Archives for posts with tag: mystery

9780547567372Today’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.

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On day three, I’m already tripping over books and gender. It’s an ongoing issue and one I want to address quickly. Are there ‘girl books’ and ‘boy books’? What kinds of limits are we placing on children and books when we use these types of filters? On the other hand, I, like many booksellers I’m sure, have seen boys reject a book because it’s about a girl and many, but certainly not all, girls seem to prefer Daisy Meadows’s Fairy series over Captain Underpants. I’ve really enjoyed seeing articles lately recognizing that sometimes boys like to wear dresses, and sometimes boys want to read fairy books. What is even more gratifying is to see their parents happily buying fairy books for them. When the child is in the store, I generally try to point out a few different types of books and let them decide for themselves, but the issue is exceptionally tricky when someone is buying a gift for a child they do not know. I often wonder if I’m doing a disservice to boys and girls, when I send grandparents home with non-fiction for their grandsons, gift-wrapped in blue paper, with a robot sticker on the front. Although I expect these questions to surface regularly, this blog will strive to remain gender neutral, and I’ll let you decide for yourselves. But what do you think about books and gender?

I often recommend Scholastic’s series Geronimo Stilton ($6.99, translated from the Italian) for kids who are old enough to read chapter books, but reluctant to move beyond the early reader step series that so many publishers offer. Geronimo Stilton is a mouse detective and the books are full of adventure and humor. However, it’s the page lay-out that really distinguishes this series. While not a comic book, various words are printed in a wide variety of whimsical fonts, small color illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text, and there are numerous full-page illustrations. This approach engages kids who might be put off by too much text and I firmly believe that learning to read images is just as important, and equally complicated, as learning to read text. Enthusiasts will be kept busy reading for a while as there are over 50 books in the series, and his sister, Thea, has her own spin-off series.

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