Baby's First Mystery: The Case of the Pinched Stradivarius (Book Review)

Bedtime is a sacred time in our household, as I suppose it likely is for many families with toddlers.

It’s that wonderful window of shrieks and snuggles, offset by the occasional battle to put on PJs and brush two ever-expanding rows of teeth.  

And what follows is little short of bliss: a window of quiet as you remind yourself that you have an existence beyond parenthood.

But let’s back up a minute. Bedtime.

There are a few constants in our end-of-day routine: bath, beverage and books.

We typically leave book selection up to our daughter, who has surprised us by frequently foregoing age-appropriate board books for the Little Golden Book Library edition of Star Wars (which skews older).

So when I had the opportunity to check out another book written for slightly older kids, "The Case of the Pinched Stradivarius,” I jumped at the chance.

Ready, set, read!

Ready, set, read!

Written by Elaine Loeser and illustrated by Greg Arvanitakis, “The Case of the Pinched Stradivarius” is geared toward kids ages 3-8: well beyond the range for our not-quite-two-year-old. It’s the story of two pet turtles who witness a crime and try their darndest to make sure the bad guy is caught. Only problem is: they’re turtles, and their owner doesn’t seem to hear a single thing they say to her. Even the household dogs – who seem to understand slightly better – aren’t much help.

It’s a fun idea with a cast of characters that’s a little longer than what we're used to seeing in toddler lit. In fact, when we looked at the character list, my husband and I both got a tad nervous. Our daughter can’t read yet (underachiever, I know), so the responsibility of doing all of the voices fell squarely on our shoulders. And unlike the children’s books we’re used to, this one takes a fairly unique approach to storytelling: each page includes dialog that reads a little like a script. In fact, the format is somewhere in-between "storyboard for a television show" and "comic book." Each character’s lines appear next to their face, with the dialog going back and forth. There’s minimal narrative/stage direction, with the illustrations telling that part of the story (fitting when you consider the author used to write for Law & Order).

No, I'm not holding her down. This is an actual toddler staying still entirely on her own.

No, I'm not holding her down. This is an actual toddler staying still entirely on her own.

If there are other kids’ books out there that follow this format, we haven’t seen them. We’re a family of actors, writers and comic book readers, so we were open to the approach. That said, it was a bit tricky doing the same voice for each character whenever it was their turn to “speak.” Perhaps the fault is on us for not divvying up characters and establishing voices before we got started. Or perhaps we shouldn’t have bothered with voices at all. Point is, that was our one hesitation with the book: reading it out loud with just two people can be tricky. Fun. But tricky.

Our daughter didn’t seem to mind our inconsistent voices; she stayed engaged with the story and enjoyed the illustrations. With some “longer” stories – the aforementioned Star Wars books notwithstanding – she loses focus and wanders off. But with “The Case of the Pinched Stradivarius,” she stayed on my lap for all 40 pages (anyone who has ever parented a toddler knows what an amazing feat that is). Since our initial read-through, she has grabbed the book a couple times and paged through it, talking to the pictures and repeating the words she remembers.

All in all, a success even for a pre-reader. But this format works especially well for kids who are learning to read and so can either play the part of a character or two – or read quietly to themselves.