Tag Archives: mystery

The Westing Game

There is something truly joyous when your children read and ENJOY books that were childhood favorites of yours. Not that we don’t adore new books (we are currently fighting over an Advance Review Copy to be shared soon), but there are times when you remember that classics are classics for a reason. The latest in a series of books J has enjoyed that I remember loving as a kid? The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

westingThe Westing Game is a mystery reminiscent of the board game Clue (another family favorite). In this book, 16 people find themselves at the reading of a man’s will which says that a) he was murdered, b) the murderer is in the room, and c) whoever figures out who did it will win a sizeable inheritance. The group is split up into 8 pairs and they are set off on their journey to figure out who did it.  At the same time, each of these characters holds a secret or two.

Turtle Wexler might be one of my all time favorite characters created and feels like the star of this particular book. Given that this was written in 1978 when you didn’t have a lot of spunky, unusual female characters, she was special. She is exceptionally bright and not as “pretty” as her older sister, Angela, but she has a very caring heart. She is a character that feels very true to life and that doesn’t seem to change with a different generation reading the book.

Another interesting thing about this book is that while there is an external focus on solving the mystery of who killed Sam Westing, there is a deeper, more internal mystery unfolding throughout the book – figuring out just who the characters are, their secrets, and how they are all related (literally and figuratively).

J, at 10 and in 4th grade, adored the book. She couldn’t put it down, kept asking me questions that I couldn’t remember the answers to, and repeatedly said “this book is awesome!” That’s pretty high praise from an avid reader. Ellen Raskin received a Newbery Medal for The Westing Game in 1979 and the award hasn’t lost its shine.

A book lover’s adventure

J has been on a great kick of reading a slightly wider variety of books these days. Not that she doesn’t still love her fairy tale themed stories, but we are definitely taking a look at other options. Since she is truly a mini-me, she has the annoying habit of constantly adding to her to-read list, so it can be hard to keep track of everything. Such a horrible problem to have – just kidding! You simply can’t argue with a child who has a deep and profound love of books. So deep is her love that at a recent fund raiser for her school, we were more than thrilled to win J getting to be “Librarian for the Day.”

One of her recent favorites is “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein. I read it when it first came out and enjoyed it, but reading it through the eyes of a book loving child made it that much better. What is so fabulous about this book is that it tackles a wide variety of topics through the guise of a treasure hunt in one of the most amazing libraries of all time – if only it was real!

The main premise of the book is that twelve children get to experience a lock-in at their brand-new, local library. The next morning, they are also challenged to find a way out. The main character, Kyle, is an an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. He isn’t much of a student and definitely is not a fan of reading. However, he desperately wants a chance to participate in the lock-in when he discovers that the library was built by his idol, game-maker extraordinaire, Luigi Lemoncello.

At the same time that these kids are learning about classic literature, the dewey decimal system, and utilizing logic skills to solve clues, there is also a great deal being taught about friendship, fair play, and teamwork. There of course is the “bad guy” character who will stop at nothing to win. There are kids who have reasons that they want to win the challenge that have nothing to do with a love of books or games. We also watch as some of the kids decide to join into alliances understanding that collective strengths can work better than relying on individual knowledge at times. In addition to dealing with different characters, the reader also gets the opportunity to help solve some of the clues and encourages new looks at logic puzzles.

I think that this book has a little bit of something for everyone. J specifically felt a kinship with Sierra Russell. Sierra lives for reading and spends the early parts of the book as a loner, but she grows as a person by participating on a team and forging friendships. Reluctant readers will probably identify with Kyle. Through his adventures in the library, Kyle realizes that there are all kinds of books and that the stories in some can be quite exciting and even pose challenges just like his games. As he proceeds through the challenge, he keeps finding books that he should add to his own brand new to-read list. Each of the characters has strengths and weaknesses that make them seem like people you might actually meet in a school.

One of the assignments in J’s class this year is that every week they have to write a letter to a classmate about a book that they are reading. She not only wrote about this book, but has started loaning out the book to her classmates. That’s the power of a good book!


Reading Ron Roy

ron roy

I realized the other day that I have really been focusing on picture books and not giving any updates on the chapter books that J is reading. Granted, a big part of this is because she is so obsessed with Harry Potter that she reads them over and over and over again leaving little room for anything else. However, there are other books being read.

We have been big fans of Ron Roy for quite some time. At the moment, the Capital Mysteries series is our night time reading. They are a fun way to introduce some landmarks in Washington, DC while enjoying the sleuthing abilities of KC Corcoran and her friend Marshall Li. KC wants to be a journalist when she grows up. She likes to pay attention to small details and trusts her gut. The two get close to the president after saving him from scientists trying to push their own political agenda and by book 4 the president is marrying KC’s mother. The plots are completely implausible, but they are fun for young readers. The following is from Ron Roy’s website:

They live near the White House, and are friends with the President of The United States. As you read the books in CAPITAL MYSTERIES, you will get to “visit” the White House, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, and many other wonderful sites. You will learn about some of the earlier presidents and have fun helping K.C. and Marshall catch the bad guys! There is even a map to help you find your way from the White House to the building where K.C. and Marshall live.

We first discovered Ron Roy when J started reading the A-Z Mysteries series. This is probably his most beloved series which is intended for ages 6-10. The series follows three friends who happen to repeatedly be called upon to solve a mystery. What is great about them is that, aside from showing the friendship of these three kids, they introduce deductive reasoning in a fun way.

This series features three smart kids who solve crimes and mysteries. They live in a small town in Connecticut, called Green Lawn.The kids are Dink Duncan, Josh Pinto, and Ruth Rose Hathaway. They are third graders and live near each other. They have hobbies and pets and parents, but what they love most is a good mystery. Most kids tell me they enjoy reading the 26 books in alphabetical order. But you can skip around without missing anything. Have fun getting to know these three sly sleuths!

Sticking with the characters from A-Z, Roy created Super Editions which take the children out of their normal locations and are about 50 pages longer then the standard A-Z series. We read Detective Camp a long time ago and J just read The Castle Crime over spring break. This book was given to her because it combined her joy of these mysteries with her love of anything London (thank you Harry Potter).

The final series that Roy has written is intended for the younger reader – Calendar Mysteries. These books follow the younger siblings and cousins of Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose (the three friends from A-Z Mysteries). Ron Roy’s website says that these were written especially for first and second graders, but since J has never read on her level, I peg these more as generally for 5-8 year olds.

If you are looking for a series that is fun and steps into the world of mysteries, check out any of the Ron Roy books. They are intelligently written and engaging for the growing mind.



The Maze of Bones

I read a lot of children’s books and often get asked by parents and kids what I think of a book. This one has been on my “check it out” list for a while, but I had never gotten around to it. Then one day a few weeks ago a 7 year old boy asked me if I had read this one, so I had to move it up on the list and I am glad that I did. I usually try to include things on this blog that my 7 year old daughter enjoys, but then I would never get to include this review. This is unfortunately not a book that entices J at the moment. She is still deep into Harry Potter and is now also enjoying The Dragon Princess. For her, I have to find books that include some form of magic or fairy tale spin. But a series like this would be great for many others.

The Maze of Bones  (The 39 Clues, #1)

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

I’m not sure how the book actually reads, but I was listening to the audio-book and it was well done. The idea behind the story is that matriarch Grace Cahill makes a last minute change to her will and then at her funeral, gives descendants the choice to take one million dollars or participate in a massive scavenger hunt. There are 39 clues scattered around the world that will reveal some great family secret and possibly save the world. Brother and sister Dan and Amy Cahill were exceptionally close to her, having lost their parents, and make the decision that participating is what Grace would have wanted them to do. This book tracks them on the first of 39 clues to solve while also dealing with additional family members trying to knock them out of the running.

The book is a fun mystery and a great read for a young reader. Because the Cahill family is supposed to be the family behind most great people and large events over the past 400 years, there is a ton of history thrown into the books. Book #1 focuses on Benjamin Franklin and his impact. An exciting romp for young readers.

This is shown with a lexile level of 610, so it is probably difficult for younger readers to read on their own. Just for comparison, Harry Potter is 880.

Sleuthing with Cam Jansen

A young girl who solves mysteries? Count us in! We have read a few books in the Cam Jansen mystery series that center on a 5th grade girl nicknamed Cam and her best friend Eric and I am happy to keep J reading them.

cam jansen

Here is what J told me a few weeks ago when I asked her about the series:

“Cam Jansen had a really really good memory. She said click and could remember anything. People called her the camera and then that got shortened to Cam. I don’t remember her real name.”

Well, her real name is Jennifer and she has a photographic memory. She goes around with her best friend, Eric, and when strange things happen, she commits them to memory. She later recalls these things to help solve a mystery.

Cam is a great character. She is smart, observant and confident. These are great for early chapter readers because the books are short, use language that is easily accessible and they are fun. It is great to see a girl who is smart and doesn’t fall into the trap of being a princess or snarky. I think that many young kids can have fun reading these books.

If it helps at all, according to Scholastic, these are the reading level breakdowns:
Lexil – 480
RL – 2.2
DRA – 20
Guided Reading – L