A Summer Full of Mystery by David A. Kelly
Who doesn’t want something special—really special—to happen to them?
What would it mean to find out, just as Harry Potter did, that your life isn’t what you thought it was? That you’ve been destined for something bigger and much more exciting?
Growing up in a middle-class life in upstate New York, that desire haunted my childhood. Yet most of my summers were spent cutting grass, walking to the village, and cruising around town on my bike, while winters were spent at school, doing homework, and, if there was time, sledding.
While the majority of my youth was relatively uneventful, it did have the occasional bursts of unusual events, like the time my father’s lumberyard burned to the ground just as I was riding by, or the summer my brother built a twenty-foot-tall clubhouse in our backyard.
Even back then I realized my childhood was good—but I always yearned for something more. It didn’t have to be all that much more, just something different. Something exciting. Something out of the ordinary.
Luckily, I found it.
I hungrily ate up the adventures of Bertrand R. Brinley’s Mad Scientists Club, with its clubhouse full of science-minded friends that could refurbish a midget submarine or hot air balloon, create a flying man to wreak havoc in the town square, discover treasure in an old cannon, or build a fire-breathing sea monster.
I raced around Hollywood, chasing criminals, searching for clues, and solving mysteries with Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. And I relished the adventures of J.D. and his crafty older brother Tom, who used his “Great Brain” to manipulate both the children and adults in nineteenth century Utah.
And although I could never make it to Centerburg in person, I always wanted to hang out with Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price. His small-town life reminded me of mine, except for the fact that Homer constantly seemed to happen upon criminals or get caught up trying to manage an un-stoppable donut machine.
It didn’t end there. For weeks after reading Harriet the Spy, I snuck around the neighborhood, hoping to catch a glimpse of something that would warrant a notation in the small blue notebook that I purchased at Woolworths especially for sleuthing.
But Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one book I returned to again and again. I remember reading it for the first time in early summer, lying on the floor of my two-level tree house. The book tells the story of Harry Houdini Marco, stuck at home in San Francisco with his mother during a long, boring summer vacation when his friends are all going off to do something interesting. What starts out as a dull summer quickly turns into a series of nighttime adventures after the mysterious Mr. Mazeeck gives Harry some magic ointment that enables him to grow wings and fly. That summer, reading Black and Blue Magic enabled me to fly over the hills and streets and bay of San Francisco, into Golden Gate Park and beyond.
Black and Blue Magic is the book I had in mind when I started writing book 7 of my Ballpark Mysteries chapter book series. The San Francisco Splash (obviously set in San Francisco) covers much of the same geographic ground, including San Francisco’s famous hills and its beautiful bay. Initially I hoped to pay homage to Black and Blue Magic by having a magic ointment be part of the mystery or by naming one of my main characters Harry. But as the plot developed, it was clear the story was going in a different direction.
In the end, while I wasn’t able to work in a reference to Ms. Keatley Snyder’s work, I was able to pick her book back up when I finished with mine. This time, I didn’t lie out in my tree house to read it, but I did sit back and let her book transport me once more to a summer full of mystery, adventure, and surprise.
DAVID A. KELLY is a former Little League right fielder. These days he can often be found watching his sons play baseball at local ball fields or enjoying a game at a major-league park. David’s first kid’s book was a true story called Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. He lives near Boston’s Fenway Park with his wife, Alice, his two sons, and his dog, Samantha. The San Francisco Splash is the latest in the Ballpark Mysteries series. You can find more about the Ballpark Mysteries at http://ballparkmysteries.com/ and find David on Twitter as @davidakelly.