A children’s book author, illustrator, and bookshop owner recommends brain-teasing gifts for the curious kid in your life.
When author and lifelong Nancy Drew fan Meghan McDonald asked her colleague Peter Reynolds if he’d like to illustrate the detective edition of her bestselling Judy Moody series (titled Judy Moody, Girl Detective), the first thing that came to Reynolds’ mind was the Hardy Boys series he loved as a child.
“I’d jump on my bicycle and go buy a book,” says Peter Reynolds, world-renowned children’s book author and illustrator. “I was trying to work my way through the series.” I’m speaking with him at The Blue Bunny, the cafe, toy store, and children’s bookshop that he owns in Dedham, Massachusetts. It’s a cold December afternoon, the grey-slatted Colonial houses and crunchy leaf piles glowing gold in the slanting winter sunshine. A shiny blue bunny statue that kids can climb sits outside the store, in a row of historic storefronts trimmed with green awnings. And Reynolds’ bookstore is a hub of this tight New England community, with announcements boards offering dog walking services, book groups, and Hanukkah parties—while the bookcases offer stories.
Reynolds frequently spends weekends at The Blue Bunny, drawing and chatting with kids and parents. (Disclosure: My nephews are customers and fans.) As we chat, a salesperson slips a book and pen in front of him at the table so he can sign it without disrupting our conversation.
Reynolds has always loved mysteries, he tells me, as we stroll through the children’s detective books (listed below) “Stories have a lot to do with logic … The problem is a piece of string. There’s a knot somewhere in the story. You untangle the knot through your characters.
“I love red herrings” he adds.
Reynolds has sourced characters and settings by flipping through the yellow pages; he then expands them into fictitious towns and soap-opera-like plots. For him, building a narrative begins with a stack of notecards. “When you get them in order, that’s the spine of the story.
“Eventually I’ll migrate to computer, but start with a reporter’s notepad,” he tells aspiring writers. “Go to CVS pharmacy, and get a spiral bound notepad for a buck. The paper still works. If it’s not a fancy journal, you’re not afraid to write. I’m a visual thinker, and I use drawings with captions.
“I believe everyone’s an artist,” he adds. “Art is an area where everyone’s invited. There are no rules.”
Reynolds says authors have to apply their own detective skills to writing books. “If the person needs a silversmith, what do you do? You find a silversmith. Someone who works with metals. If you write about a character who forges letters, you have to dig in and do research and ask, how would someone go about forging?”
In his own shop, Reynolds has seen hundreds of kids falling for detective stories, just like he did as a boy. He believes that puzzling through a mystery is a great way for kids to learn analytical skills. By giving them detective books and mysteries to solve, he says, “you give your kids an advantage … Persistence, curiosity, problem solving, communication, diplomacy, negotiations are all 21st century skills.”
Reynolds and The Blue Bunny Staff Recommend:
Great Holiday gifts for private investigators to give their sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandkids:
Judy Moody, Girl Detective, by Megan McDonald (illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds). Ages 6-9.
Ruby Redford: Take Your Last Breath, by Lauren Child. Ages 10 and up.
Mac B., Kid Spy, by Mac Barnett. A series for ages 7-12.
Secrets from the Deep (The Devlin Quick Mysteries), by Linda Fairstein. Ages 8-12.
The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd. Ages 8-12.
Secret Agent Splat!, by Rob Scotton. Ages 4-8.
Top Secret Mission Detective Set (activity kit for kids)
Last minute holiday shopping? Check out the Denver Private Investigator blogpost on finding private investigator gifts for kids.
About the Author:
In addition to contributing to PursuitMag, Susanna Speier is the social media strategist and blogger for Ross Investigators of Denver, Colorado. The Denver Private Investigator Blog was recently ranked 4th in the country by PI Now for private investigator blogs. She also consults with and offers social media seminars to private investigators around the country and is a freelancer for hire, who can be reached through Linkedin. Follow her industry updates on the Denver Private Investigator blog, on Twitter @milehipi, or on Facebook.