CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 6 . . . . October 12, 2012
What Happened in July is the fourth book in the “Babysitter Out of Control!” series by Margaret J. McMaster. Mrs. Chairbottom is babysitting Stewart at her home because the kitchen is being renovated and she wants to be there. The adventure starts when the workers find a folded piece of newspaper from 1932 behind one of the cupboards and Stewart and Mrs. Chairbottom find a message in code on one side. Colonel Peabody joins them in decoding the message and following the clues to a satisfying conclusion of this 70-year-old mystery.
As What Happened in July is an early chapter book, you expect short sentences and chapters with a high level of excitement and action. That is exactly what you will get. The writing is crisp and largely dialogue, making the story move quickly. Each clue follows the last, logically leading the reader through each level. The story is full of small observations, such as "It was obvious we were going to end up at a cupboard, but we walked the ten paces anyway." Such details make the story more real and textured. I read the book quickly as I really wanted to know what was going to happen.
There are four full-page illustrations, all rich and detailed like comic book pages. These add information that is not given in the story, such as the fact that Petey and Jezebel are parrots, although this is at least implied by the fact that Jezebel squawks. This first illustration, which holds the key to the story, is also on the front cover.
The story is written from the viewpoint of the boy, Stewart. Most of the action, however, is taken by the babysitter, Mrs. Chairbottom, and the other participants in the story. The story would have more appeal to children if Stewart made more of the discoveries himself. The plot is exciting with all of the clues laid out in sequence, perhaps too many clues and too much detail for a story of this length. I could have used more time between the clues to let it all sink in, especially as it seems like the entire story is to have taken place in one day, and this stretches credulity. It would also have been nice if the characters and their relationships were laid out in this book. Since many of the details must have appeared in the first three books, a recap would have been helpful to new readers.
A final point, there is a subtitle for the book: x ilkd pfjb xdl. The subtitle is written in a code that is explained in the text of the story, but nowhere does it suggest that readers use the code to find out what it says.
What Happened in July is an exciting book and a good read. Reading the previous books in the series would help to place the action into the context of the story.
Willow Moonbeam, a librarian and college math professor living in Toronto, ON, has an interest in knitting, astrology and learning new things.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.