Category Archives: Enid Blyton

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?

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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

I’m Young Now, I’m Wild Now and I’m Free*

YAI think we’d all agree that getting young people to read for pleasure gives them enormous benefits. I don’t think I have to convince you of the way reading expands one’s horizons. But young people aren’t going to pick up a book and really engage with it if there’s no payoff for them. In that way they’re no different to us adults. If the story isn’t good, why read it? So I have a great deal of respect for those who write the kind of YA stories that get young people interested and engaged in reading.

Of course, there are all kinds of terrific YA stories out there and lots of them are crime fiction/mystery novels. In fact, there’s nothing that says someone who’s, ahem, no longer in the YA age group can’t enjoy them too. And what’s interesting is that some novels that are not actually called YA novels really could fall into that category too. Oh, and before I go on, you’ll notice in this post that I’m not going to feature some of the wonderful favourites people in my generation grew up with (The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton and the like). Some of those stories are timeless, but it’s also nice that there’s a lot of newer crime fiction out there that appeals to pre-teen and teen readers.

One of the more recent novels that has had appeal for young people is James W. Fuerst’s Huge. That’s the story of twelve-year-old Eugene ‘Huge’ Smalls. He’s a smart kid, but he doesn’t have much in the way of social skills, and he doesn’t handle authority or his anger very well. What he wants more than anything else is to be a detective just like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. He gets his chance when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the retirement home where she lives. Huge agrees to investigate and starts narrowing down the list of suspects. After some false starts, he does find out the truth about the sign. And he finds out a lot about himself too. This story takes place in 1980’s New Jersey, but a lot of the themes and certainly the character types resonate with today’s readers.

William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace is another novel that isn’t always considered YA reading, but it’s just as appealing to that audience as it is to adult readers. Thirteen-year-old Frank Drum and his younger brother Jake are living an ordinary kind of summer in 1961 New Bremen, Minnesota. Everything begins to change when a local boy is killed in what looks at first like a railroad accident. Then, there’s another death. The worst event for Frank though is when a member of his own family is killed. As he and Jake try to make sense of the deaths and find out who is behind them, Frank has to face his own grief and that of his surviving family members. He also has to re-think a lot of the views he’s had about other people in his town and about life in general.

Perhaps it’s just my opinion, so do feel free to differ with me if you do, but I would also say that Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series is really appealing to young adult readers even though it’s not always classified as a YA series. Of course, it’s awfully appealing to not-so-young-adult readers too…   Eleven-year-old Flavia has the same issues that a lot of pre-teens and teens face (siblings, adults who don’t listen to her, etc.). So in that sense her character resonates with younger readers although these novels are set in the 1950s. What’s more, the stories are rich enough not to insult smart young readers; they aren’t condescending. That’s a good thing too because Flavia doesn’t care much for condescension…

There’s also the Leaders and Legacies series, being published by Canada’s Fireside Publishing House. That series features Canada’s prime ministers as teens, and focuses on a different one in each novel. For example, there’s Roderick Benns’ The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder. In that novel, twelve-year-old John Diefenbaker and his brother Elmer are on their way from their own farm to the neighbouring Peterson farm in rural Saskatchewan. They’re approaching the Schneider farm when they hear a shot. John heads towards the sound and discovers that Hans Schneider has been shot. River’s Voice, a member of the Cree Nation, is arrested for the murder but his daughter Summer Storm doesn’t believe he’s guilty. Neither does John. So he, Elmer and Summer work together to try to clear River’s Voice’s name.

The newest of this series, Showdown at Border Town, features former Canadian PM Paul Martin and was written by Caroline Woodward, who is herself a teen. Check out more on this novel at Bill Selnes’ Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan. And while you’re there, you’ll want to take a moment to check out Bill’s terrific crime fiction blog. It’s a great source for news and reviews of Canadian crime fiction.

Kate Morgenroth’s Jude is the story of fifteen-year-old Jude, who’s been living with his drug-dealer father. When his father is shot, Jude (who was there at the time) is removed from the home for his own safety. It’s then discovered that he is really the son of DA Anna Grady and was abducted by his father when he was an infant. He moves in with his mother, who puts him in an exclusive private school and provides him with all of the material things he’s never had. He’s under suspicion for his father’s murder, but he can’t tell what he knows, or it could mean his life. Then, when his new friend Nick dies from a heroin overdose, Jude is implicated. He’s innocent, but he’s persuaded to plead guilty to help shore up his mother’s campaign for re-election on an anti-drug platform. Anna’s lover Harry, who’s the local police commissioner, promises Jude that after the election he’ll come forward with evidence that will prove that Jude is innocent and free him. But instead, Jude is tried as an adult and convicted. As he tries to survive in prison, another school friend Davis Marshall, who has become a reporter, finds out about the story. Marshall works with Jude to find out the truth about Nick’s death. And in the end, we also find out several truths about Jude’s past.

There’s also Felicity Pulman’s Janna Series. This series, which begins with Rosemary for Remembrance follows the story of sixteen-year-old Johanna (Janna), who lives in 12th Century England. In the first story, her mother Eadgyth, who is a healer, dies from what Janna suspects is poison. After their home is burned, Janna has to escape and try to survive as best she can as a girl (and suspected sorcerer) in Medieval England. She discovers who her mother’s murderer is, but this series goes beyond just the mysteries Janna solves. It also includes story arcs like Janna’s search for her father, and her ongoing dilemma about her personal life. At the age of sixteen she is of an eminently marriageable age, and at least two men are interested in her. These story arcs tie the series together and of course the themes resonate with young readers (and readers of historical mysteries who maybe aren’t so young).

Today’s YA mysteries are varied and they don’t just appeal to young readers. What’s more, several authors who’ve written adult crime fiction have also written for younger readers (I’m thinking for instance of Robert B. Parker). To me, that’s all for the good. I have nothing but the utmost respect for authors who create stories and characters that encourage young folks to fall in love with books. Do you read YA? If you do, which stories have you enjoyed? If you’re a writer, have you done YA books?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Triumph’s Magic Power.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Caroline Woodward, Enid Blyton, Felicity Pulman, Kate Morgenroth, Roderick Benns, William Kent Krueger