Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mystery For Child Readers

I heard through one of my favorite bookstores that Elise Broach has a new book out, Missing on Superstition Mountain. Now, I heard Elise Broach speak a little over a year ago, so the next time I went to the library, I picked up one of her earlier books, Shakespeare's Secret.

And that, folks, is one of the wonders of marketing. No purchase was actually made, but a promotional e-mail led me to mention Elise Broach's new book to all of you, and one of her older ones, as well.

Shakespeare's Secret involves a young girl trying to find a jewel that appears to have belonged to a long-dead queen of England and been passed down to a contemporary person through a family member with connections to Shakespeare. Personally, I felt the various plot threads didn't tie together very well. However, I definitely liked the historical aspects of the book, which is why I was so very vague about describing them just now. I didn't want to give away the best stuff.

There are two big difficulties when writing mystery for children, and I think Broach does manage both of them here. The first difficulty is that kids are kids and can't go far or do much on their own. Thus it's hard for them to investigate things. That problem is addressed in Shakespeare's Secret by making the mystery very close to home. The second difficulty is that in the twenty-first century we expect parents to keep an eye on their kids and not let them wander off investigating things. That's why in so many child mysteries, the parents are distracted by work, a bad marriage, or finanical woes. The kids suffer from benign neglect and are thus able to go off sleuthing. Branch handles that issue, again, by keeping the action close to home.

Another thing she does is give the child some traditional child problems--new kid in school and trouble making friends. In The Fletcher Farm Body I didn't actually give the main character a child problem, but there is something youthful going on with him and his friends.

Now I'm thinking...why? Is it because we writers of child mysteries want to give them a real child feel/setting? Is giving the child detective some kind of child personal life the equivalent of giving an adult detective a job and maybe a love interest? (I hate love interests in mysteries. Just thought I'd mention that.)

By the way, my library still stamps books with due dates so readers can tell how often a book has been taken from the library. Shakespeare's Secret has been stamped a lot.

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