Isn’t This Amazing?*

Research shows convincingly (at least to me) that early and frequent reading has a lot of benefits. Children who read a lot tend to be able to think more critically, do better academically, and develop stronger language skills, among other things. And that’s not to mention the joy of getting lost in a story. We’ve known this for some time, and schools have put in place plenty of programs to support reading.

The thing is, though, that opportunity to read isn’t all that’s involved in helping a child become a lifelong reader. It’s also a matter of finding reading material children enjoy. That can be tricky, since we all have different tastes. But there’s no doubt that mystery stories aimed at young people have played a major role in creating generations of readers.

For example, the first of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ novels – Five on a Treasure Island – was first published in 1942. Millions of children grew up reading Blyton’s stories, and it’s not hard to see why. They feature young people as protagonists in interesting mysteries. And the stories are accessible without being overly condescending. Little wonder so many people can trace their love of reading directly to Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and of course, Timmy the dog.

A similar thing might be said of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. Both of these series were conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, and collectively written under the respective pseudonyms Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon. If you grew up reading these series and/or watching the TV adaptations, you know how appealing they can be. What’s interesting, too, is that these particular series have been updated over the decades as times and social culture have changed. While the original Nancy Drew series ended in 2003 (after a run that began in 1930!), two spinoff series were written: Nancy Drew: Girl Detective (2004-2012) and The Nancy Drew Diaries (since 2013). It’s that appealing a series. Stratemeyer was also the creator of the Bobbsey Twins series, among others.

There’ve also been many more recent mystery series written for children. For instance, David A. Adler’s Cam Jansen series features Jennifer ‘Cam’ Jansen, a Grade Five student with a photographic memory and a skill at solving mysteries. Since 1980 (there are now 35 Cam Jansen books in print), young people have been following Cam’s adventures. Adler also wrote a series featuring a younger Cam Jansen; it’s also popular and still in print.

Beginning in 1972, Marjorie Weinman Sharmat wrote a series of books featuring Nate the Great, a young boy who uses his detective skills to help his friends solve mysteries. Many of the books in the series are intended for beginning readers; but, starting in 1999, Sharmat also wrote several Nate the Great chapter books, intended for slightly more advanced readers. Like the Cam Jansen series, this series is still in print and remains popular, although its author sadly passed away in 2019.

There are also many standalone mystery books for younger readers. One of them is James Dean (yes, that’s the author’s name) and Kimberly Dean’s Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes. If you’re familiar with the Pete the Cat character, then you’ll know that these authors have created a number of Pete the Cat books. But this particular one features a mystery for readers to try to solve.

Henry G. Allard wrote a series of three books featuring Miss Nelson, a Grade One teacher with a mischievous class of students. The first one, Miss Nelson is Missing!, presents the students with a mystery when their teacher disappears and is replaced by  the mean and terrible Miss Viola Swamp. Young readers are invited to follow along as Miss Nelson’s students try to work out what has happened to their teacher.

There are lots of other mystery books and series for young people, from simple beginning reader books (e.g., Eric Hill’s Where’s Spot?) to YA mystery series such as Jane Casey’s Jess Tennant series. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are a great many, and that they’re popular. Mysteries hold people’s interest. Mysteries also invite children to use their natural curiosity.

But those aren’t the only advantages to young people reading mysteries. They learn important hypothesis-testing and prediction skills. They also learn how to make sense of what they see, hear, etc.  And all of those skills will serve them all their lives. What’s more, mysteries encourage readers to really engage with a story, which in turn helps them to remember it better. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the more children read, the more likely they are to become lifelong readers. This means that generations of authors will have audiences. And when young people read mysteries, they often choose to read in that genre as adults. This can only be good news for crime writers – ahem…

 

*NOTE: the title of this post is a line from Alan Menken and Harold Ashman’s Belle.

 


16 thoughts on “Isn’t This Amazing?*

  1. The first mystery I remember reading was The Shore Road Mystery, a Hardy Boys book, but I may have read Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” even before, I’m not sure. I loved the Hardy Boys books, but the city library wouldn’t carry them, so I begged for my parents to buy me one each birthday and Christmas. I think it was later, but I fell in love with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

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    1. The Hardy Boys sparked a lot of young people’s interest in reading mysteries, Rick. So I’m not surprised that you liked them so well. It’s odd your library wouldn’t carry them, and it’s a good thing your parents got them for you. Research also shows (convincingly, for me) that parental support of reading is an important factor in children’s reading, too. At any rate, like you, I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was young. There’s something about them…

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      1. The local library apparently considered boys and girls serial mysteries, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, as trash fiction, no better than comic books or pulp stories. Sad.

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      2. Oh, that is sad, Rick. Perhaps the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series isn’t what you’d call the Great Books of Classic Literature, but they got kids reading, the stories were good, the whole thing. That alone makes them worthwhile. Research shows that young people who read what they want to read are more likely to grow up to read. And that should be the goal of libraries.

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    1. You’re not alone, KBR. Blyton had the gift of creating stories children want to read. They feature young people as the ‘stars,’ having lots of adventures and solving puzzles. What’s not to love about that? And she brought generations of young people to a love of books – what a legacy! I don’t wonder at all that you love classic crime now. 😀

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  2. I was a dedicated Blyton fan in my childhood, loving all her mystery series at different ages – she really was excellent at having a whole range of characters that would carry her readers through from vey early years to young teens. But I also dabbled in Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and went through a Bobbsey Twins phase (though I found both pairs of twins a bit annoying) so thanks for the memories! The other ones you mention all came along too late for me. Some of the boarding school series incorporated mysteries too. The Dimsie books of Dorita Fairlie Bruce were particular favourites of mine – they didn’t always have what could be strictly described as a mystery but a few of them did. And the Cliff House School books by Nancy Moss had a much darker, grittier feel – I think today they’d be considered more towards the YA end. I loved them and wish they’d come back into print or onto Kindle.

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    1. There is something about the memories from childhood reading, isn’t there, FictionFan? I think back on my Nancy Drew/Bobbsey Twins phase, too, and a few other series I read (Marcia Martin’s Donna Parker mysteries and Helen Wells’ Cherry Ames mysteries to name two). I’ll admit, I’ve not read Bruce or Moss, but the stories sound great. I wonder why some company doesn’t bring some of those back at least for Kindle…

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  3. She wasn’t writing specifically for children, but as a young teenager, I loved Agatha Christie. I think they are excellent Young Adult reading – and they set me off on a life of reading crime fiction. More recently, The London Eye Mystery by (I think) Siobhan Dowd is a terrific read for children, but I really enjoyed it myself.

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    1. I was introduced to Agatha Christie at about the same time in my life as you, Christine. And as you know, I’ve never looked back. They really are fine YA reading (interesting, too, isn’t it, that Christie wrote quite a lot of teen and early-20’s characters…). Thanks for mentioning The London Eye. I have a lot of respect for authors who can make a book appealing both to children and to adults.

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      1. Yes, now that you mention it, Margot, she does write rather well about children and young people.

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  4. An interesting post. You also need to be aware of creating characters. Our older son embellished a book with a new mysterious character “The Flat Man” while reading to two young nieces and a nephew. They were entranced and promptly forgot about the book and insisted he tell them stories featuring “The Flat Man”. He did his best. They were so fascinated by that character.

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    1. Oh, that is interesting, Bill, that the young people were more taken by The Flat Man than they were by the original story. You never do know what will appeal to young readers, and sometimes, it’s the least likely character. I’ll bet your son created some great stories.

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    1. Funny how that happens, isn’t it, Col? The authors that are staples of one generation’s childhood are rarely the same authors who shape the next generation’s reading. And yet, some authors have real staying power. Interesting the way that works out…

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