Wrapped Up In Books*
Do you remember when you first started reading and enjoying books? Research suggests strongly that being exposed to books from an early age plays an important positive role in literacy development, cognitive development, and a lot more. Along with that, reading can make for wonderful ‘bonding time.’ Print-rich environments just seem to be beneficial for young people and their families in a lot of ways. And in crime fiction, they can add much to character development.
For example, Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate begins as Tommy and Tuppence Beresford begin to settle into the new home they’ve recently bought. Tuppence has discovered a whole collection of old books left behind by previous homeowners, and she’s going through them when she notices that one of them is marked in a particular way. It turns out to be a code that leads the Beresfords to a mystery surrounding a long-ago death. In the book, Tuppence mentions that, when she was growing up, all the local children just knew how to read. It was a part of the culture among all of them, and it’s interesting to see how it become something everyone did.
Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces readers to ten-year-old Kate Meany. She has a passion for detection; in fact, she’s got her own detective agency, Falcon Investigations. She likes to read, too, and her father has always talked about books and reading with her. She also gets support for reading from her friend Adrian Palmer, whose father owns a local shop. Adrian’s older than Kate, and has a lot of knowledge of detective stories, which he talks about with her. All of this helps to give Kate an interesting perspective on life, and keeps her from being too pulled down by the dreary Midlands town where she lives. Kate spends a lot of time at the local mall, where she believes she’ll find plenty of suspicious activity to investigate. After her father dies, Kate lives with her grandmother, Ivy, who believes the girl would be better off going away to school. So, although Kate doesn’t like the idea, she goes to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. She never comes back, and is never found, although there’s a major search for her. At the time, everyone believes that Adrian is responsible for Kate’s disappearance, so much so that he feels unwelcome in town, and leaves. Twenty years later, everything changes. Adrian’s younger sister, Lisa, is now working at the mall, and she forms an awkward sort of friendship with Kurt, who’s one of the security guards. Together, they go back to the past, as you might say, and we find out what really happened to Kate.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old who’s on the autism spectrum. He’s high functioning, so he can attend school, although he does work with a special teacher/therapist. Christopher enjoys the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, especially The Hound of the Baskervilles. In fact, he wants to be a detective just like his hero Sherlock Holmes. One day he gets his chance when a dog belonging to the people next door is found dead, and they blame him. Christopher isn’t guilty, but he wants to find out who killed the dog, so, like Holmes, he decides to look for clues and find out what happened. In the process, he finds out a great deal about himself.
So does Eugene ‘Huge’ Smalls, whom we meet in James W. Fuerst’s Huge. Huge is twelve years old, and an avid reader. He especially likes to read about private detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. His mother is a single parent who doesn’t have a lot of extra time, but his grandmother encourages his reading. The trouble is, Huge has trouble getting along with others, managing his temper, and fitting in. In fact, it’s gotten him into trouble more than once. Still, he’s highly intelligent and curious about the world, and he does want to be a detective like his fictional heroes. His grandmother knows about this and hires him to find out who stole the sign from the elder care home where she lives. Huge takes the case and sets out to find the culprit. It turns out this is as much of a journey of self-discovery as it is anything else.
Alan Bradley’s Flavia De Luce is a highly intelligent pre-teen (she’s eleven when the series starts). She’s been exposed to reading from a young age, and has a large collection of books. Her main interest is in science, particularly chemistry. In fact, she’s quite a skilled chemist, and that turns out to be very helpful to her as she gets drawn into mysteries. There are plenty of scenes in the stories where she consults her books to find answers and conduct experiments.
There are other examples, too, of fictional characters who’ve been surrounded by books from a very young age. They have interesting perspectives on life, and that love of books adds to their characters. And book lovers everywhere identify with them.
ps. Oh, the ‘photo? Some people have books in their hands practically from birth…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Belle and Sebastian.