Last month when I was working at the information desk at the public library where I work, a woman came up to me who was desperate to find something for her daughter to read during winter break. Unfortunately her daughter wasn't with her, which always makes readers advisory more challenging, but I asked the woman what kind of books - particular titles if possible - her daughter enjoyed. She said that Martha Freeman was her daughter's favorite author, and that there was something about the humor in the books, and the character of the cat, that her daughter just adored, and no other books were hitting the spot for her. Did we have anything like Martha Freeman that she could check out?
Well, I was embarrassed to admit that I'd never read a single thing by Martha Freeman - and that woman has written a lot of children's books. I tried to think of books that have humor and mystery in them to recommend. The mother didn't seem interested in any of the book in the series section (Alphabet Mysteries, Geronimo Stilton, etc.), so I gave her The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise, The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney, a Wayside School book, and a couple others that seemed like good possibilities. I hope she'll come back and let me know how it went. As soon as she left with the books, I put Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas on hold for me. Clearly, this was an author I needed to read.
The story is about a nine-year-old boy named Alex and his best friend, Yasmeen, who live in a cul-de-sac called Chickadee Court. Every Christmastime, the twelve houses in the cul-de-sac put up decorations with the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Each house features a day and its corresponding decorations: swans a-swimming, ladies dancing, geese a-laying, etc.
The holiday display is so popular that people come every evening to drive through Chickadee Court to see it and listen to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" carol that is pumped through speakers to accompany the lights and decorations.
When the parts of the displays begin to disappear from people's lawns, Yasmeen wants to solve the case. Alex, whose mother is a police detective, isn't too sure that detection is all that appealing. But Alex's cat sure seems interested - he is the first one to notice the disappearance of a decoration in the first place, after all. As the decorations disappear - and return - the plot thickens, and Alex finds himself drawn to discover the culprit despite himself - and learns a whole lot he never would have imagined about his neighbors, too.
This is a delightful middle-grade mystery, and a great choice for a holiday read-aloud. I can certainly see that this series would be appealing to a wide range of children with its mix of humor, friendship issues, an engaging cat character, mystery, action and adventure. There are more Martha Freeman books in my future, and I'm definitely going to be recommending them to young readers at my library.
Books in the Chickadee Court Mysteries series:
1. Who is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?
2. Who Stole Halloween?
3. Who Stole Uncle Sam?
4. Who Stole Grandma's Million-Dollar Pumpkin Pie?
Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas? (#1 in the Chickadee Court Mysteries) by Martha Freeman (Holiday House, 2003)
Also reviewed at:
Pillbee.books: "A fun read aloud to kids of all ages for the month of December. Who doesn't want to try their hand at solving a mystery?"