Tag Archives: mystery

Summer Reading: The Great Unexpected


The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech. Realistic Fiction/Mystery/Folklore.

Naomi and Lizzie find their friendship tested when a body falling out of a tree turns out to be Finn, a boy who captures hearts.  Meanwhile, across the ocean, Mrs. Kavanaugh and Miss Pilpenny discuss murder and plot revenge.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, orphans, tragedy, death, revenge, relationships, forgiveness, Ireland, Irish folklore, Finn McCoul, symbolism, setting, reality, fear, coping, connectedness, crows (rooks)

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, discussing symbolism, discussing author’s craft and word choice, readers who like a bit of sadness, but not sobbing tear-jerkers, readers who like a mystery, readers who are able to trust a story, discussing characterization, discussing parallelism

My Two Cents:  It was very hard to assign a genre to this book.  In some respects it felt like a mystery… Who (or what) is Finn?  What kind of devious revenge are the spinsters planning? In some respects this felt like folklore/fantasy… Is Finn a ghost?  What’s with all of the crows (rooks)?  Is there really fairy gold?  I think though that this is mostly a story about relationships, which I think makes it fall best under realistic fiction.  Reading the themes and content above you may get the impression that this is a dark depressing book, but in fact it is not.

For the many Sharon Creech fans out there, the writing won’t disappoint.  She just has such a unique style that on every page I was delighted with her little gems of word choice.  This was also a book I had a hard time putting down, for several reasons.  Of course her word choice is incentive enough to keep reading, but I really loved Naomi, Lizzie, and all of the characters in the book.  Naomi is down to earth and a little sarcastic (which I can always appreciate.) Lizzie is a little more needy and formal, and a chatterbox!  They make an unusual pair, but when their friendship is tested you find yourself hoping that they will overcome the challenge.  Finn is a charmer, and a mystery and the source of friction between the girls.  The odd thing is that even after finishing the book he is still a mystery to me.  The secondary characters in both Blackbird tree and “Across the Ocean” are just as interesting, each one with a unique quirk or personality.

This book could be challenging for some readers.  It is the kind of book in which you have to have a little blind faith that the confusion at the beginning of the story will work itself out by the time you reach the end.  That confusion was part of what kept me glued to this book.  I kept reading because wanted to make sense of the story.  Creech is masterful in the way that she reveals essential plot points little by little along the way.  This could work as a read aloud, but might be difficult because of the way the dialog is written (at times,) and the Irish brogue.

Here is a short video in which Sharon Creech discusses The Great Unexpected:

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Blashfield, Jean F. Ireland. New York: Children’s Press, 2002. Print.
  • Burns, Batt. The King with Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales. New York: Sterling, 2009. Print.
  • De Valera, Sinéad. The Magic Gifts. Dublin, Ireland: Wolfhound Press, 2000. Print.
  • Doyle, Roddy. A Greyhound of a Girl. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.
  • Krull, Kathleen. A Pot o’ Gold : a Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (of course) Blarney. New York: Hyperion Books, 2009. Print.
  • Spilsbury, Richard, and Louise Spilsbury. A Murder of Crows. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003. Print.
  • White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Favorite Quote: (There were so many it was hard to choose!)

“Her companion, Miss Pilpenny, recapped the pen. ‘Yes, Sybil, a fine and clever revenge.’

‘Shall we have a murder tonight?’

‘Indeed Sybil, splendid notion.’

‘And then perhaps a little jam and bread.'”

(Creech, Sharon. The Great Unexpected. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2012. 10. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Beautiful writing! Stick with it! 😀

Summer Reading: Trash


Trash by Andy Mulligan. Realistic Fiction/Mystery.

The lives of three “dumpsite boys” become forever entwined when one day Raphael discovers a bag containing a wallet, a map, and a key.  Soon all three are running from the police and desperately trying to solve the mystery of why the bag is so important to the authorities.

Themes/Content: Poverty, trash, waste, money, corruption, power, survival, courage, fear, friendship, education, codes, standards of living, character perspective, environment, greed

Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, readers who like dramatic stories, readers who like a lot of action, readers who like mystery, inquiry projects for social awareness or environmental issues, discussing character perspective

My Two Cents: When I choose a book to read I intentionally try to not know much about it.  I rarely read the summaries or reviews before I read the book.  It took me several chapters to realize I wasn’t reading dystopian science fiction.  The conditions of squalor in which the characters live are so extreme, how could I think otherwise?  Then I started thinking about my trip to Ghana several years ago, and I connected some of the scenes described in the book with some of the poverty stricken areas I had visited then.  Here I confess that I broke out of my normal routine and skipped to the acknowledgements at the end.  Mulligan said, “Behala dumpsite is based loosely on a place I visited whilst living in Manila.” Here is what he had to say about the book:

This book is definitely not for younger students, even though young children are the protagonists.  The authorities are brutal with Raphael as they interrogate him.  Rat (Jun-Jun) is completely alone in the world, living in the midst of filth and trash with the rats as company.  Gardo takes the leadership role and gives the others strength.  They all must take drastic measures just to survive in the harsh environment which surrounds them.  The boys do find compassionate people who play a role is helping them solve the mystery.  At first solving the mystery is a matter of survival, but eventually the boys realize that they are compelled to right a wrong that occurred before they were born.

This book will be eye-opening for those of our students who are born into a life of privilege.  As we encourage our students to be more globally aware, Trash could be used to spark discussion about living conditions in developing countries and possibly as in impetus for our students to affect change.  The book might also encourage students to learn more about the environmental impact of these very real sites.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Bailey, Gerry, and Felicia Law. Cowries, Coins, Credit. Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books, 2006. Print.
  • Bedford, Deborah J. Garbage Disposal. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2006. Print.
  • Bellamy, Rufus. Food for All. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2006. Print.
  • Clifford, Tim. Around the World with Money. Vero Beach, Fla.: Rourke Pub., 2009. Print.
  • Kent, Zachary. The Story of the Peace Corps. Chicago: Children Press, 1990. Print.
  • Ma, Yan, and Pierre Haski. The Diary of Ma Yan : the Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.
  • Milway, Katie S. One Hen : How One Small Loan Made a big Difference. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008. Print.
  • Povey, Karen D. Garbage. Detroit: KidHaven Press, 2006. Print.

Favorite Quote: “The absence of money is drought in which nothing can grow.  Nobody knows the value of water until they’ve lived in a dry dry place- like Behala.  So many people waiting for the rain.” (Mulligan, Andy. Trash. Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2010. 149. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A powerful gripping mystery. 🙂

Summer Reading: Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles


Fish Finelli: Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles by E. S. Farber.  Illustrated by Jason Beene. Mystery.

After making a bet with Bryce Billings, Norman “Fish” Finelli and his friends, Roger and T. J. set out to find the lost treasure of Captain Kidd.  The boys worry when they realize the Mystery Man, and his equally mysterious partner, are also searching for the treasure.

Themes: Friendship, mystery, treasure, Captain Kidd, bullies, fishing, boating, ocean life, ghosts, pirates, trivia, imagination, first person narratives

Recommended For: Grades 4 and 5, readers who are interested in treasure, readers who like mysteries, teaching about characters’ traits, read aloud, readers who like trivia, “Talk Like a Pirate Day”

My Two Cents: This is a great mystery for fourth graders with plenty of opportunity for extension into other curricular areas.  Fish, Roger and T. J. have vivid imaginations and distinctive character traits: Roger seems to be the practical joker in the group; T. J. is constantly snacking on something and Fish seems to be a walking encyclopedia.  In fact, “Fish’s Fun Facts,” random bits of trivia associated with the story, are interspersed alongside of the text.  I’ll have to admit though, T. J.’s constant snacking on sugary treats has me a bit concerned that he’s on the fast track to obesity, diabetes, or both.

There is just the right amount of silly dialog, gross-out humor and word play to make this book appealing to both girls and boys.  Throughout the book Beene’s illustrations are black and white caricatures of the action.  As the book ends it’s clear that this is the first in a series.

I would have liked Farber to include an author’s note at the end of the story, explaining which facts about Captain Kidd were historically accurate, and recommending additional resources.  There is a discussion guide available from the publisher.  “Talk Like a Pirate” day is Thursday, September 19th.  This book would be a great way to work it into your class.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Avi. Windcatcher. New York: Avon Books, 1992. Print.
  • Bryant, Jennifer. Kaleidoscope Eyes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  • Cheshire, Simon. The Pirate’s Blood and Other Case Files. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2011. Print.
  • Colfer, Eoin. Eoin Colfer’s Legend of– Captain Crow’s Teeth. New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, 2005. Print.
  • Dixon, Franklin W. The Twisted Claw. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1969. Print.
  • Harrison, David L. Pirates : Poems. Honesdale, Pa.: Wordsong, 2008. Print.
  • Lassieur, Allison. Pirate Hideouts : Secret Spots and Shelters. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2007. Print.
  • Levy, Debbie. Sunken Treasure. Detroit: KidHaven Press, 2005. Print.
  • Mason, Paul. Pirates. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2005. Print.
  • McDonald, Megan. The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2009. Print.
  • O’Donnell, Liam. Pirate Treasure : Stolen Riches. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2007. Print.
  • Osborne, Mary P. Pirates Past Noon. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Seagulls don’t eat ice cream!’ shouted T. J. ‘Seagulls don’t wear sneakers! Seagulls don’t—‘

‘SEAGULLS DON’T EAT PICKLES!’ Roger yelled at the top of his lungs.

OH NO! Our secret password!”

(Farber, E.S. Fish Finelli:  Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles. San Fransisco: Chronicle Books, 2013. 38. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A fun mystery with a dash of adventure.  🙂

Summer Reading: Three Times Lucky


Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Mystery.

Life in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC is pretty typical until trouble rolls into town in the form of Detective Joe Starr.  Before long the town is buzzing with news of a murder and it’s up to Mo LoBeau and her friend Dale (a.k.a the Desperado Detectives) to crack the case.

Themes/Content: Detectives, murder, family, friendship, orphans, hurricanes, restaurants, first person narratives, kidnapping, voice, small town life, read aloud, NASCAR, humor, abuse, dialogue, word choice

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, readers who like mystery, readers who like action and adventure, readers who like a funny story, read aloud, discussing word choice, reader’s theater

My Two Cents: Yet another terrific novel to add to my summer reading list!  Turnage has concocted a cast with just the amount of quirkiness that you’d expect from a small town.  Their names alone will catch your attention (Moses  LoBeau, The Colonel, Miss Lana, Lavender Macon, Thessolonians…) All of the town seems to meet and eat in the “café” and you’ll get caught up in their sometimes-casual, sometimes-chaotic  lives.

There are also serious aspects to the story, however.  Mo has started a “message-in-a-bottle” campaign to find her “upstream mother” who lost Mo during a hurricane.  There is also an actual murder, and kidnapping, and there are dangerous criminals in their midst.  At times the story seem humorous and light only to turn introspective or dangerous. Turnage is able to successfully work these conflicting emotions into a believable and balanced tale.

Not only would this book make a wonderful read aloud, I think it would be an excellent choice when talking about word choice and author’s craft in writing.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Barnett, Mac. It happened on a train. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. Print.
  • Boraas, Tracey. Police detective. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Books, 2000. Print.
  • Fleischman, Paul. The Dunderheads behind bars. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2012. Print.
  • Giff, Patricia R. Hunter Moran saves the universe. New York: Holiday House, 2012. Print.
  • Horowitz, Anthony. South by southeast : a Diamond brothers mystery. New York: Puffin Books, 2005. Print.
  • Lane, Brian. Crime & detection. London: DK, 2005. Print.
  • Montgomery, Monte. Kid confidential : an insider’s guide to grown-ups. New York: Walker, 2012. Print.
  • Pullman, Philip. Two crafty criminals! : and how they were captured by the daring detectives of the New Cut Gang. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.
  • White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Favorite Quote: “Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks.  Miss Lana says I have more of a Jack Russell brain.  I think things apart for sport.” (Turnage, Sheila. Three times lucky. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. 237. Print.)

Final Word(s): Three thumbs up! Great mystery, fun read! 😀

Summer Reading: Hold Fast


Hold Fast by Blue Balliett.  (@BlueBalliett) Realistic Fiction/Mystery

Early Pearl and her family dream of one day owning a home of their own.  Their plans are crimped however, when her father mysteriously disappears, and her apartment is ransacked and robbed.  She, her mother, Sum, and brother, Jubie, have no choice but to seek refuge at a homeless shelter.

Themes/Content: Family, home, homelessness, Langston Hughes, poetry, onomatopoeia, figurative language, etymology, vocabulary, quotes, libraries, theft, shelters, rhythm, writing, writer’s craft, text features

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up.  Learning about the plight of the homeless, learning about figurative language, teaching poetry, students who love a good mystery, discussing words and word origins, students who like books with some drama, read aloud

My Two Cents:  Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) writes, “How would children see reading differently if we taught language arts as an art appreciation class?”  Blue Balliett has created a masterful work of art filled with the commitment and courage, repetition and rhythm.  From the very first pages I wanted the Pearl family to find their dream.  They are such strong and loving family, with intelligent and compassionate parents who are providing the best for their children even though they can afford very few “material things.” They have a plan, and they hold each other up as they work toward putting that plan into action.  When Dash disappears and their home is robbed the family is shocked and devastated.  This family holds fast to each other as they persevere and face the toughest challenges they could imagine.

Balliett deftly crafts this story.  She draws on the poetry and rhythms of Langston Hughes in several ways.  Hughes writing provides the Pearls their smooth soulful voices.  Every conversation is poetry.  Hughes’ poetry and writing also play a significant role in the mystery of Dash’s disappearance. Balliett does a brilliant job of weaving the story with word play and figurative language.  Words are tossed and twisted and taken apart.  You’ll have blast finding those gems.

This book would make a great dramatic read aloud.

Similar/Paired books from EHUE Library:

  • Bauer, Joan. Almost home. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Bunting, Eve. Fly away home. New York: Clarion Books, 1991. Print.
  • Burleigh, Robert. Langston’s train ride. New York: Orchard Books, 2004. Print.
  • Carlson, Natalie S. The family under the bridge. New York: Harper/Trophy, 1958. Print.
  • Clements, Andrew. Room one : a mystery or two. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006. Print.
  • Cooper, Floyd. Coming home : from the life of Langston Hughes. New York: Putnam & Grosset, 1998. Print.
  • DiCamillo, Kate. Great joy. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2007. Print.
  • Hughes, Langston. The dream keeper and other poems : including seven additional poems. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print.
  • Langston Hughes. New York: Sterling Pub., 2006. Print.
  • Lewis, Barbara A. The kid’s guide to service projects : over 500 service ideas for young people who want to make a difference. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Pub., 2009. Print.
  • O’Connor, Barbara. How to steal a dog : a novel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.
  • Perdomo, Willie. Visiting Langston. New York: H. Holt, 2002. Print.
  • Perkovich, Olugbemisola R. 8th grade superzero. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. Print.

Favorite Quote: “Reading is a tool no one can take away.  A million bad things may happen in life and it’ll still be with you, like a flashlight that never needs a battery.  Reading can offer a crack of light on the blackest of nights.”  (Balliett, Blue. Hold fast. New York: Scholastic Press, 2013. 166. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Wow-ow! Read it! 😀