Tag Archives: mystery

[Review] Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

5 Jun

(Part of this post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Theo Boone, the son of a real estate lawyer and a divorce lawyer, loves the courthouse and the thrill of a good trial. However, things get complicated when he is the only one who knows the truth about a high-profile murder case in his small town.

In Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, Grisham shows that he can write for kids without dumbing things down in the clear explanations that flow naturally in the text and help younger readers understand complex subjects, like foreclosures and how a trial works. The main storyline is dotted with scenes from Theo’s ordinary middle school life, with cheerleaders and popularity contests. Theo himself comes from an upper middle class family, but there is an effort made to realistically depict the lives and emotions of illegal immigrants, although other efforts to inject multiculturalism into the book are shallow.

I actually started the second book in the series in between semesters, but I was disappointed that the story did not continue where things left off at the end of the first book. Maybe if I’d had time to read the whole thing before the eBook expired, there might’ve been something about the characters from the case he took on in the first book, but it was hard for me to get into it after I realized that this was a completely different case. I think now that I know what to expect, I could try again and be more motivated to finish the book, though.

Download the student guide and other extras at the Theodore Boone website.

[Review] The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

29 May

(This post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Prosper and Bo run away to Venice to escape their aunt and uncle who want to separate them. Unable to survive on their own, they join a street gang led by the Thief Lord, Scipio, who is really only a child himself. As the gang tries to steal a wooden lion’s wing for a wealthy customer, Victor Getz, a detective hired by Prosper and Bo’s aunt and uncle, is hot on their trail.

This is a fun romp that injects a touch of fantasy into an almost realistic modern-day orphan story. The fantasy bits come as a pleasant surprise at the end, but not in a deus ex machina type of way.

A discussion guide is available on Scholastic’s book page.

[W] The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

26 Apr

(Part of this post was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Even though they are very different, Sophie Young and Grace Yang are best friends who live in Luna Vista, a small coastal town an hour away from Los Angeles. When the would-be spies find the lights on in the middle of the night in the house of Sophie’s school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford, they think that they are a murder. It’s not actually a murder, but the girls decide that Dr. Agford is definitely hiding something, and they will stop at nothing to find out what it is.

Sophie and Grace explore issues of friendship, perception, and assumptions in this fast-paced middle grade mystery filled with action and red herrings that will keep readers on their toes. The side characters are also interesting–hopefully they will have bigger roles in the sequels.

A discussion guide aligned with Common Core standards can be found here (includes activities).

Even though I have a bunch of other W books, I wanted to showcase The Wig in the Window because it was written by local author Kristen Kittscher, and I feel like the other books I had on my list are more well-known. I loved how Kittscher wrote about a community like the one I grew up in (a coastal California town) with a fast-paced mystery led by a diverse cast.

I first heard about this book during Nanowrimo when someone contacted me about coming to a writing group and linked to the Children’s Book Writers of L.A., who had an event at a local library with Kittscher as the guest. It sounded like a fun book, so I put it on hold at my library because I needed more books for my assignment that I was also doing in November.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter W.

[N] No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman

16 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Wallace Wallace’s policy has always been to tell the truth. In No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman, when Wallace is assigned to write a book report about Old Shep, My Pal, he won’t pretend he likes the book just because it’s his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman’s favorite book. This results in detention, and he is banned from football until he writes a satisfactory essay. Instead of warming the bench at football games, he has to spend time after school with the drama club, run by Mr. Fogelman, as they put on a play of Old Shep, My Pal. Wallace’s suggestions make the play a whole lot more interesting, but someone wants to frame him for sabotaging the play.

This book asks the question: Who are your real friends? As Wallace Wallace goes from being a popular jock to a drama nerd, he reevaluates the people around him that he considered his friends. The “villain” of the story is underdeveloped, but it comes off as more realistic this way–all of Wallace’s friends have their good and bad parts, just like real people do.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter N.

[L] Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

14 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

By Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy is an unconventional mystery that follows Georges on his adventures with his neighbor, Safer, as their spy club tries to uncover the mystery of Mr. X, who lives in their apartment building. After Georges’s father loses his job and they have to sell their house, Georges moves into the apartment building Safer lives in with his family. At school, Georges is a loner who is bullied by the other kids. At home, his mother, a nurse, is working long shifts at the hospital, and his dad, an architect, is busy trying to get new clients, so Georges is left to explore his new home on his own.

Georges’s life starts improving as he spends more time with Safer, learning to observe the world around him. He begins to see the things around him differently, which leads to seeing himself differently, as well. Even once the mystery of Mr. X is solved, there is still more for the boys—and the reader—to discover, and at the end of the book, readers will want to read it again from the beginning to find the clues Stead deftly weaves into the whole novel.

Things get a little uncomfortable near the end of the book as the reader joins in Georges’s confusion about the revelations that come seemingly one after another. Like in Stead’s other books, astute readers will be able to guess at the surprise ending, but even so, it is satisfying to follow along as Georges finally sorts out fact from fiction.

Teachers reading the book in class may want students to keep a graphic organizer or a chart of facts about Georges’s life to compare what is known to the reader at the beginning of the book to what is known by the end. Students should also be encouraged to explain the changes with clues and evidence from the text, in line with Common Core standards for reading comprehension.

More firmly rooted in reality than Stead’s Newbery Award-winner, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy is an engrossing mystery that deals with real-life issues. Tweens will relate to the struggles Georges faces and can find courage in his triumphs in helping Safer overcome his fears and in facing his own reality.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter L.

[Z] Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

30 Apr

Zora and Me was the other book I picked up at my end-of-the-alphabet spree at the library. I had originally planned to do The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder sbecause the author’s name starts with Z, but since I found Zora and Me and had time to read it before I had to write my post, I decided to go with that instead.

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the name Zora was Zora Neale Hurston, known for writing Their Eyes Were Watching God. But I was confused because I was in the kids section and the name was the title, not the author. My instincts were right, though, because the Zora in this book does refer to Zora Neale Hurston. Bond and Simon write a fictionalized version of Hurston’s life as a fourth grader, and they include many details from her life, while throwing in some mystery and some extra characters–namely, the “Me” in the title, Carrie, and their friend, Teddy.

As a book, it’s a great historical fiction for middle graders. There is a pretty gruesome murder, and it’s billed as a mystery, but I think the book is not so much about solving the mystery as it is about the main characters learning about themselves and the world they live in (the American South in the 1900s). In fact, most of the final resolution of the mystery takes place off-screen by the adults that the girls confide in, and the reader only gets the summary from an older Carrie.

I think it’s very effective, though. It’s appropriate and realistic for the adults to take care of things the way they did, and the tone of the novel is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which also deals with racism in the South. Both are told in first person from the point of view of an adult who was a child during the major events of the book. Having the adult perspective allows the authors to explain things that a child would otherwise not realize; it would be hard not to have that perspective when dealing with issues like racism.

I wasn’t planning on my last post for A to Z sounding so much like a mini literary analysis, but the book lends itself to discussion, academic or otherwise, and would be a great springboard for discussions with students about race and segregation in the U.S. post-Civil War.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Z. 

And that’s it for my A to Z posts. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed them! :) Check back next week for a reflections post about the blogging challenge. After that, I am planning on posting at least once a week until next April, so keep an eye out for more reviews!

[W] The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

26 Apr

This is another Newbery winner, and one of my favorite books of all time. Most of the kids I recommend this book to love it, and I’ve had a few call it one of their favorite books. I even had one girl tell me that she was mad at me for making her stop reading at such a crucial moment in the story (they were reading a few chapters a week).

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is a mystery that has lots of surprising revelations, and I love how all the pieces fit together in the end. I also liked how Raskin gave us a glimpse of what happened to all the characters after the main story ends (kind of like the oft-maligned ending to the Harry Potter series, which I didn’t dislike as much as some readers, I think). I enjoy reading about my favorite characters even after they move on with their lives, which is even better if it includes a new story about them (both Tamora Pierce and Patricia C. Wrede do this wonderfully).

This book will leave readers guessing until the end, and they will probably want to re-read the book from the beginning immediately after finishing it the first time to see how the clues all lead to the answer. I’ve read it many, many times (although I’ve lost my beloved copy in the garage somewhere and have had to borrow it from the library recently to teach it), and I’ve taught it twice now with great results. The kids have fun keeping track of the clues as they find them and trying to figure out pieces of the puzzle themselves (I make them put them up on the classroom walls), but I don’t think I’ve had anyone who was able to predict the ending yet.

There is a fairly large case, but the main character is probably Turtle, a 13-year-old girl, since all the other characters are four to forty plus years older. The book is actually pretty diverse, with an African American female judge and a Chinese family as part of the sixteen heirs who take part in the Westing game. While the depiction of them is a little stereotypical, the son of the Chinese family is not the typical “smart Asian,” which was refreshing. I didn’t find anything particularly offensive about them, and the fact that they were even there was nice. I think I was more focused on Turtle, who made me want to be a lawyer when I grew up (until I realized I would have to go to law school for that…).

I would recommend this book for boys and girls, around fourth grade and up. Even if they don’t generally like mysteries, they will probably like this one. And I have a bonus recommendation for any adults out there who loved the game or the movie “Clue” and haven’t read this book–you should definitely read it! ;)

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter W. 

[M] The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

14 Apr

Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?

This is the beginning of the ad that the four main characters of this book (series) answer when they start on their adventure.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is filled with puzzles and mysteries that the reader can try to solve along with the characters. I’ve been trying to teach my students to read critically by asking questions and making predictions, and this would be a great series to get kids to do that naturally.

I was on the fence about reading this book, but when I saw the actual book and the cover at the library, I knew that I would enjoy it. I did, and so did everyone else I recommended it to (including picky fifth grade boys).

The first book is a little slow, and there is some pretty important information to understanding what is going on that is not revealed until the very end of the book. You don’t realize what you’re missing until you read the second book, though, and I think the first book would be better if re-read after finding that new piece of information (I didn’t have time to re-read it, though–I was too busy reading H.I.V.E.).

Kids seem to like it a lot, especially the more precocious ones (this was another word I’d learned from Dealing with Dragons, come to think of it). Great for advanced fourth or fifth graders, boys and girls alike (the main characters are two boys and two girls). Also good for kids who like puzzles or games.

The book also has a great website with all the usual book website stuff, plus games and a link to their free app on iTunes. We have been talking about engaging patrons through social media a lot in my library school classes, and while this isn’t a library, I think it’s a great example of a book that is taking advantage of its content and the technology available to reach out to its target audience.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter M. 

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