Sunday, January 31, 2010
Series review: "A to Z Mysteries," by Ron Roy
The X'ed-Out X-Ray (2005)
The Yellow Yacht (2005)
By Ron Roy
A friend has convinced me to try my hand this year at writing children's literature; but I don't actually know anything about children's literature, so am starting the process simply by reading a large selection of titles that have been recommended to me. I've been told that these, the "A to Z Mysteries" by Ron Roy (a 26-book series, each named after a different letter in the alphabet) are among the most popular "chapter books" these days among the elementary-school readers they're designed for (so in other words, aged roughly 7 to 10); and indeed, after reading three of them myself (U, X and Y), I can see that they touch on nearly every piece of advice I've now been given regarding writing for this age group, including a strong sense of humor, a quickly-paced but not too complicated storyline, lots of action and mystery, many scenes set in a school environment, and sentences that average around ten words. (Note, however, that these books don't adhere to one piece of advice I've been given, to concentrate on the ways that boys and girls interact at that age; although the three-person team of friends at the center of our tales is co-ed, they essentially all act the same, and eschew relationships with other children mostly to instead interrogate adults regarding the latest mystery they're trying to solve.) In fact, I was surprised by just how old-fashioned and even fuddy-duddy these stories sometimes are, given their immense popularity, happy proof that you don't nearly need to know about all the latest children's fads in order to write books that will appeal to them; they take place in a small middle-class pedestrian-oriented "Leave It To Beaver"esque town where even cellphones barely exist, and except for a few references to the internet could easily be mistaken for the chapter books from the 1950s and '60s that I grew up on.
As is typical for this age group, the "mystery" behind each story is pretty easily solvable, and is used mostly as an excuse to teach the rational problem-solving process of observation, interviews, and logical deduction; and as is typical of many authors for this age group, Roy often uses these stories to emphasize non-controversial moral lessons (i.e. "Lying is bad"), and also I think does an admirable job at adding as much diversity as possible to his admittedly white-bread environment. Each book is around 10,000 words altogether, broken into a dozen or so chapters, and contains dozens of illustrations* by John Steven Gurney.
*And P.S., not that this matters, but there was an aspect of these books that re-awakened an old complaint of mine from when I was in grade school and actually reading such books myself -- namely, the fact that the covers are done in a lush, full-color, photorealistic style, while the interior illustrations are monotonally cartoonish to the level of a typical newspaper comic strip, something I always considered a "bait & switch" scam when I was an actual kid. Although I could care less as a grown-up (and indeed, as a grown-up now understand why such a thing is done in the first place), I found it funny that these books could make a long-forgotten thirty-year-old memory re-emerge like that so profoundly.