Monday, June 03, 2013

Favorite Children's Mysteries

My all-time, hands-down favorite mystery story as a child was this one:


Originally written in French by Paul Berna, it's about a gang of poor French street urchins who get tangled up in a dangerous heist. I read this book over and over again, for years. I also read Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew and The Bobbsey Twins, but they were never in quite the same league as The Horse Without a Head.

Another favorite was Emile and the Detectives. 


I don't know what it says about me, but this one was originally written in German. It was, to quote Wiki, "the only one of [Kastner's] pre-1945 works to escape Nazi censorship... The most unusual aspect of the novel, compared to existing children's literature at the time, was that it was realistically set in a contemporary Berlin peopled with some fairly rough characters, not in a sanitized fantasy world; also that it refrained from obvious moralizing, letting the characters' deeds speak for themselves."

So, what was your favorite mystery as a kid?

And H/T to my friend Laura Joh Rowland, whose recent Facebook post inspired this journey down memory lane. Her favorite as a child was Mystery of the Green Cat, by Phyllis Whitney. Somehow I missed that one.


30 comments:

Anonymous said...

this one was a no brainer for me, it was my mom's favorite too. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. not very original but its what got me hooked. gave the book to my niece when she started reading mysteries. of course by then it was all online games.
ali

cs harris said...

Ali, that was always my favorite Nancy Drew book, too. It's the first one I bought to read to my daughter--and was horrified to find it so predictable when I'd always seen it as so clever and grown up! I also liked the one about the ship's figurehead, but I can't recall its title.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I can't really remember loving mysteries when I was young. I remember in 4th grade my favorite book was 101 Dalmations and I was so upset once I actually saw the Disney movie at how different it was. My sister was almost 10 years older and would bring me home Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon books, but I don't remember loving them (although I always read them). Around the same time she also brought home the Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I loved. By fifth grade I was already on to The Hobbit and Mary Stewart (Nine Coaches Waiting and The Moonspinners being my favorite) and from there it was every Mary Stewart. I think they were a little old for me, but it is where I developed my love for romance combined with mystery. Sabena

Anonymous said...

C- dont quote me on this but it could be the Secret of the Wooden Lady? and i agree sometimes you just cant go back...after nancy i moved on to any agatha christie and Sherlock. thats when i thought i was a hot shot detective!
ali

Elaine P. said...

I didn't really have a single favorite book. I loved the Phyllis Whitney children's mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, and Nancy Drew. The Nancy Drew about the missing figurehead was The Secret of the Wooden Lady; that is the first one that I ever read and it's one of my favorites in the series. Several years ago some of the original Nancy Drew books were reissued and I read a few of them, I was really surprised how different they were from the shorter somewhat simpler ones that I read as a kid.

cs harris said...

Sabena, I didn't discover the Mary Stewart romantic suspense books until junior high, about the time I started reading Victoria Holt. I recently bought a bunch of them at a library book sale. One of these days I hope to find the time to reread them. I loved that combination of travel, romance, and mystery. I think my favorite was Airs Above the Ground, but This Rough Magic was a close second.

Ali, Yes, that was it! For some reason I kept thinking the Whispering Statue, but I knew that was a different one.

Elaine, I can't believe Whitney wrote a bunch of children's mysteries and I never stumbled across them! I feel deprived. And I did not know the Nancy Drew books had been simplified from the originals. The ones I had were published in the 50s.

Charles Gramlich said...

I still remember the three investigators books. Very much fun.

paz said...

I too liked Phyllis Whitney, and prefered the Hardy Boys over Nancy (I can't remember why). However, the ones that got me completely hooked on reading where Horacio Quiroga and Emilio Salgari, who I discovered thanks to a Peruvian librarian. Within a year I had begun to read Poe but also Le Guin, and from then there was no stopping.

Helena said...

I haven't read any of the books mentioned and yet I was a voracious reader even as a child, so I suspect that this is due to the difference between and English and an American childhood. I loved the Enid Blyton mysteries, from the Secret Seven and Famous Five through the Five Find-outers to what they now call the Barney mysteries and the Adventure series. I also loved Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliffe, who introduced me to historical novels which usually involved a twist which could be called a mystery.

There were other children's books which were real favourites and which while not being traditional mysteries usually involved solving something, the Lone Pine series by Malcolm Saville and Romney Marsh books by Monica Edwards. And wonderful books by Cynthia Harnett (The Wool Pack, etc.) which confirmed my love of history and also had good mysteries at their core.

I graduated very early to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers, so they definitely count as childhood favourites. And when I found Mary Stewart I realised I'd found another type of ideal book!

Looking back, most of my childhood reading involved some type of mystery so it's no wonder that it's still one of my favourite genres.

Sara said...

My first book ever read was one of Famous Five from Enid Blyton. I was in second grade, then I read everything. Except Famous Five, my favorite books were Swallows and Amazons Series from Arthur Ransome (some of them are sort of mysteries) and mystery books for childern from our czech writer Jaromira Huttlova. But growing up without TV I loved every book, which got to my hands - Jules Verne, C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia), L.A. Čarska, Karel May (Vinetou), W.E. Johns (Biggles), Astrid Lindgren, Erich Kastner and others :-)

cs harris said...

Charles, I don't think I ever saw those.

Paz, two more I wasn't familiar with and had to look up!

Helena, raising my girls in Australia made me realize with surprise just how different children's books can be even in countries that speak the same language. I remember my girls reading Enid Blyton, but not any of the others.

Sara, I also had to look up Ransome; what a variety of books everyone read!

Anonymous said...

i completely forgot about victoria holt. all i can say is the Mistress of Mellyn. i may just go out and buy a copy. i think i read it a dozen times.
ali

cs harris said...

Ali, I reread that one constantly. I can even still recite the first line! ("To see Menfreya at its best was to see it in the morning...") I recently found a lovely old hardcover copy at a library sale, and while I was too busy to read the whole thing, I was pleasantly surprised to read the first couple of chapters and discover that my taste at the time hadn't betrayed me--she really was a exquisite writer.

cs harris said...

Ali, this is why I should never answer comments on my blog in the morning. I did read Mistress of Mellyn, but Menfreya in the Morning was my favorite, and for some reason I read the one for the other. I need more coffee...

Liz said...

I think this may qualify as a mystery--Joan Aiken's "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase". My uncle gave me the first edition of this when I was 7 (I remember that it had the scent of his shaving soap on it from having been in his suitcase). It is set in an alternative 19th century England and I found it quite gripping! Years later I much enjoyed reading it to my own kids.

Essex said...

What a great idea for a post! My first favorite mystery books were Encyclopedia Brown, boy detective! I read all the Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, and Dana girls. I also read Agatha Christie early too. My Mary Stewart experiences are limited to her Merlin books- loved them then and still do now. Another early favorite author was Geoffrey Trease- Cue for Treason, Word to Caesar- even thirty years later I still enjoy those books. I also was introduced to Rosemary Sutcliffe by her book Knight's Fee- not a mystery but a wonderful story of a boy growing into adulthood .
What a trip down memory lane. Will have to go explore old book bins for copies of some of these.

cs harris said...

Liz, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was one of my favorites as a child, although it wasn't until I was grown and looked back on it that I realized it was supposed to be an alternative 19th century Britain rather than simply some unspecified time.

Essex, I never read Encyclopedia Brown, probably because like the Three Investigators books, they were first published when I was well into grade school (boy, am I dating myself here!) and most of my books were old. I just looked up Cue for Treason and I would have LOVED that book as a child! So many books I missed....

Anonymous said...

c- color me crazy but i thought i replied yesterday. and i had plenty of coffee! i actually bought mistress of mellyn for my kindle. i was feeling nostalgic and now i have another one to add to my list. pretty sure i never read Menfreya in the Morning.

i realized the other day if anyone took a close look at my book collection they'd assume i was romantic murder who liked to cook. oh well....
ali

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JennD said...

My favorite was Meg of Mystery Mountain by Grace May North. And, better than Nancy Drew—the Judy Bolton series by Margaret Sutton. Love your blog!

Susanne said...

I was very surprised..and tiny bit proud too ...when I read what you said about "Emil und die Detektive". Erich Kästner is still very popular here in Germany and was and is one of my favourite authors, too.
As I am German my fav children`s books are of course all German :-)
Alfred Weidenmann "Gepäckschein 666" and Federica de Cesco "Der rote Seidenschal"

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