Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Review of Nana Cracks the Case by Kathleen Lane

It seems a guy named Cabell Harris (great name!) came up with this concept and Kathleen Lane ended up writing it, with Sarah Horne doing the illustrations. I’m not sure who made these arrangements, but Lane takes the ball and runs with it.

Did I say runs with it? Actually, Lane takes the ball, paints it purple, dribbles it down the aisles of the grocery store while the paint’s still wet, and then lobs it through a neighbor’s window. Next she chortles.

Every once in a while a children’s book author presents a little old lady (or, less often, a little old man) as a sort of pseudo-kid or pseudo-adult—both, really. Considering how small, brilliant, and mischievous my own grandmother was clear into her nineties, this makes perfect sense to me. Here’s how the back cover puts it:

Nanas, you see, are not supposed to become backhoe operators or marine biologists or circus performers (actually Nana did not join the circus, she only substituted while the trapeze artist recovered from a broken leg), and they must never—because they are so very fragile, you see—become detectives.
More important, you should know that Nana has a book on her kitchen table called The Joy of Napping. The book jacket is a fake: it’s there to fool her highly anxious daughter, the mother of her grandchildren. Beneath the false cover is Nana’s real reading material, say, a book about tightrope walking. A lovely touch from our publishers is that if you turn the cover of Nana Cracks the Case over, you will see The Joy of Napping jacket, complete with yawner quotes like this one from Dusty McThud: “I can’t believe I wasted so much time striving for excellence when I could have been napping instead.”

Nana’s grandchildren, Bog and Eufala, know her secret. Like Nana, the two kids devote a certain amount of energy to keeping their worrywart mother from worrying. And like Nana, they are highly talented troublemakers. For example, one of their mother’s numerous rules is never to open the front door. So we read:

And that is why Eufala and Bog did not open the front door. Never in a million years would they have so much as touched the doorknob of the front door.

Anyhow, why open the front door when the kitchen window worked just as well—and, they had found, was much less likely to draw the attention of the neighbors?
Nana’s new goal of becoming a police detective soon intersects with her grandchildren’s latest activities, and shenanigans happily scramble across the pages for the rest of the book. One of the funniest things about Nana is that she continues to be a little old lady. She keeps forgetting things, never taking the direct route anywhere, a trend highlighted by the discrepancy between the author’s words and the illustrations. And watch for how Nana handles the reporters at the crime scene.

There’s a touch of Lemony Snicket here if you listen for it. But the book’s humor stands on its own, giddily over the top.

I will tell you that Nana Cracks the Case is less invested in its mystery than the books reviewed above; the author is having far too much fun with Nana and her devious grandkids for that. But it is easily the best of the three in terms of sheer enjoyment. Edgar Awards, Schmedgar Awards—if I had to pick just one, this would be it.

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