Monday, September 21, 2015


Children ask questions constantly. What's that machine doing, Mommy? Where are we going, Daddy? Why this? Why that? Why? Why? Why?

Asking questions for children is as normal as breathing. The reason is simple: they want to know. Knowing is a child's main focus in life. Charlotte Mason says the mind only seeks to answer the questions it asks of itself. Questions lead to information, result in solutions, solve mysteries. Life is full of mystery. It seems ridiculous to point it out, but, there is so extraordinarily much we do not know and cannot help ourselves from wanting to find out.

A child is comfortable with this, comfortable with knowing he is uninformed and comfortable with finding out. The world is puzzling to him and is enjoyed by him for the sheer joy of discovering answers to what he doesn't know.

Besides asking questions, children are keen observers. They notice things we often wish they would not and are adept at perceiving anything new or distinctive, any change or variation from what they know. Small things hold enticing possibilities of knowing new things. They live to know.

Finding out new pieces in the puzzle the world presents to a child is not only their main business in life, it is their entertainment, and their delight. Perhaps this is one reason Jesus commanded us not to despise them, to even aspire to be "like one of these little ones." The world and everything that happens in it everyday should hold as much wonder for us as it does to them. We adults have labored so long and hard to figure everything out, to solve many of life's immediate mysteries, that we have long since left off reveling in the pleasure of the unknown.

As a grandmother, I am exceedingly more intrigued with observing the way children discover their world than I remember being with their parents' investigations. I now have time to watch the one-year-old problem solve how to open a cabinet, or be amused to hear about how my four-year-old grandson took the toilet apart with the matter-of-fact explanation, "because I wanted to see how it works."

Mysteries come naturally to them and they pursue solving them with the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. Once children can read independently, sometimes even before they can, mystery stories become one of their favorite sources of reading material. The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys are certainly not fine literature, but children get hooked on them. Sometimes I console myself that they need to build confidence in reading, and at least in these books they are getting grammar and spelling experience by plugging these formulaic chapter books into their heads. After a year or so in this obsessive stage, most children can be gently encouraged to move into other genres, if not more challenging literature. Most fiction, nature stories, and even biographies, after all, hold mysteries too.

One of the reasons we keep reading is not knowing where the author is going with his narrative, how the characters will solve their problems, and what will happen by the end of the book. Mysteries call us in, take us deeper, and that insatiable question-maker, our mind, must find out what it needs to know.

Mysteries particularly develop a child's need to answer questions, but also train children in the skill of keeping track of details, and problem solving. Beyond this obvious appeal, I think mysteries serve another basic human need, which is simply to bring order to life. God made the world in order and keeps it in order, but this master management is not easily obvious. Life is not wrinkle free for most of us, and experiencing the resolutions of its complexities when reading a story of how other lives disentangle satisfies our craving to bring order to our own.

In looking back over the past year, I note that the occurrence of reading various mystery stories tends to cluster around especially hectic or stressful seasons. Apparently we don't grow out of the need to find some order somewhere when life is in a knot. It's not just children who need the temporary escape and mental practice of being drawn into a mystery and having logic skills sharpened, or the desire to know that at least one problem has been resolved in the pages of fiction. I'm sure reaching the conclusion to such tales releases endorphins, and I'd be willing to wager gives us renewed courage to tackle some of the unknowns that baffle us.

Mystery Stories Read so far in 2015:

Brother Cadfael's Penance by Ellis Peters
A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters
Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters
Dead Man's Ransome by Ellis Peters
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers

Other stories containing strong elements of mystery:

Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollop
Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
The Sound and the Fury by William Falkner
Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Dodd Hodges
The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson
The Black Caldron by Lloyd Alexander
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
The High King by Lloyd Alexander
The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Would anyone like to share their favorite whodunits or other books with mysteries?

For the joy of reading,



  1. My son and I are really enjoying Brighty and that is very suspenseful with Old Timer missing and a suspicious claim jumper!

    My daughter enjoys Linda Craig? Horse type mysteries...the language isn't too twaddle-y, but perhaps the stories are? I haven't looked THAT closely at them to be honest. Her and I soooo enjoyed The Chronicles of Prydain! Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Series is very neat, albeit a bit dark, so for young adults! I enjoyed it very much!

    Have you read any of the Alan Bradley series? Flavia de Luce, a 11 yo mystery solver and chemistry lover...I read the first and enjoyed it. Just started the second.

    Love talking books! :)

    1. Amy,

      It sounds like your kids have been bitten by the mystery bug. I do not know Alan Bradley's books and may look them up. Nothing is a more interesting conversation topic than books, I agree. Happy sleuthing.


  2. Years ago, I loved the 700 AD Ireland Sister Fedelma series by Peter Tremayne. Cadfael was a favorite, as was Nero Wolfe. I took a long break from who-dun-it but just recently I discovered Boris Akunin and his Sister Pelagia series in Czarist Russia.

    1. Sara,

      Thank you for sharing some of your favorites with us. My list of books yet to read is growing long. Now, if I could just get more time to enjoy them.

  3. I am not a huge mystery reader--though I adored Nancy Drew as a child. Years ago, I read a whole lot of Sayers, a couple Ellis Peters books, and some of the Sister Fedelma books, as well as a whole bunch of super twaddly mysteries that put me off the genre altogether. I remember liking Cadfael and keep wanting to return to him. I also loved Dorothy Sayers and re-read Gaudy Night last year, which made me want to read more of her books again.

    You inspire me with how widely and how well you read, Liz. Thank you!

    1. Hi Kimberlee,

      I read Sayers' novels years ago and have had the urge to reread them as well, so I was delighted when my book club chose Strong Poison for this month. The Name of the Rose by Eco was just recommended on a podcast I heard with George Grant, so I read it and found it to be fascinating from a historical perspective as it takes place during the pre-Reformation chaos of the church.