Category Archives: Bill Galvan

When Enid Blyton Proved Lots of Fun*

As this is posted, it would have been Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday. As you’ll know, Blyton was one of the most prolific and successful writer of children’s stories of her time. If you grew up reading the Famous Five series, or the Five Find-Outer series, or the Secret Seven series, you’ll know that she created a number of memorable characters and adventures. And generations of children began a lifelong love of books and of crime fiction because of her writing. Blyton certainly wasn’t the first to create young protagonists, or series of books written for children. But she drew in millions of young people, and her books are still very popular.

Many people have been critical of Blyton’s work, pointing out sexism and xenophobia in her stories. That criticism has, of course, been levelled at several other authors of her time, and it’s hard to separate an author from the era in which she or he writes. That said, though, it’s hard to deny Blyton’s influence on children’s fiction.

Today’s children’s mystery fiction is as diverse and varied as its adult counterpart. And it features a wide range of young protagonists. For instance, David Adler has created several series for young people. One is the Cam Jansen series. These books feature Jennifer ‘Cam’ Jansen, so-called because of her photographic memory. A Grade Five student, she and her best friend, Eric, solve mysteries with the help of her ability to remember what she’s seen. Another Adler series features Cam as a younger child. Adler has written several other series for young readers as well.

Bill Galvan and Chad Denton have created a comic series called the Scrapyard Detectives. This series features a group of five young sleuths who meet regularly at a local scrapyard. Each of them has a different background, and brings a different sort of expertise to the team. Robert (whose father owns the scrapyard) is the ‘idea person;’ Jinn Lee has a knack for putting together pieces of a mystery puzzle; Lisan does background research; and so on. One purpose of the series is to promote multiculturalism. But there are also mysteries to be solved. And, speaking personally (I’ve used these in some work I’ve done), the focus is at least as much on the mysteries as it is on messages to be sent. And that works well for young readers, who don’t want to be preached to any more than most adults want it.

Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series features the fourteen-year-old younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. The series is a pastiche series, so there are plenty of ‘crossover characters’ from the original Arthur Conan Doyle series. But at the same time, this series’ focus is Enola and the cases that she solves. It’s intended for the middle grades, and it’s an interesting ‘bridge’ to the original Holmes stories.

Writing as Lewis B. Montgomery, Mara Rockliff has created a children’s mystery series featuring Milo and his friend Jasmyne ‘Jazz,’ who are detectives in training. They’ve sent away for a Super Sleuth kit from expert detective Dash Marlowe, who gives them long-distance advice on sleuthing. This series is aimed at beginning readers from ages 7-11, and includes ‘asides’ to the reader to help young people learn deduction, logical thinking, and some academic skills, too.

There’s also Fireside Books’ Leaders and Legacies series. These stories feature Canada’s prime ministers as young sleuths, so readers get to solve mysteries along with the protagonists. They also learn a bit about the history of the country, and about the prime ministers themselves.

Of course, not all mystery books for children are in series, as many of Blyton’s were. There are plenty of standalone mysteries out there. And they’re available for even the youngest readers. For example, there’s Herbert Yee Wong’s Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper, and James and Kimberly Dean’s Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes. Both of those (and plenty more) are picture books, so that young people can be drawn into the mystery, even if they’re just starting to read.

What about little ones who aren’t quite ready to read yet? There are great resources out there for them, too. For example, you may not know this, but crime writer D.S. Nelson is an expert children’s storyteller. You can visit her website right here and get to know her work. She’s also created a series of fun and engaging mini-mysteries featuring Hugo the detective dog. You can watch them right here. Storytelling can be a very effective way to introduce children to stories and, later, books. Add in a mystery, and you can hook a child on crime fiction for life. Crime writers everywhere will thank you for that.

Did you grow up with Enid Blyton? If you did, what are your Blyton memories? If you didn’t, what are your first memories of cracking fictional cases?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Undertones’ What’s With Terry?


Filed under Bill Galvan, Chad Denton, D.S. Nelson, David Adler, Enid Blyton, Herbert Yee Wong, James Dean, Kimberly Dean, Lewis B. Montgomery, Mara Rockliff, Nancy Springer

>It All Started When…

>When did you first get interested in reading mysteries? Did you start reading them when you were a child? Were you an adult? Which mystery author really “got you going?” I’ve been thinking about this question as I’ve been reading the wonderful 9mm author interview series that Craig at Crime Watch has been sharing with us. One of the interview questions asks the author to share the first book she or he remembers reading and enjoying. It’s an interesting question because research shows convincingly (at least convincingly to me) that children who read early in life are more likely to become avid readers later in life. If that’s true, it makes sense to provide children with habit-forming books if we want them to become addicted to reading.

Sometimes, crime fiction lovers get “hooked” by a series that wasn’t specifically written for young people. For instance, many schools’ Language Arts education programs include at least some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. That’s, in fact, how I first encountered Holmes. The first Holmes story I read was The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, in which Mr. Jabez Wilson accepts a very unusual job offer. He’s engaged to copy the encyclopedia. He’s been led to believe that this job is provided for him by a group called The Red-Headed League. When he goes to work one day and finds workplace locked up and a sign announcing that the red-headed league is disbanded, Wilson goes to Sherlock Holmes to help him unravel the mystery. Holmes finds that a gang of bank robbers has been using Wilson’s pawn shop as the jumping-off point for a tunnel they’re building to break into a nearby bank.

Agatha Christie’s novels weren’t specifically written for children, either; however, they, too, are included in several schools’ Language Arts curricula. One of her novels that students study is Murder on the Orient Express, in which Hercule Poirot takes a three-day journey through Europe on the famous Orient Express, only to get drawn into a murder investigation. Wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is stabbed on the second night of the journey, and Poirot is asked to find the murderer as quickly as he can. The goal is for him to tell the police who board the train at the next border who the murderer is.

Students also study Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians), which was said to be Christie’s favorite. In that novel, ten disparate people are brought to Indian Island, off the Devon Coast. They’re each lured there in a slightly different way and when they arrive, they discover that they’ve been brought there for a specific purpose. Each is accused of being responsible for at least one death. On the first night of their stay, one of the guests is poisoned. Then, later that night, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that there’s a murderer on the island who’s targeting each guest; now, the survivors work desperately to stay alive and avoid being the next victim.

The first full-length Agatha Christie novel I read was Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, in which Hercule Poirot investigates the death of a charwoman whom everyone thinks was killed by her unpleasant lodger. I first read that one as a young teenager and I still have the habit ; ).

There are other examples, too, of course, of crime fiction novels that are not specifically geared towards children, but that “hook” young readers. There are also lots of books and series that are aimed at young people. One of the most enduring is the Nancy Drew series. Written by a number of authors under the name Carolyn Keene, this series features Nancy, the teenage daughter of attorney Carson Drew. Since 1930, when The Mystery of the Old Clock was published, the series has undergone several changes, mostly to make it appealing to new generations of readers. Today, the Nancy Drew series remains one of the most popular mystery series for young readers.

The Hardy Boys mysteries have also enjoyed enduring popularity. This series, created by the same book-packaging company that created the Nancy Drew series, features Frank and Joe Hardy. They’re the teenage sons of detective Fenton Hardy and his wife, Laura. Beginning with 1927’s The Tower Treasure, the series has been beloved for generations. Part of the reason its popularity has continued is that, like the Nancy Drew series, the Hardy Boys mysteries have been extensively rewritten to reflect changing times and values.

Beatrix “Trixie” Belden is also responsible for addicting many young people to crime fiction. She’s a teenage sleuth who lives with her parents and three brothers in upstate New York. Together with her best friends Madeleine “Honey“ Wheeler and Diana “Di” Lynch, she investigates cases as a part of a group called the Bob-Whites of the Glen. The Trixie Belden novels were originally written by Julie Campbell Tatham, but after the sixth novel, they were written by various authors. The last original Trixie Belden novel was published in 1986, and for quite a time, the series was out of print. Some of the books were re-released a few years ago, and it’ll be interesting to see whether new generations of readers find Trixie appealing.

Since 1963, Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series has also been drawing new young readers to the mystery genre. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown is the son of the police chief of fictional Idaville. In these mysteries, the reader solves the case along with Brown, and the key to the cases is a wrong fact or inconsistency somewhere in the story. The reader is invited to spot that mistake and use it as the key to the solution. In the “Answers” section of the Brown mysteries, the amateur sleuth himself explains the solution and points out that key fact. These books, more than some others, encourage the reader to “play armchair detective.”

The Boxcar Children series, created by Gertrude Chandler Warner, is focused on not just one or two, but four children. Siblings, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden were placed in the custody of their grandfather when their parents died. They thought he would be cruel to them, so they ran away from the orphanage where they lived when they found out he was to be their guardian. The children find an abandoned railway boxcar where they live until Violet becomes ill, and they need to take her to a doctor. The doctor realizes that these are the missing grandchildren of John Alden, who’s both wealthy and kind, despite what his grandchildren thought about him. So the doctor unites the family, and the Alden children go to live with their grandfather, who moves their boxcar to his back yard for them. The Alden children solve mysteries both at home and while they’re away on holidays.

There are also several more recent mystery series aimed at young people. David A. Adler, for instance, has created two mystery series, among his other writing. One is the Cam Jansen series, which features the adventures of Jennifer “Cam” Jansen, a young amateur detective who has a photographic memory that she uses to solve mysteries (hence the nickname). Adler’s other series is the Bones series that features young Jeffrey Bones. He uses deduction, a decoder, and other “spy tools” to solve mysteries. What’s interesting about Adler’s series is that they’re written at a few different reading levels, so that even very young or struggling readers can enjoy the stories.

Bill Galvan’s Scrapyard Detective series is also aimed at young readers. This series is focused on a group of middle school students who’ve formed their own club – The Scrapyard Detectives. They take their name from their meeting place, which is the scrapyard owned by the father of one of the main characters. These stories center on local mysteries that the group solves. Those mysteries are at the center of the stories, but the stories also have lessons integrated into them.

These are just a few examples of the many mysteries and detectives stories that have been responsible for addicting young people to crime fiction. How did you get “hooked?”


Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Bill Galvan, David A. Adler, Donald J. Sobol, Gertrude Chandler Warner, Hardy Boys, Julia Campbell Tatham, Nancy Drew

>But There Aren’t Any Pictures!

>What was it that got you interested in reading? In crime fiction? The answer to that question is, of course, different for everyone. But for most of us, the love of reading starts at a young age. Research shows, too, that children who start reading when they are very young are more likely to become lifelong readers. There are several detective series aimed at young readers, too. For instance, Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and more recently, sleuths like Cam Jansen have gotten young readers interested in mysteries for many years. But everyone thinks and learns and knows in a different way. For some of us, it’s the visual that helps us know and learn. For readers with a strong sense of the visual, one interesting “door” into crime fiction is the comic and graphic novel.

Traditionally, comics and graphic novels aren’t thought of as “real” reading. However, there’s interesting research that suggests that we use similar reading skills for comics and graphic novels to the skills we use for other kinds of reading. And, for those who learn best through the visual, comics and graphic novels can offer a creative way to experience crime fiction.

Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy is one of the most famous and enduring comic-strip detectives. He’s what you might call a “hardboiled” police detective, but the strip isn’t all about fisticuffs. There’s also lots of detail about police investigation, too. In fact, it’s been argued that this strip was really one of the first police procedural series. Even if it wasn’t, it’s got plenty of the elements of a police procedural: collecting and analyzing evidence (including forensic evidence), interviewing witnesses and suspects, and the details of arrest. Gould himself stopped writing and drawing the strip in 1977, but Dick Tracy remains a powerful influence. The strip itself was continued, there’ve been graphic novels, and of course, Dick Tracy films. There are other comic-strip crime fiction legends too, such as Batman, but for many readers, Dick Tracy was their first introduction to crime fiction.

Some of crime fiction’s most famous sleuths have also had their stories adapted in graphic form. For instance Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story, was adapted in graphic form by Ian Edgington and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard. In that story, Holmes investigates the murders of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson, both Americans who are staying at the same rooming-house. As Holmes finds out, the two deaths are connected, and both deaths are related to Drebber’s and Stangerson’s past lives in America.

Edginton and Culbard also collaborated on adapting Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles in graphic form. In that novel, Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate a supposed curse on the Baskerville family – a demon in hound form who’s haunted the family since one of their ancestors, Sir Hugo Baskerville, sold himself to the Powers of Evil so he could have the woman he wanted. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in the park of the family home, his friend, Dr. Mortimer, thinks that the curse has come back to haunt the family. He’s afraid because the next Baskerville heir, Sir Henry, is on his way from Canada, and Mortimer fears for his life. So he asks Holmes to investigate and see if Sir Henry can be spared the curse. Holmes and Watson find that, far from being the victim of a curse, Sir Charles was killed for a much more prosaic motive.

Several of Agatha Christie’s novels have been adapted for graphic form, too. Many of them have been adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by Marc Piskic. For instance, one novel that Rivière and Piskic collaborated on is The Murder on the Links, in which Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. At first, the police think Renauld was murdered by a pair of thugs who are after a secret Renauld is supposedly keeping. Soon, though, Poirot finds out that Renauld’s death had a much different motive. Rivière collaborated with illustrator Frank Leclerq on the adaptation of The Secret Adversary, the first adventure featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. In that novel, Thomas Beresford and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley are both hard-up for money, and decide to form their own company, “The Young Adventurers, Ltd.” Very soon, they get their first commission: to track down some missing secret papers. Before they know it, they’re swept up in international intrigue and political maneuvering.

Vertigo, an imprint owned by D.C. Comics, focuses entirely on graphic novels, many of them crime fiction. For example, Dark Entries is the story of John Constantine, from the Hellblazer comic series. In this novel, written by Ian Rankin and illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera, Constantine, a paranormal investigator, is hired by the staff of Haunted Palace, a reality television show in which a group of young contestants are trapped in a “haunted house,” and the only way to win is to get into a hidden room and claim the prize. The current group of contestants has, indeed, been terrified by scary visions, but they haven’t been the “rigged” terrors that the show’s producers have planned. Apparently, the contestants are seeing these things themselves. So Constantine’s recruited to find out who or what is causing these visions.

Other graphic novels blend comic-strip heroes and crime fiction, too. For instance, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is the story of the murder of government agent (and former superhero) The Comedian. He’s one of several superheroes in an alternative-future scenario who’ve been outlawed by the current government. The only superheroes who are allowed to continue to use their powers are those like The Comedian who are officially hired by the government. When The Comedian is found murdered, another former superhero, Rorschach, begins to believe that there’s a plot to kill other superheroes as well. So he gathers a group of his former colleagues to investigate. As they begin to try to piece things together, they find themselves in danger as they slowly uncover the truth. In the end, it’s found that The Comedian’s death, and the other events that happen in the story, are all part of a larger plan.

Some of these novels are, of course, more suitable for adults than for children, but there’s also graphic-novel crime fiction available for young readers. For instance, Bill Galvan’s Scrapyard Detectives is a comic series about a group of young people who have formed a club called the Scrapyard Detectives. Their name comes from their meeting place – the scrapyard owned by the father of one of the main characters. In the series, the team of young people works together to solve local mysteries. While the series focuses on teaching lessons, it’s also an interesting mystery series that allows readers to follow the clues and solve cases along with the young sleuths.

Chris Everheart’s Recon Academy series is about a team of young people, Recon Academy, whose purpose is to fight terrorism and other crimes in their town of Seaside. There’s a high-tech naval base in town, so security is important, and the Recon Academy team does its share to protect the base. In novels such as Teen Agent and Prep Squadron, the group goes up against terrorist cells, mysterious strangers and odd happenings in and around Seaside High School.

We don’t always think of comics and graphic novels when we think of crime fiction and those forms of literature aren’t always regarded as “real” crime fiction. But well-drawn comics and graphic novels with interesting plots and solid characters have “hooked” many people on reading and on crime fiction. They’re fairly easy reading, so young readers, readers who struggle and readers learning a language can enjoy them. They appeal to the visual, so those who remember best what they see can especially appreciate them. They can be very creative, and they’ve made a unique contribution to the genre. Have you read comic or graphic-novel crime fiction? If you have, which stories have you enjoyed?


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Moore, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bill Galvan, Chester Gould, Chris Everheart, Ian Rankin