Category Archives: Children

FAVORITE NEW AND CLASSIC CHILDREN’S MYSTERIES

I love reading children’s fiction and especially mysteries.  Why?

Like most of us mystery readers and writers, as a youngster when I became bored with Dick and Jane, Spot and Fluffy, I started reading The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Vicky Barr (Air Stewardess), and other mystery series titles for children.  When I began to write my myself, I realized I knew mysteries and especially children’s mysteries better than most other genres.

Do you remember Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Trixie Belden? Few plots stayed with me, but one title was memorable. The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May prompted me to beg my mother for a baby sister when I was ten and then eleven. Surprise! I do have a sister who is 12 years younger than me. (I found out recently that my favorite Bobbsey Twins’ book was highly regarded by the famous children’s author, Lois Lowry.  Read her The Willoughbys for allusions to many juvenile titles we all enjoyed).

Being a big sister made me want to grow up even faster and I began to read adult mysteries such as Perry Mason by Earle Stanley Gardner plus the MacDonalds, both Ross and John D., then I progressed to psychological thrillers such as Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.

After my children were born I volunteered in the school library where my hidden love emerged. I realized I always wanted to be a librarian:  to talk about and share books with readers of all ages. I obtained my MLS and realized my goal of being a children’s librarian in a public school in Montgomery County, MD, in 1992!

Now the titles we have available are not as formulaic as the early mystery series were written. If you haven’t read books for this age, you are in for a treat. Clues, red herrings, and meaty plots with unique characters are found in every bookstore and school library.

Where to begin? One of the standard classic children’s mystery novels, a Newbery medal winner, is The Westing Game. Written in 1978 by Ellen Raskin, I haven’t read it yet.  Here are Raskin’s intriguing first lines: “The sun set in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!”

Speaking of children’s book awards, Joan Lowry Nixon won the coveted Edgar, given out by Mystery Writers of America membership, three times in the 1980’s with titles as varied as The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, The Séance, and The Other Side of the Dark.

Even in the 1970’s, children’s mystery authors were introducing diverse characters, which is the newest trend in children’s literature. Skip ahead to my time as a school librarian. Blue Balliett’s art mysteries set in Chicago grabbed me when I as an elementary librarian. learning the newest titles to share. I followed up her debut Chasing Vermeer (2004) reading the other three in her series about art heists solved by a multi-cultural group of pre-teens. Balliett’s mysteries include boys and girls from a middle school, their creative teacher, and a math game called Pentominoes. I cannot explain how these plastic pieces help one protagonist, Calder, but the author will make you understand why these manipulatives are central to solving clues.

Many mystery writers are now mixing genres, adding adventure, historical fiction, humor, and maybe some fantasy to their novels. Two examples of current titles I enjoyed in 2017 include Kate Milford’s sequel to The Greenglass House, The Ghosts of Greenglass House,  and a debut by Caroline Carlson called The World’s Greatest Detective. It would be a spoiler to mention which genres are mixed in these mysteries! I am proud to mention Carlson’s novel (and my grandson’s favorite detective novel) has been nominated for an Agatha this year!).

Chris Grabenstein’s fun series adds gaming and holograms as well as competitions to his Lemoncello Library books. Boys and girls compete in a modern-day Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like contest. Another great children’s mystery, recommended to me by my favorite mystery Indie bookseller, is The Book Scavenger. Do you know children who enjoy geocaching? Jennifer Chambliss Bertman combines the idea of searching for clues in geographic locations with the concept of book titles. The setting is everyone’s favorite: San Francisco. Think Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Allen Poe and Jack Kerouac. Children learn about these famous authors while reading Bertram’s books and scavenging along with the characters. I hear there is a great sequel to The Book Scavenger!

Another favorite author includes Mary Downing Hahn, a Children’s Book Guild member in the Washington, DC chapter. Her ghost stories are deliciously scary according to the students where I volunteer. They loved Took and One For Sorrow (2017). Sometimes Hahn adds time travel elements to her books. She won the Edgar Award for Juvenile mysteries in 2010 for Closed for the Season, now on my TBR list. I can recommend her earlier books such as The Doll in the Garden, Wait Till Helen Comes: a Ghost Story, and A Time for Andrew (especially appealing to guy readers.)

 How about contemporary topics introduced in a mystery?  Gordon Korman has penned a series which explains the complications of cloning in his Masterminds series. This intriguing set of books reminded me of Nancy Farmer’s science fiction mysteries, such as The Eye, the Ear and the Arm as well as The House of the Scorpion for YA readers.

Wesley King shared true-to-life experiences in a mystery featuring Daniel who suffers from OCD without a diagnosis. His Edgar, Silver Birch, and Bank Street Best Book of the Year awarded title, OCDaniel for high school students, provides a great adventure in eighth grade and on the football team with clues surprising even Daniel and his new friends. The author astonishes us when Daniel receives an unsigned note which reads,  “Help me.” I agree with the Booklist starred review that OCDaniel, “a perceptive, first person narrative is sometimes painful, sometimes amusing, and always rewarding.”  The mystery sneaks up on the reader as “a bonus” to this unusual novel which will appeal to older middle schoolers and high school readers.

If you readers enjoy pets in your novels, try Spencer Quinn’s series about Bowser and his owner Birdie. Quinn’s adult series about Bernie, the dog, will remind you of the author’s  fun and unique technique of solving mysteries when the main detective’s sidekick cannot “speak” out loud. Another Agatha nominated author in other years, Quinn has written Woof (2015), Arf (2016) and Bow Wow (2017) in the Birdie and Bowser series.

The Harlem Charade is a children’s mystery debut nominated this year for an Agatha. Natasha Tarplay, author of I Love My Hair, creates a contemporary mystery with diverse young protagonists: a homeless boy, a Hispanic girl living above a bodega, and a secretly rich female friend, all of whom find community spirit along with Harlem’s art history. (By the way, Gordon Korman provided his “thumbs up” blurb on the cover of this new book as he complimented the twists and pacing of Tarplay’s novel.

When I don’t read mysteries, I love historical fiction. York: The Shadow Cipher (Book 1) by Laura Ruby is a distinctive NYC historical mystery. Beginning in the 1800’s with a prominent fictional family, the action moves into the present. I cannot even describe the elevator in the current family’s historic home. You will have to discover the fantastic way the contemporary twins leave their apartment to solve this intriguing family mystery.

What is my conclusion?  SO MANY BOOKS; SO LITTLE TIME!

I am looking forward to meeting and greeting new and old author friends at Malice Domestic 30, a great fan conference in Bethesda, MD at the end of April. One new mystery author I just met online is Cindy Callaghan, whose novel  Sydney Mackenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead, a 2017 Agatha nominee for best children’s mystery, I found very appealing for the middle grade audience.

I urge you to find time for these titles, many of which can be read in one to two days. Check out the mystery award lists for new favorites. You won’t be disappointed at the variety and the craftsmanship of the children’s mystery authors.

I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana to a reading and writing family. MY grandfather published two books and a play; my mother was the women’s editor and later one of the first city editors of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in the 1950’s and 1960’s; and my uncle wrote for The Stars and Stripes. Our grandsons love to read and write mysteries, too. After retiring from a school librarian position in 2007 at an elementary school where I taught Marcia Talley’s grands, this school librarian was encouraged by Kathy Harig of Mystery Loves Company Bookstore and author Marcia Talley to attend Malice Domestic!

www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.COM for more recommendations of children’s literature

 

HAPPY READING IN 2018!!

 

 

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Filed under Award winning books, Boys' books, Children, Children's Literature, Different Children, First Novels, Historial Fiction, Malice Domestic, Mystery

CONNECTIONS IN LITERATURE

If you love To Kill a Mockingbird as I do, you have read all the news about Harper Lee’s writing, her friendships, and her death.  But have you read the latest novel Tru and Nelle by G. Neri? You will recognize the characters immediately, but are they Scout and Dill or Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee?  Their adventures, as imagined by Greg Neri, who usually writes urban fiction, will amaze and delight you.  Did you know both writers, Truman and Harper were neighbors in Monroeville, AL; that they both loved to read Sherlock Holmes stories (in book form); and that both assisted each other in their adult writing.  Be prepared for surprises and clues to the plot, characters and setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.  You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this book is written for middle grade  readers of ages nine to twelve, but you adults will get the allusions and gain knowledge you didn’t know you wanted to realize about these favorite authors.   Writers will “find the fun” in learning the “backstory!”

Happy Reading in all Genres for 2016!

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Filed under Book Clubs, Children, Children's Literature, Historial Fiction, Literary Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Uncategorized

Characters You Want To Know: Part 1

“Never be without a good book” is a motto revealed to me, one I adopted many years ago.  Today, I plan to surprise you with book characters, originally written for children, but these are titles I love because the characters create empathy in us.

To put my suggestions in a framework, I will go back to CAMEL. We want to read books with complex characters, don’t we? Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper stars Melody, an eleven year old girl with a photographic memory.  Choosing Melody to narrate this book takes you into her mind for she cannot talk, walk, or write.  Wait a minute, you ask, how can she have a photographic memory when she is as described on the first page? How can she communicate with us, the readers, and with her family and friends?   She has cerebral palsy, is placed in special needs class, forever in her wheelchair.  Melody is a complex “Character You Want to Know!”  I will not tell you the plot of this human story, because you will want to see how it unfolds.

Although we sometimes read predictable novels while at the beach, still, for lasting impact, I think we want ambiguity in our reading choices.  Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a book I will re-read many times.  The books I have chosen for today’s post will help us to understand children who are different from the norm. Willow Chance, the character I want you to know, is a twelve year old genius who reveres the number 7.  She has many unusual quirks and interests so she is not a “popular” child in school. Her life takes a tragic turn and other adults reach out to care for her and try to understand this beautiful child.    I hope you will take Willow into your heart as I have.  Hear about Willow from a young reader who posted a review on Amazon:

“I guess I really enjoyed this book because I am a gifted child myself. I am 9 years old and have recently skipped 2 years of primary school. I loved this book; it really made me cry…. I agree with Willow that sometimes in school it is hard to fit in….’”

One Meaty character you will want to know is Auggie Pullman.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which stars this main character you will want to know, has appeared on many “Best Of” lists in the past few years.  I picked it up and recommended this realistic story to many teachers and parents.  Auggie’s face is never described because, as the narrator Auggie tells us, it is indescribable.  I cannot imagine his life in middle school as others taunt and react to a new boy who has his cranial-facial differences.  Auggie Pullman will surprise you with his resilience to the bullies and those who try to ignore him.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, has an Exceptional Setting and it is about a boy who does not speak. Jacob is discovered by a childless couple on their porch one day. This setting will remind you of Anne of Green Gables; it is a small farm near a simple village.  Jacob communicates best with a cow and the dog in this quiet setting, but the couple learn much from him daily. On her blog Sharon Creech says, “It was a challenge to write about a boy who does not speak, but I hope the reader learns as much about the boy through what he does and how he affects others as we might learn if he could use words.”

Language and Literary Devices wrap up my choices for you of Characters You Want to Know: Part 1.  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is written entirely in free verse and won the Newbery Award in 1998.  It is a difficult novel for children, so I recommend that adults read this historical fiction gem first before giving it to a child.  Billie Joe is a fifteen year old who lives in the dust bowl of Oklahoma and yearns to play piano.  How can a poor farmer’s family during the Depression keep a large musical instrument such as a piano.  Hesse is remarkable when she describes the music in Billie Joe’s heart.  The lines are spare just as the land provided little, but you will love the language.

“June 1934

On the Road with Arley”

Here’s the way I figure it.

My place in the world is at the piano.”

Please read Out of the Dust yourself to get to know Billie Joe. I hope you enjoy meeting these characters who all exhibit gifts to share with readers who strive to understand human nature through empathetic literature.

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Filed under Award winning books, Children, Different Children, Historial Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Children’s Books

Children’s literature!  Isn’t reading children’s books how all readers began their love of our language and the written word?  Think back to the first story you remem-ber your parent reading aloud to you.  My first remembrance is this book published by Better Homes and Gardens (1950). My favorite story was “The Story of the Live Dolls” by Josephine Scribner Gates.  Now my family’s the favorite is my husband’s reading (in dialect, “Br’er Fox, he lay low.”) of the classic southern tale, “The Tar Baby” by Joel Chandler Harris

Following those favorites were nursery rhymes, folktales and fairy tales, and of course fiction written especially for children.  Soon I was reading “Dick and Jane” by  William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp on my own, followed by “Raggedy Ann” stories by Johnny Gruelle. “The Bobbsey Twin” series were gems I received for each birthday; Laura Lee Hope introduced me to my first mystery series.  There was only one problem with these books:  I finished each one in a day!  What should I read next?  I wondered.  Luckily for me, my mother wrote and edited a column for the local newspaper in Fort Wayne, IN.  Sue Webber was best friends with the book reviewer who passed all the children’s newest hardback books from publishers to me.  There were so many, that I do not remember the titles.

In junior high school, we lived in such a small town that the school was a junior/senior high with one library.  I remember having to ask my mother for a letter to give to the school librarian granting me permission to check out books from the high school stacks.  My first checked out book was an abridged Shakespeare.  Are there any readers out there from Leo, IN?

Why write about children’s literature now?  We love to read mysteries, historical fiction, women’s popular and literary fiction, but the best children’s writers will surprise you with their insights, the tightness of their stories and their skill in creating this shorter (?) fiction.  I actually read more children’s literature as an adult than as a child growing up, because I wanted to advance to the “good stuff” at an early age.  It was in library school at the University of Maryland that I learned to appreciate writers of children’s books.

Have you been waiting for some recommendations for yourself and your children and grandchildren?  I will highlight some popular and some lesser known titles not to be missed. Let’s begin with titles for pre-school children.  Don’t we love to read about brave, interestingly unusual characters?  The “Olivia” series by Ian Falconer will find you in awe of this outrageous pig.  I will bet you don’t know about a set of bold, imaginative characters penned by a friend of mine.  Don’t miss Amy Reichert’s While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat about Rose and Violet’s story Take Your Mama to Work.  You will love the illustrations by Alexander Boiger who discovered just the right style to portray Rose and Violet.  Reeve Lindbergh (yes, the daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh) writes for pre-schoolers as well as books for all ages.  Homer, the Library Cat is one of my favorites.  Of course, I love all books about libraries.  (Another post idea?)

Grade school children love to read about children who perform differently than the norm.  Lois Lowry writes for all ages of children and adults, but I want to recommend one of my favorite series starting with Gooney Bird Greene, which follows the antics of a new second grader who amazes her teacher and her classmates.  The series continues with six realistic chapter books suitable for children seven to ten.  Maybe these readers also like historical fiction, so I can recommend What To Do About Alice? and  Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story By Deborah Hopkinson.  She writes about many subjects such as history, lighthouses, wars, and knitting with many more interesting subjects.

Older students will like realistic fiction, fantasies and mysteries set in Maryland and Washington, D.C. by authors such as Mary Downing Hahn, Anne Spencer Lindbergh, Priscilla Cummings and Katherine Paterson.  My favorites include Hahn’s The Doll in the Garden, and Time for Andrew:  A Ghost Story, Lindbergh’s The People in Pineapple Place and The Hunky Dory Dairy, Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Priscilla Cummings’ books Face First and Blindsided. Please check the websites for ages and grade levels for these titles or send me questions in the COMMENTS section.

 

I cannot end this post without sharing some new mysteries I personally read this year which are highly recommended for middle grade readers in third through sixth grade.  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chad Grabenstein won an Agatha award for the best children’s mystery of 2014!  In contention was the first in a new series by Amanda Flower called Andi Unexpected.  I was fortunate to meet the author of The Sherlock Holmes Club by Ohio teacher Gloria Alden.  All of these titles provide me with inspiration as I construct my own children’s mystery!

 

I hope my followers will send me more great children’s titles to review and read.  If you know of any budding writers who wish to have their children’s books read, please send them my way.

 

Happy Children’s Literature reading in 2015!

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Mysterious Mysteries!

Who killed Michael Abramowitz?  There are frequent clues in Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman’s first mystery novel.  Reading blurbs on Sujata Massey’s “Rei Shimura” series books reminded me that I love to read local author Laura Lippman’s mysteries with settings in our Chesapeake Bay region. Don’t you enjoy reading books set in your own area?   I relish being reminded of the neighborhoods, restaurants, and streets I know or want to explore.  Remember CAMEL from my last posting? E=EXCEPTIONAL SETTINGS! Don’t forget about CAMEL to help you to find great books of this and any genre.

So now that we have explored EXCEPTIONAL SETTINGS in the first paragraph, let me tell you how I became enamored of mystery stories.  Mysteries were my first love from when I was an early reader in grade school beginning with “The Bobbsey Twins” series. All my allowance and birthday money was spent in my home town in northern Indiana on these and other mystery series books. I continued to collect and read any mysteries for my age group. Then in high school I subscribed to the Columbia Mystery Book Club, using all my babysitting money on Perry Mason novels. Now I read any thrillers, suspense and mystery novels recommended by reviewers, friends and family.  I love them light, such as Agatha Christie ones, to very dark, such as Steig Larssen’s books and all mysteries in between.  Please let me know your favorites in the comment section!

Returning to the concepts in the CAMEL  acronym  suggested @ Book Club Cheerleader (see below),  let’s explore some of the other traits of a great title.  What is an example of COMPLEX CHARACTERS in the mystery genre?  Sharyn McCrumb in If I Killed Him When I Met Him has two complex secondary characters, Eleanor Royden and Donna Jean Morgan, who are wives accused of murdering their husbands.  The investigators in the story are a forensic anthropologist and two lawyers, Elizabeth’s brother Bill and his partner, A. P. Hill.  You do not need to read the first Elisabeth MacPherson book in the series to understand this interesting title by MacCrumb, still I encourage you to try more books in her bibliography.

Let’s find some stories filled with A for AMBIGUITY.  This trait can be in the theme, the characters, the climax or the solution.  The author of this type of book keeps you guessing throughout the novel.  Many of you have read Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series about the Egyptian anthropologists.  Ms Peters, known as Mertz/Peters/Michaels,  was prolific; as a matter of fact, she wrote under three names.  On her website there is a quote I would like to share:  “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels [and Barbara Mertz]) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.” One of my favorite characters she created is a librarian (surprise, surprise) named Jacqueline Kirby.  Naked No More contains a plot, themes and characters who are ambiguous!

Now I know you are ready for a recommendation of a mystery novel full of M=MEATY issues. Through the Darkness, the sixth book in Marcia Talley’s Hannah Ives series, is about the kidnapping of the protagonist’s one year old grandson.  I do not know how Marcia wrote that one, but she carried it off with her usual flair for suspense, realism and care for her characters.

Yesterday I mentioned a book with letters which covers the LITERARY DEVICES idea.  As a former English teacher and school librarian, my favorite of the entire CAMEL concept for choosing books is LANGUAGE and LITERARY DEVICES.  People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is an untraditional mystery; in fact, it is probably not listed as a mystery on many book lists.  Still this brilliant novel includes clues, an investigator and many characters hiding the facts from others as well as the reader!  This popular novel follows the provenance of an object, an illuminated text from the current times back to the beginning of its inception. This technique has been used by other authors which I will explain in another post.

Here are some mystery blogs and websites I follow:

http://sujatamassey.com/blog/

http://www.marciatalley.com/

http://hankphillippiryan.com/blog.php

http://www.jungleredwriters.com/

http://www.elaineviets.com/

http://femmesfatales.typepad.com/

http://www.bookclubcheerleader.com/Home_Page.html

www.mysterylovescompany.com

 

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Filed under Children, Historial Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, myseries, Mystery, untraditional mysteries

Happy New Year, 2015!

This year is the first year of my own blog, Best Books By Beth.com!  I will be sharing links to reading and writing sites, reviews of children’s literature as well as great adult titles, both new and classic.  Links will be shared to other writers’ blogs.  Today,  I am motivated to write more myself as I send in stories to contests, publishers, magazines and maybe find a writing group and an agent.  Are these too many goals?  C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we’re not alone.”  A well-known children’s writer, Richard Peck, mentioned that “…nobody but a reader ever became a writer.”  I have discovered great inspiration from his book Invitations to the World:  Teaching and Writing to the Young. (NY:  Dell, 2002) So as I work on Best Books By Beth, my goal is to share great reading and writing with my followers.
When I decided to write my own blog, I thought about my best skills. What do I love to do daily? I cannot go a day without recommending at least one book to a friend, a friend I just met or a golden one. Today I started reading one of the books in Betty G. Birnam’s series of “Humphrey” books for middle grade readers. This reading started as research for my own writing, but I fall in love with Humphrey, the golden hamster, each time I read his narration. Do you need a light-hearted read today, the beginning of a new year? I recommend Surprises according to Humphrey. If you have never been introduced to this great character, you will be in for a treat. Today may be the day you laugh out loud while reading silently or when you decide to share this book with a loved one of any age.
Maybe you are looking for a new book for your adult book club. Remember CAMEL! C= Complex Characters; A= Ambiguity; M= Meaty Issues; E= Exceptional Setting; and L= Language and Literary Devices.
Let the CAMEL acronym fill you up with the best you can find. Would you like some examples?
C= The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Spark! A= Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck! M= Still Alice by Lisa Genovese! E= Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill! and L= The Last Letter from My Lover by Jojo Moyes! You can see I enjoy reading many genres of fiction with literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries and women’s popular fiction all included in my tastes.
In the next post I will write about my favorite mystery writers for each age of reader. Until then, happy reading in this new year of potential and possibilities.

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Filed under Children, Historial Fiction, Mystery

Welcome to my Blog!

There is nothing more I love to do than talk about books, except to read them! You will find lots of reviews and discussions about the latest, greatest and most interesting books for book lovers. Whether you like mysteries (my favorite), historical fiction, or children’s books, you’ll find what you’re seeking on this blog, Best Books By Beth. I welcome new authors to send me their books and I will be happy to review them!

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Filed under Children, Historical Fiction, Mystery