Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, September 15, 2011


. . . people read mystery stories for a diversity of reasons. Some, for the intellectual challenge of the puzzles they present, others for the vicarious pleasure of the chase. Others believe . . . that the vast popularity of the genre lies in the fact that, in a disorderly world, it represents one of the few fixed points of order and morality, where justice may be counted on to emerge triumphant. -Howard Haycraft ("A Treasure of Great Mysteries")

On this day in 1890 English mystery writer Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller, later known as Agatha Christie, was born in Torquay, England.  (I was privileged to visit this beautiful seaside town in the county of Devon with my family the summer after my high school graduation. Not sure if I was aware at the time that this gifted writer was born there.)

Anyway - I've discovered some interesting trivia about Dame Agatha that I'd like to share with you before I move on to some fun mysteries for kids...

- She was educated at home.
- At sixteen she was sent to school in Paris where she studied singing and piano
-In 1914 she married Colonel Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind.
-In 1926, Archibald announced that he had fallen in love with a younger woman, Nancy Neele. That same year, Agatha Christie's beloved mother died and Agatha experienced her own real life mystery: she disappeared for a time and lived in a Harrowgate hotel under the name 'Mrs. Neele'. Agatha and Archibald divorced in 1928.
-Christie worked as a nurse during WWI, which helped her learn about prescriptions and poisons -- something which figured strongly in her writing career.
- Influences: Anna Katherine Green, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton.
- Christie is the Guinness World Record author: her work has been translated into more languages than Shakespeare.
- Agatha Christie never wrote a novel or short story featuring both her sleuths, Poirot and Miss Marple. Christie revealed the reason for this: "Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist, would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady".

I remember reading Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE in high school, but I was first introduced to her popular sleuth, Hercule Poirot, through the PBS Masterpiece MYSTERY! series. I love David Suchet's brilliant portrayal of Christie's Belgian detective.  If you've ever watched any "POIROT" on PBS, I'm sure you've noticed the macabre, yet merry world that illustrator Edward Gorey has created as the backdrop for MYSTERY! (ever since the series began in 1980).

Gorey illustrated the covers for some of my son's favorite "juvenile reader" Gothic mystery novels by John Bellairs, featuring amateur sleuth Johnny Dixon and his elderly friend Professor Roderick Childermass.
The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs
Which brings me to...KIDS AND MYSTERY STORIES:
According to Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute"The mystery story can be an excellent stimulus for utilizing study skills needed to be a good critical reader, such as cause-and-effect, logical deduction, and assessing vital information and facts. These same skills are also valuable in forming a “budding” writer.... the devices of the mystery story... are the hallmarks of all storytelling: the problemthe characters needed to make the reader care about them, the events that occur in their solving of the problem and, in the end, the reader feeling a satisfaction in being included in the solution."

Most of us remember Trixie Beldon, Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys; but here are some mystery/detective books for kids you may have missed...

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, by Herge. These are great mysteries for reluctant readers, in comic book format.

THE HOUSE OF DIES DREAR, by Virginia Hamilton (A historical mystery) From Amazon: A huge, old house with secret tunnels, a cantankerous caretaker, and buried treasure is a dream-come-true for 13-year-old Thomas. The fact that it's reputedly haunted only adds to its appeal! As soon as his family moves in, Thomas senses something strange about the Civil War era house, which used to be a critical stop on the Underground Railroad. With the help of his father, he learns about the abolitionists and escaping slaves who kept the Underground Railroad running. While on his own, he explores the hidden passageways in and under the house, piecing clues together in an increasingly dangerous quest for the truth about the past. Newbery medalist Virginia Hamilton creates a heart-pounding adventure with this absorbing classic for older readers.

GREAT BRAIN SERIES, by John D. Fitzgerald. Hilarious adventures of an Irish-Catholic family in Mormon Utah in 1896. Tom - a.k.a. The Great Brain - is a 10-year-old genius con man, always interested in making a profit (and always learning a lesson.)

BOY'S BOOK OF GREAT DETECTIVE STORIES (compile by Howard Haycraft) A collection of detective stories by well-know authors emphasizing deduction, not crime.

DETECTIVES IN TOGAS by Henry Winterfield (also: MYSTERY OF THE ROMAN RANSOM).  Read about these in my previous post HERE.

VESPER HOLLY BOOKS by Lloyd Alexander.  Think: Nancy Drew meets Indiana Jones. Vesper Holly never travels alone; her bumbling guardian, Professor Brinton Garrett is by her side, ready to be dragged through jungles and prisons for her sake.

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