s, Detective Gordon’s, and shared). Discuss how Detective Gordon and Buffy make a great team because they’re different.

Then, students pair up and do their own Venn diagrams comparing and contrasting the characteristics each person in the pair identifies as belonging to each or both work partners. Invite each student pair to discuss how their own attributes complement each other to make them a good team, based on their similarities and differences.

Activity 2: The Usual Suspects

1st – 4th grade

Kids will make a chart of suspects and identify a prime suspect using a process of elimination.


  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Scenario script (below)


After reading Detective Gordon: The First Case, recreate the chart Detective Gordon used to narrow down suspects (p. 55). (He listed some animals in a column, then made other columns with the headers “this animal likes nuts,” “can climb trees,” and “makes tracks in snow.” Then he put crosses in the appropriate columns for each animal suspect.)

Divide kids into small groups to work on solving a new case by creating their own chart of suspects much as Detective Gordon did in the book.

Read the following or write it on the board: “When Squirrel woke up in the morning, his scarf was gone. He’d washed it and hung it to dry on a branch of his tree and forgotten to take it down before going to bed. There were no tracks in the soft earth below the tree, and he hadn’t heard a single noise all night. All day long, all of the forest animals had admired his scarf, especially raccoon, rabbit, fox, and bear.”

Using this scenario (or a similar process of elimination problem that you make up), students discuss and identify characteristics of the thief based on the information about the crime. For example, “nocturnal,” as the crime happened at night; “does not make tracks;” “can reach high branches;” “can carry a long scarf;” and “is quiet.”

Write a list of animal suspects on the board: toad, bear, fox, rabbit, owl, snake, eagle, raccoon, wolf, so students can copy the suspect list on their own sheet of paper, in a vertical column. Atop each other vertical column, each student writes a characteristic the group brainstormed together, creating a grid with suspects running down the side and the characteristics the ultimate suspect would need to possess to pull off the theft as headers for columns next to it. Have students put “x”s next to the characteristics that apply to each animal. Explain that the animal with “x”s in all columns is most likely the thief. Have them write down their conclusion and be able to justify it using their chart. (Answer: owl. She had not seen the scarf during the day. She spotted it on the branch while hunting at night and took it home to line her nest.)

Activity 3: Neighborhood Map

1st – 4th grade

Using the map of Detective Gordon’s police district (see the back of the book) as a model, kids draw and label maps of their school and surrounding neighborhood. Alternatively, they can make up their own fantasy kingdom maps and label them.


  • Large drawing paper or roll paper
  • Pencils/colored pencils/crayons/markers or paints
  • Alternative: Collage materials, such as construction paper or magazine pictures and words to make map features


After reading Detective Gordon: The First Case, kids study the map in the back of the book and identify landmarks from the story.

Have them brainstorm what buildings, parks, businesses, trees, transit stations, homes or other landmarks are located in the neighborhood. Kids then draw their own maps, either individually or in small groups, and label them.

When the maps are finished, they can make up a mystery story of their own that can be followed on the map.

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