Thursday, March 22, 2012

Middle Grade Reader: Hauntings & Heists (Dan Poblocki)

I love picture books!  I read them all the time—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, fairy tales.  It does not matter.  I love them all.  I have a goal for myself though:  To read at least one chapter book a week and review it.  While at the library this week, I spotted a new Scholastic series called The Mysterious Four.   I picked up one of the titles.  Here is my review.

Summary of Hauntings and Heists (by Dan Poblocki)  
Inquisitive Viola Hart moves into a new neighborhood in Moon Hollow, New York.  She enjoys finding mystery and intrigue in every day life.  Viola quickly makes friends with three of her neighbors—Rosie, Sylvester, and Woodrow.    Their backyards meet at one point, referred to by the group as the four corners.   The three new friends quickly catch Viola’s passion for mystery and critical thinking.   They form a club they call The Four Corners Mystery Club.  Together, they tackle crimes and puzzles, both big and small, from a photograph hoax to a signature fraud to a dog knapping.  Their biggest mystery takes the entire book to unravel! 

The characters in Hauntings and Heists are not complex, but they are genuinely nice and overall respectful.  Perhaps, they are more so than the typical tween, but in some ways it is refreshing.  As a parent, I cringe as a read about sassy, know-it-all kids who rarely have any consequences for their poor behaviors.  Sure, it is realistic, but should it be?   The protagonists do have minor flaws though.  The focus is on the plot, specifically the critical thinking the children do as they solve the daily puzzles they encounter.  The format of the book invites readers to make their own inferences based on the facts.  Sometimes these puzzles are simple like the snapped snake and the bully.  Others are a bit more intriquing and complex, such as the mysterious noise in the basement and "monster" in the lake.  For the most part, the mysterious are realistic.  My hope is that the books might inspire children to look carefully at their surroundings to understand others better as well as to examine events around them more closely so as to not be easily deceived.   

There are two ethic issues I think might have been glossed over a bit too neatly.  First, a father is a deceitful.  He throws away a part of the meal but allows the children to be accused for it.  After being caught, I did not see evidence of true repentance, but rather, an attempt to appease the family. The second is a bit of a larger issue.  A professor commits fraud.  He has a “good” reason for doing it, but there are no consequences.  It is assumed that the end justify the means.  I believe these are perfect opportunities to open up a discussion about morals, values, and ethics with children.

Hauntings and Heists is a high interest middle grade book with educational opportunities.  I recommend it for ages 9-12. 

Teaching Opportunities:
  • The children in the book have come up with a system for identifying how challenging a mystery is to solve.  In a classroom or at home, adults can encourage their youngsters to seek to understand the world by looking at the genuine mysteries and clues around them.  Then, label them based on difficulty.         
  • Read other mysteries and books together.  Prompt children to ask questions and make guesses as to what will happen next. 
  • Exercising these brain muscles can be applied to looking at stories or reading passages for greater comprehension by making inferences in formal classroom assignments.


  1. Hmmmm. . .is this suspenseful or scary? My eldest dd LOVES mysteries but not being scared.

    Thanks for linking up to RAT!

  2. I did not see it as scary at all. Anything that was a mystery or remotely eerie was always quickly resolved with a real world explanation.

  3. is there a illustrator for this book

  4. because I cant find the illustrator any were and im wondering if the author is the illistrator

  5. very good very good....


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