Happy Poetry Friday!
This Friday, I am visiting Durham, NC as a Very Special Person. It is Muffin Morning at my niece’s school. She has never had a Special Person attend Muffin Morning. Of course, I said, “I am there!” Do you think they have fancy badges? Muffins are already pretty fancy.
I am also visiting Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’ blog, Today’s Little Ditty. Please stop by TLD to check out — and maybe try — my poetry workshop on fractured fairy tales.
Speaking of fractured genres, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a send-up of detective noir books. You know the kind: slick private eye who’s down on his luck meets questionable dame. She begs for his help and before you know it, he’s up to his fedora in the toughest case of his life.
Then guess who sauntered into my life and onto my bookshelf? A pint-sized gumshoe with no friends, a beloved but decrepit pair of wheels, and a bad case of middle school blackmail. Meet HOWARD WALLACE, P.I, by Casey Lyall.
He may be friendless, trenchcoat-less (an old brown bathrobe has to do), and devoted to a “lady” known only as Blue (that would be his decrepit bike), but Howard knows who he is: the best (and only) detective his middle school’s got. Howard is reluctant to take on a junior partner, but mouthy Ivy Mason won’t take no for an answer. And it turns out, Howard needs Ivy’s help — and her friendship — to crack his latest case.
HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. debuted this week, on September 6. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:
“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.
Who will like it?
HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. is appropriate for fourth grade and through middle school. (I’d even consider it a guilty, cozy pleasure for younger high schoolers.)
- Kids who like snappy, funny dialogue and quirky characters.
- Readers who like friendship stories.
- Fans of kid detectives: Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Sammy Keyes.
What will readers learn about?
- Even great detectives (and self-sufficient kids) need help sometimes.
- There are people who don’t want to fit in. Being an oddball can be a good thing.
- The importance of being true to yourself.
The poem I’m pairing with HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. is about a boy and his wheels. It reminded me of Howard and Blue at the start of the novel, before Ivy becomes a junior detective and Howard’s sidekick. Funny as this book is — and it is laugh-on-every-page funny — Howard is a lonely kid. That’s a big part of what I love about him.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
Read the rest of the poem at Poetry 180.
Full disclosure, everyone: Howard’s inventor is my dear friend Casey Lyall. Casey and I met through PitchWars in 2013, then met in person at the 2014 SCBWI annual in New York. When we shared birthday cupcakes in New York’s Grand Central Station, I knew our friendship was meant to be.
Casey is kind, smart, and hilarious. And all of those qualities are what makes HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. a great book. He may be an odd duck — riding a broken down bike in his brown bathrobe, trading rapid-fire Hammett-esque insults with Ivy — but Howard Wallace has a good heart. He is the perfect middle grade anti-hero, someone to laugh at and love, to shake your head at and cheer for.
P.S. If you’re looking for an adult book that pokes fun at the hard-boiled detective character, check out DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY. It’s written by Douglas Adams (THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), a master of quirky satire!
What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?
I think I would’ve loved Howard when I was that age, Laura – I hadn’t heard of the book, but will try to find it. Sounds fun!
I think so too, Matt. You’ll enjoy the voice and the humor in Casey’s book.
Thanks for the heads up about this new book. Fun post to read, great poem pairing!
Thanks, Jama! (You’ll appreciate what Howard uses to bribe adults in this book — yummies.)
Oh, this sounds awesome! I love the idea of a character embracing their “oddness”, and not always worrying about fitting in – some of us march to the beat of our own drummers and love every minute of it!
Thanks for stopping by, Jane. As someone who embraces my quirks more and more over time, I appreciate Howard’s steadfast acceptance of his own oddness.
This book sounds like such fun, Laura – ordering it for my classroom!
I agree with Jama, great pairing. Sounds like a fun book. I love that you met through Pitch Wars.
PitchWars is a great community. I’m enjoying my new role as a mentor this year.
Like Matt, that book would have been right up my alley when I was that age. Good match-up! Hope you enjoyed your VSP visit 🙂
I certainly felt very special. Have a young niece and nephews is a gift in my life.
I love the way you actively promote others’ books! This one will stretch me into a genre I don’t read much!
(PS I need to send you an update on the reading aloud of Last 5th Grade. In a nutshell: MAGICAL)
You and your students will have fun with this book. It’s tender-hearted, like the best contemporary MG. Add the humor and the send-up of detective story tropes, and it’s a super-fun book.
(Yes, please! I can’t wait to hear more.)
Two Naomi Shihab Nye poems in a row! I LOVE her.
How fun! I’m looking forward to reading this. Love the bathrobe as trench coat! And what a great match-up, Laura. Love “The Rider”– one of my favorites. Hope the muffins were tasty, BTW.
It’s small details like the bathrobe that make Howard’s character so lovable.
The book sounds like fun. I always liked reading mysteries growing up. And by the way, you are always a special person. Not just on Muffin Morning!
Right back at you, Dori!
Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll write up an order card for the library.
Love your pairings. And yes…”to leave your loneliness/panting…” Wish I could feed you a muffin here…to invite you as a special person for an afternoon of chat and books. xx
Someday, Amy, when I’m visiting the family in Maplecrest. You’re not too far, right?
I kept thinking about my son, and how he could have been Howard… at about that same age he wore a long green bathrobe all one summer working as a dishwasher at a camp. He was also the policeman of the world.
Sounds like a fun book.
Oh my gosh, Donna. He and Howard would have been best buddies. I love that story about your son.