The Three Investigators

In the old days, kidlit mysteries were solved by plucky tweens charging 25 cents plus expenses…

I love shopping for kids’ books at used bookstores for two reasons – #1). you never know what you’re going to find and #2). it’s a fantastic reminder that the world of children’s literature has always, ALWAYS been gloriously and deliriously WEIRD.

Because sometimes, when it comes to children’s books, we romanticize the past. We look at the current world of children’s publishing – with kids’ books written by celebrities, kids’ books based on toy lines, and kids’ books all about what it would be like if your pets could text you jokes (not making that up) – and there’s a tendency to think, “Sigh, it wasn’t like this in the good old days. Back then, kids read LITERATURE.” Well, I’m here to tell you that kids have been reading weird stuff for AGES, since long before dogs even knew what text-messaging was, and part of the fun of used bookstore shopping is seeing what kinds of literary oddities earlier generations inflicted on their youth.

In my most recent trip to the children’s section at our local used bookstore, I found several books from the 1960s that had odd celebrity tie-ins. There was a dog-eared copy of A Red Skelton in Your Closet: Ghost Stories Gay and Grim Selected by the Master of Comedy, because, if I’m looking for something truly scary to read in 1965, I’m going to hit up a master of comedy… apparently. (Aside from selecting the stories, Skelton also wrote an introduction titled “Of Course I Believe in Ghosts.”) Then there was the pristine copy of Shirley Temple’s Storytime Favorites, with the picture on the cover that made Temple look more like Betty Crocker than the child star she’d been in the 1930s. But, hands-down, the best, the most wonderfully weird ’60s celebrity kids’ book I encountered – and that I just HAD to buy – was all about Alfred Hitchcock, possibly the most acclaimed movie director of all time, teaming up with three kid detectives to solve mysteries.

The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle

Hitchcock even does cameos on the covers of children’s mysteries…

That’s right. Alfred Hitchcock, director of Psycho and Vertigo, hanging out with three Encyclopedia Brown knock-offs. And did I mention that the kid detectives drive around in a chauffeured, gold-plated Rolls Royce? How could I NOT buy the book immediately? There’s actually a whole series of books in the “Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators” imprint. I picked up the first and seventh volumes of the series, The Secret of Terror Castle and The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, and they’re the best things I’ve bought in a long time.

Here’s a quick excerpt from Hitchcock’s “Introduction” to The Secret of Terror Castle:The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle

I seem to be constantly introducing something. For years I’ve been introducing my television programs. I’ve introduced motion pictures. And I’ve introduced books of mystery, ghost and suspense stories for my fans to shiver with. [read the rest of the post…]


My Brave Year of Firsts

This is pretty much what it felt like to drop our daughter off to first grade….

Before we get to Bink & Gollie, if you’ve been wondering if Building a Library was on hiatus, I totally understand. Things here at Library Headquarters have been beyond hectic now that my daughter has just begun FIRST GRADE, a big life milestone that (if I’m being honest) I’m still a little weepy about.

The race up to the beginning of her school year was overwhelming with school supply shopping, orientation meetings, and desperate attempts to squeeze in a few final day trips to museums and zoos before first grade finally began.

The weekend before school started, I took my daughter to a local bookstore and told her that, in celebration of her new school year, she could pick out ANY book she wanted. An hour and a half later, I almost regretted that decision. We looked at EVERYTHING. New books, old books, picture books, easy readers, chapter books, audiobooks. Yes, I did have to reiterate SEVERAL TIMES that the toys and stuffed animals in the children’s section did not, in fact, count as reading material and, thus, was not eligible to qualify as “any book you wanted”, but, on the whole, it was fun to watch my daughter browsing her head off, completely lost in the stacks trying to find the perfect book.

My Brave Year of Firsts

This is actually a “perfect” book for any kid about to start first grade…

After trying to steer her towards some good-looking chapter books – she’s interested in Judy Moody, but won’t take the plunge yet – I spent twenty minutes advocating for My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives, a new picture book by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Even though I had been previously pushing for my daughter to pick a chapter book, I’ve written about my affection for Curtis and Cornell’s picture books in the past (I find them sentimental in all the right ways) and the book just seemed PERFECT for a kid about to start first grade.

It’s all about a young girl taking the leap and trying a myriad of new things for the very first time. She starts first grade (perfect!), she tries to ride her bike without training wheels (we’re doing that right now!), she makes new friends (just like my kid!), she helps her dad (I’m a dad!), and her name is Frankie (my daughter is named Charley!). My Brave Year of Firsts is a fun, wonderfully illustrated rumination on the benefits of being brave and trying new things and, thematically, it couldn’t have been more perfect for my kid.

So, of course, she didn’t pick it.

(Sorry Jamie and Laura. The book IS pretty great, though, and my daughter has a birthday coming up, so guess what she’s getting?)

Give a kid the power to pick out their own book and they will take full advantage of that privilege. And, after I vetoed a few more toys and at least one Barbie book, I heard my daughter gasp in the stacks and come running towards me.

“THIS is my book.”

Bink & Gollie: Two For One

My kid could’ve picked ANY book in the store, but this is the one she wanted.

The book was Bink & Gollie: Two For One, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee with illustrations by Tony Fucile. It’s an illustrated early reader/chapter book hybrid, a sequel to the original Bink & Gollie, the New York Times bestseller and Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner, which happens to be one of my daughter’s favorite books.

I love it when my daughter exhibits good taste.

I’ve been meaning to write about the original Bink & Gollie for months now (and I still probably will one day), but it’s one of those books that is SO good that it’s actually intimidating to write a review of it. How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post? It’s just an amazing title and Bink & Gollie: Two For One definitely lives up to its reputation. [read the rest of the post…]