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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Clues For Choosing Detective Stories

In their volume, Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories (Simon & Schuster, 1994), authors William Kilpatrick and Gregory and Suzanne M. Wolfe assert that, “one of the most satisfying of all story genres is the mystery or the detective story.”  Good stories, they feel, show readers that life follows a moral order, that it makes sense, and the detective story is about the disruption and restoration of that order.

Mysteries are an appealing escape for readers young and old.  The following examples of the children’s detective story genre are highly recommended for their entertainment value and for their adherence to life’s moral order.


Brixton Brothers: #1 The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity 
by Mac Barnett
Simon & Schuster (2009)
ages 8 and up

This is a fledgling detective series for middle readers, and it’s a hoot.

Twelve-year-old Steve Brixton is the observant, levelheaded main character who loves a good mystery story and hates smooth jazz. An avid reader, Steve’s favorite books are the many volumes of the Bailey Brothers mystery series. He has read them so often that he has committed them to memory.
The Bailey Brothers Mysteries were fifty-eight high-octane adventures featuring Shawn and Kevin Bailey, two quick-thinking, hard-punching teens who never met a case they couldn’t crack, a motorcycle they couldn’t ride, or an avalanche they couldn’t cause and subsequently survive.
With an official Bailey Brother detective’s license (which he got in the mail with twelve cereal box tops and $1.95 shipping) and library card in his Velcro wallet, Steve tries to check out a book at the library when all heck breaks loose. Shadowy figures come bursting through the glass doors and skylights, shouting, “Get him!” and, “Shoot to wound!”

It is obvious that something much more sinister than an unpaid library fine is on their minds. What are they after?

Our friend Steve finds himself smack in the middle of a curious and dangerous mystery. Luckily, he never leaves the house without his copy of the Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook, a handy-dandy guide “packed with the Real Crime-Solving Tips and Tricks employed by Shawn and Kevin Bailey, a.k.a. the Bailey Brothers, in their never-ending fight against goons and baddies and criminals and crime.”

The handbook offers all sorts of information on finding secret passageways, choosing nifty disguises, and spotting a bad guy by his tattoos. Readers will recognize that these tips are useless in “real” life, but Steve is endearingly na├»ve and follows the instructions to the letter. Funny, awkward moments occur when that advice goes wrong. None of it actually works for Steve, yet everything works out somehow.

Steve survives kidnappings, car chases and a shipwreck, solving his first big case and ending up with a two million dollar library fine. He’s now on his way to fame and fortune as a respected private investigator.

In book two, The Ghostwriter Secret (2010), Steve is hired to investigate the whereabouts of the stolen Nichols Diamond and ends up having to rescue his idol – the author of the Bailey Brothers series, MacArthur Bart.

Older readers will recognize the fictitious quotes from these Bailey Brothers books as an amusing parody of classic children’s detective stories like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. It isn’t necessary to be a reader of those books to enjoy this series, though it definitely adds to the tongue-in-cheek tone if you are.

The Brixton Brothers books are delightfully good fun. The rather dated classics of the detective genre are brought uproariously back to life in these modern tales.


Classic Choice

Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
This series of began in 1963 and features a boy detective who hunts for clues, then closes his eyes and asks a single question to solve a variety of interesting cases. Each book contains several short mysteries. Encyclopedia Brown’s solutions are given at the back of the book so readers can attempt to find the correct solution themselves before peeking.

Trixie Belden by Kathryn Kenny
Fans of the Nancy Drew Mysteries tend to stay away from Trixie Belden books, and vice versa. It isn’t surprising because the two series are very much alike, though Trixie is a bit younger and less sophisticated than Nancy.  Trixie juggles babysitting her little brother and solving baffling mysteries with her friends from the Bob-Whites club.

Hardy Boys Mystery Stories by Franklin W. Dixon
& Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene
These books likely need no explanation; they have been a part of young readers’ lives since 1927. The title characters are independent, popular teenagers who face unlikely challenges while helping their fathers solve interesting crimes. The stories are very entertaining, although some situations can be a bit scary for children under age 10.

Bobsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
Originally begun as a series of episodes in the lives of twins Bert and Nan, age 12, and Flossie and Freddie, age six, this series later evolved into the mystery genre. The stories are meant for the younger set and the mysteries are quite tame.


M.D. Clark loves Agatha Christie whodunits and playing the game Clue.

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