MYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY (Puffin Books, $5.99, ages 8 and up) by Betty G. Birney contains everything a young reader would want: humor, conflict, animals, action, assorted students and teachers, good advice, and great plotting all packed into an enjoyable paperback.
After reading this early chapter book I can easily understand why the Humphrey series is featured on 24 state lists. Humphrey, the classroom pet (along with Og the Frog) stars in nine different books, each with straightforward themes such as SURPRISES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, ADVENTURE ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and FRIENDSHIP ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY. They also contain the same tight writing, wit and wisdom readers will expect from Birney after reading the first in the series, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY.
I love a good mystery and with this story I got more than one upon visiting Room 26 at Longfellow School. First there’s the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” teacher Mrs. Brisbane is reading the class. Then there’s the classwork where the students are tasked with discovering the mysterious word’s meaning; piewhacked is the first one they must figure out. Piewhacked? But when principal Mr. Morales announces to Room 26 that a substitute is going to take care of the class, the biggest mystery begins to unfold.
Mr. Edonopulous (AKA Mr. E), the substitute, is a puzzle to the kids in Room 26. He’s nice and friendly, but he’s always turning every lesson into some kind of game, he doesn’t assign homework (which has both its up and down sides), and he keeps getting chastised by the co-chairperson of the School Safety Committee (AKA whistle-clutching Mrs. Wright, the PE instructor) for not following the rules. What gives here? Then there’s Thomas and Joey, classmates who should be friends except Thomas’s constant exaggerating and lying has put a wedge between the boys. Humphrey wonders how he can solve this social dilemma. Woven throughout Humphrey’s detective work runs the longest thread and that’s the one causing him the most anxiety – the longer Mr. E remains means the longer Mrs. Brisbane stays away. Did something happen to her? Did she take a new job? Are clues adding up to a ballet career for Mrs. B? Will they ever find out the ending of the Sherlock Holmes story?
There are so many different and interesting story elements at work to hold readers’ attention and make them eager to read on. Plus kids will care about Humphrey because he’s such a compassionate rodent. Humphrey’s Detectionary at the end of each chapter often serves as his observations and commentary on humans, i.e. “It’s a mystery to me why humans enjoy a very frightening holiday like Halloween!”
Solve your kids’ summer reading quandry with MYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and find fun Humphrey activities and teachers’ guides at www.penguin.com/humphrey. What more clues do you need?
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel