The Pleasantville Junior Detective Agency by Johnny Cooper is a delightful mystery read for young children that introduces them to the pleasures of reading as an art form. I was asked by the author to give an honest review, to which I agreed because I’m currently working on a crime novel myself with a pair of young teenagers who find themselves in deep trouble because of their own crime investigations. So I was curious to see how the author shaped his narrative and developed the character of his young detective.

Perry Winkle – right off the bat with the name of our young neighborhood detective, we see Cooper’s knack for clever phrasing that entertains. Our young 51iTjRAju2Ldetective likes to read detective novels and from them he learns, “All the great detectives take notes”. This is followed by “the shabby shack in the backyard”, the “One Stop Shop”, “Melancholy Lane”, “Ice Cream for You,”   This witty wordplay offers assurances to young readers that even though the world is peopled with some dishonest folk who do dastardly deeds (and all of us might be tempted from time to time) this planet is still a fun and secure place to be. Life is good.

Mr. Winkle charges $2 a case and says, “No case is too small.” The book consists of ten separate chapters covering various cases, including “The Case of the Halloween Bandit”, ‘The Case of the Running Man”, and the delightful finish, “The Case of the Donut Caper”. In each case, our clever detective solves the crime, often in a  matter of minutes, but the chapter ends with a question: Can the reader herself solve the crime? Turn the page and you are given the solution. I found myself chuckling throughout the entire book. Perry Winkle is charming and even some of his villains are charming, too, including a bully or two thrown in for good measure.

Clever, witty little stores that introduce young readers to the pleasures of crime detection and mystery stories, but I’ve boosted my rating of this book to five stars for this reason. Mr. Cooper has a real writing style. He knows how to shape sentences and phrases to convey emotional tension and suspense and to create an emotional response in the reader. This is a rare and innate gift that distinguishes a merely clever writer from a literary one. Here is one excellent example:

“He had been hired to investigate a case. Solve a crime. Bring justice to the victims. But as he stared at the baseball card in his hand, he wondered if there had been a crime committed at all.”

You can see how the author builds up tension with his short, clipped, dramatic opening sentences, then leads us through a free flowing sentence to his dramatic denouement. This is a genuine writing style and by means of it, he introduces his young readers to the visceral pleasures of a truly literary reading experience. It’s not ‘just the facts, ma’am,’ it’s the very shaping of language itself that conveys meaning and emotional resonance. Kids who read this book will not only have fun in their heads with the clever stories and their solutions, they will feel with their bodies the pleasures of the literary experience. And as reading is a ‘dying art’ among young people (or so we are told), this book is a precious gift. Thank you, Johnny  Cooper.

An enthusiastic★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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