Rereading Mysteries, Reveling in Childhood Nostalgia: Not Overrated

Mystery Month 2017When I started my “mystery mystery” project last year, I really enjoyed going through my collection and pulling mysteries to put into brown paper bags in order to entice students to read those books.  I grew nostalgic thinking of my own mystery-loving self as an elementary school kid. But as I wrapped up the books, I realized that these were not the books of my youth—and found myself trying to remember the mysteries I had once so loved.

I had my mom bring me some of my favorite titles when she came to visit. I have to say, I was a bit worried that rereading them as an adult would be a disappointing experience. There’s nothing like reading a book that was so vital at some point in your life only to find that it doesn’t hold up—like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which seemed totally flat when I read it as an adult. (I was heartbroken!) Would these books prove equally underwhelming?

tattooedpotatoThe Tattooed Potato and Other Clues by Ellen Raskin was a bit of a precursor to Blue Balliett’s art-focused mysteries. In truth, I have never talked to anyone else who read this book (tell me you’re out there!) but many people have read her best-known work, The Westing Game. Don’t get me wrong: I love The Westing Game, but I was devoted to the story of art student Dickory Dock, who goes to work for a painter and assists him in solving mysteries. (I do remember this as my first exposure to the poet Christina Rossetti.) 

I was also a big Zilpha Keatley Snyder fan as a child. The Headless Cupid introduced the Stanley children and told a wonderful ghost story to boot. My absolute favorite Snyder novel, however, was The Famous famousstanleyStanley Kidnapping Case, a follow-up to The Headless Cupid. I read this book over and over again. Does this one count as a mystery? As a well-told kidnapping story, it certainly had the feel of one.

One of the best things in the reading world, of course, is having a book that you can discuss with someone. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that my final favorite childhood mystery was one my brother and I were both obsessed with: Eve Rice’s underappreciated The Remarkable Return of Winston Potter Crisply. This book checked all my boxes for winstonpottercrisplywhat made a book a favorite: an interesting locale (New York City), at least somewhat absent parents that meant the kids managed their own lives, food that I aspired to taste someday (cheese blintzes), and wonderfully memorable lines that I could quote long after reading the book. (I’m sure our parents just loved hearing us zinging each other repeatedly with “he erroneously thinks he has a sense of humor.”)

I think what all of these books have in common (in addition to being not-very-scary mysteries) is a sense of humor, a bit of cleverness, and a way of looking at the world that says “I don’t take everything too seriously.”  Jonathan Stroud’s Lockhart and Co. series hits that sweet spot of oh-so-clever mystery for me today, though I think it would have absolutely terrified me as a child.

This year, I purchased the updated versions of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books for my library. It’s always slightly nerve-racking when I buy reissues—I want to buy books that work for these kids in this library, not just wallow in nostalgia. As it turns out, several of my seventh and eighth graders have gotten really into it. How nice to relive reading old favorites when they turn into new favorites for my students!

About the Author:

Gundry Rowe is a K-8 librarian at Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago, IL. She is National Board Certified in Library Media and has been working in children’s bookstores and libraries since she was 16. Although she prefers to balance reading kids' chapter books with books for adults, instead she finds herself reading Little Blue Truck for the 57,000th time to her three little boys.

4 Comments on "Rereading Mysteries, Reveling in Childhood Nostalgia: Not Overrated"

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  1.' Monica says:

    I LOVE The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues! It’s the only reason I’ve read Christina Rosetti and the reason why I knew Roy G. Biv before my classmates! I can’t remember if I read that one first or The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), but either is possible due to the crazy titles. I also love The Westing Game and hand it out to the kids at my library whenever possible. I wish some of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s other books would also get reissues… The Season of Ponies, The Changeling…

  2.' Nann Hilyard says:

    I had forgotten Winston Potter Crisply, but that distinctive name rings a bell. Kids’ mysteries can be the best — no murder but lots of treasure to be found. I’d like to track down all the mysteries by Dorothy Honness and Mary C. Jane….and while I’m at it, I’d like to sort out the Christine Noble Govan/Emmy West books (two sets of characters who are related but I can’t remember how).

  3.' Barbara Crain says:

    A wonderful mystery with a NYC setting is Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald.

    You may have come across a List published by Hornbook more than 50 years ago titled something like, 30 Children’s Books Every Adult should know”. That’s how I came to know and love The Westing Game which I plan to share with my grandchildren later this summer.

  4. Keir Graff says:

    I didn’t know about Winston Potter Crisply, but I want to check it out. Exactly the kind of thing that piqued my interest when I was a kid: books about independent kids in big cities with (ideally) benevolent absentee parents.

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