Archive for ‘Mystery’

September 5, 2013

Hosting a Super Sleepover (Of course there are books involved!)

by Angela Verges

Angela Verges

Angela Verges

The kids are back in school and will make friends and soon invite them over for play dates and sleepovers. I remember my boys being invited to a friends’ house for a sleepover, so we didn’t have to host many ourselves. When the boys returned home I would hear stories about their escapades.

“We had a pillow fight, played games and stayed up all night.”

Now when I ask my teen boys about their first sleepover, they claim memory loss. I asked questions such as, “Did you tell scary stories, what kind of games did you play?”

The response I received was, “That was six years ago Ma, I don’t remember.”

Since I was planning a sleepover for my nieces, I thought it was also a good idea for the boys to read a book related to sleepovers. Maybe this would help them remember their days of sleepovers and help me with the planning.

jigsawjonessleepoverThe book my son read with me was A Jigsaw Jones Mystery – The Case of the Spooky Sleepover by James Preller. The first page of this chapter book begins with a description or Ralphie Jordan, a popular kid and a “world-champion smiler.”

Title: A Jigsaw Jones Mystery: The Case of the Spooky Sleepover
Author: James Preller
Genre: Early Reader, Mystery
Age:  Elementary

Ralphie wasn’t smiling when he talked to Jigsaw about his problem. Sitting in Jigsaw’s treehouse and backyard office, Ralphie explained that he heard ghost sounds at his house. And so the idea of a sleepover at Ralphie’s house was formed.

The Jigsaw Jones series has a recommended age of 7-10 years. The language was age appropriate and fun to read. The mystery was solved in a satisfying way that left this reader with a smile, just like Ralphie Jordan.

9780316734189For the younger reader, Olive’s First Sleepover by Roberta Baker does a good job showing escapades that occur during a first sleepover. Olive played with her friend Lizard many times, but had never stayed the night with Lizard.

Title: Olive’s First Sleepover
Author: Roberta Baker
Illustrator: Debbie Tilley
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: whenever they are having their first sleepover!

During the sleepover the girls created a petting zoo with caterpillars and other bugs they collected and charged the neighbors a small fee to visit. For dinner they made pizza with crazy toppings like marshmallows and chocolate chips. When it was time for bed the girls made a blanket tent and used pillows to create a tunnel.

Of course the night didn’t end without Olive becoming homesick. After listening to a ghost story, every sound that Olive heard was magnified. The ticking of the alarm clock was loud as well as the dripping of the rain as it trickled down a gutter. The girls experience more mishaps before finally sleeping soundly.

If you’re planning a sleepover either of the books mentioned in this post would be fun to read. If you’re looking for activities to incorporate into your party check out The Sleepover Book by Margot Griffin. The book included ideas such as flashlight tag, radical relays and a recipe for making glow-in-the-dark body paint.

thesleepoverbook

Title: The Sleepover Book
Author: Margot Griffin
Illustrator: Jane Kurisu
Genre: Parenting, Crafts, Cookbook
Ages: Old enough to host a sleepover

If you want to host a super sleepover, include the kids in the planning. Or at the very least, enjoy a good book about sleepovers.

What has been your experience with sleepovers?

August 6, 2013

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

by Angela Verges

Line drive, loose hit, home run, these are all signs that baseball season is in full swing. I remember the days of my boys playing t-ball, coach pitch, and then baseball. Sitting on metal bleachers, watching kids in the outfield pick dandelions during the game, was one of the joys of parenting during baseball season.

During the days of little league parents may play the role of coach, snack organizer, and cheerleader. The job doesn’t end there. As my boys got older they wanted to expand from playing baseball into watching “real” baseball games. So it was off to Tiger Stadium to see professional baseball in action.

fenwayfoulupThis summer, we’ve shifted into reading a book with a baseball theme. One book we chose as a quick read was The Fenway Foul-Up by David A. Kelly. This book is one in the series, Ballpark Mysteries. In the story, Kate and Mike are cousins who stumble upon a mystery to solve while they are at a baseball game at Fenway Park.

Mike and Kate are self-appointed sleuths who search for clues to find a lucky bat that was stolen. The bat belonged to the star slugger of the Red Sox. Large print and pictures add to the easy flow of this book. And the story line is good too.

grandmasatbatIf you have an emerging reader, Grandmas at Bat by Emily Arnold McCully is a fun story. When Pip’s team needs a coach his two grandmas step up to the plate, literally. They coach, they cheer and they even take a turn at bat. It sounds like real life parenting during little league season.

If your little slugger can’t seem to get enough of baseball, let him or her have a little fun with baseball related science experiments or activities. At the science buddies website, there was an experiment that shows how to determine whether body position affects baseball speed (www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Sports_p053.shtml).

The TLC website listed activities and instructions for playing them. Some of the activities included, Backward Baseball, Spelling Bee Baseball and a Base Running Game (www.tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/baseball-activities4.htm).

The next time you’re sitting on metal bleachers watching a little league game or sitting in the stands of a professional game, remember kids really do grow up quickly. Enjoy the journey. Soon the roles will reverse and the kids will take you out to the ballpark.

Do you have any adventures in baseball to share?

December 5, 2012

Snicket’s wrong questions make for fun reading

In case things were getting a little too serious around here, I’d like to introduce Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) to introduce the latest book I read, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, which tells the story of Snicket’s rather unusual childhood. And while I’ve been talking about a lot of serious books you can talk to your kids about, nothing gets a good relationship going like a shared laugh. So read this one with your kids now. Laugh together. Build up a foundation of shared reading. And then when the time comes, it will be all the easier to read and talk about the books I blogged about earlier. This would be great holiday reading! Something to share with the kids when school is out.

Anyway, he’s funny as you can tell, and so are his books. If you haven’t read him before, he has a cynical, slightly dark, but extremely fun voice. Definitely recommend this first installment in his “All the Wrong Questions” series. Great laid-back holiday reading!

whocouldthatbeatthishour

Title: Who Could That Be at This Hour?
Author: Lemony Snicket
Genre: Mystery, Humor, Lots of Fun
Age: Reading to Adult, chapter book/early middle grade level

What about you? Do you have favorite funny stories? Have you asked the wrong question at the wrong time? What are you going to read with your kids when school is out?

 

January 6, 2011

Geek out with Harry Potter literary analysis

Hardison, the computer geek character in Leverage, my current favorite TV show, is fond of saying “It’s the age of the geek!”  And looking at Google and Facebook alone, it’s hard to argue that, although whether or not it’s the age of the literary geek is probably more debatable.  However, I’m happily able to admit that I am a full Harry Potter geek, even if I don’t have my own wand or invisibility cloak.  And that as a result, this book made me REALLY happy.

Title: Harry Potter’s Bookshelf
Author: John Granger
Genre
: Reference/Literature, Young Adult, Adult, Middle Grade
Age: 12 and up

Summary and Review:

John Granger really goes all out in his literary analysis of Harry Potter.  His author email address is john@hogwartsprofessor.com, and he takes his professorship seriously.  Which, let me tell you, I appreciate.  Reading this book has given me not only profound insight into the Potter series, but also the centuries of literature it is built upon.  Whether Rowling was influenced by the exact books Granger mentions or whether she alludes to them with her writing style purposely, is irrelevant.  The brilliance of the book is how it ties together so many forms of literature and shows how those forms have influenced writing today, specifically the writing of the great JKR.

Topics in this book include the narrative structure of the book–why Rowling might have chosen the third person omniscient limited as her main form of narrative style, genre–how each book reads like a classic mystery tale, and author-influence–how frequently Jane Austen and her characters and ideas flit through the pages of the Potter novels.  He also covers the setting as structured like a familiar British boarding-school novel, and the moral meaning of the significant gothic influences and postmodern themes present in the book.  He covers satire, allegory, literary alchemy, and fantasy.

The book was a great read.  As a Harry Potter fan, I enjoyed a new glimpse into the books, and it has encouraged me to pick them up another time, reading at a deeper level.  As a reader, I loved learning about the literary history that I either never learned in school or have long forgotten.  And as a writer, I really appreciated the chance to dissect a great book and to really think about why it’s great and what choices the author may have made along the way.

This book certainly isn’t a children’s book, but a precocious Potter-loving middle school would enjoy it.  And any high schooler with an appreciation for the young wizard will get a kick out of it, especially since he or she would likely be in the middle of the stage of education where many of the books mentioned in here are required reading.  This might make Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre a heck of a lot more fun!

Follow-up with the kids:

It would be a lot of fun to reread one of the Potter books or even the whole series with this analysis in mind.  Or you could do a scavenger hunt through one of the books and look for some of the clues and allusions Granger mentions.  And despite the fact that it’s a literary analysis, you could probably (sigh) watch the movies (which, don’t get me wrong are great, but really) and find some of the trends, especially as regards the setting, in there as well.  So grab some popcorn and sit the family on the couch to look for gothic symbolism or medieval signs.

September 16, 2010

It’s both sweet and savory and if it were PIE, I’d order more

I went through a mystery phase in middle school.  Nancy Drew (yes, all of them), Hardy Boys (almost all of them), Agatha Christie (a lot of them), and Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… series (definitely all of them).  And that was it for me.  No more mysteries; I just wasn’t as interested anymore.  Until I saw this book on the shelf of my local (independent!) bookstore recently.  It called to me.  It said “you think you don’t like mysteries anymore, but you know you are going to like this one!”  Look at the gorgeous, intriguing cover.  A dead bird and a postage stamp.  And the title?  Love it!  And the reviews?  It was like love at first sight without that awkward first date.

This is a book for absolutely anyone older than twelve.  Adult mystery readers will love this book.  And middle school and high school girls will like it, too.  So please, let me begin.

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Genre
: Mystery
Age: 12 and older, Middle School, High School, Adult

Summary and Review:

In the opening scene, young Flavia is locked in a dark closet, breathing stale air through her nose as she tries to free her tied hands and gagged mouth.  But just when you think the book is starting off more intense than you imagined for a story of a young girl, she frees herself, runs down stairs, waves to her father, and begins to plan her revenge on her two older sisters.  The scene, after much more sibling turmoil, ends with these words:

I leapt up from the table and fled the room in tears.  I didn’t actually think of the poison until next morning at breakfast.

As with all great schemes, it was a simple one.

And we are thus introduced to Flavia, a very different, very isolated 11-year-old girl whose mother has died leaving behind a Father who has nothing to say to his children and two older sisters who taunt her cruelly (although she’s no less mean in her retaliations).  In the grand old manor in which they live, Flavia spends most of her time in the attic’s old chemistry lab, a relic of a passionate ancestor.  Her older sisters might have the edge of age and memories of their mother (which she is tormented not to have), but she has a chemistry lab and she knows how to use it.  It is this chemistry that helps her solve a mystery that begins with a dead bird on the doorstep with a rare stamp on its beak and intensifies when Flavia watches a man take his last dying breath, whispering a secret only she can hear.

Solving the mystery takes Flavia, her bicycle, and her sharp mind on a journey to understand her father’s past and, as she struggles to prove her father innocent, gets her in more trouble than she could ever predict.

I once read somewhere that the best way to learn about a place is to read mysteries set in that place.  Apparently, the kind of research and writing that tends to go on in a good mystery novel just seems to bring out the geography of an area.  Sweetness certainly does that–transports you to the English countryside in a wonderfully vivid way.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

I love one of the quotes by the author in the back of the book.  “[Flavia]’s eleven but she has the wisdom of an adult.  She knows everything about chemistry but nothing about family relationships.”  And that, right there, is what makes the book so good.  That’s what I would talk about.

This is one of those books that actually has book group questions in the back.  I love book groups; I hate book group questions in the back of my book.  Of the twelve questions, there is one that I like and I think would make an interesting conversation with a middle or high school student.  “Like any scientist, Flavia expects her world to obey certain rules, and seems to be thrown off kilter when surprises occur.  How much does she rely on the predictability of those around her, like her father and her sisters, in order to pursue her own interests (like solving the murder)?”

The second Flavia de Luce mystery, The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag, is already out in hardcover and the third, A Red Herring Without Mustard, will be available in February 2011.