Posts tagged ‘mystery’

June 28, 2014

Jumpstart your summer adventure – Dig into reading

by Angela VergesBlog Photo


Schools out! Begin a summer adventure with your child through books. Let your child’s imagination go wild and create a theme for books he would like to read this summer. Make it a challenge for the whole family by offering small rewards for each book read or each story a child has read to him.
If you child likes books related to tractors, planting gardens, or building sand castles, you can use the theme Dig into reading. This theme could also mean digging through your home library and re-reading your favorite books.
When my teen boys were younger, they loved to pretend they were camping out (somewhere in the house). Sometimes this meant throwing a sheet over the Living room table and pretending they were in a cave. For them, pitching a tent meant rearranging furniture to create the effect of being at a campground.
Our bonfire time consisted of sitting next to our sleeping bags in the middle of the floor and eating microwave popcorn. Of course there was a sharing of stories by flashlight.
I recently came across a fun idea recently, related to camps. The idea was to have a stuffed animal camp out. Since my boys are too old for this type of camp out, I challenged them to read a book about campouts or going to camp.
The book I selected to read was Ivy & Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows. Bean’s older sister gets to go to camp, but Bean is not old enough. Bean doesn’t really want to go to camp, but she comes up with a plan to create a camp of her own. With the help of her friend Ivy, rules are developed, a tent is made (using old curtains), and kids invited to join in.
One of the rules the girls develop is, “You can only have as much fun as you are willing to get hurt.” The girls are clever at finding ways to make their camp work. One of my favorite things about the book are the activities at the end.


Author: Annie Barrows Illustrator: Sophie Blackall Genre: Chapter book Ages: 6-9 years

Author: Annie Barrows
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Chapter book
Ages: 6-9 years

Information is listed that tells you how to make your own camp; it lists what to do on day one through four. For example day one list says – pick a counselor, pick a name, make a tent, etc. There is also a word find and crossword puzzle that the reader can complete.
If your child enjoys solving mysteries, Nate the great by Marjorie Weisman Sharmat was a book. Nate the great is a youth detective who says he works alone. And he loves pancakes. One of his cases involved helping a friend find a lost picture. He asked questions, followed clues and satisfactorily solved the case.
At the end of the book there is a recipe for Nate’s Pancakes, directions for making cat crayons (melting old crayons) and Detective Talk (explains words that detectives use). Nate the great is a series that has many books from which to choose.

Author: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat Illustrator: Marc Simont Genre: Chapter Book Ages: 6-9 years

Author: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
Illustrator: Marc Simont
Genre: Chapter Book
Ages: 6-9 years

Do you have a book suggestion to jumpstart summer reading? Dig in and leave your suggestion.




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!


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
: 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, 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
: 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.