The Snowy Day Mystery

Cam Jansen

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The Snowy Day Mystery by David A. Adler, 2004.

One snowy day, Cam Jansen and her friends are on the school bus outside of their school.  Because of the snow, a lot of parents have decided to drive their kids to school, and with all the extra cars, it’s difficult for the bus driver to pull up and let the kids out.  Cam and her friend, Eric, pass the time while they’re waiting with a memory game.

Their game proves useful later, when one of their teachers discovers that someone has stolen three computers from one of the classrooms.  There are footprints in the snow outside the classroom window, but the window was locked from the inside after the theft.  Whoever took the computers must have actually entered the school and passed them to someone outside.  But, computers are big and heavy.  How did they get them away without anyone seeing them?

Cam and Eric begin to investigate, and Danny, a classmate with a habit of telling really bad jokes, tags along.  Part of the solution to the mystery has to do with all of the extra cars in front of the school that morning.  The thieves’ car would have blended in with all of the others, except that they were doing something that none of the other cars were doing, something that Cam realizes that no car would have had a reason to do.  Cam saw the thieves leave herself and is later able to describe the car to the police, but the unusual thing about it doesn’t occur to her until she thinks about where the thieves parked their car.

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Cam Jansen and the Ghostly Mystery

Cam Jansen

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Cam Jansen and the Ghostly Mystery by David A. Adler, 1996.

CJGhostlyMysteryGhostCam Jansen’s Aunt Molly takes her and her friend Eric to buy tickets for a Triceratops Pops concert.  Triceratops Pops is a singing group that dresses up like dinosaurs, and many of the fans buying tickets also wear dinosaur costumes.  While they’re standing in line, someone dressed as a ghost starts sneaking up behind people and scaring them by yelling, “Boo!”  At first, it seems like a mildly annoying prank, but then one old man standing nearby seems to have a heart attack when he is startled.

The guards standing near the ticket booth rush to help the man and call for an ambulance for him.  However, while they are distracted, the person in the ghost costume robs the woman selling tickets, taking all the ticket money and her own money from her purse.

Cam is convinced that the old man who collapsed was part of the thief’s plan and that his “heart attack” was just an act to distract the guards.  She noticed that he seemed to be wearing a wig to make himself look older.  But, there are two other clues that are important: the magazines that the man dropped when he fainted, and the fact that the ghost costume was found in the ladies’ restroom.  Once again, Cam helps the police with her amazing memory!

 

Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the UFO

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Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the UFO by David A. Adler, 1980.

Cam Jansen‘s friend, Eric, wants to enter a photography contest.  All of the pictures for the contest must be taken in black-and-white, have to be “of local interest”, and must be completely natural, not posed.  As Cam and Eric look for things to photograph, Cam spots a kitten trapped in a tree.  Eric takes a picture of her rescuing the kitten.

Then, they see a bunch of people standing around, pointing at some strange, multi-colored lights in the sky.  A local newscaster even shows up to cover the mysterious lights and talk about UFOs.

Cam and Eric decide to investigate the area where it look like the UFOs landed.  When they get there, they spot some strange creatures with silvery skin and pointed heads!  However, it soon becomes obvious that these “aliens” aren’t what they appear to be.  They speak English, are called “Cindy” and “Steven”, and are actually covered in aluminum foil.  But, why are they playing alien, and what are the UFOs really about?

Cam decides to keep the cat that she rescued and names her Neptune.  When the true purpose behind the aliens’ hoax is revealed, Neptune helps to foil their plans.

 

Eat Your Poison, Dear

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Eat Your Poison, Dear by James Howe, 1986.

Milo Groot is the editor of the school paper at Sebastian Barth’s school. Milo is something of a social outcast at school, but after he gets extremely ill eating in the school cafeteria, Sebastian and his friend David begin to wonder if there’s been some foul play. Although everyone thinks it’s just a bad case of the flu at first, it’s strange how Milo’s symptoms only come up after eating lunch at school.

Milo recently wrote an editorial for the school paper, criticizing a group of boys at school who have adopted kind of a “greaser” look, wearing leather jackets, smoking cigarettes, wearing temporary tattoos (so badass), and calling each other by biker-style nicknames. The biker boys, who like to call themselves the Devil Riders (they don’t actually have motorcycles, but they like to stand around and look at pictures of them a lot), have been kind of mean to other kids, even former friends, but the school’s principal says that there’s no school rule against simply wearing leather jackets, so there’s nothing he can do about their biker persona. Milo starts up a petition against them, though, trying to get the principal to crack down on their little group. Could one of them be behind Milo’s poisoning?

Then, suddenly, two more kids at school get sick in the same way. The school cafeteria has always gotten good health ratings, leading Sebastian to think that whatever is harming people at school must be deliberate. Soon, whatever is harming the students affects a large part of the student body, with seventy-seven students all getting sick on the same day. But, still, who is doing it and what is their motive?

The story gets somewhat philosophical about the nature of hurt and why people hurt each other. Sebastian asks his friend Corrie’s father, Reverend Wingate, for his opinion about why people hurt others. Sebastian’s grandmother thinks that people hurt others because of some hurt that they have themselves. This is part of the reason why the Devil Riders act the way they do. It is revealed that the leader of the little gang, Harley (not his real name, that’s his “biker” nickname) has a very unhappy home life that he often lies about to others. Acting tough with his friends and pushing other people around is his way of dealing with it. One thing that Reverend Wingate notes is that “There is no way for people to stop hurting one another except to stop.” He relates it to the arms race of the Cold War (contemporary with when the story was written), saying:

“If we justify building up our own arsenals because they have more weapons, then we only heap one folly on top of another. There comes a time when we must say, ‘Enough! I don’t have to have more toys than you. I don’t need the last word. I will turn the other cheek.’”

In other words, some battles aren’t worth fighting because the cost is too high, higher than the gains of victory, and in those cases, it’s better just to move on. In a way, both Sebastian’s grandmother and Reverend Wingate are correct; the villain that they’re looking for is someone who’s been harboring hurt for a long time and hasn’t yet realized the cost of getting revenge.

I found it interesting when Harley (who is not the villain, even though he is the primary suspect for a time) tells Sebastian that a person who is less popular than others is at a disadvantage when they do something wrong. Harley says that his social worker tells him, “. . . everybody makes mistakes. She says, you make a mistake on the blackboard, what do you do? You erase it and try again. I say to her, sometimes somebody writes on the blackboard with a magic marker, just to be mean, and everybody sees it and nobody can erase it away. It’s always there, and always will be the rest of your life.” Popularity can make other people more willing to forgive a wider range of behavior, however I think that the situation that Harley describes is less a matter of popularity and more of method and intent. When someone does something “just to be mean,” it’s always going to leave a mark, at least emotionally, and “magic marker” isn’t meant to be erased, so it’s a bad choice for someone airing only temporary feelings. Some people just have poor priorities and bad strategy, and that’s what gets them into trouble.

Before the story is over, Sebastian himself makes a big mistake, accusing the wrong person because he made a false confession. However, Sebastian is willing to face up to the apologies that he will owe others after he learns the truth, realizing that a false accusation was part of what the real villain was hoping for. Anger is also a kind of poison. Truth can hurt at first, but unlike poison, it can make things better.

Stage Fright

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Stage Fright by James Howe, 1990.

A well-known actress, Michaele, who is also an old friend of Sebastian Barth’s mother, has come to town to be in a play. She’s staying with Sebastian’s family, and Sebastian has a role in the play as Michaele’s son. His friends will be working on the sets for the play, and everyone is really excited. However, Michaele herself is nervous because she hasn’t done live theater for some time. She is also struggling to get to know her nine-year-old son, who has recently come to live with her.

Then, someone begins sending her strange notes. At first, they come in the form of secret admirer notes and are accompanied by little presents. Later, the notes take a nasty turn, and Michaele becomes the victim of suspicious accidents. Someone even calls her son pretending to be his father, who lives in another state, to get him to go off on his own to meet him somewhere. Although nothing bad happens to the boy and no one comes to meet him, his sudden disappearances cause Michaele to worry that he has been kidnapped. Someone seems to be trying to frighten Michaele out of doing the play, but who is it and why?

The theme of the story is the difference between what people imagine is true and what is really true. A lot of the people in the story have unrealistic expectations of others. For instance, Michaele is impatient with her young son, who has had a troubled history of being torn between his divorced parents, who are both busy with their careers. By the end of the story, she has come to understand him better and plans to spend much more time with him.

Michaele, as a well-known actress, also attracts many admirers, most of whom have different illusions about what she is really like and what she really wants. In the end, after Sebastian reveals the culprit, Michaele decides not to let what happened stop her from going for what she knows she really wants, whether her efforts succeed or not. Michaele’s confidence is restored, and she’s looking forward to a brighter future with her son.

Jane-Emily

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Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp, 1969.

Louisa is a young woman around the turn of the century.  She is only 18 years old and unmarried, but she is in love with a young man named Martin.  However, her parents think that she is becoming too serious about Martin too soon, so they insist that she spend the summer taking her young niece, Jane, to visit her other grandmother.  Jane has lived with her maternal grandparents, Louisa’s parents, since the death of her parents.  Louisa loves her niece, but she resents her parents changing her summer plans in order to keep her away from her boyfriend.

However, this is not just a love story but a ghost story.  Jane’s parents were killed in a strange buggy accident, which is why she lives with her grandparents and young aunt.  Her other grandmother has lived alone since the death of her son (Jane’s father) and her husband, some years earlier.  She had another child, a daughter named Emily, but Emily died young many years ago of a sudden illness.

As Louisa soon learns, Emily was a pretty and clever but seriously disturbed child.  Her father idolized her, coming to love her even more than he loved his wife.  He thought she was absolutely the most perfect child in the world and could never forbid her anything.  He gave her everything she ever asked for and refused to allow his wife to discipline her for any reason, even when she needed it.  It would be enough to spoil any child, but Emily was extremely callous, cold, and manipulating by nature.  Her father’s catering to her only fed her selfishness and ruthlessness.

Emily was known to resort to extreme measures to get her way, and in the end, it led to her death.  She fell in love with the son of the local doctor, deciding (without his consent) that they would get married one day.  However, he didn’t really care for her at all, seeing her extreme selfishness.  In a bid to get his attention and sympathy, Emily decided to make herself ill.  One cold night, she soaked her nightgown in water and deliberately sat by an open window.  Unfortunately, it worked too well, and she became so ill that she died.

However, Emily’s selfishness and determination to get her way seem to have lasted beyond the grave, and young Jane’s presence in her old house, in the very room that used to be Emily’s, seems to have awakened Emily’s wrathful spirit.  Jane becomes fascinated with the reflecting globe in the garden, which Emily declared was hers alone and that no one else could ever look into it.  Jane claims that she can see Emily’s face in the globe, but people don’t believe her at first. Jane bears a close resemblance to Emily, although the two of them are very different in character.  Jane seems to develop an unhealthy obsession with her dead aunt, and she seems to know things that only Emily could have told her.  Emily seems to be slowly taking over Jane.

Jane’s grandmother confides that she has believed that Emily caused the sudden deaths of her husband and son because they died under unexplained circumstances and Emily could never let go of anything or anyone she thought belonged to her.  Now that Emily seems to be showing an interest in Jane, her grandmother begins to fear for her.

Meanwhile, Louisa is falling in love with Adam, the young man Emily had planned to marry and who is now a doctor himself.  Adam also loves her, wanting her to marry him.  However, Louisa has become convinced of Emily’s evil presence and the threat that she poses to young Jane.  When Emily forces Jane to go out in a freezing rain, making her become ill in the way she did before she died, Louisa must help Jane to fight for her life.

Emily’s presence centers around the gazing globe in the garden, and the only person who can end her evil influence and save Jane is her grandmother, who finally finds the courage to stand up to her daughter and tell her that there are some things that she can’t have.

Parts of the story feel a bit preachy on the subject of parents who spoil their children, but Emily and her family are presented as an extreme case of that.  At times, characters wonder what Emily would have been like if her father hadn’t constantly catered to her every whim and had given her the discipline she needed.  They all agree that she would have lived a longer life, as would other members of her family.  However, Emily was already a naturally selfish person and apparently incapable of empathy.  Her father’s worship of her was seriously unhealthy and, in a way, a reflection of his own selfishness; Emily represented all the qualities that he loved in her mother but she was a creation of his (well, you know, 50%, genetically speaking), making her infinitely more perfect and more worthy of his love than his own wife.  One of the other characters comments that his wife was the real victim in the end because her husband blamed her for their daughter’s early death (which was definitely Emily’s fault alone) and subjected her to years of guilt over it, rejecting all the love they had once had for each other.

The story ends happily but on a somewhat ambiguous note because Louisa realizes that there are many things that she doesn’t understand, and although Emily seems like she’s finally gone, the memory of her will haunt them all.

The Secret of the Floating Phantom

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The Secret of the Floating Phantom by Norma Lehr, 1994.

Kathy Wicklow is going to be staying with her grandmother in Monterey for a while, helping her while she recovers from a twisted knee.  Kathy is disappointed about it because she only just got home from visiting her Aunt Sharon, and she was looking forward to some time at home with her dog, Snuggles.  Snuggles can’t even come with her to her grandmother’s house because of her grandmother’s allergies.

Kathy’s grandmother is a dance instructor, but someone else has to teach her classes until she’s better.  Her friend, Loretta, owns a Spanish restaurant and sometimes visits and brings dinner with her.  (The grandmother describes it as a “Spanish” restaurant, but they serve things like tacos and burritos with salsa, which is what people where I live think of as Mexican food.)  Kathy’s grandmother is sure that Kathy will like Loretta’s granddaughter and grandnephew.  However, she is strangely secretive about what she and Loretta have been doing during her visits, saying that their meetings, which they hold with a mysterious man called Mason, are financial discussions and are “not for children.”

Kathy learns that her grandmother and her friend are really holding séances. Loretta’s husband is dead, and Loretta fears that she might lose her property unless she can produce the original deed to it. She thinks her husband knew where the deed was, and she hopes to contact him so that he can tell her.  When Kathy spies on them during a séance, she sees a mysterious fog that seems to be trying to tell them something. No one else can see it but her. It appears to Kathy several more times, and it seems to be leading her not only toward the deed but toward a lost treasure from the early days of California.

Kathy is suspicious of Mason’s motives and the fact that he doesn’t seem to like her. It turns out that he is not really trying to help Loretta and her family but trying to find a treasure that was hidden by an ancestor of Loretta’s over a hundred years ago. At that time, the area where they now live in California was attacked by pirates. Loretta’s ancestor, Ambrose, was given the task of hiding the treasures from the local mission. He buried them under a tree and marked the tree with a cross. However, during the attack, he was badly injured and blinded. He was unable to find the spot where he buried the treasure himself, and the others who went to find it couldn’t locate the tree.

The fog-like spirit that Kathy sees is Ambrose. Lisa, Loretta’s granddaughter and Kathy’s friend, is spooked by Kathy’s visions, but she helps Kathy to follow the clues that the ghost provides to the treasure. In a hole in the trunk of the tree, Kathy also finds the deed that Loretta has been searching for. Mason tries to take the treasure himself, but he can’t move the heavy bricks on top of it by himself. Mason leaves before anyone can confront him. Digger, Lisa’s cousin, feels especially betrayed because Mason had seemed like such a good friend to him. Kathy notices that Mason seems to share some characteristics with one of the pirates from the attack in Ambrose’s time, which might be a hint that Mason is a descendant of the pirates, but it’s never fully explained.

 

Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt

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Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, 1989.

Nate the Great gets a Halloween case when Rosamond asks him to help her find one of her cats.  Rosamond and Annie show up at Nate’s house, trick-or-treating.  They’re both dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, and Annie’s dog, Fang, is the wolf/grandmother.

Rosamond has several cats, all named “Hex”: Big Hex, Plain Hex, Super Hex, etc.  But, she’s worried because she can’t find Little Hex.  Every Halloween, her other cats like to go to an old house in the neighborhood that is supposedly haunted in order to help haunt it, but Little Hex is afraid on Halloween and apparently hid somewhere.  Nate thinks that Little Hex will probably come out as soon as Halloween is over, but Rosamond is so worried that he agrees to look for Little Hex anyway.

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Nate interviews kids in the neighborhood to see if they’ve seen Little Hex, but they haven’t.  Then, he and his dog, Sludge, go to the haunted house to look around.  He sees Rosamond’s other cats, but not Little Hex.  There’s a scary moment when he realizes that he’s locked in the house, but Sludge helps him to escape.

Little Hex isn’t as far away or lost as Rosamond thinks, and Nate realizes that both Sludge and Rosamond herself have given him the clues he needs to solve the mystery.  Sludge demonstrates what an animal might do when it’s frightened, and Nate suddenly realizes why Rosamund’s treat basket was so much heavier than Annie’s even though they had been to the same houses.

The Spooky Halloween Party

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The Spooky Halloween Party by Annabelle Prager, illustrated by Tomie de Paola, 1981.

This book was an old Halloween favorite of mine when I was a kid.  It’s funny, slightly spooky, and has a bit of a twist ending!

Albert’s friend, Nicky, is inviting all of their friends plus his cousin Suzanne to a spooky Halloween party at his new apartment on Halloween night.  Albert hasn’t been to his new apartment yet, and Nicky says that it’s going to be really scary because he wants everyone to come in costume and to not tell anyone what they’re going to be so that everyone will be surprised when they take off their masks at the end of the evening.

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Albert doesn’t think Nicky’s party is going to be all that scary because he’s pretty confident that he’ll know who his friends are right away, even in costume.  Some of them have already given him hints.  Nicky was practicing going, “Whoo, whoo!” in order to scare people, so Albert knows that, whatever his costume is, it’s something that makes that sound.  Jan called up and asked Albert if he had an old mop that she could borrow, so he thinks that she’s probably going to be a witch and that she just got confused, thinking that witches carry mops instead of brooms.  Dan told Albert straight out that he’s going as a pirate because he doesn’t see the point in keeping his identity a secret.

As for Albert’s costume, he’s tired of wearing the usual old clothes in the dress-up box, so he decides that this time, he’ll wear the box itself.  He cuts holes for his eyes and arms and decorates it so that he looks like a robot.  Almost completely covered by the box, he’s sure that everyone will have a harder time guessing his identity than he will theirs.

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When Albert arrives at Nicky’s new apartment house, he meets a girl dressed like a princess in the elevator.  She says that she’s going to the Halloween party on the fifth floor, and when Albert says that he is too, she suggests that they walk there together.  Albert guesses that she is Nicky’s cousin, Suzanne.

The apartment is pretty spooky, lit by jack o’lanterns, and there are already some guests there.  Albert is a little surprised that he doesn’t see a pirate, but there are a couple of witches and an owl, who could be Nicky.  Yet, when Albert tries to talk to the other guests, they seem to be acting strangely, and he realizes that he’s not quite sure who is really who.

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The princess is pretty spooked, and as the party goes around the apartment house, trick-or-treating, she kind of clings to Albert.  When some strange noises and a far-away “Whoo, whoo” sound startle her, Albert reassures her that it’s only Nicky in his owl costume.  Then, the princess tells him that she knows the owl, and it’s not Nicky.  That’s when Albert really starts getting scared, wondering why he doesn’t seem to know his own friends.

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The reason why Albert doesn’t seem to know anyone becomes apparent when they unmask themselves after trick-or-treating.  Albert is really among strangers!  The princess isn’t Nicky’s cousin at all, and he followed her to the wrong Halloween party!  There were two Halloween parties on the fifth floor that night.  Nicky lives in apartment C, and Albert accidentally joined the party in apartment B.  Fortunately, Albert’s friends are also trick-or-treating around the apartment building and show up at that moment.

What started out as a potentially embarrassing mistake actually ends up making the evening more fun for everyone.  Albert’s mix-up brought an element of real suspense to both of the Halloween parties, with him wondering who everyone really was, the guests at the wrong party wondering who he was, and all of Albert’s friends wondering where he was.  Also, Albert gets some new friends out of this experience, and both parties end up combining into one big party at Nicky’s apartment.

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Race isn’t important to the story and is never mentioned, but I’d just like to say that I appreciated the diversity of characters in the pictures.  Albert is black and so is Jan (you can see that when she isn’t wearing her clown costume), and the boy in the owl costume looks like he might be Asian.  I also really love that owl costume!  I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen anyone dress as an owl for Halloween, but it looks awesome!

Aunt Eater’s Mystery Halloween

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Aunt Eater’s Mystery Halloween by Doug Cushman, 1998.

This is a cute Halloween book for kids.  There are actually four short mystery stories in the book as Aunt Eater, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, goes to a Halloween party and encounters various spooky happenings.

Aunt Eater Sees a Monster

While she’s on her way to the Halloween party, Wally stops Aunt Eater and says that there’s a monster in his kitchen and that it ate his father.  When Aunt Eater takes a look, she sees a scary shadow in the kitchen and hears a terrible groan.  Is it really a monster?

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Aunt Eater Sees a Ghost

Aunt Eater continues walking to the party with Mr. Chumly, who is dressed as a turnip.  Mr. Chumly points out a hollow tree that they pass and tells her that it’s supposed to be haunted by a headless ghost.  Aunt Eater doesn’t believe in ghost, but then a scary jack o’lantern appears, moving by itself, and it’s followed by a ghost with no head!  Fortunately, there is a logical explanation.

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Aunt Eater Hears Some Music

Aunt Eater is glad to see all of her friends at the party.  Miss Underbelly has brought her pet snake with her.  Later, the piano suddenly starts playing strange music without anyone sitting at it, and the snake has disappeared!  What do you suppose is happening?

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Aunt Eater Dances a Jig

Mr. Fragg, a friend of Aunt Eater’s, is wearing a scarecrow costume, and he tells Aunt Eater that he’d like to dance with her later in the evening.  She does dance with a scarecrow, but then learns that it wasn’t Mr. Fragg because Mr. Fragg hurt his foot.  Who was that mysterious scarecrow?  Aunt Eater never figures it out, but readers do.

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