Today’s recommendation continues with The Lemonade War series. The Bell Bandit is a good chapter book for kids who appreciate mysteries (HMH, $15.99, paperback due in May 2013). The mystery within the book isn’t particularly exciting or adventurous, but as usual, Jessie approaches the question of the missing bell like the detectives she reads about. Kids who like mysteries will appreciate the recognizable tropes of the genre. The Bell Bandit takes Jessie and her brother Evan away from school and this story focuses more on the family dynamics. The kids and their mother always spend the winter holidays with their grandmother, but this year things are different. First, Grandma is in the hospital. Second, part of her house has been burned. The two are related. Grandma turned on the kettle and then forgot about it and went on a long walk. Grandma forgets a lot of things these days, including important things like Evan’s name or that he’s her grandson. She remembers the bell though, the one that sits on the hill near her house. According to tradition, the neighbors gather at the bell on New Year’s Eve. The oldest and the youngest people present at the festivities ring the bell together. When Jessie realizes that the bell is missing, she sets out to solve the crime and find the bandit with her new friend, Maxwell.
Stories that only teach are boring. Stories that only entertain feel like a waste of time. Davies’s books excellently mix engaging stories and life lessons. Her books teach by example rather than forcing the lesson. Maxwell is different. The reader knows that even though the text never says exactly why or how. Instead, the text describes his actions, his mannerisms, and the way he interacts (or doesn’t interact) with others. Jessie, who has never been very good at reading people, appreciates his matter-of-fact approach even though she gets frustrated with having to explain social conventions to him, the way her brother had to explain them to her. Davies is excellent at conveying both Maxwell’s and Jessie’s characters, without limiting either of them to labels and diagnosis. Some young readers will make the connection themselves, perhaps with Evan’s help, since he’s more of a nuanced reader of people than Jessie is. Other readers might not fully understand Maxwell’s character, and that’s a good thing, too. It means there will be opportunities for them to engage in conversations about varying abilities. Likewise, not all readers will fully comprehend what is happening with Grandma, as the words dementia and alzheimer’s are never used in the story. Even so, kids ages 9-11, who like realistic stories will feel for Evan as he struggles to communicate with her in the ways she can understand and the ones who want to know more will ask.