Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A few months before Hurricane Katrina, I visited a Catholic school in New Orleans in which the director allowed two middle-grade girls to take me on a private "tour." They promptly escorted me to the most spooky and isolated stairwell and proceeded to tell me, in low and measured tones, a gory ghost story of a girl who disappeared on her way back from the bathroom and whose spirit waits for all who return to class without a pass in order to drag them under the stage in the auditorium. I only wish I could find those girls again so I could recommend to them GILDA JOYCE: THE LADIES OF THE LAKE by Jennifer Allison (Sleuth/Dutton), sequel to GILDA JOYCE: PSYCHIC INVESTIGATOR (a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year). In this latest installment, our classy, sassy and clairvoyant heroine is reticent to attend a fancy-pants private school, but when she discovers that the school is haunted by a former student, she steps up to the task of uncovering the truth behind the presumed passing and goes head-to-head with the mean girls behind the scenes. One little girl claimed this was the "best book I've ever read in my entire ten years," can you beat that kind of plug? This is just one of several new titles in the exciting new "Sleuth" imprint from Penguin (the word "imprint" suggests a subdivision of a major publishing house). I have been very impressed by the quality and wit of this line. Here are a couple more novels that solve the mystery of what to read next! (All are for ages 10 and up)

What I really like about HANNAH WEST IN THE BELLTOWN TOWERS by Linda Johns (Sleuth/Puffin) is that even if you aren't a big mystery fan, the situation and characterization will hold you in a grip. Hannah West, adopted from China as a baby, is now a twelve-year old living la vida artist with her struggling single mom who keeps them off the streets by house-sitting in a swanky Seattle apartment building. Maybe Hannah's unconventional backstory is what gives her the ability to look at the world in new ways, making her an extraordinarily gifted--and likable--sleuth. The disappearance of paintings before an auction is the context of this very fine art caper, and though perhaps it lacks the heady precociousness of Blue Balliet's popular CHASING VERMEER, for many intermediate readers it will be a good deal easier to follow and a nice preface to the genre.

THE RAVEN LEAGUE by Alex Simmons and Bill McCay (Sleuth/Razorbill) takes us back to Victorian England to find an age-old problem: kids being left out of clubs. This time, though, the exclusive club blackballing Archie Wiggins and his buds is the notorius Baker Street Irregulars, the team of ragamuffins that helps none other than Sherlock Holmes. Not only do the misfits solve the mystery of the missing detective, but through friendship, cooperation and cunning, they are able to form a league of their own. Short and sophisticated, this clever little tome adds a tasteful dose of historical fiction, and will find a lot of fans and friends among young mystery readers.

If you have a favorite mystery, be sure to share it in the comments section!

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