Sometimes you just want to read a good mystery. In fact, I would say that a significant percentage of the “What should I read next?” types of questions from upper elementary students fall into the mystery genre. (Roughly 50% are “I finished every Dav Pilkey book, and now I don’t know what to read!” If this is you, come see us.)
Luckily, I have two excellent mysteries to recommend. In another stroke of luck, my first recommended title is both a mystery and a Captain Underpants/Dog Man read-alike If you are a parent of a child under 10, you have likely read or seen a book by MAC BARNETT. He is children’s literature royalty at this point. If you haven’t yet read any of his picture books, I would recommend every single one. Really.
The mystery/Dav Pilkey read-alike in question is his chapter book series, “MAC B., KID SPY.” The series is loosely based (but not if you ask the author …) on his childhood growing up with a single mother in Northern California in the 1980s. The book starts on a boring Saturday afternoon; Mac has already read, played his Gameboy and watched TV, and only 40 minutes have passed. Suddenly, he receives a call from the queen of England (as one does) ordering him to come to England promptly to track down the missing crown jewels. The plot only gets more outlandish as he flies across the Atlantic and dodges KGB spies, meets the French president and attempts to steal from the Louvre. “Mac B., Kid Spy” is laugh-out-loud funny and completely ridiculous in the best way.
The story is perfectly enhanced by Mike Lowery’s thin, pen-sketch drawings peppering each page. The specific combination of detail and simplicity in his illustrations lends to the slapstick comedy effect of the plot; for example, the chapter 15 cover image shows a straight-faced, outlined Mac B with his wobbly arm around Freddie the corgi. A straight mouth belies his nerves but overall, it’s just a simple drawing of a kid and a dog. In contrast, the illustration’s framing is fanciful and resembles a coat of arms and reads: “Chapter 15: KGB HQ.” Lowery draws primarily in black pen, with orange and blue details, and he is able to express a multitude of emotions with simple lines and geometric shapes. (If you need a recommendation for a good Mike Lowery picture book, the library has those as well.)
If this all sounds appealing, consider signing up for the Children’s Department’s Chapter Book Club. Sign-ups launched back on September 7. We’ll read chapters from the book, pass on confidential files for top secret missions, and end with a kung-fu party. Of course, for now, this will all take place on the internet because it’s what the queen wants. Queen’s orders, after all. Call the library for more information and check out the “Mac B.” series (there are five in all) at the library or on Libby.
I am going to switch gears entirely to share the second mystery, BRANDY COLBERT’s middle grade debut, “THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN.” This middle grade novel follows Alberta, a 12-year-old surfer in a coastal California town who, for the first 12 years of her life, was the only Black girl in town. She has had the same best friend for years, but lately, Laramie seems more interested in boys and being popular than watching Alberta surf or visiting the comic book shop together. So when Alberta discovers that the Black family moving into the bed and breakfast across the street includes a girl her age named Edie, she is thrilled. They click quickly, and Alberta begins spending weekends at her huge, old house while her parents work. It is during one of these said weekends that Alberta and Edie discover a box full of old journals in the attic. The journals are penned by a woman named Constance who moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. They become determined to find out who Constance is, especially because no one on their street seems to recall a woman named Constance who, if the journals are correct, was harboring a secret about her identity.
Colbert is well-known for her young adult novels, and it is clear that her ability to write for and about teenagers is not exclusive to the more mature end of the spectrum. “The Only Black Girls in Town” is a book about growing up, forging and maintaining friendships, and figuring out who you are in the midst of it all. I sped through this book, and thought about it for days afterward. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a consuming novel about friendships, identity and a touch of history. You can find “The Only Black Girls in Town” and Colbert’s young adult titles at Joplin Public Library.