Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mysteries for young readers: perfect for young sleuths (ages 6-9)

It might be long nights or drizzly days, but winter strikes me as a perfect time to seek out a mystery. Young readers love solving the crime before the detective, and paying close attention to the clues is perfect for developing reading skills. These three favorites will get you started; for more ideas, check out my Pinterest board.
King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code
by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers
Peachtree, 2017
Amazon / local library
ages 6-9
When a mysterious letter written arrives at Kayla’s house, she has trouble figuring out its secret code. King, her lovable dog, helps her follow the trail and solve the mystery. Young readers will laugh plenty as super-sleuth King tries to convince Kayla that she just needs to follow his lead. This delightful beginning reader series is perfect for 2nd & 3rd graders ready for several chapters building together.
The Case of the Stinky Socks: The Milo & Jazz Mysteries
by Lewis B. Montgomery, illustrated by Amy Wummer
Kane, 2009
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 6-9 
The Milo & Jazz Mysteries are favorites with our 3rd graders, drawing them in with likable characters, easy-to-solve mysteries and clues to discover along the way. In this series opener, Milo is excited to get his mail-order kit from Dash Marlowe, Super Sleuth, but it takes the help of his new neighbor Jazz to figure out who has taken the high school’s star pitcher’s lucky socks. I especially liked how Milo and Jazz were not friends at first, but realized that each brought their own skills to solving the mystery.
Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog!
by Hilde Lysiak and Matthew Lysiak, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Scholastic, 2017
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 6-9
Hilde Cracks the Case is a new chapter book series for beginning readers written by nine-year-old crime reporter Hilde Lysiak along with her dad. Hilde carefully observes the clues, tracks down the story, and calms irritated adults. Fast-paced action and snappy writing keep readers’ attention, and pages from Hilde’s notebook help young sleuths follow the clues. I'm excited to follow this new series and young author!

If your young readers like mysteries, I've created a Pinterest board with many other books for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade readers:

The review copies were sent by the publishers, Scholastic Books and Peachtree Publishers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley -- intriguing mystery & outstanding audiobook (ages 9-12)

Mysteries are great fun to read -- the suspense keeps you turning the pages. You have to read a mystery pretty carefully to pick up on the clues. Pretty soon someone is whisper-shouting, "I got it! I know who did it!" Many of my students love complex mysteries, where many threads come together in the end.

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley, is an intriguing mystery my 4th and 5th graders are thoroughly enjoying. I highly recommend the audiobook, with narration by one of my favorite narrators.
The Harlem Charade
by Natasha Tarpley
narrated by Bahni Turpin
Scholastic, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
A school project brings 12-year-olds Jin and Alex together, but they are initially wary of each other. Jin spends most of her time in her Korean grandparents' bodega; although she likes to observe and collect information quietly, she longs for adventure. Alex is strong-minded and assertive, yet she hides the fact that her parents are wealthy.

When Alex and Jin meet Elvin and learn that his grandfather has been attacked, they set out to help their new friend. These three begin to trust each other and learn that they'll need each other's help to figure out who attacked Elvin's grandfather. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they discover that Elvin's grandfather was a member of a Harlem artists' group in the 1960s that was committed to representing and creating a voice for the community. A real estate mogul is threatening to convert much of the community to a theme park in a bid for redevelopment.

Tarpley creates a complex mystery that pulls readers in deeper and deeper, winding many threads together. While one might argue that some coincidences enable her to move the plot forward at some key points, the diverse characters, textured setting and intriguing suspense lead to a richly drawn novel. It will automatically draw comparisons to Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, but it also makes me think of Carl Hiaasen's Hoot, with its focus on community activism.

Narrator Bahni Turpin conveys these complex characters, showing how their lives intersect. I know it's cliche, but she really does bring them to life. As the Audiofile Magazine wrote,
"Turpin excels at accents and emotions... She ensures that listeners comprehend the story's historical figures and quick-paced, suspenseful events."
I finished this book wanting to learn more about the art world of Harlem in the 1960s and the exhibit at the Met called "Harlem on My Mind." Tarpley effectively conveyed how important art and local voices are to creating a vibrant community. This message is both timely and persuasive for readers just beginning to understand larger political events and social pressures.

I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Marvels, by Brian Selznick: mystery unfolding through art and text (ages 10-14)

"Either you see it or you don't."
As you open the heavy novel The Marvels and read this epigraph, you wonder--just what am I supposed to see? What pieces fit of the story together? What details in his multilayered drawings does Brian Selznick intend as hints for plot twists to come? What imagery from his rich descriptions stand out?

Please join me as I ruminate over the wonder of Brian Selznick's masterful story The Marvels. And definitely add your name below for a chance to win a giveaway of this beautiful novel.
The Marvels
by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2015
Your local library
ages 10-14
As in Wonderstruck, Selznick tells two entirely different stories, one in pictures and the other in text. Instead of intertwining the two narratives, The Marvels begins with nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, telling the story of Billy Marvel and his family of actors, who flourish in London from the 17th to 19th centuries. The text then jumps nearly a century later, to Joseph Jervis, a boy who runs away from home, seeking refuge with his uncle in London. Joseph's eccentric uncle lives in the Marvel house, and young Joseph is intrigued by its portraits and ghostly presences.

The book trailer for The Marvels is wonderful -- giving you a taste for the story, Billy's shipwreck and the sense of drama created by the theater setting.

I'm sure our Emerson book club will be talking about this as we go through our Mock Newbery discussions. Honestly, I haven't been able to fully digest this story. What parts of a story do we pay attention to? Can we see more when we look again? How does the text develop the characters and setting? The Marvels, like Selznick's other masterpieces, is definitely a story that demands multiple readings.

Brian Selznick is setting out on a multi-city tour to celebrate the release of The Marvels! Find out where to meet Brian Selznick on his tour for #THEMARVELS here.

Please complete the rafflecopter below to enter for a chance at winning your own copy of The Marvels plus a Marvels jigsaw puzzle.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Scholastic.

Here are some snippets from other reviews:

  • "Art is seen to illuminate life and life to constantly spark art — a point further reinforced in the afterword when Selznick reveals his inspiration. Rich with “miracles and sadness,” a bookmaking tour de force, this novel is as full of marvels as its title suggests." -- The Washington Post review
  • "Upon completing The Marvels, I sat still, feeling as I did after a remarkable theatrical experience, say a dramatic opera, a visually stunning film, or a striking play, in awe of what I’d just experienced. Hours later it lingers with me, a gorgeous work of art." -- Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
  • "As a mentor text, this book is an excellent anchor piece for looking at character development and characterization. We see especially how Joseph develops as a character and how he changes throughout the book. It's simple and subtle but remarkable at the same time." -- Jen Vincent, Teach Mentor Texts
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Choosing a great chapter book to read aloud (ages 8-12)

As we start looking forward to the beginning of a new school year, I am craving routine in our lives. I love settling down with a read-aloud, either as a teacher or a family. It brings a sense of calm, but sharing a story together also creates a wonderful moment in itself. School Library Journal recently asked a group of librarians what they look for in choosing a read-aloud. I wanted to share my answer and some terrific ideas from friends:
"During this time, I pay special attention to stories that cultivate kindness and community, as well as courage and tenacity. These are qualities and topics that we’ll be talking about throughout the year.

This fall, I’m excited to recommend three new favorites: Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw; Gennifer Choldenko’s Chasing Secrets; and Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama. Conversations about these novels will center on friendship, family, and community." -- Mary Ann Scheuer
Read-aloud favorites for Fall 2015 
What do you look for in read-aloud favorites? Here are some recommendations from other friends:

"Mitali Perkins’s Tiger Boy is an engrossing tale about a young Bengali boy who undertakes incredible risks to save a tiger cub... Vivid action and suspense, conveyed in simple, clear language, make this a captivating choice." I love this choice from Lalitha Nataraj, at the Escondido Public Library, CA. Tiger Boy makes a great read-aloud (see my full review), and if you have the opportunity -- definitely invite Mitali Perkins to come speak with your students. She's wonderful!

"I look for stories with descriptive language, suspense, and a conflict that will make listeners think when selecting chapter book read alouds. Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library makes an excellent choice, offering a perfect blend of mystery, adventure, puzzles, and literary references." My students have loved Grabenstein's mysteries, and I definitely agree with this recommendation from Cathy Potter, the librarian at Falmouth Elementary School, ME.

Daryl Grabarek, editor of SLJ's Curriculum Connections newsletter, suggests one of my favorite chapter books, Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky: "Jenkins imbues her characters (stuffed animals and a ball) with enormous personality, and their trials and triumphs ring true to this audience, who are thrilled to hear more of their adventures in Toy Dance Party. And now there’s newly released picture book Toys Meet Snow." Families at our school have loved reading this series aloud at home, and it works particularly well for a kids across a range of ages.

Finally, friend Allison Tran of the Mission Viejo Library, recommends A Whole New Ballgame, by Phil Bildner, "a feel-good story about friendship, basketball, and the surprising things that happen when an inventive teacher shakes up the fifth-grade curriculum. Readers will instantly warm to the likable and refreshingly diverse cast of characters. The realistic dialog makes this a pleasure to read aloud." I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but I am definitely looking forward to trying it soon. I love how Allison described the book’s message of teamwork.

Definitely check out the whole article in School Library Journal. Thanks again to Daryl Grabareck for a great column in SLJ. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 3: The Great Greene Heist + Half a Chance + The Life of Zarf

Emerson's 2015 Mock Newbery discussions
Like the Newbery Committee, our students have been reading and reading over many months. Some books created a strong initial impression, but they did not stay with readers the same way as other books. What does that say about a book? Is it less distinguished? Maybe or maybe not. These three books below had fewer readers that championed these books in our final discussion.
The Great Greene Heist
by Varian Johnson
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
ages 10-14
Students liked this complex, engaging plot as they followed Jackson Greene's efforts to help Gabriela win the student council election. Thea wrote when she nominated it, "This book is good because it felt like you were there with the characters. I couldn't put it down." I really enjoyed the twists and turns in the story when I read this. But I did find the way it started right in the middle of the action--with a big cast of characters--a little confusing. I kept wishing there was a cast list!

This is a great story for kids who like thinking how all the pieces of a puzzle fit together. Although we had two copies at school all fall, not many students picked it up. At first, I thought it might be more suited to middle school, but it isn't circulating very much at our neighboring middle school. It will be interesting to see how this does over time.

Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance is as different as can be than The Great Greene Heist. While the former is sharp and witty, Half a Chance is quiet and reflective. Since our students picked which books they wanted to read and didn't read all of our nominated titles, these two books drew very different readers. One of the interesting things about the Newbery committee members is that they read everything and they need to consider a wide range of readers.
Half a Chance
by Cynthia Lord
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-12
This friendship story appealed to readers who enjoy quieter stories with a lot of heart. Gwen nominated it, saying it had a unique style and felt very special. The rural New Hampshire setting was very different for our urban readers, and Cynthia Lord's language & tone created a timeless feel. Readers noted that it didn't seem like the 21st century--a big contrast to The Crossover and The Swap.

As we discussed setting, Gwen noted that the setting was "quiet but beautiful"-- and that the setting really helped develop the whole feeling for the book. The characters were reserved, and I'm not sure if my students really understood the full scope of the story. If we had more time, I'd love to draw the students who read it together and ask them more about the grandmother's dementia.

Where Half a Chance is quiet and reflective, The Life of Zarf is funny and zany. The students who loved this book were so excited that they convinced lots of friends to read it. It definitely had "book buzz" throughout the fall. But I'm not sure many readers considered it their top book by the end of the year.
The Life of Zarf
The Trouble with Weasels
by Rob Harrell
Dial / Penguin, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-12
Our students laughed and laughed at Zarf's attempts to deal with middle school social structure, albeit in a mixed up fairy-tale world with princes, trolls and neurotic pigs. Like many kids, Zarf is goofy and funny -- it was a joy for them to read. Over and over again, kids ask me for funny books and this is a great one to hand them.

As we talked about the elements of a distinguished book, students noticed that Harrell's plot was suspenseful and funny. But more than that, they noticed how he paced the story. McKenna said, "There are times when I thought it was scary, but then it ends up funny." Harrell develops a rhythm, so kids were excited to turn the page but could expect something outrageous to happen in just a moment to break the tension. They also loved the exaggerated reactions. Here's McKenna again:
"One exciting part that ended up funny is when Chester (Zarf's friend, the neurotic pig) is walking and a branch hit him. He thought it was a Snufflewheezle and he started freaking out. Then Zarf and Kevin Littlepig who were with him started freaking out too."
Just like the Oscars, the Newbery goes to "serious" books much more often than funny books -- even though slapstick humor is just as difficult to write well. I think it's because taste in humor is much more individual and varied. I didn't respond to the themes quite the same way that the kids did, probably because the humor seemed too exaggerated for my tastes. But if you know a kid who wants a fast-paced, funny story, definitely seek this out.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection and our classroom collections. Early review copies were also kindly sent by Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ghosts and libraries -- a perfect mix! Interview with Dori Hillestad Butler

Today, I have the great pleasure of chatting with Dori Hillestad Butler, author of the new series The Haunted Library. Read on below, but also check out this great video on Open Road Media. It will give you a sense of the joy that Dori brings to writing for kids.

Kids new to chapter books will have fun with The Haunted Library, with its blend of mystery, humor and kid-powered detective work.

MAS: How did you come up with the idea of a haunted library?

DHB: I just combined two of my favorite things...ghosts and libraries! The idea for the series came while I was writing book 6 in my Buddy Files series. My husband thought I was putting too much emphasis on the ghost in that story and not enough emphasis on the dog. He said, "If you want to write a ghost series, write a ghost series. This one is your dog series. It needs to be more about the dog." He was right. So I streamlined that story a little more and then started on the Haunted Library.

The "Wohleter Mansion" is the house I see in my head when I picture the Haunted Library. This was also a house in my hometown. I LOVED that house as a kid. Not that I was ever inside it. But I used to ride my bike past it all the time just because I liked to look at it. Now it's probably good that I was never inside because I can imagine the inside however I want. I imagine the "library" on the entire first floor. Claire and her family live on the second floor. And the third floor is storage.
The Wohleter Mansion
MAS: That's such a great image -- no wonder it inspired you to write a terrific story! My student Maddy wants to know: “Have you ever been in a haunted library?”

DHB: Not that I know of. But I'd sure like to visit one! Assuming the ghosts are friendly, that is.

MAS: I really enjoy the way you make ghosts friendly. Our teachers want to know: Do you keep a writer's notebook? What do you put in it? They ask their 2nd graders to keep writer's notebooks.
Dori Butler's writer's notebooks

DHB: I do! Several of them, actually. One is really just a journal where I make to-do lists and keep track of progress made on various projects. I also record writing related events/phone calls as they happen. The others are notebooks for each of my projects. I brainstorm ideas in those notebooks.

MAS: Are there any other images that inspired you as you wrote the series?

DHB: Definitely! The "Fairmont School" is the school I saw in my head when I wrote about the "old schoolhouse" where Kaz lived with his ghost family. Except I remember the school looking a lot more rundown! That was the first elementary school in the town I grew up in. But it's clearly been restored, which I think is really cool!
Fairmont School
This is library in my hometown. I worked there all through high school. I loved that job! I loved it so much that I didn't want to go home after the library closed. I used to stay in the library after closing, by myself, and write stories. Until I got caught! You can read more about that here on my agent's blog: (MAS: It's a wonderful post!)
Dori's hometown library -- her refuge as a young writer
I've always loved libraries. And I've always loved writing in libraries. Much of the first three Haunted Library books were written in the Coralville Public Library (see the picture below) in Coralville, Iowa. I don't live in Iowa I live in the Seattle area. But I went back to Coralville to launch this the library! It was the best place to launch this particular series!
Coralville Public Library
MAS: What are some other mysteries you like to recommend for 2nd and 3rd graders?

DHB: Buddy Files series is also aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders. It's about a school therapy dog who solves mysteries and the books are told from the dog's point of view. There's also David Adler's Cam Jansen series...Encyclopedia Brown...and the Boxcar Children.

MAS: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Dori. It really means a lot to my students to think of real authors work hard at writing stories, just like they do.

DHB: Thank you, Mary Ann! One of the most important things to me is inspiring kids to read.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Haunted Library, by Dori Hillestad Butler -- new series for beginning readers (ages 6-9)

New readers love finding series that make them laugh and bring them back for more adventures. These chapter books fill an important step in children's reading development. I was excited to hear that author of one of my favorite series, The Buddy Files, has just written a new series: The Haunted Library. I think our 1st and 2nd graders are going love this silly mix of humor, ghosts and mystery.
The Haunted Library
by Dori Hillestad Butler
illustrated by Aurore Damant
Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2014
Your local library
ages 6-9
When the Outside wind blows Kaz away from his home and separates him from his ghost family, it's a scary thing. Kaz finds a new home and discovers a human girl who can see him. It's unsettling at first, but Claire is friendly and reassures Kaz that she can see lots of ghosts. In fact, she has a ghost notebook where she keeps track of all her ghostly sightings!

Kids will have fun learning the ins and outs of Butler's ghost world, but they definitely won't be scared. Damant's cartoonish illustrations emphasize the humor involved, and the friendliness of each character.
Kaz and Claire, from The Haunted Library
Kaz and Claire set out to solve the mystery of the library ghost -- trying to figure out who's turning off the lights and scaring the library patrons. Kaz wonders if it's his lost brother, and Claire wonders if her grandmother knows more than she's letting on.

I especially love the interplay between the simple sentences and the illustrations in this chapter book. As you can see below when Kaz and Claire are chasing another ghost through the library, the illustrations show the action to guide readers in a crucial moment. The words add enough description for readers to add more to their "mental movies", especially helping them understand the characters' emotions.
Enjoy sharing this new series, either as a read aloud with 1st graders who are eager to read more chapter books with you, or with 2nd graders ready to try chapter books on their own.

For more fun, check out the rest of The Haunted Library Blog Tour. Tomorrow, I'll be interviewing Dori Hillestad Butler with some questions my students wanted to know. Come back to see her notebooks, her own haunts and more pictures!

If you're looking for other series I love sharing with 2nd graders, check out these other suggestions:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, July 19, 2013

Interview with Bruce Hale, author of Playing with Fire (ages 9 - 12)

Today we have something a little different - what I'm hoping is a new regular feature: a chance for some of my favorite kid-testers to interview one of their favorite authors. Natchez and Isla are both avid readers, entering 6th and 7th grade. They love a wide range of books, and one of their new favorites is Bruce Hale's Playing with Fire.

Bruce Hale is a go-to author in my library for kids who love action blended with humor and mystery. My students love his Chet Gecko mystery series and his graphic novel-hybrid Underwhere series. This summer he's kicking off the new School for S.P.I.E.S. series with Playing with Fire.
Playing with Fire
by Bruce Hale
illustrated by Brandon Dorman
Disney / Hyperion, 2013
find it at Amazon
your public library
ages 10 - 13
Natchez wonders what inspired you to write Playing with Fire. What made you want to write a book about an orphanage that taught kids how to become spies?

Bruce Hale: PLAYING WITH FIRE represents the coming-together of several ideas and loves. First, ever since I was a kid, I've loved spy stories. James Bond, Get Smart, The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible -- all these and more inspired me to want to write a spy story myself. Second, I had a yoga teacher in Hawaii who was like the ultimate drill sergeant -- crusty on the outside, but big-hearted underneath. She spoke in a kind of hybrid of Japanese and broken English, and she was such a character, I wanted to put her in a book someday. And third, I had an odd what-if thought: What if an orphanage was actually a covert school for spies? When all these influences came together, I hit upon the title "Shanghai Annie's School for Spies (and Merry Sunshine Orphanage)." For a long time, all I had was the title, but eventually I developed that germ of an idea into the book it is today, with my old yoga teacher in the Hantai Annie role.

Isla is interested in why you made Max such a stubborn kid. She noticed that the book had lots of different emotions running through it and lots of different characters. Tell us about creating Max's character.

Bruce Hale: It was difficult to find Max's character at first -- until I interviewed some people who work with foster kids, along with a former foster child. Then I started to understand some of the challenges these kids face and how it might affect their personality. For Max, I decided that the foster-family experience made him tough, stubborn, and sarcastic. The stubbornness would help him survive this strange situation he'd been thrust into, and the sarcasm would let me add some humor, which I always love to do. Writing this character was a fun challenge for me, as I'd mostly been doing light, funny books like Chet Gecko, without much emotional development in the characters.

I'm curious whether you draw on any of your own childhood experiences when you are writing - whether things you went through, books you read or pop culture from when you were a kid.

Bruce Hale: Most of my stories come from my imagination and some light research. But in this case, I based Max's relationship with his dad upon the one I had with my dad. We loved each other (he's passed on now), but we had a challenging relationship. Although I didn't use our exact situation, I did draw from the emotions of it. Also, as I've mentioned, I put my old yoga teacher into a supporting role as Hantai Annie. And of course, all my exposure to spy stories over the years helped shape the plot and give me ideas, like the villains' shark tank (from an old James Bond movie) and the kids crawling through the ducts (from every other spy and thriller movie).

What books drew you to reading when you were a kid? How do you try to put elements of those in your writing today?

Bruce Hale: I was a reluctant reader at first -- more interested in running around causing trouble than sitting still and reading. That all changed when I was in third grade, on a day my family still calls The Day The TV Died. My parents resisted getting a new TV for months, and instead, they read to my brother and me. The first series that really captured my imagination was Tarzan of the Apes, and I burned through that series and everything else by Edgar Rice Burroughs. From there I moved on to adventure books -- mostly classics like Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, and The Call of the Wild. And after that, I read voraciously in a wide range of genres.

I think those adventure books helped define what I like (most of the time) in a good read: breathless action, tons of suspense, and situations that really challenge the main character. Today, I try to put some of those elements in nearly everything I write -- even the funny stuff.

Isla is curious why you chose to set Playing with Fire in London.

Bruce Hale: Even though I deliberately didn't mention any names of cities (to preserve that mysterious feeling), I felt from the beginning that the story would be set in London. Maybe it's because of all the British spy movies and TV shows I saw growing up. Somehow, with all the fog, the history, and so forth, London just feels more spy-like than, say, Pittsburgh.

Finally, Natchez really wants to know if there's going to be a sequel to Playing with Fire!

Bruce Hale: I just finished writing the sequel to PLAYING WITH FIRE. It's called THICKER THAN WATER, and it'll be out in Spring 2014. The third book, untitled as of yet, is just getting underway. I'll be working out the plot over the summer.

Check out this video and a feel for Playing with Fire. Bruce Hale introduces is and then reading a sneak peak from the story.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Disney / Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Wig in the Window, by Kristen Kittscher -- a fun mystery for tweens (ages 10-13)

OK, time for true confessions. I am gullible. I fall completely into stories and movies, gasping when something awful happens, and never figuring out the clues until the main character does. Yes, I even believed a classmate in 6th grade when they told me that "gullible" was not in the dictionary. You get the picture.

But mysteries are deliciously fun to read. Even if I can never quite put all the clues together until it's too late and the main character is running for her life. It turns out -- reading mysteries is also really good for you. Mystery readers need to play close attention to the details as they read, but they also need to make predictions and think about how these clues fit together as a whole. Take a look here at Lucy Calkin's 3rd grade mystery unit and how two teachers made it work: Amber Polk and Wendy McElhinny.

If you're looking for a fun new mystery for tweens, I had a lot of fun reading Kristen Kittscher's debut novel The Wig in the Window. It's a great mystery for kids who have moved on from Encyclopedia Brown and are ready for something longer. I'm excited to join the Wig in the Window tour in anticipation of its release on June 18th!
The Wig in the Window
by Kristen Kittscher
HarperCollins, 2013
at your local library
ages 10 - 13
Best friends Sophie and Grace have fun pretending to be spies as they conduct late night stakeouts in their southern California suburb. But things take an unexpected turn when they spy on Sophie's odd guidance counselor, Dr. Agford, and witness what the girls are sure is a bloody murder and call 911. But when the police discover that Dr. Agford was just chopping beets with a cleaver, the girls are in big trouble.

Sophie takes full blame, since the police track the call to her phone call, and her parents are not happy. Sophie must endure frequent "counseling" sessions with Dr. Agford as well as do community service working in Dr. Agford's yard every Saturday.

The suspense escalates as Sophie and Grace follow their suspicions that something is just not right with Dr. Agford, her wig, and her behavior. There are many twists and turns, both in their friendship and in the case, that will captivate tweens who love realistic stories and mysteries. Sophie's narrative is both appealing and a natural hook.

Bay Area friends - if you know tweens who love a good mystery, will you email me? We're trying to plan a special event for kids this summer when Kristen Kittscher visits the Bay Area. Our plans are still under wraps, like all good mysteries!

Have fun following other stops on The Wig in the Window blog tour. Here are few favorites (I'll update as the tour progresses):
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage (ages 9 - 12)

Kids are NOT patient readers, for the most part. You've got to grab them from the very beginning, introduce the main characters and setting, and thrust them into the problems or action of the story. All within a paragraph or two. That's a tall order for a writer to pull off. Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, starts off with a bang - it hooked me from the first page:
"Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down."
Bang! Right away, you know that someone's died, trouble is turning everyone's life upside down. The narrator - Mo LeBeau, a rising sixth grader - introduces herself right in the next paragraph, letting the middle grade reader know just who's who.
Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
NY: Dial Books, 2012
ages 9 - 12
available from your local library and on Amazon
Mysteries are nothing new to eleven year old Mo LeBeau. She's been trying to figure out who her "Upstream Mother" is for years. You see, she was found as a tiny baby floating on a river after a hurricane struck this rural North Carolina area - thus her full name, Moses. Every chance she gets, Mo floats bottles with messages to her Upstream Mother - hoping that the river that brought her to Tupelo Landing will also bring her birth mother back to her. And there's also the mystery of the Colonel - Mo's adoptive father and the owner of the local town cafe. Who exactly was he before his amnesia wiped away his memory?

But as Mo tells us, trouble really comes to town when the law arrives, flashing a gold badge and driving a beat up Chevy. At first, Detective Joe Starr suspects Mo's best friend Dale for committing the murder of Mr. Jesse. So Mo sets about trying to solve the murder case herself. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon the whole town is trying to figure out who has kidnapped Mo's adoptive parents, the Colonel and Miss Lana.

Sheila Turnage creates memorable characters that made me laugh at every turn. Even the secondary characters have unique personalities - and yet their quirkiness never overwhelms the story. Turnage builds the plot, turn by turn, toward an eventful climax. She balances descriptive language, humor, setting and action - carefully making sure each step takes you closer to understanding the mystery. She unveils just enough hints to satisfy middle grade readers. As the Kirkus starred review says,
"Pairing the heartbreaking sadness of children who don’t get their fair share from parents with the hilarity of small-town life, Turnage achieves a wickedly awesome tale of an 11-year-old girl with more spirit and gumption than folks twice her age."
Go ahead and read this sample of Three Times Lucky from Google Books. You'll get a sense of Turnage's witty style right from the beginning:

Many folks are raving about Three Times Lucky. Some are suggesting it might be a dark horse contender for the Newbery Award. See reviews at:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, February 24, 2012

Introducing mysteries with picture books (ages 8 - 10)

I've had a great time this week introducing mysteries to 3rd graders. Reading mysteries is such fun, but it also sharpens your reading skills - getting you to notice clues as you read, pay attention to character's motives, and making predictions. All of these are important skills. We kicked off our unit in the library by reading Private I. Guana, by Nina Laden - it was such a fun picture book that really set the tone for reading mysteries. Kids (and parents) who love word play and puns will especially like this book.

Private I. Guana
by Nina Laden
CA: Chronicle, 1995
ages 7 - 11
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Can Private I. Guana help find Leon, the missing chameleon? It's tricky, finding an animal that can change colors at will. But this ace detective searches high and low, until he comes across the Lizard Lounge - a slimy sort of place, where only the most cold-blooded reptiles hang out (pause, get it - cold-blooded reptiles?). Yes, this book was full of puns like that. We had fun talking about the different meanings.

I have to tell you, the best part of reading this was telling the kids how much fun it is reading mysteries more than one time. It wasn't until my 3rd time reading this, that I got the joke that Leon's name is part of the word chameleon. They loved that - that they got something before I did. It also let me encourage them to reread mysteries they loved in 2nd grade, like the A to Z mysteries. Now that they're stronger readers, they'll pick up more of the clues along the way. It can really help readers' fluency to reread favorite books. They can then use these strategies to read new books.

Here are some of the mysteries that flew off our shelves this week:

Chet Gecko series, by Bruce Hale - kids who like puns, jokes and the tone of Private I. Guana will love the Chet Gecko series. Just wait until they find out the Chet is the finest detective lizard at Emerson Elementary! This is great for 3rd and 4th graders who want to get into a new series that makes them laugh, but also solve crimes along the way.

A to Z Mysteries, the A to Z Mysteries Super Editions, and the Capitol Mysteries, by Ron Roy - our 2nd and 3rd graders love getting into these mysteries. They have just the right blend of consistent characters and engaging plots. Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose are 3rd graders who know just how to solve their town's mysteries - with some good sleuthing and clever thinking. In the longer "Super Editions", the kids travel to new places for some exciting adventures.

Joe Sherlock, Kid Detective, by Dave Keane - I had a lot of fun reading the Joe Sherlock mysteries. Joe's a kid I could relate to. No matter how hard he tries, he keeps bungling things up. Dave Keane mixes in lots of jokes, absurd situations and plenty of laughs in this series for 2nd and 3rd graders. Amazon is listing this as only available for the Kindle right now, but it would work just fine on a Kindle if you're traveling and want a funny mystery.

Thea Stilton adventure mysteries - our kids have already been Geronimo Stilton fans, and they're excited to read the Thea Stilton books. While the Geronimo Stilton books seem to be more adventures with funny twists, Thea Stilton loves solving mysteries. Here's the description from the first in the series, Thea Stilton and the Dragon's Code:
"When Geronimo's sister, Thea, is invited to teach a journalism class at a college on Mouse Island, she has no idea that she's going to be called on to help solve a mystery. But when a student disappears, it's up to Thea and five of her students to find out what happened. A nail-biting mystery ensues, complete with secret passages, underground tunnels, and more than a few surprises along the way. Readers will love following the clues to help Thea and her new friends through their first adventure together!"
What are your favorite mysteries to read with your children? I'm especially looking for picture book mysteries to read aloud so we can talk about how we read mysteries.

The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chronicles of Harris Burdick - a fascinating collection of stories (ages 8 - 12)

Do children want their stories all wrapped up, with easy answers? Or do they like stories that ask the reader to think, that leave us feeling a bit off-kilter? I would argue that many children like stories that don't have tidy endings, but that let the reader come up with their own answers. Our students are fascinated by books by Chris Van Allsburg, precisely because he wants his stories to leave mysteries that are unsolved.

Twenty-five years ago, Van Allsburg shared with us The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. One day, an author Harris Burdick showed up in a children's book editor's office with sample illustrations and titles for fourteen of his stories. This editor was fascinated, but Burdick never came back to share his full stories. This editor shared these stories with Van Allsburg, who was determined to share these. Ever since The Mysteries of Harris Burdick have been published, children have been writing their own stories to complete Burdick's stories.

Now, in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, fourteen children's authors have shared their own stories based on Burdick's original stories. Ranging from Jon Scieszka to Kate DiCamillo to Stephen King, these authors have responded to Burdick's original illustrations, keeping true to the illustrations, the titles and lines from the stories. The interesting thing, as Van Allsburg said in a recent interview on West Coast Live, is that Burdick's stories plant a different seed in whoever responds to the illustrations.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
by Chris Van Allsburg and others
illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ages 8 to 14
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or at Amazon
audiobook available on Audible or Amazon
Each of the stories will plant a seed in your mind. The authors create an idea of what might have led to Burdick's illustrations, but they don't provide definitive answers. What I love best about these stories is that they allow the scenarios to echo in my mind, as I wonder about what might have happened. Some authors revel in Van Allsburg's mysterious suggestions. Jon Scieszka's and Stephen King's stories will send eerie chills down your spines, and you'll never look at your own house quite the same way. Other authors stretch outside of their usual comfort zone. Walter Dean Myer's story, Mr. Linden's Library, has an almost old-fashioned, fable-like quality as it follows a girl who finds herself utterly compelled to read a story that has a different ending each time she reads it.

I'm interested to hear from teachers how students respond to these new stories. Many teachers use Harris Burdick's illustrations as writing prompts in the classroom. I wonder how children will feel reading author's stories after they've written their own. I am hoping that they see the way that art can inspire creativity in different ways in different people.

My daughter and I had great fun seeing Chris Van Allsburg in conversation with Lemony Snickett and Mac Barnett at the San Francisco Public Library yesterday. If you want to have a fun sense of Lemony Snickett's take on the story, watch this funny book trailer. Snickett is convinced that the Burdick mystery continues. Learn more about Van Allsburg through the wonderful video interviews at Reading Rockets.

For other reviews, check out:

The review copy was kindly sent by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nancy Drew: Shadow Ranch, iPad app (ages 8 - 12)

If you have a budding sleuth, a mystery lover or perhaps a reluctant reader, you might enjoy trying out a new eBook for the iPad: Nancy Drew: Shadow Ranch. This is an interesting example of taking a full novel and adding interactive features to pull readers along. While I found the experience not as satisfying as a traditional story, it hooked several 4th and 5th graders, even those who don't traditionally like reading mysteries.
Nancy Drew: Shadow Ranch
story by Carolyn Keene
iPad app and iPhone app developed by
Her Interactive
published Feb 23, 2011
reviewed May 5, 2011
available in iTunes
Nancy, Bess and George have traveled to Arizona for a vacation at Shadow Ranch, the dude ranch run by Bess and George's aunt and uncle. But when they arrive, they find the ranch is having a terrible time with ghost sightings and accidents that are driving customers away.  Legend holds that Dirk Valentine's faithful ghost horse is haunting Shadow Ranch. So Nancy and her friends set out to see exactly who's behind these mysterious events - could it really be a ghost horse, or maybe someone is trying to drive business away from Shadow Ranch.

The Secret of Shadow Ranch (Nancy Drew, No. 5)The story on the iPad/iPhone app is basically the same as was first published in 1931, then revised in 1965 and 1993 Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch. It's a classic Nancy Drew, but the iPad adaptation adds some interesting features for young readers. There are several places where readers choose what path to take, much like the classic choose-your-own-ending adventures. There are mini-mysteries to solve within the larger mystery, as you decode messages and identify suspects along the way. I especially liked the way you could look back over these mini-mysteries with the clues Nancy noticed highlighted. As you can see in the image below, this is meant for 9 to 11 year old tweens used to reading longer books. They'll like the illustrations, the sound effects and the collectibles you search for in each chapter (highlighted in the text).
Kids have loved the little games that are sprinkled throughout the story, a combination of hidden object games and word scrambles. I found that these distracted my reading, but they didn't bother the kids who have read this. The games are not particularly interactive, but they are enough to motivate readers who need a break while reading longer chapters.
Best of all, I am pleased that readers can discover the pleasure of cliff-hangers and reading mysteries in this new format. Give it a try, and let me know what your children think. If you like this, I'd encourage you to try either classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventures by R.A. Montgomery like The Haunted House, or a new popular mystery like The Name of This Book Is Secret.

The review copy promo code was kindly sent by Her Interactive. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Midnight Tunnel: A Suzanna Snow Mystery

Don't you love curling up with a good mystery on a dark night? One of my favorite memories as a child was reading by flashlight. Mysteries are wonderful for drawing you in and pulling you through to the end. If you have a child who's loved Nancy Drew, you should check out a new series about Suzanna Snow, a plucky young girl who aspires to be a detective, just like her famous uncle.
The Midnight Tunnel: A Suzanna Snow Mystery (Suzanna Snow Mysteries)Midnight Tunnel:
A Suzanna Snow Mystery
by Angie Frazier
NY: Scholastic, 2011
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Eleven-year-old Suzanna Snow dreams of moving to the big city and becoming a detective like her famous uncle. But for now, she must tolerate life in the seaside village of Loch Harbor, New Brunswick, helping her parents manage the ritzy hotel the Rosemount. It’s 1904, and life is full of chores for Suzanna. She must help prepare meals, serve guests their tea, fetch lobsters from the local fishermen—all with the grace of a well-mannered lady, as her mother insists. Everything changes the night of a bad storm when a young girl, the daughter of hotel guests, disappears.

Suzanna is certain that she is the last person to have seen a glimpse of young Maddie in the tunnel between the hotel and the servants’ quarters. But no one will believe Suzanna; not her parents, and certainly not her uncle, the famous detective Bruce Snow who has come from Boston to help solve the crime. Suzanna perseveres, forming an alliance with Mr. Snow’s understudy, Will. He believes Suzanna’s intuition and observations, and they collaborate to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

While this mystery took me a little while to get into, I really enjoyed it. Young mystery lovers will enjoy the way that Suzanna works through the twists and turns of discovering who took Maddie. The characters are nicely developed, and the setting is particularly rich and full of detail. In particular, Angie Frazier has incorporated features of both historical fiction and mysteries to give readers a richer, fuller story than Nancy Drew. I found this a nice beginning to a new series.

If you enjoy mysteries set in a different period of history, I would encourage you to try The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, and others in this series. This intriguing mystery is set in ancient Japan during the time of the samurai. I've also always meant to read Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman. Set in Victorian times, this exciting book begins with the line: ""Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man." It's more complex than Midnight Tunnel, but written by one of my favorite authors (Pullman also wrote The Golden Compass, one of my all-time favorite fantasy books).

The review copy was kindly sent by Scholastic Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.