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Book Review

This second preteen mystery in the "Rugendo Rhinos" series by Shel Arensen is published by Kregel Publications.

"The Carjackers" is written for kids ages 8 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Fifth-grader Dean Sandler and three buddies form the Rugendo Rhinos Club. They live in Kenya where their American parents serve as missionaries. The boys' adventures include shooting doves with an air pistol and cooking the meat, capturing and eating flying ants and riding their bikes off of a ledge and into a river. When money for the mission is missing and cars are being stolen, the Rhinos search for the culprits. The daughters of missionaries in Kenya form a girls' club called the Cheetahs and beat the boys to solving part of the stolen car mystery. Not to be outdone, the Rhinos solve the rest of it.

Christian Beliefs

All the main characters are Christians, and together they attend church services as missionaries. They pray about troubles, such as when cars are stolen. When missionaries in Zaire are in danger but are able to leave the country safely, the characters call it an answer to prayer. Dean's dad edits a Christian magazine, which includes stories of personal testimonies, and he shares the publication with nonbelievers.

Other Belief Systems

There are many Kenyan words used and defined in this book, but the belief systems of the culture are not mentioned.

Authority Roles

Dean's father and mother guide him when he makes mistakes. A couple of the Rugendo Rhinos initially don't admit to accidentally triggering a car alarm. When they confess, the car owner readily forgives them. Dean borrows his dad's favorite camera to photograph the car thieves, and his dad grounds him from using his bike for a week because Dean did not ask for his permission to use the camera.


After the boys shoot a dove with an air pistol, it tumbles from the tree and moves about in the dirt. One boy decapitates it.



Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Dean and his friends accidentally set off a car alarm and let the adults think a thief was involved. Finally, the children confess.
  • Do you think withholding information is a form of lying? Why or why not?

  • How do you feel about the boys shooting a dove and then, while it was still alive, decapitating it?

  • Does it make a difference to you that the boys ate the bird for meat and weren't shooting it just for sport?

  • The boys learn where the stolen car operation is, and one of them suggests getting their parents involved. Instead, they decide to spy without telling their parents.

  • Should you ever go into a dangerous situation without consulting your parents?

  • The boys want to take a picture of the criminals in action. Dean sneaks in, takes his father's prized camera, along with its expensive telephoto lens, and hides it in his backpack.

  • Does the fact that he's using it to capture a criminal, which will help other people, make it OK to take it without permission?
  • Is it ever acceptable to do something wrong if it helps someone in the end?

  • A Swedish soccer team with expensive uniforms and equipment competes against the missionary school soccer team.

  • Were the Rhinos correct in assuming a soccer loss based on the other team's appearance?
  • Can you think of an example where you judged a situation based on appearances and were proved wrong?

  • One of the children tells the others where the bad guys are located. The boy gets caught, and the carjackers beat him up. He then talks about a sermon that says Christians should be happy if they suffer for doing what is right.

  • Have you ever suffered for doing right? Explain your answer.

  • This book gives readers a look at what it is like for children of missionaries living in other countries.

  • If you have a missionary-related experience, what are ways you think the book's description is realistic?
  • Are some parts unrealistic?
  • If you have no experience in a missionary setting, what did you find interesting about missionary work?

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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