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Everybody loves a good mystery, and from the moment I started reading chapter books, I had mysteries on my shelf. I had tons of collections of mini-mysteries (the ones where the solution was written in backwards writing that you held up to a mirror), and I loved solving puzzles alongside my favourite kid sleuths.


Anyone who enjoys reading mysteries can appreciate that sense of satisfaction when you have your ‘AHAH!’ moment and figure everything out, and I think that somehow it’s even more satisfying when you’re a kid. As the popular mystery writer Stuart Gibbs speculates, mysteries appeal because the smartest person (usually the good guys) wins, and they are just ordinary people without super powers or any extraordinary gift except for intellect. I’d also suggest that solving mysteries give kids a sense of power in a world where they often feel helpless and powerless.


While some of the books I enjoyed as a kid are now considered non-PC (Enid Blyton I’m looking at you), I’m amazed at how many of the series I followed as a kid are still in print and popular, and am constantly blown away by how rich a genre it is.


waiting game cover / an overhead picture of a chess boardI remember my brother and I both enjoying Donald Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown. I loved Harriet the Spy, Liza, Bill and Jed (a series by Amelia Bedelia author Peggy Parish about sleuthing twins and their younger brother), and of course Ellen Raskin’s Newbery Award-winning novel The Westing Game which is still considered the gold standard of juvenile mysteries today.


When you think of famous kidlit detectives, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys are probably the first to jump to mind. They’ve been popular for nearly a century, and they are among the few children’s book series that I can say both my parents and I read and enjoyed. In fact, my mom still has her collection of Nancy Drew books from when she was a kid, and despite my having outgrown the books years ago and not having kids of my own, she’s been reluctant to let them go.


I liked Nancy and read the books faithfully when I was younger, along with Trixie Belden (who I thought was a lot more interesting), but it was another kid detective who stole my heart. I loved and still love Nate the Great. 


Nate first appeared in print in 1972. The series was one of the first chapter book series published by Putnam, and despite original author Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s passing in 2019, they continue to be published today.


So who is Nate the Great? If you’ve never read the series, he’s a 9-year-old kid detective (think a mini Sam Spade) who solves "cases" in his neighbourhood along with his dog sludge. Nate wears his trademark trench coat and Sherlock Holmes-style hat, and loves (and I mean LOVES) pancakes which he accepts as payment for solving the mysteries.


Along with Nate, the books also introduce an interesting cast of supporting characters. There’s Annie, an African-American girl who is one of Nate’s best friends and her dog Fang, Rosamond, a very goth-looking girl who is always described as “strange," (remember this is a 9-year-old boy POV) owns four cats, and is crushing on Nate, the wise Esmerelda, and his sometimes adversaries Finley and Pip. I always had a soft spot for Rosamond, but they’re all interesting and likeable characters.


So what is it about Nate that has allowed him to endure for almost 50 years? Firstly, the humour. They are genuinely clever and witty stories, and at the time, books like these were something pretty rare for the age group. I remember most of the books I read as a child, and I can’t think of anything else that was comparable to these when I was 6 or 7 and moving away from picture books and readers.  While the category has greatly expanded since then, these are still stand out for me.


I also loved Nate’s autonomy. It seems like all he ever had to do was leave a note for his mother telling her that he was on a case, and that was perfectly fine. In Nate the Great Goes Undercover, Nate goes on an overnight stakeout to figure out who or what is going through his neighbour Oliver’s trashcan. In fact, Nate was so dedicated to solving the case that he even crawled inside the trash can. You really have to appreciate Nate’s dedication. He’ll work a case until he solves it, only briefly stopping for pancakes to help him keep up his strength.


Another of Nate’s characteristics that kids find so appealing is his blunt, deadpan delivery. In the first sentence of the first book, Nate introduces himself with the line““My name is Nate the Great. I am a detective. I work alone.” He may not intend to be funny, but he truly is, and adults will appreciate the tone as much as kids do.


nate the great cover / three students in a hallway following the trail of a muddy robot

The humour is especially prevalent in Nate the Great and the Mushy Valentine where Nate has to figure out who left his dog a secret valentine. This is a problem because Nate really hates mushy stuff, and he makes it quite clear that he does not want to be anybody’s valentine. Thinking that Rosamond gave him a valentine, he decides to hang out in the dog house with Sludge until the valentine blows away  just to avoid having to claim it.


In Spring 2021, Nate returned with an all new adventure where he solves the case of the missing Earth Day robot, and it was just as funny and smart as the previous titles.


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Happy Reading!

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