Tag Archives: Children’s mysteries

The Strange Adventure of Stuart Horten

I’ve been so busy these last couple of months, I’ve neglected my blog quite a bit and I’m sorry about that.

My intention was to do a review of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, another of my favorite childhood books, but I came across another book I enjoyed so much, I’m letting it cut in line and take over for a bit.

Originally titled, Small Change for Stuart in the 2011 U.K. publication, the U.S. version, published in 2012, kept the cover but re-titled the book, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms. The author is Lissa Evans and she has published books for adults and younger children but this is her first foray into children’s lit.

Stuart is a 10 year old boy who is, not only small for his age, but if you take his name, Stuart Horten, and use the first initial of his first name in conjunction with his last name, you get S. Horten…shorten…something Stuart is not too fond of. In addition to his short stature, his parents are tall, intelligent, and keen on moving to a small village after his mother gets a new job hundreds of miles from where Stuart and his family currently live. It just so happens that the village of Beeton, where Stuart’s mom will be working, is the village where Stuart’s dad was born.

Stuart really doesn’t want to move but he has no choice, as it so often happens to 10 year olds, so he has to make the best of it. But it’s not easy. The town of Breeton is dreary and his next door neighbors are girls and not just any girls, they’re TRIPLETS and they’re nosy to boot. Things start sliding downhill from there until Stuart learns that his great uncle Tony used to be a famous magician and that great uncle Tony left Stuart’s dad a mysterious gift and a message for Stuart’s dad:

“To my nephew,

I have to go away, and I may not be able to get back. If I don’t return, then my workshop, and all it contains, is yours if you can find it…

Affectionately,

Your Uncle Tony”

Stuart’s strange adventure is about to begin and I think your children, ages 8-11, would love to go with him. Parents might enjoy the trip too. The book is a quick read and an easy one that could be read aloud before bedtime with no fear of bad dreams.

It sort of reminded me of Encyclopedia Brown, which I loved. It’s the type of kid mystery that got my imagination revved up and determined to solve mysteries. I think everyone in your family will quickly become fans of Stuart and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ended up on the big screen sometime in the near future.

Currently, a copy of the book on the left, Small Change for Horten, published by Doubleday in 2011, first edition, first printing, hardcover with fine dust jacket is fine condition is selling for $75.00 and up. I did see some copies up for bid on E-bay with a starting bid of about $20.00 but I think they’re going to go pretty fast due to the fact that the original U.K. publication is getting more difficult to find. The most expensive price I saw for this version was $127.00. I estimate if the movie rights are sold, this particular edition will easily go up in value.

A copy of the U.S., 2012, publication by Sterling, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanism, is selling right now for $5.00 up to about $13.00 from a variety of book stores, including my bookstore, The Literary Heart.

The author, Lissa Evans, is currently writing a follow-up entitled Horten’s Incredible Illusions and it’s due out in September 2012. It is available for pre-order in the U.S. and the U.K. on a variety of sites.

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The Secret of Nancy Drew

“Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark blue convertible. She had just delivered some legal papers for her father.” Nancy Drew

When I was 10 years old, 18 was so far into the future, I couldn’t begin to fathom what life would be like at that age. Yet, here was a girl, who at 18 years of age, already owned a convertible and was delivering LEGAL PAPERS, for gosh sakes, for her dad. Could it get any more exotic?! Of course it could because Nancy Drew didn’t just have a great car and a cool dad (he bought her a dark blue convertible, people), she had an entourage that consisted of a cute boyfriend (Ned) and two awesome friends (Bess & George), and sometimes, their boyfriends. Nancy got to travel all over the world (with a chaperone, of course) and was able to escape every dangerous situation (bombs and gunshots and kidnappings, oh my!) that was thrown at her and her stalwart friends. Nancy Drew was a bad-ass and I’m almost ashamed to admit I relayed all this information to you without having to look at any reference material. That’s right. Nancy and her crew are indelibly etched in my memory whether I want them there or not.

Girls didn’t have many role models to look up to in the late 60’s and early 70’s. They were on their way but I didn’t know it back then. I was more concerned with other things. I wanted a cool car. I wanted to solve mysteries. I wanted to be Nancy Drew! I probably could have done without Ned, but that’s another story.

Nancy Drew’s very first adventure, The Secret of the Old Clock, was written in 1929 not by Carolyn Keene, whose name graces all Nancy Drew books as the author, but by Mildred A. Wirt. Ms. Wirt went on to write 23 of the first 30 books. There were other writers I’m not familiar with but as ghost writers, they signed away their rights to the books and were paid set amounts for their works. In 1993, the first Nancy Drew Conference was held in Iowa and Ms. Wirt was finally acknowledged as the original Carolyn Keene and future printings will acknowledge her contributions to the Nancy Drew series. For more information with detailed history and everything you ever wanted to know about Nancy Drew but were afraid to ask, go to the Nancy Drew Sleuth website. There are tons of other Nancy Drew websites out there. Nancy is still sleuthing and enjoying her never aging life of mystery.

As for the books, here’s some information for anyone who is interested in revisiting their Nancy Drew love. The earliest versions of the Nancy Drew books were published between 1930 and 1961. Volumes 1-22 had white spines and removable dust jackets. In 1946, some volumes were published with a “wrap spine” dust jacket. This means the “wrap spine” volumes had dust jackets with a cover photo that actually “wrapped” around the spine. From 1962 to 1986, covers were matte and had yellow spines (these are the volumes I have in my collection). The final incarnation, excluding the paperback version, is the glossy “flashlight” yellow spine picture cover format. The flashlight refers to a kind of light “beam” on the spine of these books. They also have a yellow strip across the top of the front cover with the title of the book and the volume number.

I was lucky enough that my parents bought me the collection as a surprise gift when I was a kid. I own volumes 1 through 54. In the process of growing up and moving about, I lost about 3 volumes that I’ve managed to replace over the years. I own the series with the matte covers and yellow spines and I’ve always coveted the early volumes but in good condition, they sell for anywhere from $40-$75 per book so I limited myself to only one. The books in my series (matte with yellow spine) usually sell anywhere from $3 per volume all the way to $12 per volume, depending on certain characteristics of the book itself. If you were looking to own an entire collection, it’s best to inform yourself prior to making a purchase because the styles, copyrights, and types vary widely. I estimate that a collection like mine (which I don’t ever see myself sellling) would probably sell for $150 and upwards. If you were lucky enough to find the entire white spine series, you would be looking at paying around $1000, give or take a hundred dollars or so.

So, to recap why Nancy Drew was the coolest chick in books:

  • Nancy Drew owned a convertible.
  • Nancy Drew’s mom was never in her business. (Her mother died when she was very young and her housekeeper, Hannah Gruen took care of her but it’s not the same.)
  • Nancy Drew’s dad was a lawyer AND he bought her a car AND let Nancy do whatever she wanted.
  • Nancy Drew was rich.
  • Nancy Drew had an entourage.
  • Nancy Drew was smart as hell and could figure ANYTHING out way before the police knew what hit them.
  • Nancy Drew could escape from any trap anyone set for her.
  • Nancy Drew often cheated death.
  • Nancy Drew traveled all over the world with her friends.
  • Nancy Drew never aged.

I’m sure there are more reasons Nancy was such an inspiration and such a cult-like figure to little girls all over the world but I can’t think of them all right now.

I’ll close this post with a solid, “Nancy Drew rocked!” and a shout out to all my fellow sleuths out there. If you want more information on Nancy Drew books drop me a line. If you would like to leave a comment about your memories of Nancy Drew and how the books impacted your life, please share, I’d love to read them!


And So It Begins…

Honestly, I’m not sure of exactly when I began reading or what types of books I began reading, I just know that I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. I have some vague memories of fairy tales, bible stories (one of which had an illustration of the devil offering Eve the forbidden fruit that gave me nightmares!), and other books like this:

This set came with our Collier Encyclopedias. Remember encyclopedias? They were like the internet of our generation. Anything you wanted to know about everything was in the encyclopedias. When I got bored, I actually read them! But I digress…

Back to books, the books I feel set me on the course I’m most completely set upon now. The Happy Hollisters! Remember The Happy Hollisters? You don’t? Really? Well, honestly, I vaguely remember them but when I would stay after school, waiting to be picked up by my parents (I was still too young to walk home), I would help Sister Edwards and after I got done erasing chalkboards and cleaning erasers, I’d get to sit in her classroom and read. There weren’t many books in there but I latched onto the Happy Hollisters. These were mild mysteries involving a family of five kids, Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue. The kids ranged in ages from 4 through 12 and they were all amateur sleuths. I thought they were cool. I don’t remember how many of these books I actually read, maybe only one or two, but I was hooked! Mysteries were destined to play a huge part of my life and I didn’t even know it yet.

Click on the pic to visit the Happy Hollisters website!

If you do remember The Happy Hollisters and if they bring back good memories for you, you might want to take a minute and check this out…believe it or not, there is a HAPPY HOLLISTERS WEBSITE! What a blast from the past! There’s more information about the books, the stories, the author, paperback reprints, and some really cool retro t-shirts that I may actually have to order myself!

Suffice to say, I’d probably read different books and stories prior to these books but for some reason, these books have remained firmly embedded in my memory. Not the actual stories or the titles or even the characters. I think it was more the idea that children could be actively involved in solving mysteries without a lot of help from the adults. These kids were all over the place and no one was telling them what to do! At least that’s the way I saw it, but again, I digress…

I suppose, most importantly for me, these books were my gateway drug. Before I knew it, I was doing mysteries of all types and finding that I couldn’t get enough.

Next installment: Nancy Drew


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