Old Favorite: The View from the Cherry Tree

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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view from the cherry treeRob 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.

view from the cherry tree 2Including 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.

view from the cherry tree 3She 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.

view from the cherry tree 4Rob 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.*


Booklist: New Mysteries to Solve


 Are you a super sleuth or a treasure hunter?  Do you like to follow clues? Decipher a coded message?  Solve a mysterious puzzle?  If that sounds up your alley, try one of these recent mysteries and see how good a detective you might be!

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Recently Released Mysteries (2008-2012)Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook by Mary Amato

First Slurpy is fishnapped, then other things from Mrs. Blackwell’s room start to disappear. Odder still, whoever is committing these crimes leaves a note written in poetry. Edgar has it all covered in his “crime investigation notebook”–but so does Patrick Chen, who has copied Edgar and is trying to solve the case first. Yet as Edgar keenly observes his surroundings, he notices many interesting things about his classmates. The more closely he watches two “suspects,” the more he begins to think they might make pretty good friends. This warm and humorous story puts writing, friendship, and mystery into a short, accessible chapter book.


Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset by Tom Angleberger

Tom Angleberger’s latest, loopiest middle-grade novel begins when M’Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset (it’s never been loosened before!), thereby setting off a chain of events in which all the strict rules of Smugwick Manor are abandoned. When, as a result of “the Loosening,” the precious family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump (quite literally a lump), goes missing, the Luggertucks look for someone to blame. Is it Horton Halfpott, the good-natured but lowly kitchen boy who can’t tell a lie? Or one of the many colorful cast members in this silly romp of a mystery.


Cold in Summer by Tracy Barrett

It’s bad enough that Ariadne’s family just moved to a tiny boring town in the middle of nowhere. But worst of all is that she’s so far away from her best friend. The kids in Dobbin seem nice enough, but none of them really understands how lost and unhappy Ariadne feels. None, that is, but May Butler. She’s an odd, quiet person who wears the strangest old-fashioned clothes and has a spooky habit of appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. Despite their differences, there is a bond between the two girls. May, too, knows what it’s like to feel lost.


Kepler’s Dream by Juliet Bell

A young girl makes her fractured family whole again with the help of a very special book. When eleven-year-old Ella’s mother has to be hospitalized to undergo a dangerous cancer treatment, Ella spends the summer at “Broken Family Camp” with her eccentric grandmother, whom she’s never met. The situation is hardly ideal for either of them. Ella is scared her mother may die, but her grandmother seems to care more about her library full of books than she does about her very own granddaughter. But when a rare and beloved book, Kepler’s Dream of the Moon, is stolen from her grandmother’s amazing library, Ella and her new friend Rosie make up their minds to find it. Finding the beautiful book her grandmother loves so much could even be the key to healing Ella’s broken family. An affecting and beautifully written story of family, forgiveness and the wonder of the stars, Kepler’s Dream is a sparkling and memorable debut.


Among the Ghosts by Amber Benson

The New Newbridge Academy has a strange, storied history and a gothic atmosphere, and since Noh’s aunt is a teacher there, it’s where Noh will be spending the summer while her father travels for work. Noh, slightly eccentric herself, enjoys exploring the campus, but things get spooky when she meets several other children near an old burned-out dormitory. There shouldn’t be students around in the summer, right? But these kids turn out to be ghosts, and they need Noh’s help. She is the only “realie” who can see them—and, now that the ghosts have started to disappear, the only one who can save them.


The Puzzler’s Mansion: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin

Winston Breen is back in another puzzle-filled mystery! Puzzle fanatic Winston Breen and his best friends receive a once-in-a-lifetime invitation–to a weekend of riddles, games and puzzles at a fabulous mansion! Famous musician Richard Overton is giving away valuable prizes and Winston is ready to win. But the ultimate weekend becomes the ultimate mystery when prizes start going missing, and no guests are above suspicion. Can Winston crack the case before the weekend is up? A fast-paced whodunit filled with interactive puzzles and plenty of clever brain-teasers, the latest Winston Breen installment will have readers hooked!


Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach

It’s summer and the three Barker brothers—Simon, Henry, and Jack—just moved from Illinois to Arizona. Their parents have warned them repeatedly not to explore Superstition Mountain, which is near their home. But when their cat Josie goes missing, they see no other choice. There’s something unusually creepy about the mountain and after the boys find three human skulls, they grow determined to uncover the mystery. Have people really gone missing over the years, and could there be someone or some thing lurking in the woods? Together with their new neighbor Delilah, the Barker boys are dead-set on cracking the case even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way.


The Unknowns: A Math Mystery by Benedict Carey

In a trailer park called Adjacent, next to the Folsom Energy Plant, people have started to vanish, and no one seems to care. At first Lady Di and her best friend, Tom Jones, barely notice the disappearances—until their beloved math tutor, Mrs. Clarke, is abducted, too. Mrs. Clarke has left them clues in the form of math equations that lead them all over the trailer park, through hidden tunnels under “Mount Trashmore,” and into the Folsom Energy Plant itself, where Lady Di and Tom Jones and a gang of other misfits uncover the sordid truth about what’s really happening there.


 Vanished by Sheela Chari

Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother—intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon. When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?


The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar

Laura Horton is different. Not in any noticeable, first-glance kind of way; but inside, she’s equally uncomfortable around the snippy girls in her class and the strange boy, Leon, who just moved in nearby. She’d rather be writing or drawing or spending time with her free-spirited family in their eccentric old house. But Laura and Leon are more alike than they first realize. They’re both outsiders. They both have secrets. And try as she might to avoid him, Laura finds herself drawn to Leon’s quiet boldness as surely as she is driven to find out more about her home’s enigmatic former owner. Together they probe the mysteries of the Visconti House, making an exploration into the past that will change their lives — and open their hearts — forever.


The Midnight Tunnel: A Suzanna Snow Mystery by Angie Frazier

Can Suzanna Snow solve the case before it’s too late? A girl’s gone missing. Can Suzanna solve the crime? It is 1905 and young Suzanna works at her family’s inn in Loch Harbor, New Brunswick, where she is trained to be a well-mannered hostess and a charming lady. Suzanna has other ideas for her future–she wants to be a detective. When a young guest goes missing on a stormy summer night, Suzanna’s famous uncle, Detective Bruce Snow, comes to solve the case. But Suzanna learns that not everything is as it seems. With a little help from her friends, can she solve the mystery of the missing girl before her uncle closes the case?


The Last Musketeer by Stuart Gibbs

Greg Rich has just been catapulted back through time.  One moment, his parents were selling their family heirlooms to Michel Dinicouer, a mysterious and suspicious curator at the Louvre in Paris — and the next thing Greg knows, he’s in France in 1615.  His parents have come along, too, only they’ve been captured by the King’s Guard and thrown into La Mort, the world’s most dangerous prison.  Now, Greg has to rescue them… but how? By uniting the Three Musketeers.  Greg soon discovers that the three great warriors from Alexander Dumas’s classic novel actually exist — only they’re teenagers as well and haven’t met yet.  Even stranger, Greg might just turn out to be the fourth Musketeer, D’Artagnan.  Together, the Musketeers need to pull off an impossible, death-defying rescue — and unravel the devious plot of Dinicouer as well.


The Crossroads: A Haunted Mystery by Chris Grabenstein

Zack, his dad and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took 40 innocent lives. He died when his car hit a tree in a fiery crash, and his malevolent spirit has inhabited the tree ever since. During a huge storm, lightning hits the tree, releasing the spirit, who decides his evil spree isn’t over…and Zack is directly in his sights.


The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves

When thirteen-year-old Josephine moves to Awkward Falls she can’t help but snoop around the dilapidated mansion next door. Inevitably, she is captured by the house’s strange inhabitants: an ancient automaton who serves as a butler, a cat patched together with a few odd parts, and most surprising of all, a boy named Thaddeus Hibble. Meanwhile, Fetid Stenchley the most feared patient in the Asylum for the Dangerously Insane is on the loose after making a dramatic escape, and there is only one thing on his mind…revenge. Unfortunately for Josephine and Thaddeus, he’s headed their way. Can these unlikely friends stop Stenchley before it’s too late? With a penchant for spooky details, surprising twists, and haunting illustrations, Keith Graves delivers a suspenseful and engaging first novel.


Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham

Theodore Boone is back in a new adventure, and the stakes are higher than ever. When his best friend, April, disappears from her bedroom in the middle of the night, no one, not even Theo Boone–who knows April better than anyone–has answers. As fear ripples through his small hometown and the police hit dead ends, it’s up to Theo to use his legal knowledge and investigative skills to chase down the truth and save April. Filled with the page-turning suspense that made John Grisham a #1 international bestseller and the undisputed master of the legal thriller, Theodore Boone’s trials and triumphs will keep readers guessing until the very end.


Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

In this hilarious chapter book mystery, meet a girl whose parents have been kidnapped by disreputable foxes, and a pair of detectives that also happen to be bunnies! When Madeline gets home from school one afternoon to discover that her parents have gone missing, she sets off to find them. So begins a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving a cast of unforgettable characters. There’s Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who drive a smart car, wear fedoras, and hate marmots; the Marmot, who loves garlic bread and is a brilliant translator; and many others. Translated from the Rabbit by Newbery Honor-winning author Polly Horvath, and beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall, here is a book that kids will both laugh over and love.


The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe by Brian Keaney

It’s seven o’clock on a cold London evening in 1862, and in a grubby theater down by the docks, Nathaniel Wolfe watches his father—the greatest medium in London—take to the stage. Which of the dead will speak through him tonight? What Nathaniel doesn’t know is that his father is meddling with things he cannot control, and before the night is over Nathaniel will find himself in the middle of a chilling mystery, one that can only be solved from beyond the grave.


Fourmile by Watt Key

Twelve-year-old Foster knows in his gut that Dax Ganey, the man dating his widowed mother, is a bad seed. Then a mysterious stranger arrives at their Alabama farm, a former Army Ranger in Iraq rambling across the country, and Foster believes he has found an ally against Dax. The stranger proves a fascinating mentor, full of wisdom and secrets. And Dax soon has reason to resent not just him and Foster but also Foster’s mother. A spurned Dax will be a dangerous enemy, but Foster is increasingly aware that the stranger is just as dangerous, if not more so. From the author of one of the most highly acclaimed children’s survival adventures of the last decade comes this tautly wound new novel reminiscent of classic westerns, about a boy caught in the middle of a clash that may turn out to be his own battle to fight.


Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

A thrilling mystery set against a stark landscape and the inspiration of Nome’s real-life dog hero, Balto. Twelve-year-old Tee has just moved to Nome, Alaska, with her writer father and sullen little brother, Jack. Jack isn’t happy about the idea of living in the middle of nowhere, but Tee and her dog Henry are thrilled — so much open space to run around and sniff! But on a walk near their new house, Henry spots something that has him seriously spooked. Tee sees a mysterious shadow, and it seems to be following them. Have they disturbed a restless spirit? And what other secrets might this dark place be holding?


Death Cloud: Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins by Andrew Lane

It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.


The Adventures of Jack Lime by James Leck

Meet Jack Lime, private investigator, who solves problems for his fellow Iona High students. Sometimes he falls for the dames who hire him, sometimes he falls in the river and sometimes he falls asleep (he s narcoleptic). But rest assured that whether he s tracking down a missing banana-seat bike or a kidnapped hamster, or cracking open a trivia tournament betting ring, Lime will follow every lead. Readers will identify with this funny, cynical sleuth who has the makings of a top-notch PI, though his personal life frequently goes awry. In these three stand-alone detective stories, readers will immerse themselves in an offbeat fictional world populated with eccentric characters where everything is not as it seems.


The Family Hitchcock by Mark Levin

Finances are tight for the Hitchcock family this year, which means no summer vacation! But siblings Maddy and Benji are secretly delighted to escape the annual torturous ritual of family bonding. Then Dad announces big news: a cost-effective weeklong house swap in Paris, trading places with a French family named the Vadims. But instead of a relaxing European vacation, it quickly becomes clear that something is very off about this house swap. The facts about the Vadims don’t quite add up. Then threatening characters start showing up, demanding a mysterious object. Soon the Hitchcocks are caught in a whirl of intrigue and running for their lives through the streets and over the rooftops of Paris, without even knowing why.


Circle of Secrets by Kimberley Griffiths Little

After her mother walked out on Shelby Jayne and her dad, Shelby thought she’d never speak to her mamma again. But with her dad leaving the country for work, it turns out she doesn’t have a choice: Shelby has to move back into her mamma’s house, deep in the heart of the Louisiana bayou. Her new classmates tease and torment her, so Shelby’s relieved to finally find a friend in Gwen, a mysterious girl who lives alone on the bayou. But Shelby can’t help wondering if Gwen has something to do with the puzzling messages she finds hidden in the blue bottle tree behind her house. The only person who might be able to explain is her mamma — but Shelby’s not ready to ask. Not yet. It may take a brush with something from the beyond to help Shelby see that the power to put her own ghosts to rest is within her reach.


The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin

Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy–Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister? It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones–and might even pick them clean!


The Secret of the Sealed Room: A Mystery of Young Benjamin Franklin by Bailey MacDonald

Indentured servant Patience Martin lives a hard life in 1721 Boston, but things get even harder when her demanding employer is found dead—in a bedroom locked from the inside. Powerful townsmen accuse Patience’s friend, Moll Bacon, of being a witch and the murderer, but with her own future in jeopardy, Patience doesn’t know how she can help prove Moll’s innocence—until she finds a new friend. Ben Franklin is a clever young printer’s apprentice with a fondness for wise aphorisms. Ben risks his own skin to protect Patience, and his cunning and ingenuity are a perfect match for her courage and determination. But will their friendship and teamwork be enough to solve the mystery, clear Moll, and free Patience from a harsh life of servitude?


The Homemade Stuffing Caper: Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire by John V. Madormo

Encyclopedia Brown, watch out! Charlie Collier can match you mystery for mystery! Seventh grader Charlie Collier has always been able to solve brain teasers in no time at all. And his favorite books have always been mysteries. So when Charlie dons his father’s old trench coat–the one his mother thought she brought to Goodwill–and a fedora that should have suffered the same fate, he thinks solving mysteries will be as easy as pie. But then Charlie is presented with a big case. A huge one. That involves the entire town. And Charlie needs more than just smarts to crack this case. He’ll need his friend Henry, their client Scarlet, and a class bully who turns out to have some surprising secrets of his own.

Vanishing Acts: A Madison Kincaid Mystery by Phillip Margolin

From tracking down her best friend, who’s nowhere to be found, to secretly helping her attorney father solve a missing-person case, Madison Kincaid is a busy seventh-grade sleuth. Teaming up with new classmate Jake, she hits the sidewalks of Portland, Oregon, determined to find out what’s behind two mysterious vanishing acts.



The Pickle King by Rebecca Promitzer

A podunk town, a pickle factory, a dead body with one eyeball gone?! Maybe this summer won’t be so boring after all for Bea and her friends. A funny, scary, original debut “caper”! Bea lives in the nowhere town of Elbow, where it rains so much the residents have green mold growing between their toes. Nothing ever happens in Elbow. Its closest claim to fame is a giant pickle factory, owned by Herman, the Pickle King. Herman’s a small-time big shot, a local celebrity…until he turns up dead. And when Bea and Sam stumble across the body–minus one eyeball–in the water-logged basement of a creepy old house, suddenly THEY’RE ones in a pickle! With a mystery to solve, maybe this summer won’t be such a bore after all….

Here Lies Linc by Delia Ray

When 12-year-old Linc Crenshaw decides he wants to go to public school, his professor mom isn’t so happy with the idea. He’s convinced it will be the ticket to a new social life. Instead, it’s a disaster when his mom shows up at their field trip to the local cemetery to lecture them on gravestones, and Linc sees her through his fellow-students’ eyes. He’s convinced his chances at a social life are over until a cemetery-related project makes him sought-after by fellow students he’s not so sure he wants as friends, helps him make a new, genuine friend, and brings to light some information about his family that upends his world.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

If it hadn’t been for Lucas’s photographic memory, they might not have remembered the man. It had been almost a year since she and Kari had noticed him copying the famous Rembrandt painting in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. But now in the National Gallery in London, they’re sure it’s the same guy, copying another Rembrandt. What is going on? The International Herald Tribune gives them their answer. A never-before seen Rembrandt painting has been discovered in Amsterdam. The mysterious man must’ve been working on a forgery! Convinced that no one will believe them without more evidence, the teenage sleuths embark on a madcap adventure to find the forger. But is bringing the criminal to justice worth the price of their lives?

 Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

 The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford

A sweet story of a tree that’s literally filled with secrets. What is your secret? Minty’s neighborhood is full of mysteries. There’s the Witch House, a spooky old farmhouse on the other side of woods from where Minty and her best friend, Paz, live. There’s the Man Bat, a seven-foot-tall half man, half bat who is rumored to fly through the woods. And there are the Mean Boys, David and Troy, who torment Minty for no reason, and her boy-crazy older sister, Thea, who acts weirder and weirder. One day Minty spots a flash in the woods, and when she chases after it, she discovers a new mystery–a Secret Tree, with a hollow trunk that holds the secrets of everyone in the neighborhood. Secrets like: I put a curse on my enemy. And it’s working. I’m betraying my best friend in a terrible way. No one loves me except my goldfish.

Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible? It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed . . . until everything changes. One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone. With the help of her classmate Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time for good.


I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy

So here I am spending spring break in California with my best friend, Junie. Our chaperone is a teenager, like us. And soon I’ll get to hang out with the coolest, cutest boy in the Southwest. Life is so good. Except I should tell you that I’m not actually in San Diego for fun. Even though I’m a normal person who likes normal stuff—friends, clothes, the mall—I’m supposed to be solving a mystery, one that involves a rhino heist and a crazy chef. And I have to do it because my supercop mom is counting on me. Did I mention she’s a ghost? A ghost who can make contact with only one person. Me, Sherry Holmes Baldwin. My mom is flunking out of the Academy of Spirits, and if I don’t help her, she’ll be banished to an afterlife for ghost failures. But…I so don’t do mysteries.


Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers by Larry David Tuxbury

Last month, Benjamin Franklin came back from the dead and moved into Victor Godwin’s downstairs apartment. Since then, life has gotten even weirder. Vampires are stalking Philadelphia, a strange pair of bike shop owners are after Ben, and a shadowy figure known only as the Emperor may be plotting it all. Together, Ben, Victor and Scott face some baffling questions. Why was Ben really awakened? Who is the Emperor? And are vampires really stalking downtown Philadelphia? The fate of the city – and perhaps the word – hangs in the balance!


Stolen by Vivian Vande Velde

The same day that the villagers of Thornstowe finally hunt down a witch with a reputation for stealing children, a 12-year-old appears in the woods with no memory of her past. Is there a connection between Isabelle, the girl who doesn’t know who she is, and the girl the witch stole six years earlier? One of the few things Isabelle remembers is a chant that keeps running through her head: “Old as dirt, dirty as dirt. Ugly as sin, mean as sin. Don’t let the old witch catch you!” Could Isabelle have been stolen by the old witch of the woods, or has she lost her memory as the result of an accident? And what about the baby the witch stole right before the villagers attacked? Did either the witch or the baby survive the fire the villagers set?


The Jaguar Stones: The End of the World Club by J&P Voelkel

With the end of the Mayan calendar fast approaching, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy and his new friend Lola, the modern Maya girl who saved his life in the perilous jungle, are racing against time to outwit the twelve Lords of Death.  Following the trail of the conquistadors, their quest takes them back to the wild heart of Spain – a forgotten land steeped in legend, superstition and ever more bizarre tourist festivals.  With a pack of hellhounds on their heels and the cape-twirling Count Antonio de Landa in hot pursuit, the teens must face madness and betrayal, bluff and double-bluff, to uncover the terrible secrets of the long-lost Yellow Jaguar.  But no matter where they run, all roads lead to Xibalba. There, in the cold and watery Maya underworld, we finally discover why only Max Murphy can save the world from the villainous Lords of Death.


The Mystery of the Missing Everything by Ben H. Winters

There has been a shocking crime at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School. In a glass case in the front hall, a trophy—the trophy, the first trophy ever won in the school’s lackluster competitive history—has been stolen. Even more horrifying, an outraged Principal Van Vreeland has canceled everything fun until the trophy is back, including the eighth graders’ long-awaited, once-in-a-lifetime field trip to Taproot Valley. Rock climbing, ropes courses, ecology hikes, s’mores…all gone! Luckily, Bethesda Fielding is on the case. As self-appointed sleuth extraordinaire, Bethesda’s confident she’ll be able to track down the culprit in no time and save her class trip! Except it seems like the more she searches for answers, the more mysteries she reveal. Can Bethesda solve this baffling mystery or are the eighth graders doomed for a Week of a Thousand Quizzes instead?

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Booklist by Julie!

So there you have it.  Mysteries  featuring a cast of detectives across countries, time periods, states of being and knowledge bases.  All they have in common is a desire to follow the clues wherever they lead.  Can you beat them at their own game?  Read and find out!


Old Favorites: The House on Parchment Street

Ghost stories in the summer?  Of course!  If summer campfires are the perfect time to TELL a ghost story, summer nights must also the best time to READ a ghost story.  Just imagine sitting in your tent (or on a porch) with lightning bugs flickering outside, reading with your flashlight into the wee hours of the morning.  (Or reading in bed and not straining your eyes works too.) Ghost stories were made for summer nights!

Besides, THIS particular ghost story takes place in England.  And this year, England seems to be the place to visit!  Between the Queen’s Jubilee, Royal birthdays and the Olympics, everything British seems to be in vogue.  So check out The House on Parchment Street, by Patricia A. McKillip, and join the ranks of Anglophiles around the world.

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Carol didn’t really want to spend half of her summer in England, but her mother insisted that she needed culture.  And she wanted Carol to meet her Aunt Catherine, Uncle Harold and cousin Bruce, who have just moved into a new house.  Well, it’s not a new house…it’s actually a 300-year-old historic site, with a long history, next to a graveyard. Aunt Catherine has been raving about the house and all the work being done on it in her letters.

Carol doesn’t care about the house though, she just wants her traveling to be over; she took a plane to London, a bus to the train station, a train to Wellingborough and another bus to Middleton. At the bus station, she asked the way to Parchment Street and just started walking, trying to find it from the description of the house in Aunt Catherine’s letter.  Just as she reaches the house, six boys on bikes come out of nowhere and surround her, making mocking comments about her hair, her clothing and her general state of being.  Angry, Carol storms up to the door of the house and pushes her way in…knocking over Bruce, who was working on his bike just inside the door.

It’s not the best way for the cousins to meet. Carol is angry, and Bruce is sullen and defensive. It turns out that the boys who teased Carol are his friends, and it’s only because his bike was broken that he wasn’t out there with them. By the time Aunt Catherine and Uncle Harold arrive (from the London airport, where they’d gone to pick up Carol) the cousins are barely speaking to each other.   Carol thinks it will be easier to make friends with the elusive black cat that appears to run in and out of the shadows in the lower part of the house that to ever make friends with Bruce.  She hopes it’s not going to be an unbearable summer as she and Bruce glare at each other, accidentaly manage to get each other in trouble, and end up trying to avoid each other as much as possible.

But then one evening at dinner time, Carol is getting a  frozen pie out of the basement freezer and she sees the dark figure of a man follow the black cat out of the shadows. Frightened, Carol watches him without making sound.  As the clock strikes four, the man draws a sword and then walks into the wall.  Carol tries to tell her aunt and uncle (and several visitors) about what she saw, but no one believes her.

Except Bruce.  Who, as it turns out, has also seen the ghost.

Together, Carol and Bruce decide to find out who the ghost is.  They hide in the basement and wait to see the man again…only to discover that there’s more than one ghost in the old house. Not only that, but the ghosts have been in the basement for over 300 years. Now, working together, Bruce and Carol have to find out where the ghosts are going and what happened that is keeping them in the house. Carol’s summer is about to get a lot more complicated and a whole lot more interesting!

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The House on Parchment Street is one of my favorite ghost stories…ever!  It was originally published in 1973, but I first read the book when I was in middle school and on a British history kick. I think the original purple cover, with the girl in the blue dress sort of beckoning with half her body in the wall was what grabbed my attention.  I was on a Royalists and Roundheads kick that summer (inspired by Lark, by Sally Watson–another old favorite which the library doesn’t own and some of Patricia Beatty’s historial fiction books set in England) and recognized the dress style.   I also used to judge books by the illustrators, and Charles Robinson was one of my all-time favorite cover artists.

It’s a great mystery, with lots of history that American kids don’t usually learn. If you do read it, you might want to find out more about the events in English history.  Or maybe not. But if you start The House on Parchment Street, you’ll definitely want to finish it and  find out what happened to these people that kept them hanging around in an old cellar for almost 400 years until a couple of modern teens help them.

This book is probably best for fifth to seventh grader readers, but could be enjoyed by kids both slightly older and slightly younger, if they’re interested in British history or ghost stories.  If you’re visiting any type of stately manor or ancestral estate in England, The House on Parchment Street should be required reading!

So, give it a try and let me know what you think. And then go check your own basement for historical happenings and ghostly visitors.  🙂


Old Favorites: Ghosts I Have Been

Did you know that it was one hundred years ago today that the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton, England?  (Of course you did…it’s all over the news!)  When the ship set sail on April 10, 1912, people knew The Titanic was a special ship setting out on a groundbreaking journey, but no one knew that her maiden voyage would still resonate with people and still be news on April 10, 2012.

Last year, we did a Titanic Booklist that seems to be getting many hits this week. Today, we’ll feature an Old Favorite which is on that list: Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck.

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Blossom Culp is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks…quite literally. She and her mother live in a shack by the streetcar tracks.  Blossom’s mother’s business is fortune telling, and Blossom has had to fend for herself since she started school. It’s 1913 and although Blossom has always had a good heart, somehow, she always ends up in trouble.

When Halloween of 1913 comes around, Blossom decides to head off the local bullies she knows will be showing up to bother her and her mother–by disguising herself as a ghost and scaring them away.   She has the perfect costume, a glowing sheet that hides her completely. Unfortunately, her plan to hide in the privy of the old man next door to scare the boys backfires when she discovers that Old Man Leverette is IN his privy. Blossom nearly scares him to death, but when she explains what she was trying to do, he aids her in her crazy scheme, firing buckshot at Les, the biggest bully of the bunch and the other boys. Unfortunately, when Old Man Leverettte caught her she had pretended to be the most stuck-up girl in her class, and when the bullies hear him calling her Letty, they vow revenge on Letty, not Blossom.

It’s only right that Blossom help Letty out, even though she doesn’t like her much. But when Les and Letty get into a fight on the playground and Blossom runs to her defense, both girls end up in the principal’s office (although Les ends up expelled.)  When Letty’s mother buys Letty an entire new wardrobe out of gratitude, Blossom vows to turn over a new leaf and become more of a lady.

But even with her new clothes and new resolve, Blossom can’t help but come up with a new scheme to give her some prestige among the girls who look down on her.  She tells the girls  that she has ESP, that she can see spirits and get messages from them. At first Blossom’s scheme works out…she is getting the respect she thinks she deserves and doing good deeds for the townspeople.

But what she doesn’t count on is her Family Gift coming into effect…Blossom actually does develop Second Sight, and starts having visions. Soon, she has a vision of a little blond boy, abandoned in a first class cabin on the RMS Titanic.

But the Titanic is the safest ship in the world, isn’t it?  When Blossom finds herself transported to the boy’s side again on a now sinking ship, is the boy the ghost, or is Blossom?  Can she change his fate, or is he doomed?  Blossom enlists her friend Alexander to give her a hand. Is Blossom’s Second Sight something that can save the boy, or is she just reliving a nightmare that hasn’t even happened yet?

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Ghosts I Have Been came out in 1977, and followed The Ghost Belonged to Me, which Alexander, Blossom’s friend narrated. Blossom was such a great character in the first book–quirky, full of life and quite independent–that Peck wrote the sequel from her perspective.  It obviously worked! It may have helped that for all her positive points, Blossom is also a troublemaker of epic proportions; even though she’s well-intentioned and heroic, she’s also stubborn and has her faults.  There are two more stories about Blossom and Alexander and their adventures, and both sequelsThe Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp and Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death are told by Blossom.  Her voice is unique and her perspective both hilarious and practical.

In Blossom’s world, the sinking of the Titanic has just happened, so it’s a recent tragedy. People who perished might have been friends or relatives of people who live in town.  Everyone is shocked and saddened by the loss of life.  The chance for Blossom to save one innocent life is one she has to take, even if it might risk her own.

In Ghosts I Have Been, through Blossom’s observations, the time period–1913 and 1914–really  comes to life. That’s something that is strong in all of Richard Peck’s writing. After the Blossom books, he went on to write A Long Way from Chicago, a Newbery Honor book, and A Year Down Yonder, which won the Newbery Award in 2001.

Ghosts I Have Been is a fun book to read, even though it deals with a serious subject. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about life at the beginning of the twentieth century, and to anyone who wants to read a book about The Titanic.  Blossom’s language is colorful and of it’s time, so it might be a little harder for very young readers.  Fifth through eighth grade readers would enjoy this historical novel of a great tragedy.  It could be read aloud with a class or shared with a parent/child book club as an excellent example of a solid and fun historical novel.

So try Ghosts I Have Been (or The Ghost Belonged To Me) today, and see what you think!


Booklist: Sherlock Holmes Mysteries!

Booklist –  Sherlock Holmes

Do you know who the most famous detective in literature is?  The detective who has more books, movies, and even television shows dedicated to a “new” version of his story? (Or even some new faithful adaptations?)

It’s Sherlock Holmes, of course!  In 2011, two new books came out featuring Holmes…a prequel, showing the origins of his famous skills by Andrew Land, and a young detective’s view of his more famous colleague, by Jason Lethcoe.  Both are fun mysteries, and both have a second book coming out soon.  So, sit back, grab an armchair, and prepare to face some of the most intriguing and adventurous puzzles in the following tributes to the greatest detective of all time!

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 2011 Takes on Sherlock Holmes:

Lane, Andrew.  Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes)
It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.  J & YA

Lethcoe, Jason.  No Place Like Holmes
When Griffin is sent to stay with his detective uncle at 221A Baker Street for the summer, he is certain that his uncle must be the great Sherlock Holmes! But Griffin is disappointed to discover that Holmes lives at 221B Baker Street and his uncle lives unit 221A. His uncle is a detective, just not a very good one. But when Griffin meets a woman with a case that Holmes has turned away for being too ridiculous, he and his uncle team up to help her. Along the way, Griffin shows his uncle just what it means to have true faith in God, even when the case challenges that.  The woman claims that her husband was eaten by the Loch Ness Monster, but monsters aren’t real-or are they?  J

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Other books featuring Sherlock Holmes or his relatives:

Altman, Steven-Elliot. The Irregulars in the Service of Sherlock Holmes
A madman stalks the streets of London’s Whitechapel slum, leaving a trail of grisly murders in his wake. The police have only one suspect: a prominent and respected physician named John Watson! The master detective Sherlock Holmes, in order to solve the most fantastic mystery of his career and save his greatest friend from the gallows, employs a band of young street urchins to infiltrate the alleys of Whitechapel. They can go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone. They are the Baker Street Irregulars. Join the Irregulars in the most fantastic and terrifying adventure of their lives, as they uncover an evil unlike anything Sherlock Holmes has ever faced!  J

Barrett, Tracy. The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files series)
Xena and Xander Holmes think living in London will be boring. But one afternoon they’re handed a cryptic note that leads them to a hidden room—and a secret society. When they discover they’re related to Sherlock Holmes and inherit his unsolved casebook, life becomes so much more exciting. The siblings set out to solve the cases their famous ancestor couldn’t, starting with the mystery of a prized painting that vanished more than a hundred years ago. Can two smart twenty-first century kids succeed where Sherlock Holmes could not? J

Mack, Tracy. The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas  (Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars series)
When the tightrope artists the Amazing Zalindas fall to their deaths, Sherlock Holmes suspects foul play and enlists the youthful “street sleuths,” to find ties between the deaths and a valuable stolen book. Savvy street urchins, the Irregulars pursue terrifying villains, dodging danger at every turn.  Can they solve the mystery themselves?  J

Peacock, Shane. Eye of the Crow (The Boy Sherlock Holmes series)
Sherlock Holmes is a misfit. Friendless, bullied at school, he belongs nowhere and has only his wits to help him make his way. But what wits they are! He loves to amuse himself by constructing histories from the smallest detail for everyone he meets. Partly for fun, he focuses his attention on a sensational murder to see if he can solve it. But his game turns deadly serious when he finds himself the accused…and in London, they hang boys his age.  J

Shaw, Murray. The Adventure of Black Peter/The Gloria Scott (Match Wits with Sherlock Holmes series)
Two adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are retold for younger readers, each accompanied by a section identifying the clues mentioned in the story and explaining the reasoning used by Holmes to put the clues together and come up with a solution. Also includes a map highlighting the sites of the mysteries.   Young J

Simmons, Alex.  The Raven League
When Archie Wiggins is kicked out of the Baker Street Irregulars, the gang of urchins that assists famous detective Sherlock Holmes, he has no idea what to do next. But then Holmes himself goes missing—and it seems the Irregulars might have had something to do with it. Now Wiggins and a few other misfits must take matters into their own hands.  Along the way, they uncover two murders and a plot—and when the adventure is over, they find they’re misfits no longer, but part of a new team: the Raven League!  J

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Missing Marquess  (The Enola Holmes series)
When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers—all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?  J & YA

Thone, Jake. The Mystery of the Yellow Hands
When Sherlock Holmes needs help solving some of London’s greatest crimes, he calls on the Baker Street Brigade for assistance. Danny Wiggins, “Peachy” Carnehan, and Duff Bernard are able to travel freely and without suspicion throughout the city providing Holmes with all the right information to catch the bad guys. From rescuing a kidnapped friend to uncovering the conspiracy trying to delay the construction of the Underground Railway, the Baker Street Detectives are on the job to uphold justice!  J

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   Inspired by Sherlock Holmes

Abrahams, Peter. Down the Rabbit Hole (Echo Falls Mysteries)
Ingrid is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least her shoes are. And getting them back will mean getting tangled up in a murder investigation as complicated as the mysteries solved by her idol, Sherlock Holmes. With soccer practice, schoolwork, and the lead role in her town’s production of Alice in Wonderland, Ingrid is swamped. But as things in Echo Falls keep getting curiouser and curiouser, Ingrid realizes she must solve the murder on her own — before it’s too late!  J & YA

Hale, Bruce. The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse (The Chet Gekko Mysteries)
Chet Gecko loves a good mystery, almost more than he loves his fee–stinkbug pie. So when fellow fourth grader Shirley Chameleon asks him to find her missing brother, Billy, Chet expects the case to be as easy as pie. But Billy’s disappearance is part of a larger plot, one that involves the Rat Sisters, a riddling junkyard dog, and a vicious Gila monster named Herman. If Chet doesn’t solve the case fast, the entire school could be humiliated. Worst of all, Chet might not get his fee. And Chet’s hungry…   J

Keane, Dave. The Haunted Toolshed  (Joe Sherlock, Kid Detective series)
Why are cakes vanishing into thin air? How can a mailbox disappear without a trace? When did something evil move into Mr. Asher’s toolshed?   Strange and unexplained things are happening on Baker Street after dark, and Joe Sherlock must come face-to-face with the things that go bump in the night. Even though a cold tingle of terror gallops down his spine like a herd of wild gophers, Joe is determined to solve the case — and have his bundt cake, too.   J

Kotzwinkle, William. Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries
Inspector Mantis and his capable companion Doctor Hopper star in this collection of mysteries, ranging from “The Case of the Missing Butterfly” to “The Case of the Caterpillar’s Head.” Yes, they’re insects, solving crimes in Bugland, with a cast of characters that includes the circus owner, P. T. Barnworm, and Captain Flatfootfly. A clever collection of mysteries in which Inspector Mantis and his grasshopper sidekick ferret out entomological evildoers in foggy Bugland.  J

Richards, Justin. Double Life (The Invisible Detective)
Who is the Invisible Detective? To the people of London, 1936, he’s a shadowy crimefighter whose face has never been seen. Truth is, he’s the creation of four extraordinary kids who solve mysteries in his name. And neither an army of murderous zombies nor a subterranean monster can stop the Invisible Detective once the kids are on the case. Meanwhile, in present day, Arthur Drake finds the casebook of the Invisible Detective in a strange old antique store. Stranger still, the casebook is in his own handwriting. With a little help from his grandfather, Arthur not only uncovers his link to the Invisible Detective, but soon finds himself plunged into mysteries of his own.  J

Sobol, Donald. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown series)
Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is Idaville neighborhood’s ten-year-old star detective. With an uncanny knack for trivia, he solves mysteries for the neighborhood kids through his own detective agency. But his dad also happens to be the chief of the Idaville police department, and every night around the dinner table, Encyclopedia helps him solve his most baffling crimes. And with ten confounding mysteries in each book, not only does Encyclopedia have a chance to solve them, but the reader is given all the clues as well.  J

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Other mysteries set in the time of Sherlock Holmes, but with no “master detective”

Avi. Traitors’ Gate
It’s 1849, the year John Huffman’s father is sentenced to London’s Whitecross Street Prison. He’s been put away for gambling debt—leaving fourteen-year-old John and his family out on the street. But it seems gambling is the least of their problems: Father Huffman is accused of treason. Surrounded by a cast of sinister and suspicious characters, John’s not sure what to believe…or whom.  YA

Barrett, Mark. Joe Rat
In the dark underbelly of Victorian London a boy named Joe scavenges for scraps in the rat-infested sewers of the East End. Exploited a monstrous criminal mastermind known as Mother who controls everything in the boy’s world,  Joe scrapes a living in a city where no one can be trusted. A chance encounter with a runaway girl and a ‘madman’ turns Joe’s world upside down. But is it a change for the better or are things about to get a lot worse for the boy they call Joe Rat?  J

Buzzbee, Lewis. The Haunting of Charles Dickens
Meg’s older brother, Orion, has disappeared. One night, she steals out to look for him, and makes two surprising discoveries: she stumbles upon a séance that she suspects involves Orion, and she meets the author Charles Dickens, also unable to sleep, and roaming the London streets. Mr. Dickens fears that the children of London aren’t safe, and is trying to solve the mystery of so many disappearances. If he can, then perhaps he’ll be able to write once again.  J

Heneghan, Katherine. The Magician’s Apprentice
In 1874 Winchester, England, Jago Stonecipher is a poor magician’s assistant to his unscrupulous uncle.  When he discovers his uncle’s real business, he  becomes involved in a series of plots and deceits revolving around a lady’s maid and her employer’s family.  Can he escape his past by fleeing out to sea, or will trouble follow him, even outside of England? J

Lee, Y. S.  A Spy in the House (The Agency series)
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, Mary must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?  YA & J

Michael, Livi. The Whispering Road
Joe and his sister Annie escape from a farm where they are treated like slaves to make their way to Manchester in hopes of reuniting with their mother. They get help from a kind stranger and a mysterious dog-woman before finding a place with a traveling fair. Trouble is, Annie fits in with the fair—especially once they learn she can speak to the dead—but Joe doesn’t. He leaves her behind to join a street gang, but living rough is more dangerous than he thought, and he ends up being taken in by a rich man as a social experiment on educating the poor. The food and housing aren’t enough to contain Joe, though, and he flees to the employ of a reformist newspaperman, vowing to find Annie again.  J

Pulman, Philip.  The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart series)
“BEWARE THE SEVEN blessings . . . ” When she first utters these words, 16-year-old Sally Lockhart doesn’t know their meaning. But when an employee of her late father hears them, he dies of fear. Thus begins Sally’s terrifying journey into the seamy underworld of Victorian London, in search of clues to her father’s mysterious death.  YA & J

Stuart, Paul. The Curse of the Night Wolf  (Barnaby Grimes series)
Barnaby is a tick-tock lad, running errands in his city, day and night, and “highstacking” around the rooftops in search of new mysteries to solve. One night, Barnaby is attacked by an enormous dog and soon finds himself swept up into a world of crooked doctors, poor and ill-advised patients and strange tonics. What is the sinister doctor up to—and what is his relationship with the owner of a fashionable fur salon?  Barnaby will have to use all his wits to solve the mystery.  J

Updale, Eleanor. Thief, Liar, Gentleman?  (The Montmorency series)
When a petty thief falls though a glass roof in his attempt to escape from the police, what should have been the death of him marks the beginning of a whole new life. After his broken body is reconstructed by an ambitious young doctor, he is released from prison, and–with the help of Victorian London’s extensive sewer system–he becomes the most elusive burglar in the city. He adopts a dual existence as a respectable, wealthy gentleman named Montmorency, and his degenerate servant Scarper. But Montmorency must always be on guard. The smallest mistake could reveal his secret and ruin both his lives.  YA

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Out of Print (but at other libraries):

Newman, Robert. The Case of the Baker Street Irregular  (Baker Street Irregular series)
Brought to London under mysterious circumstances by his tutor, Andrew seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes when his tutor is kidnapped. When it looks like he himself is threatened with the same fate, he meets a strange girl named Screamer, whose brother just happens to be one of Sherlock Holmes’ Irregulars. Soon, Andrew, Screamer and the Irregulars are trying to find out the mystery behind Andrew’s unknown enemies.


Powell, Martin.  The Hound of the Baskervilles
Graphic novel adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel to the bleak wastes of Dartmoor, England to solve the mystery surrounding the late Sir Charles Baskerville and a ghostly hound.  J

Storck, Patrick. The Muppet Sherlock Holmes
“Once you eliminate the rational, whatever remains, no matter how absurd, must be the Muppets.” Join Gonzo as Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective and his associates Dr. Watson (Fozzie) and Inspector LeStrade (Kermit) as they embark on The Adventure of the Speckled Band.  J

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Adult (but older teens would enjoy):
King, Laurie.  The Beekeeper’s Apprentice  (Mary Russell novels)
In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes–and match him wit for wit. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. In their first case together, they must track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter and confront a truly cunning adversary–a bomber who has set trip wires for the sleuths and who will stop at nothing to end their partnership.

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If we forgot any other versions of Sherlock Holmes that you know and love, let us know!



Old Favorites: Jane-Emily

Is it still October?  Guess it’s time for another creepy Old Favorite!

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp, has been subtitled in its most recent paperback edition as “the classic novel of the supernatural”.  And it is.  It definitely is.

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Teenage Louisa and her young niece Jane are sent to stay for the summer with Jane’s grandmother Canfield. After the death of Jane’s parents–Louisa’s older sister Charlotte and Mrs. Canfield’s son, John–Jane has gone from a fun-loving little girl to a quiet and unhappy child.  All the people who love her think a change of scenery will be good for her.

Louisa was supporting Jane’s visit, until she discovers that she will be going too, to care for and be responsible for nine-year-old Jane. Louisa had plans for the summer, with her beau, Martin!  But Mrs. Canfield isn’t used to children and insists on some assistance, so an unhappy Louisa is trundled off to a long summer in Massachusetts with a quiet Jane.

Once arriving at the dark and formal mansion in Milford, Louisa is surprised to see Jane come out of her shell a bit.  Mrs. Canfield and her maid, Katie, seem to be happy to spoil and dote on the little girl. Louisa spends quite a bit of time with her as well, between reading and writing letters to Martin.  At first, both girls are content with their new situation.

But Jane seems to be a little too interested in one part of the house’s history: the stories about Emily, Mrs. Canfield’s youngest child, who died over a decade earlier, just a day shy of her thirteenth birthday.  At first, Louisa thinks it’s harmless; after all, Jane is playing with Emily’s things and sleeping in Emily’s room. She thinks it’s natural that Jane is interested in another girl who lived in the old house.

When Jane tells Louisa that she saw Emily’s face in the reflecting ball in the garden instead of her own, Louisa doesn’t believe her; she’s sure it’s simply her niece’s growing imagination, or wishful thinking. Even as Jane seems to become healthier and happier, other strange things start happening, centered around the little girl. She writes a poem that makes Mrs. Canfield turn pale, then show Louisa the exact same poem, written over a dozen years earlier by Emily. Jane acts like she talks to her dead aunt, and confesses to Louisa that she’s frightened of  Emily’s actions and of what she makes Jane do.

When Jane becomes ill, the young town doctor, Adam Frost, comes to the house to help care for her. As Dr. Frost spends more time with Jane, he befriends Louisa.  The developing friendship between the three of them seems to cause Emily’s actions to increase and become more spiteful.

Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful little girl when she was alive; a child who spoiled everything she touched. As a spirit, she’s malevolent and enraged.  She seems to have plans for Jane. Are Louisa, Mrs. Canfield and Dr. Frost in her way? Is she trying to harm Jane?  Or is something going on that is even more dangerous?

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First published in 1969, Jane-Emily seems older. (In fact, I checked several places to see if I could find an earlier copyright date.) It’s set at the turn of the century, when horse-drawn carriages and newfangled cars drove by each other on country roads, when letters were the only way to communicate over long distances; at a time where it seems perfectly reasonable that one evil little girl might hang around the family mansion in order to torment anyone who might take her place.

I can’t tell you how many times I read this book…even though it scared me.  It’s a quiet kind of scaring; the horror is suspenseful and creeps up on the reader. Everything seems to make sense and have a reasonable explanation, until it doesn’t. Emily’s presence is stamped all over the book, even as Jane and Louisa struggle to understand what is happening and determine how to escape from her clutches.

If you like horror, you’ll enjoy this book. I read it in sixth or seventh grade, but it’s accessible to a younger reader who enjoys a good ghost story, as well as an older reader who might like a little romance intermingled with the horror.

Try Jane-Emily if you liked Mary Downing Hahn or Stephanie Meyer. The book is kind of in-between the audience for the two authors.  I promise, you won’t be sorry.  Unless, of course, you have a gazing ball in your garden, and a ghost lurking in your home…


Old Favorites: The Arm of the Starfish, by Madeleine L’Engle

Everyone knows Madeleine L’Engle from A Wrinkle in Time, unquestioningly her most famous book. Some people even remember Meet the Austins, about a family with four children going through some issues.  My personal favorite of her works is A Ring of Endless Light–which I reread at least every couple of years.  Whether you’re reading her science fiction, realistic fiction or issue-driven novels, her characters practically jump off the page as people you would want to know in your life.  There’s a reason she won a Newbery Award, a Newbery Honor, and collected a variety of other literature prizes.

However, some of her books have sort of faded into the background of children’s and teen literature. And Both Were YoungCamilla. The Young Unicorns.  (all of which I love, of course.) These are all still great books and worthy of attention,  but there are so many books out there, that not every book can remain in the public eye forever. So some of Ms. L’Engle’s books have slipped off the radar of current readers, although most librarians and some teachers still remember.  My mission (and yours, if you choose to accept it) is to keep plugging those books so that they don’t just disappear into the far-too-big out of print status.  So I’m starting with The Arm of the Starfish, originally published in 1965.

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At the beginning of The Arm of the Starfish, marine biology student Adam Eddington is  about to depart on a flight to Portugal to spend the summer studying with the world-famous scientist Dr. O’Keefe on the island of Gaea.  (Now, not to spoil the surprise for anyone, but I have to just insert here that I read this book four or five times before I realized that Dr. O’Keefe is the all-grown-up Calvin from A Wrinkle in Time. Talk about a “d’oh!” moment. It doesn’t make any difference in the story, really. But it’s an interesting tidbit to remember.)

Adam is a little nervous to be going so far away, even though he’s very interested in the work he’ll be doing assisting Dr. O’Keefe. When his flight is delayed, he’s astonished to have a beautiful girl sit down beside him and strike up a conversation…and even more surprised when she warns him about Dr. O’Keefe. According to Kali, Dr. O’Keefe is untrustworthy, unreliable and probably up to something underhanded. She points out a clergyman–Canon Tallis–standing nearby with a young red-headed girl, and says he’s a phony working for Dr. O’Keefe. After the conversation, Adam’s head is reeling, and he’s not sure who to trust.

When the plane is diverted and Adam is almost arrested in Spain, he’s rescued by Canon Tallis and the girl, Poly, who turns out to be Dr. O’Keefe’s daughter. Instead of making things clearer for Adam though, it just makes everything more mysterious. People are having cryptic conversations over his head, and sharing significant glances.  Then, while in his charge, Poly disappears. Kali shows up and helps Adam to retrieve her…but Poly is at Kali’s father’s home, and Adam isn’t sure what exactly her motives are. His uncertainty is only cemented by his tentative friendship with Joshua,  a young man working for the American Embassy.

By the time Adam arrives on the island to work with Dr. O’Keefe on regeneration of starfish, there are more mysterious events, more random clues, and Adam learns that something odd is going on in the laboratories of Dr. O’Keefe.  But who can he trust? What is Dr. O’Keefe really studying?  Will Adam ever find his way out of this dangerous situation?

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I loved this book. I loved it when I first read it, and I love it now. The characters, from Kali to Canon Tallis to Dr. O’Keefe all have secrets. Even young Poly has something she’s hiding. Each character has distinct motivations and reasons for why they do what they do, and their stories twine around each other. The mystery is unraveled in bits and pieces, but all the elements were right there. As in all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, there’s a strong sense of right and wrong, of faith, and of justice.

Adam Eddington was first introduced in this book, but also makes appearances in A Ring of Endless Light and Troubling a Star. (Most of L’Engle’s characters cross over into at least one other book, and often more.)  His story crosses over with both of L’Engle’s famous families–the Murrey/O’Keefes (see the covers above) and the Austins.

Readers who enjoy mysteries, marine biology, spies, and/or strong characters will enjoy this book. I read it in fifth grade, but since Poly is twelve and Adam is seventeen, anyone between those ages would probably enjoy it as well. It’s  thought-provoking and could be a good parent/child book club selection, along with A Ring of Endless Light.  Really, any of L’Engle’s books would be a great jumping off point for sharing and discussion.

So…read. Enjoy! And then, let me know what you think.