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Humphrey the Hamster’s on the Case

9780142426692HMYSTERIES 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

Fridays Featuring Flintridge is Back!

You’ve probably noticed that Fridays Featuring Flintridge has been on hiatus. We’re delighted to announce that now, taking over the reigns from soon-to-be published YA author Catherine Linka of Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, is Hilary Taber, Catherine’s colleague. Find out more about Hilary below.

Sisters in Sleuthing:
Following in the Footprints of Nancy Drew

When I was ten-years-old, I sat under the covers in the dark of night with a flashlight in my hand. That cozy place was where I first met Nancy Drew. Of course, I was reading when I should have been asleep. Still, it was even more mysterious and cool to read mysteries that way. It seemed like something Nancy Drew would do. I was warm in my cocoon with a peanut butter sandwich ready to enjoy. Only when all these preparations were ready would I let myself be whisked away to the land of River Heights where a girl of sixteen could drive a cool blue car, have strawberry blond hair, sapphire blue eyes, and have a father who was extremely supportive of his daughter’s curiosity. It is only retrospectively that I see Nancy as a real pioneer of supporting independence for women. She was a young woman encouraged to be a sleuth by her father, to track down villains, to fight for the side of good by applying her intelligence to a budding career as a detective. How new and exciting this character must have been to those girls who first read of her famous hunches, her daring exploits, and her loyal chums!

In the spirit of the adventurous Nancy Drew, I have done my own sleuthing to track down her more recent, modern literary daughters. I believe that I can call this case closed and hope that your own daughters will be happy in the results! Just like our beloved Nancy, these girls are feisty, curious, independent, practical, and ready for adventure. Flashlights ready everyone?

0142419044The Grimm Legacy ($7.99, Penguin/Puffin Ages 10-14), by Polly Shulman

Elizabeth has just moved to a new school and is really on the “look out” for some new friends. In appreciation of her paper on the fairy tales told by the Brothers Grimm her teacher recommends her for the position of a page at The New York Circulating Material Repository. It turns out to be a fantastic library, but it’s not filled with books as Elizabeth expects. Instead, it lends out objects to patrons instead of books. Elizabeth begins to get to know and trust the other pages there who seem like potential friends. Yet, hidden deep in the basement of the library, is a collection of objects known as The Grimm Collection. This collection is where magical and unpredictable objects right out of the Grimm fairytales dwell. The magical mirror from Snow White, the shoes worn by the famous dancing princess, and other dazzling objects abound. Elizabeth is captivated by it all until these fantastical objects begin to disappear. Suddenly, potential friends become definite suspects, and as the clock ticks to find out who the thief really is Elizabeth is forced to use all her intelligence and instincts to unmask the real enemy. The Grimm Legacy is an intelligent, well-written, and intriguing mystery brimming with lots of magic. It is certainly a treat not to be missed! The Wells Bequest is the second book in the series, and frankly, this reviewer can’t wait to get a hold of a copy when it’s released in June. Hurray!

GBFbookcoverGirl’s Best Friend ($14.99, Bloomsbury, Ages 10 and up) by Leslie Margolis

“‘Ivy scoffed. ‘Who are you, Nancy Drew?’”

Well, obviously not, but Maggie Brooklyn is definitely one of Nancy’s kindred spirits. Middle grade readers will instantly recognize a girl very much like themselves or someone they know in Maggie who is pragmatic, sensible, and despite all this most definitely a tween. She listens to popular music, worries about the boy she has her first crush on, and wonders about friends who have now become frenimies. However, she is a tween most definitely knee deep in mystery.

Maggie works as a dog walker in Brooklyn, a job that puts her on the trail of an unknown kidnapper of local, beloved dogs. Now it’s up to Maggie to use her wits and straight talking to save a local dog, possibly go on her first date, uncover a secret stash of money, and basically save the day! What I like best about Maggie is her unwillingness to be swayed by the emotions of others in the pursuit of a logical conclusion. The author paints a portrait of a vivid heroine that Nancy Drew would certainly admire. I know that I certainly do. The Maggie Brooklyn Series has a sequel, Vanishing Acts, which I’m looking forward to reading very soon.

4581447The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour ($6.99, Random House Children’s Books, Ages 10-12 ) by Michael D. Beil 

“I point at Margaret. ‘She’s way smarter than Nancy Drew … she could take Nancy Drew with half her brain tied behind her back.'”

Sophie, Margaret, and Rebecca are our modern Nancy, Bess, and George. These are three girls whose combined talents make them the perfect team to solve a very mathematical and historical mystery. The three girls attend St. Veronica’s Catholic School, hence the required red blazers. When eccentric Ms. Harriman tells the girls the tale of a birthday card (given by her father to her young daughter twenty years ago) with a puzzling message inside, the team is on the case! It will take each of their separate talents for understanding art, literature, and mathematics to crack the case of a priceless ring that has gone missing. I would highly recommend this book to any middle grader who loves solving a good math puzzle. However, I enjoyed it for the sheer fun of searching an old church for clues, the friendship that the girls enjoy, and the sassy main character Sophie who narrates the tale. This is the first in a series and was a Booklist Top Ten Crime Fiction for Youth pick as well as an Edgar Allen Poe nominee for best children’s mystery.

9780399243042LThe Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery ($6.99, Penguin/Puffin, Ages 8-12) by Nancy Springer 

Enola Homes is the younger sister of the famous Sherlock Holmes. Much like her older brother she longs to solve mysteries. Unlike her older brother she is a young lady and is expected to behave like one. However, when their mother goes missing Enola finds herself on the run. If Enola is to avoid a world of corsets and finishing schools that her brothers would like to put her in while her mother is gone, then she must employ all the intelligence she has inherited from her mother to escape. Also, there is the mystery of her missing mother to solve.

Enola Holmes’s adventures continue for a delightful five more books as Enola and Sherlock cross paths while they both are on the trail of London’s most infamous mysteries. Ms. Springer presents a thoroughly likeable, yet vulnerable heroine whose resourcefulness in solving mysteries is astonishing even to Sherlock himself. This highly recommended series is an excellent introduction to the world of Sherlock Homes, filled with cunning villains, plot twists, and a family trying their best to finally unite. Two books in this series were Edgar Allen Poe nominees for best children’s mystery. Even though they are from different historical and national backgrounds, I am most certain Nancy would hold Enola in high esteem. I can picture them chatting over a nice cup of tea while they discuss their latest cases.

Spy-final-cover-hi-res-198x300A Spy in the House, Book One in The Agency Series by Y.S. Lee ($16.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 12 and up)

This book is that rare breed of children’s literature that is able to bridge the gap between middle grade fiction and young adult fiction with great flair. At the beginning of the book our heroine, Mary Quinn, has been recued from the gallows to attend Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Young Girls. The book is set in Victorian England, rife with mysteries to solve.

Mary comes to find herself invited to be part of the real purpose of Miss Scrimshaw’s school. To the best and most promising pupils comes the chance to become a part of “The Agency.” This all-female team of spies trains Mary to become an expert spy and her first assignment is to gain a position at the home of a rich merchant as a companion to his daughter. However, at only seventeen, will Mary be able to live up to the high standards of The Agency? A side plot is Mary’s determination to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her parents that left her an orphan at a very young age. All the mystery, intrigue, suspense, and romance make a compelling read for any older fan of Nancy’s who has outgrown the easier plots of most middle grade mysteries.

Happy reading!

Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

HilaryTaberHilary Taber is a bookseller at Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, CA. She is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and is currently pursuing her master’s in education. She has read over 400 children’s books. These have ranged from board books to the latest young adult titles. Hilary’s great grandmother was a first grade teacher who had inspired her mother with a love of children’s literature. Thus, this love of children’s literature has been passed down from one generation to the next and, like any fine heirloom, is treated with great respect and care. Her reviews have been published in BookSense (now IndieBound), Publisher’s Weekly Online, and her review for The Penderwicks was used by the publisher for advertising.  Hilary has formerly worked as a children’s bookseller at Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, CA.  While at Vroman’s, she met Eloise illustrator, Hilary Knight, and had her own copy of the book signed! In her spare time, Hilary enjoys all things Jane Austen, and going out to tea with her best friend, Meaghan.  She dreams of taking a literary tour of England and Ireland. Hilary is very dedicated to her family which consists of her mother, father, younger brother and a small black and white poodle named Cam. Currently, Hilary and her cousin, Grace Duryée, (manager of the children’s department at her local Barnes and Noble) are starting their own children’s book blog soon. Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming blog!

 

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