We love mystery!

Mysteries for Young Sleuths with Lori Briley Fairchild

In this week’s episode, Brook and Sarah are joined by middle-grade author Lori Briley Fairchild to speak about what goes into a mystery for young sleuths.


Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective (1963) Donald J. Sobol

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories (1930-2003) Carolyn Keene

Hardy Boys Mystery Stories (1927-2005) Franklin W. Dixon

Agatha Christie

Enid Blyton

Trixie Belden Mysteries (1948-1986)

Bobbsey Twins (1904-1979) Laura Lee Hope

A to Z Mysteries (1997-2005) Ron Roy

Harriet the Spy (1964) Louise Fitzhugh

The InvestiGators (2020-2024) John Patrick Green

Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine (2021) Dusti Bowling

Good Omens (1990) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Lori Briley Fairchild

Website: https://www.ldfairchildauthor.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LDFairchild/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/l.d.fairchild/

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi, Brook.
BrookHi, Sarah. We have a special guest today.
SarahI’m very excited.
BrookYeah, today we’re going to be talking with Lori Briley Fairchild.
BrookWould you like to introduce her Sarah?
SarahLori Briley Fairchild is a writer of young adult dystopian novels and children’s mysteries. After 20 years as a freelance writer, editor, and mom, she decided it was time to chase her own dreams of becoming a successful author. She hails from the Kansas City area and it’s okay if you’re not sure if it’s in Kansas or Missouri. Sometimes she doesn’t know either. When she’s not writing she’s probably watching sports. She loves the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Chiefs, or Doctor Who—her favorite doctor is the tenth—wondering why her husband plays his music so loud, or working at her other full-time job of professional ear scratcher for her two dogs whose names are yes, Buddy and Panda.
BrookYes, because today we’re going to be talking about young sleuths for young readers and Buddy and Panda are the stars of Lori Briley’s kids’ mysteries.
BrookAnd so many of us started our love of mystery at a very young age when other kids were fascinated with superheroes or popular cartoon characters, us mystery buffs were pretending to be Encyclopedia Brown or Harriet the Spy. But before young sleuthers can graduate to even Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, they need puzzling cases to solve appropriate for their ages, according to their reading levels, and all about their interests. And that’s what we’ll be talking about today with Lori, who among other things writes mysteries especially for budding mystery fans. Welcome Lori.
Lori BrileyHi. Thanks for having me.
BrookYeah, this is going to be great. All three of us are moms and have been mystery buffs since we were kids, so this is just a really fun topic. We’ve got multi-generational experience with this right.
Lori BrileyAbsolutely.
BrookSo speaking of that, Lori, what were some of your favorite mysteries to read when you were a kid?
Lori BrileyI was a big Encyclopedia Brown fan. I think I read every single one of those and then The Great Brain I loved all of those and then I loved to read from like a super young age and so I read like above my grade level and I got into Agatha Christie really early. My mom was like sure you can read murder mystery.
Lori BrileyBut yeah Encyclopedia Brown and then those Two-minute mysteries one of my grade school teachers used to like you know pop those out just for you know in between things and I loved those I would sit there like puzzle over them and you know try and figure them out. So those were my favorites.
BrookI too loved Encyclopedia Brown. That was my go-to group of books when I got to go to the library and in primary school.
Lori BrileyYeah, me too.
BrookWhat about you, Sarah?
SarahI don’t think I actually read any Encyclopedia Brown. I did read some to prepare for this conversation though and you know reading it I was I was fairly certain that I hadn’t read that in the past. I definitely read Nancy Drew and and the Hardy Boys when I was younger. But I think like you, Lori I was I I think I was reading Agatha Christie probably a little earlier than I should. I read a lot of Enid Blyton and her mysteries.
Lori BrileyYeah I also like Trixie Belden and the Bobbsey Twins. My mom had the like the entire set of the Bobbsey Twins and so she let she handed those off to me.
BrookI had a similar experience because um I grew up basically across the street from my grandparents and they had kept their kids books in the basement. So I used it as my little library and I’d go down and they had a lot of Bobbsey twins a couple Trixie Beldens. I think that’s probably where I got introduced to Nancy Drew was from that collection. So super fun.
SarahSo, Lori what inspired you to write for kids instead of mysteries for adults?
Lori BrileyI love children’s literature like that is just something that I love to read and to um to enjoy when my kids were little I was like yes I have a reason to read these books. And so you know I started out writing a young adult dystopian because that’s another genre that I just absolutely adore. Um, but then my mom asked me if I would write a book about our dog Buddy and he’s a German short haired pointer and unfortunately he actually passed away about a year ago, but he is living on in our books.
Lori BrileyBut um, she’s like “he needs his own book” and I was like “ok” and then of course when it I started thinking about it I was like well Buddy clearly belongs in in a children’s book and I was like “well of course I’m going to write a mystery because that’s one of my favorite children’s genres” and so that it just kind of evolved from there to be mysteries for kids and really like my kids really enjoyed like the A to Z Mysteries when they were growing up. And like there was the other set that was like Washington DC, I think. I can’t remember exactly they read so many. I really like that whole idea of like a series where you kept the same characters all along and whatever and so so I wrote that first book honestly just to please my mom and I was like “well that was a lot of fun I think I’ll do it some more”.
Lori BrileyThe other thing about my books is that this particular series of books is about a little girl who plays hockey. She’s the one that owns Buddy and Panda and my youngest still plays ice hockey. She’s grown. But when she was growing up there were no books that featured girls who played hockey. And so part of my idea behind these books was if I was gonna write books for kids, then I wanted them to like really mean something as well. I mean I wanted them to be fun but I wanted them to have a purpose beyond that. And I remembered being so frustrated trying to find something that where she could see herself. So, one of my goals with this was that there’d be books for little girls who play hockey where they can see themselves that it’s not abnormal like it’s not something weird people. You know. There are other girls that do this.
SarahI think that’s a shift maybe from the books that we would have been reading when we were younger to the books that are available now. I know um with my son who’s still you know pretty young, he loves reading mystery books and when he heard about the conversation that we were going to be having today, he gave me a stack of books that he thought I should talk about. One of them, which he’s reading right now is called Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine and the character was born without arms and it’s just a part of her life and she’s a very clever sleuth. I think what you were saying, Lori, about you know, having books that people can see themselves. We’re seeing a lot more of that.
Lori BrileyYeah I think that’s really true and I think it’s really important. So when my my youngest was growing up, she was literally we live in Kansas City we are not a hockey hotbed of the world here. She was literally the only girl in the entire organization that played hockey. And I am a firm believer that you cannot be what you cannot see. And so we know several little girls that started playing hockey because they saw her on the ice right? And just being able to see yourself. Seeing the things that you do and the things that you love to do. So important and then to put it into a context that’s just fun right? Like that’s not the point of the story right? The point of the story is the mystery, but you know when a little girl reads that plays hockey reads it and sees this other little girl maybe as a kind of a side story having trouble with you know a boy you know, being mean to her or whatever and having to deal with that will like they realized ok well this is this is you know a piece of life and shirts in the context of this story but you should be able to see that, right? Like everyone should be able to see themselves in a book at some point.
BrookI love that, Lori. I think that we need a t-shirt that says “you cannot be what you cannot see”. It’s so true and I have a similar situation and living in a very rural place where so you don’t have a lot of the same resources for activities or coaching or anything like that and so if you’re involved in one of those whether it’s sports or music or whatever the activity is, if you you probably don’t have a lot of people who are engaged in the same activity. So. I think even if it’s not hockey, a child can read that and be like oh yeah I felt like that too because you know I like this thing and and I don’t know anyone else in my surroundings that likes it and and it’s just a really great way to make common ground. The other thing I like about your books. First of all I will say that I definitely get that ah same feeling when I read your books as I did when I read like the Harriet the Spy and ah Encyclopedia Brown like that you’ve really captured that tone of um, kids mysteries. But I also like yeah, you’re welcome.
Lori BrileyThanks.
BrookI Also like that they’re good for boys and for girls like I feel like a lot of children’s literature is one or the other you know they’re either a pink foofy cover or they’re a blue and red. You know, ah meant to be gendered for boys and I love that this is a series that boys and girls alike and they’re not. It’s not pigeonholed in that way.
Lori BrileyYeah I think um, people ask me all the time like well is this just a series for girls and I I always tell them I was like um, it’s not because there’s there’s plenty for everybody right? Because the the story is told from the dog’s point of view right? So that kind of ungenders it right away. But I feel like there’s things that girls can take away from it and there’s things that boys can take away from it. And so um and I kind of did that deliberately because I think it’s really good for guys to also maybe read a little bit about what girls go through. You know in different ways. The little girl has two friends one is a girl and one is a boy and I was trying and kind of get his viewpoint in a little bit as well. So that it’s kind of even because I did I wanted it to be so that everybody could enjoy it. Because who doesn’t want to read a book but that you know the dog is telling the story.
BrookAbsolutely. Are there certain conventions that authors have to abide by when they’re writing for this age group? There’s definite conventions for adult mysteries. Are there certain things that you had to make sure you worked in or a structure that you needed to follow?
Lori BrileyAnd I think it’s mostly just about like being aware that your audience like my books are like I’d say like high reading second graders to like about fifth grade is kind of the target audience for them and um, you have to be really aware of a) what those kids understand right? Like you know they’re not going to get adult you know nuance level nuance like ah the mysteries when you write for kids are so much more straightforward I mean sure you have like red herrings and stuff like you know you, you don’t want to be like oh well this is clearly the answer. But, also you have to you have to make it very kind of linear for them right? like? ok so that like though in the first book. The little girl hockey stick goes missing right? and ah well clearly nobody stole the stick right? because that’s just not. You know we’re not going to get into you know, charging ten year olds with after is so um, but you kind of have to like you know you have to make sure. Okay, well that character appeared and if that’s that’s going to be the conclusion of this then that character has to you know, kind of be a fairly memorable. It doesn’t have to be obvious it just has to be memorable so that when they go back when they see that. The the end they’re like oh will that makes sense right? like and so I think you have to do that more I mean you always have to make your mystery make sense for you know adults too. But I think with kids you have to just be very aware of okay well does you know if I’m 10 is this gonna you know am I gonna be able to follow this.
Lori BrileyAnd so the other thing is is you have to be really aware of like how old your references are right because I um in my latest book I rest I referenced Oscar the Grouch and one of my good friends is a fourth grade teacher and so I have it in him like. Read all of them before I publish them and he looked at me. He’s like have to ask my kids if they know who Oscar the grouch is and I was like oh well first off that makes me sad and second I didn’t even think that was like an old reference I just thought everybody knew who Oscar the grouch was and so turns out kids do still know who Oscar the grouch you.
BrookOh good. Thank goodness.
Lori BrileyBut yeah I think it’s more things like that and you have to be very conscious of like reading level so mine are I try to write it to fourth grade level and I always read my books through a lexile reader which will tell you at what grade level you’re writing at so you. It’s okay to write you know, bigger words but they have to be understandable to a fourth grader and and sometimes that’s tricky.
SarahYou mentioned series earlier, Lori and we know that they’re very popular with adult readers is the same true for younger readers?
Lori BrileyYes, like kids love to have a book that they can then like read more about. So which you I mean you can see I mean like they’re still writing Nancy Drew books today right? Series for kids are definitely a benefit. We love them as adults because we like to like follow the story through and whatever. A lot of series for kids don’t have um, an extensive like storyline through this series right? like a lot of mystery. Series especially like my books don’t have like a through line other than the fact that it’s buddy and p and it’s these kids and everyone so each one could be right kind of the standalone and but they’re all tied together by the the characters in them and a lot of mystery series for kids are like that because um, for kids, it’s just It’s less work to have to get to go into a book where you already know the characters right? And so when you’re learning to read things that are less work. Um are helpful because then you can focus on what’s actually going on in the story because kids in like you know between like second and fourth grade, they’re really learning things like cause and effect. Their comprehension a lot of times doesn’t match their reading level like they can probably read at a higher level than what they comprehend and so you kind of have to be aware of that and series for them make that easier right? like okay I don’t have to think about the setting and I don’t have to think about the characters like I already know who they are so now all I have to do is worry about comprehending the story and so um, so I think they’re really valuable for kids especially as they’re they’re growing their reading skills.
SarahI do have to say from my experience my son is a big fan of the Investigator series.
Lori BrileyI had not heard of them until you guys sent me that question. After you guys sent me that went out on their website and was looking around and they look fantastic.
SarahWhat I like about them is because we read them together and there’s a lot of ah I think I think there’s a lot that’s been written with the parent in mind or the adult reader in mind and so you know I’m chuckling I’m not sure that he gets the reference but it makes me laugh and so it’s not as tedious as some um books for children can be ah and and so like I’m quite happy for the next release to come out and for us to to read it together.
BrookSarah, since my child is passed the stage of and The Investigators unfortunately; are there a lot of images and illustrations because that’s something that came to my mind when I was reviewing some of the titles that I loved and my and my daughter loved is illustrations can still be really important at this age group and help um four to fourth and help fortify the story.
SarahYeah, so The Investigators are graphic novels and so the illustrations are are really important but I would say from again you know my experience reading with my son. He likes it if there is an illustration if not on every page then. Every couple of pages because that’s still something that appeals to him.
Lori BrileyYeah that’s one thing illustrations are just expensive when you’re you’re self publishing and so that’s one thing I I hope in the future is to be able to put more into my books because right now mine don’t have any and it’s that’s simply not It’s not that I didn’t want to put them in is just as simply a factor of cost. Um. When you have to pay for each one of those illustrations it adds up really quickly.
BrookBut you do have really informative ah covers, Lori like I really like that about and I can remember as a kid and even when I’m reading your books now like I flip back to look back like what does that little dog look like you know and I I want to like go back and look at the characters that you have on the front. So that is really well done.
Lori BrileyYeah, those covers are so funny I actually sent the illustrator like pictures of my dogs and I was like okay they need to look like this and I would get get the sketch and I would show it to my kids and they’d like no that you know you got to fix this and fix that doesn’t look quite like that was very funny.
BrookAh, well, we’re seeing a renaissance in mystery in the adult space. I mean I think it kind of got kicked out with the knives out it kind of got kicked off with the knives out franchise and then we’re seeing like Agatha Christie movies remade and do you feel like this is the same for the children’s market is that trickling down?
Lori BrileyYou know I honestly am not sure Mysteries ever went out of style for kids. They just are really, they’re just such a great format for kids because they’re um, you know it’s you know you introduce the investigator you throw out the clues you. Try and figure out the mystery like they’re just they’re just perfectly set up for the way kids think, I think you know. Especially you know, Um, when they’re learning right? like you’re trying to teach them those things like. You know? Okay, Well, what do you think is going to happen next right and mysteries are just perfectly set up for that right? like so who do you think did it or what do you think happened or you know and so I don’t I Just don’t feel like they ever went out of so out of vogue for kids I think they. I Think they’ve changed since the Encyclopedia brown days a little bit but I don’t think that they’ve ever been not popular with kids.
BrookYeah, that’s great.
SarahCan you tell us a little bit about that, Lori about how you think they’ve changed since Encyclopedia Brown?
Lori BrileyYou know, just kind of keeping up with the times you know that Encyclopedia Brown was like going around and like he would have to see like the physical clues and that kind of stuff whereas you know a lot of times like the more modern mystery is it’s modern day like they’re finding the clues you know digitally or you know their phone. In my mysteries one of the big things is is this little girl is 10 and she doesn’t have a phone her parents won’t let her get her one until she’s 11. and so you know that kind of thing I think. I really think like just more technology more trying to be more relevant to the kids I mean I think that the basic through line of you know something happens and you have to figure out what it is is the same but I think just you know as times have changed technology has changed. I also think like you have to be like a little bit snappier with your writing. You got to move a little bit faster. Kids are used to like you know 3 minutes on the ipad and finding the answer kind of deal and so I think that you just have to keep like moving the story along whereas I think when we were kids and especially like back in like the 50 s Nancy Drew there was a little more that more ability to create a world in a scene and a and that ah whereas now is’s kind of like okay well something has to happen here or um, are you going to lose them.
BrookSo, Lori I can tell that you have a really great handle on like the educational part of storytelling and what that can do kind of to enrich kids education and I and you’ve done some school visits right?
Lori BrileySo school visits are one of my favorite things to do. I just love hanging out with kids and talking to them about writing and about reading and and things that they like. I love to go into school my favorite question to ask is what are you reading? What books are you like what are your favorites? And and sometimes I get surprised I went to a middle school visit ah not too long ago and I asked what you know what? their favorite books were and I got you know, normal stuff and then one girl raises her hands. She goes Good Omens which is a Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book that got turned into a series and I was like “One of my favorites!” and she was just dumbfounded that I like had read it and knew what it was. And so those are some of my favorite conversations to have but and yeah school visits are fun.
Lori BrileySometimes they want me to come in and talk about just being an author and what that’s like other times they asked me to come in and do some kind of you know writing workshop. I teach and tutor. Um like I do some writing workshops and I tutor kids and writing so that’s kind of right up my alley I used to teach at a local private homeschool co-op thing. And I love hanging out with kids and and getting to teach them stuff and so one of my favorite things to do is I I go in and I take like a mystery like I have them solve the mystery. It’s kind of like ah how to host a murder kind of thing only generally not a murder since that’s not really looked well upon in schools.
Lori BrileyBut you know I give them a box. It’s got all the clues in it. They have to work as a group to figure out what the answer is and that’s a few like that’s a lot of fun.
BrookWell I love that you are raising up the next generation of mystery lovers and perhaps even mystery writers.
Lori BrileyYeah that’s um, that’s kind of the goal, right? Is you know we we talk a lot nowadays about how kids don’t like to read. And like they just want to you know, sit on their ipads and like I just don’t think that’s necessarily true. I volunteer once a week with ah a local literacy organization and we go into school and we sit down into ah like underprivileged schools and sit down and read with those kids just for 30 minutes because it’s super important that they get that time. And um and I see kids excited about reading I see them. You know, thrilled to sit down and read the. The book that they’re reading they read they bring whatever book they want to read to you and they are excited to share that with you and so I just think I just don’t think it’s true that kids today don’t want to read I just think we have to remind them that is fun and that it’s an option.
SarahSo, Lori where can readers find you and your books?
Lori BrileySo they’re available at you know, pretty much every retailer like Amazon Barnes and noble um, or you can go to my website which is ld fairchild author dot com and I also have social media:. Facebook and Instagram.
SarahWe’ll make sure that we put all of those links into the show notes.
BrookThank you again for joining us today. Lori and thank you all for listening to clued in mystery I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.