Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A good mystery for kids they can definitely understand
Cons: It doesn't come with pancakes
The Bottom Line:
Pancake loving sleuth
Mystery kids will understand
Parents enjoy, too

Blame This Book for My Love of Mysteries

In case you somehow missed it, I love mysteries. And this picture book is the first mystery I remember hearing as a little kid. And you know what? Nate the Great is still a great mystery for today's kids.

Meet Nate the Great, the neighborhood detective. He's just finishing up breakfast (pancakes, of course) when Annie calls. She's lost the picture of her dog Fang that she painted the day before and wants help finding it. So Nate goes over and helps her hunt down the leads. But can he solve the mystery?

The book is a picture book, but it might be a little long for some kids. My paperback copy clocks in at 62 pages. Of course, every page has at least one picture on it and some two page spreads have very few words on them at all.

The illustrations are by Marc Simont. They really capture the characters and add to the humor of the book. They alternate between black and white and minimal color. Two pages are black and white, then the next two are color. The color pictures aren't full color but are heavy on the primary colors, especially yellow and red.

This book was the first in a series. Later books in the series are advertised as easy readers. I think this one could work as well. The vocabulary is a bit harder then something like Dr. Seuss, but it's a good stepping stone book. And it certainly works as a read aloud before then. That's how I first heard it.

And the plot is good. In fact, I have a feeling that this book influences my taste in mysteries to this day. The solution to the mystery can be worked out by anyone reading it, even kids. And, while they might miss it, everything is explained in the end.

The book has only a handful of characters. There's Nate, his client Annie, cat obsessed Rosamond, and Annie's younger brother Harry. There isn't much depth to them, but they serve the story well.

I will say I fell in love with Nate for one important reason. He loves pancakes. His constant longing for them are rather funny. And anyone who loves those can't be bad at all.

And there is subtle humor for the adults. Nate the Great narrates the book in short declarative sentences. If read in a Joe Friday monotone, the style really adds to the book. There's just a hint of sarcasm in the book, and the deadpan delivery really makes those lines funnier as well.

This book was originally published in 1972. The only thing that is at all dated is Nate mentioning bringing his rubbers in case it rains. Other then that vocabulary issue, today's kids should have no trouble following this case.

My family didn't discover the rest of the series until my younger brother was born. We read them, but always found this book the best of the series.

Nate the Great is one book I asked for over and over as a child. And my parents were only too happy to oblige. Is it any wonder I love mysteries as much as I do today?

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