What would you do if you heard voices that no one else hears and saw ghosts? I’d be leaving immediately but it isn’t that easy for Jim.
Jim, his younger sister, Sal, and his father have come to live in a great manor where his father will be the head gardener. Some areas of the manor are open to the public for touring but Jim’s family will live in a small turret and the children are warned by the mean owner, Lord Louis Minerva III, not to roam the grounds. There are security cameras everywhere and Lord Minerva will see them if they are trespassing.
From the beginning Jim hears voices and starts to see ghosts who talk to him, demand that he solve a mystery they have given him, and leave him clues. He gets no help from his father who doesn’t believe him and is still exhausted and depressed because his wife died recently. Jim decides he will have to solve the mystery himself. The manor is large with gardens, woods, bogs, a lake, various types of buildings and many frightening statues including memorial statues of the children who have died on the estate since 1826. His sister soon gets involved and also the autistic son of the Lord of the manor who is supposed to be away at school but skulks about the property unseen by the adults and guides Tom in gathering information.
This is a scary ghost story set in a very atmospheric location and is also an intriguing mystery. Recommended for children in grades 5 through 7.
Posted by: Fran W.
Summer always seems to be the perfect time to read a book set in the Old West — maybe because August is usually so hot and dry, so the descriptions of the sagebrush and cactus and dust feel that much more topical.
Caroline Lawrence, best known for her Roman Mysteries series (which I loved), is in the midst of a new series–half mystery, half western, about P.K. Pinkerton, a 12-year-old half-Native American boy who is trying to make is way as a detective in 1860s Nevada Territory. Like many a main character in recently-published middle-grade books, P.K. has something like Asperger’s Syndrome, which he refers to as his Thorn — it may make normal social interaction difficult for him, but it certainly helps to make him a one of the more realistically skilled child detectives in literature. (I hardly need mention that P.K.’s outlook and way of describing his world are both extremely amusing and very endearing).
The case of the Petrified Man is P.K.’s second outing, and I found it even more entertaining than the first. Lawrence’s entertaining style draws a reader in, and the non-stop plot keeps one turning pages until the very end. I have heard tell that a third book in the Western Mysteries series will be coming out next spring, and I’m eagerly awaiting word of what P.K. will be up to next time.
Check out Lawrence’s website for more information on either the Western Mysteries or the Roman Mysteries.
Post by: Sarah
Tupelo Landing, North Carolina is the setting for this middle grade mystery and a place I would love to visit especially to meet the characters in Three Times Lucky. This mystery is told in first person by “rising sixth grader” Moses LeBeau. Mo’s voice drips with Southern charm and humor from the first paragraph. Her voice is what kept me interested in the many mysteries in Tupelo Landing. Mo’s family is a mystery in itself.
The story starts with The Colonel being injured in a hurricane. He wakes up with amnesia and a baby girl who he names Moses since she was found floating down a flooded river. The Colonel and Mo soon find Miss Lana and their unique family unit is formed. However, Mo still longs to know who her “people” are and send letters in bottles to her “Upstream Mother” hoping to find out more about her origin. But in the mean time, she is happy to be living and working with The Colonel and Miss Lana in Tupelo Landing’s only café. As the only café, it is the heart of the town and Mo is treated to visits from many of the townspeople each day.
Things get really interesting in this story when one of the café regulars is found dead and a big-city detective arrives to investigate. Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, decide to start their own investigation and detective firm, Desperado Detectives, to solve the murder. This book touches on some serious issues, including alcoholism and spousal and child abuse which would make it a good start to a conversation about these issues, but does not get bogged down by them. It is at the heart, a mystery with a light tone and a lot of exciting rising action. I would recommend it for grades 5 and up.
Posted by: Kelly
Quite often, we are asked for mystery books by children who have only been reading for a few years. There are a number of mystery series written for children of that age (the A to Z Mysteries, Nate the Great, Cam Jansen), but children who like mysteries REALLY like mysteries, and by the time they have to ask an adult for a book recommendation, they’ve already burned through all the well-known series.
We’re always excited to see the first book in a new series, and luckily for us, Alexander McCall Smith has produced a spin-off of his adult series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, called The Great Cake Mystery. This first book in what will hopefully be many tells a story of nine-year-old Precious Ramotswe (future proprietor of the aforementioned agency) and the very first mystery she ever solved–one that involves all of her classmates at her country school in Botswana.
While the mystery is not trivial, the story is a gentle one, and unlikely upset young or sensitive children. The book isn’t meant for the very first emerging readers, but for those who are already reading easy chapter books, such as the Magic Tree House series. The great strength of the book lies in the African setting, which is beautifully described, and the description is augmented by phenomenal illustrations by Iain McIntosh. The wood cut-like depictions combine with McCall Smith’s words to create a Botswana so different, and yet so comfortable, that they will entice any child to want to visit.
Posted by: Sarah
Madeline is in fifth grade and she lives with her parents on the island of Hornby in Canada. Her parents support the family by making sand-dollar art. Madeline is really the adult in the house. She takes care of everything–including her parents–and works as a waitress to make ends meet. When her parents are kidnapped by foxes, Madeline starts out to discover where they are and rescue them but her detective Uncle falls into a coma (something he has been looking forward to) and Madeline doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit who have decided that their newest passion is to be detectives and they take her case pro bono (that means for free).
This is one laugh after another. The story abounds with funny characters and silly situations. It also has many black and white fun illustrations. (I loved the illustration of Mr. Bunny’s disco shoes and also The Marmot in disguise) I loved Mr. and Mrs. Bunny who are enthralled with Madeline so much so that they build her her own bunny hutch beside their house and hope that she will leave her silly parents and come live with them. They are an adorable couple. They love one another very much but they argue a lot and they make sure that they get even when the other does something mean. I liked that about them. So visit a world where animals have cars, social clubs, email and Italian restaurants and speak several languages. Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit have warm generous heart, too. Recommended for Grades 3-6.
Posted by: Fran
Fancy Nancy is growing up and so are her readers. Kids who are growing out of the Fancy Nancy picture books and leveled readers will be thrilled to see this new series of chapter books featuring all of the characters from the previous books by Jane O’Connor. O’Connor’s sweet, funny text is paired well with Robin Preiss-Glasser’s illustrations once again in this story.
Nancy emulates Nancy Drew since she received a special first edition copy of a Nancy Drew book from Mrs. De Vine, her fabulous neighbor. Nancy and her best friend Bree decide to become detectives just like Nancy Drew. They are dressed for the job with Nancy in a pink trenchcoat and Bree in purple complete with rhinestone-studded magnifying glasses. The only problem is, there are not any cases in Nancy’s quiet town. That is until her teacher’s prize marble goes missing on Family Day. Nancy is on the case immediately!
This chapter book is good, wholesome fun for 1st and 2nd graders who are beginning to read chapter books independently. As in the picture books, Nancy likes to use new vocabulary words, and kids will have fun learning the meaning of words like “motive” and phrases like “in the dark of night.” This story also incorporates a secret code readers can try to crack and a lesson on the lost art of playing marbles.
Posted by: Kelly
Maks is a “newsie” in New York City in 1893. He is selling The World. His parents are Danish immigrants and his family is struggling to make ends meet. Every penny counts. One day Maks is cornered in an alley by a gang of teenagers who are trying to drive off the newsies. Maks decides to fight but is losing when suddenly a shapeless pile of rags becomes an attack force with a stick. When the attack is over, the gang members have been run off and Maks realizes that the person who saved him is a skinny, smelly, raggedly dressed, homeless girl. He decides to take her home for the protection she can give him and also to repay her with a meal. The same day he brings Willa home, he finds out that his oldest sister who works as a maid at the Waldorf has been accused of theft and is in the prison called the Tombs. Thus begins an adventure for the homeless girl and the newsie. They find an odd and ailing detective who has Maks do his investigating for him at the Waldorf. In the process, Maks discovers some clues and also learns something about Willa’s family.
This is an exciting story and a good historical description of life in New York City for immigrant families living in the tenements. Recommended for children in grades 5 and up.
Posted by: Fran W.