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Functional-Family Mysteries for Middle Readers

In a children’s “realistic fiction” world of broken homes, absent parents and classroom angst, every once in a while you come across a story uncluttered by the need to show young readers that they too can survive their 11th or 12th year even if life is miserable. Have you, like me, been looking for a book about three seventh grade girls in a Catholic school in Manhattan (New York), who like boys and are good at math and music, have great parents and solve mysteries? I found one: these girls even wear red blazers, like the original immortal girl detective must have done at some point. At first the girls just fall into mystery-solving in their efforts to help an old lady, in The Ring of Rocamadour, but after that success, they have to find a name for themselves. So begins The Red Blazer Girls mystery series by Michael D. Beil, aimed at ages 9-12, but younger and older need not be ashamed to enjoy it.

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer, John Grisham’s foray into writing for children, is along the same almost-old-fashioned lines. Eighth grader Theodore’s parents are lawyers, and rather than existing in a state of teen-age revolution, Theo is totally into law. He spends as much time as possible in the courthouse of his small town, where everybody knows him, and leaping on his bike and pedaling hard can get him around. But in this first of the Theodore Boone series, the crime is murder, and only Theo knows that the killer is about to go scot-free! Theo can be enjoyed by any age, and like John Grisham’s books for adults, the reader will come away with a more complete understanding of our legal system, because Theo really knows his way around.

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