Mayhem, mystery and…murder! Everyone enjoys a good mystery, especially one with a character that’s believable, a dangerous situation, and a setting that’s realistic. And that’s what you will find in today’s Old Favorite, The View from the Cherry Tree, by Willo Davis Roberts.
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Rob is stuck at his house this summer, “helping” his older sister Darcy get ready for her wedding. Most of his help seems to involve staying out of the way, not making any noise, and being ignored by everyone. It’s not a happy experience, no matter what the blushing bride and his bustling parents say.
Rob takes to hanging out in the middle of the backyard cherry tree, high above the chaos below, spying on all the comings and goings of Darcy, her fiance, their parents and all of Darcy’s friends and ex-boyfriends. He’s heard a lot of secrets as he sits up in the tree, hidden from sight, eating the cherries and spitting out the pits out toward the people walking below. When he “borrows” his father’s binoculars, he can even see further, into the surrounding yards and houses.
Including the house of Mrs. Calloway, the cranky old lady next door. When Rob was young, he believed the stories about how she caught children and ate them, just like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Now, however, he knows that she’s just a mean old lady who lives alone and doesn’t like anyone. She calls his parents frequently to complain about Rob, their guests, the cat, and any perceived issues with her property.
She hates Rob’s cat S.O.B. Of course S.O.B. isn’t exactly the nicest cat in the world, and the hate seems to be mutual. Sometimes, S.O.B. seems to try to anger the elderly neighbor, like the day he jumped into her house through an open window and scratched her when she threw him out. His defense of S.O.B. leads to a confrontation with Mrs. Calloway and her broom, and a black eye for Rob. His family is disappointed in his behavior and Darcy starts wailing about wedding photos. Rob is grounded.
Rob keeps his cool, but decides to keep an eye on Mrs. Calloway, either to catch her doing something mean or to get an idea for getting even. He tries a few tricks, but it only gets him in more trouble. Rob develops the habit of peeking into Mrs. Calloway’s house through her windows whenever he’s in the cherry tree, just in case. He never expects to hear Mrs. Calloway arguing with a tall man, nor to see the man push her out the window. And then, she’s dead. He runs into the house and gets his family, and they call the police about her “accidental” death.
Rob tries to tell his family that he saw her murdered, but no one believes him. Rob is on his own. He tries talking to his family one on one and in groups, trying to convince them of the truth, but people just get mad at him, and think he’s trying to distract them from Darcy’s wedding. And then it gets worse. Because it seems like the murderer knows he was seen, and is trying to kill him too…
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Willo Davis Roberts actually wrote The View from the Cherry Tree with an older audience in mind; by 1974 she was an established adult mystery author with 35 books published in twenty years. However, when her editor read the manuscript she urged Mrs. Roberts to submit it as a mystery for younger readers. She recognized that Rob and his point of view made it more accessible to a younger audience. It was also good timing because younger readers were ready for more realistic situations in their books.
After a year of stamping her feet (by her own admission!), Mrs. Roberts submitted it as a book for young readers. It was published in 1975, and won a Children’s Book of the Year Award from the Library of Congress. Her career took an unexpected turn after The View from the Cherry Tree was published, and she became a highly praised, award-winning and popular author of mysteries and adventures for middle grade and teen readers. She was working on her 100th book when she died in 2004; more than half of those books were for teens and middle grade readers.
The View from the Cherry Tree is my favorite of her books, and one of my all-time favorite mysteries. I read it when it was first released–I remember there was a waiting list for it in our library system. It’s a thrilling mystery, and it was one of the first that I read that didn’t seem to talk down to the reader. Other books written by Willo Davis Roberts that I loved include The Girl with the Silver Eyes, Twisted Summer, Jo and the Bandit and Baby-sitting is a Dangerous Job. Hmm…maybe some future Old Favorites!
The View from the Cherry Tree is appropriate for fourth through sixth grade readers. It does deal with a murder, so readers of a sensitive nature will want to remember that. (I’ve also been told that I should give a warning for spiders, because of something that happens later in the book. It didn’t bother me, but I can see the reason!) It would be a fun book to share with a class or to read for a mystery genre assignment. It is a fast read, and very suspenseful. So read The View From the Cherry Tree and see what you think. I think you’ll like it.
*I apologize for the weirdness with the posting. WordPress somehow lost the post and reverted back to the first draft. I had to rewrite most of it, so if you got a mailed copy, the original post was a little different.*