This Week's Characteristic: Sand
Cover Characteristic is a weekly meme hosted by Sugar & Snark.
After a few lame #BookBlogWriMo posts--and that lameness is totally on me, not the event or its creator, of course!--over the last few days, here's one where I can really shine. I read a ton as a kid, and while there are plenty of books that didn't stick out in my memory (some to the point of forgetting their titles to this very day), there are some that still have a really fond place in my memory.
First and foremost, if you want to take a glimpse at all the books I read during my childhood years, you can check out my shelves at Goodreads. 1993-2003 covers everything I can recall reading between my birth and the end of elementary school; 2004-2006 covers middle school; and 2007-2011 covers my high school years (plus a few months before and after I turned eighteen).
Let's do this in chunks, shall we?
A lot of little kids have an animal phase sometime after they learn to empathize with nonhuman creatures. My animal phase was long, intense, and fostered by series like Ben M. Baglio's Animal Ark and Dolphin Diaries, as well as Jeanne Betancourt's Pony Pals.
Books like Mummies in the Morning from Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series and Kristina Gregory's Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile from the Royal Diaries series helped foster my early childhood obsession with ancient Egypt.
Series like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter (of course!), Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness, Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest (and its sequels, Deltora Shadowlands and Dragons of Deltora), and Jackie French Koller's The Keepers helped make fantasy one of my two favorite genres to this very day.
My other favorite genre is horror, and spooky stories like Grace Maccarone's The Haunting of Grade Three, Mary Downing Hahn's Wait Till Helen Comes, and R.L. Stine's The First Horror helped solidify my love for all* things frightening. *Well, most. I don't do torture porn.
But I also enjoy mysteries, a genre which I was first introduced to through Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries (with my favorite being the quite-spooky-when-you're-four story, The Haunted Hotel) and continued to explore with series like classic Nancy Drew and Ann M. Martin's The Baby-sitter's Club Mysteries.
I discovered manga via Miwa Ueda's Peach Girl, and ventured on with series like Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi's Tokyo Mew Mew and Matsuri Hino's MeruPuri.
Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series helped get me into historical fiction (and I have a particular fondness for historical princess/queen stories thanks to both it and Royal Diaries), and her books Mary, Bloody Mary and Doomed Queen Anne, along with Ann Rinaldi's Nine Days A Queen, got me through a brief period of Tudor fixation.
Of course, like a lot of 2000s teens, I had a vampire phase, and the books that got me through that admittedly rough period included romance-y stuff like Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses (perfectly average upon rereading), and R.L. Stine's books, Dangerous Girls (didn't hold up upon rereading) and One Last Kiss (haven't been able to find for rereading!). But I also read horror-focused vampire stories, including Sebastian Rook's Vampire Plagues (still totally loved upon last rereading) and Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak (rereading... someday).
There were other favorites that didn't correspond with trends, of course. Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a book that I read thinking there would be actual witches, but totally loved even when it turned out to be about puritanical witch persecution and its victims... though I never actively sought out more books like it. (The time period and subject matter weren't what hooked me with this one--it was the emotional impact of Speare's writing.)
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was an awesome series that I got into long after I should have, but totally loved when I finally sat down to read it (and yes, I do like the ending in spite of what almost everyone else seems to think). But while I love that series, I haven't managed to read any similar series yet--with perhaps the exception of the first book in the Templeton Twins series, which uses a "Lemony Narrator".
And then there was Nancy Springer's I am Morgan le Fay, which really made me a bit obsessive toward that particular mythological figure for a while (and, to a lesser extent, Arthurian myth), but I never really got around to reading many Arthurian books besides Nancy Springer's other endeavor, I Am Mordred... which unfortunately wasn't as impressive to me.
(I'm hoping to reread I Am Morgan le Fay soon, and I really hope it holds up!)
Of course, after writing all this out, I have to say I'm fairly interested to realize that most of my favorite stories growing up were written by female authors... except when it came to my vampire phase, which was inexplicably populated by male authors' books! I'm honestly fairly fascinated, and I'd love to someday take the time to break down my author stats to look at sex, race/ethnicity, nationality, etc.
So what about you? Have you read any of these books--besides the all-but-obligatory Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events? And what were your childhood favorites? Feel free to leave a comment below!
Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose travel to London, England for their first-ever adventure overseas. They are thrilled to see Big Ben, ride the London Eye, and tour Madame Tussauds wax museum. Then big news hits--someone has stolen Queen Elizabeth's jewels right outside Windsor Castle! The kids head to the castle to check around for clues. But can three kids from Green Lawn possibly find evidence that Scotland Yard has missed?
To preface this review, I'd like to point out that this is the one and only A to Z Mysteries book I haven't read multiple times; it's a relatively new release, and today's my first time reading it. Mostly, I'm satisfied. I'm not in love with it--its earns its golden stars simply by being a continuation of one of my favorite childhood memories--but it's a fairly entertaining mystery. On the other hand, I have a few gripes.
First and foremost, its outcome is obviously every bit as expected as most children's mysteries. While it may surprise the small children in the reading audience, older kids and adults will likely (and should in the adults' case) see all the twists and turns coming well before they're revealed. That's usual for the series, and I'm certainly not put off by it. It's a children's mystery, after all; nothing mind-blowing.
On the other hand, it's the second-most egregious violator of my suspension of disbelief in the series, after The Kidnapped King. I can put aside my "that would never happen" complaints when the trio is catching criminals in Green Lawn, or even New York or San Francisco. Because when they do that, they usually have a reason; either a friend has asked them to help or they've witnessed a crime or something else happened to make them part of the story. But in both The Kidnapped King and The Castle Crime, the kids solve mysteries involving friggin' royalty--real royalty, in the case of Castle--and I'm supposed to just go with it. It kind of bothers me, honestly. There's no reason for Sammi to come to live with the Duncans in King and there's no reason for Queen Elizabeth II to get all palsy-walsy with a couple of kids from Connecticut in Castle.
But I'm sure a small child will have no such complaints; I didn't when I first read The Kidnapped King as an elementary school student. So it's good for what it is; an entertaining mystery with enough clues sprinkled throughout to entertain the young sleuths in the audience. And it does address one of my complaints: Dink's father, at least, has been getting a lot more pagetime in these Super Edition books. Now if only his mother or Ruth Rose's parents could do something useful. (Josh's parents are more significant characters in the Calendar Mysteries books that star his younger twin brothers, Brian and Bradley.)
One last complaint, though: whoever wrote this blurb isn't as familiar with the series as he or she claims to be. The Castle Crime is definitely not "their first-ever adventure overseas"; they went to Costra, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean, in The Yellow Yacht. It is, however, their first time visiting a real-world foreign country.
Anyway, I'd like to see Roy write more A to Z Mysteries books in the future. After the three-year gap between this and The New Year Dragon Dilemma, I'd thought he'd given the series a rest. I'm glad to see he hasn't, and I hope he won't.
The New Year Dragon Dilemma finally takes Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose to the west coast when they accompany Dink's father on a business trip to San Francisco's Chinatown, right in time for the Chinese New Year festivities. But their tour guide, Holden Wong, quickly finds himself on the wrong side of the law when he and his girlfriend, Lily Chen, are accused of stealing the Miss Chinatown crown--and its massive, storied ruby--right in the middle of the parade. But the kids don't believe their new friends are the real crooks, and they're prepared to prove it.
As usual, the three youngsters prove themselves more capable than actual police officers... though it helps that they aren't bound by due process. (Which renders any evidence they touch rather useless to the prosecution of these criminals, so it's pretty damn lucky that they all tend to confess by the end of the story.) They're also astoundingly capable of handling themselves in the face of some pretty extreme danger for a bunch of elementary schoolchildren, and once again, Ruth Rose demonstrates her quick-thinking (Josh gets to use his artistic skill, while Dink uses... his main characterness?) in the face of mortal peril. She's a crafty kid, that one.
It's more of the same for the series; a 120-130 page mystery that follows a trio of free-range children as they sight-see and catch criminals in various real-world settings ranging from New York City to D.C. to Key West and beyond (plus a few fictional locations, including an island kingdom in the Indian Ocean). If you like Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose's other mysteries, you'll like this one. It brings some of San Francisco's local color to the story--from Chinatown to sea lions to cable cars--and offers a small interactive element to boot.
I certainly enjoyed it, and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a child-aimed mystery series.
Sleepy Hollow Sleepover, the fourth A to Z Mysteries Super Edition, find Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose in Tarrytown, New York on Halloween day. To get into the holiday spirit, the kids read up on Washington Irving and the Headless Horseman, but none of them believe it's anything more than an old story... until they see the Headless Horseman himself outside their vacation cabin. Still, only Josh is truly scared, with the others making an effort to rationalize what they've seen so they can enjoy the haunted wagon ride and Halloween party without panicking.
And so they do, and honestly, it sounds like a pretty awesome party, at least compared to the lame Halloween events that I attended as a child. But everything goes wrong when a arsonist chases off the horses, sets the wagons ablaze, and flattens the tires of all the cars. They find out the next morning that it was a distraction to keep the police and fire department busy while the local bank was burgled. Rather than let the police deal with the situation, of course, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose investigate... and get themselves kidnapped once again. I'm starting to think they enjoy it.
All in all, it's tropetastic and typical of the A to Z Mysteries series, but it's also an entertaining Halloween-themed mystery that I know I would have loved as a child; it even leaves a bit of a "maybe magic, maybe mundane" mystery hanging at the end to leave the young audience with a bit of lingering fright. Highly recommend to young mystery fans--especially if they enjoy a bit of spooky fun in their stories.