With his detective hat and his trusty dog Sludge at his side, Nate the Great is on the case, working to discover what has happened to Fang’s Christmas card from his mother. The familiar words which begin his adventure, “I, Nate the Great, am a detective. I do important things,” are well-known to fans of the Nate the Great series. Marjorie Weinman Sharmat began writing Nate the Great books in 1972, and they are just as popular with my kids as they were when I was a kid. My son likes them for their compelling characters and detective/mystery theme, and I like them for their retro flavor and timeless storylines. Now that he is an emerging reader, books like this are at the top of my son’s list.
In Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas, Nate’s friend Annie asks him to help solve her dog Fang’s case, and Nate writes a note to his mother before heading out to investigate. Nate discovers that the mailman often drops the mail on the ground instead of putting it in the mailbox:
‘Sometimes Fang is so happy to see the mailman that he runs out of the house to greet him. The mailman drops the mail and flees.’ I, Nate the Great, knew exactly how the mailman felt. I said, ‘Then what?’
‘Fang runs after the mailman. They both disappear.’
Mark Simont’s watercolor illustrations on each page keep kids laughing out loud as they read or listen to the rest of the mystery. The small paperback format is perfect for little hands, while also giving young readers the satisfaction of reading a “real book.”
My edition of Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas includes an “Extra Fun Activities” section, which is really like having two books in one. These educational activities include:
- snowfall facts
- types of snow
- Christmas catalogs
- six fun things to do on a snowy day (crafts and experiments)
- recipes for snow ice cream, potato pancakes, and applesauce
- homemade card craft
There are also more Nate the Great activities on the publisher’s website, including free printables.
My youngest son is a huge fan of Nate the Great, and is usually inspired to act out a mystery himself after reading one of these books. Around Christmas, it is fun to have holiday-themed books featuring familiar characters, especially when they are good stories. Nate the Great and the Snowy Trail is another winter-themed title. Sharmat’s writing style is simple to read, but smart as well. The print is large, and each line includes no more than seven words, making the book readable for beginners. My only complaint is that the book is not divided into chapters, which would make it easier to read in small bites. The vocabulary is simple, but readers will use skills like reading dialogue, anticipating punctuation like question marks and exclamation points, and comprehending what they read so they can keep up with the case. Kids will use higher order thinking to reason out the clues and to “get” the humor:
Annie was coming up our walk with her dog, Fang. Fang has bells on his collar and an elf hat on his head. ‘Doesn’t Fang look cute?’ Annie said. ‘Just like a giant elf.’ Sludge looked at me. I looked at Sludge. We both knew that all the bells and elves and jingles and jangles in the world could not make Fang look cute. Fang looked hungry.
Although the main character, Nate, is a boy, there are also girl characters (Annie and Rosamond with her cats), so this book will appeal to everyone. Marjorie Weinman Sharmat has written a companion series of four Olivia Sharp books featuring Nate’s cousin who is also a detective. Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas is sure to whet kids’ appetites for more mystery fun.