Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Nuns, Temptation, and Mystery (A Review of The Case of the Haunted Chapel)

I never met a habit-wearing nun I didn't like. After decades of religious sisters wearing street clothes, members of many new, devout, and growing orders are once more donning the habit, providing visible, positive role models of what it means to be a bride of Christ. So, upon seeing the cheerful illustration of nuns in habits gracing the cover of Karen Kelly Boyce's Sisters of the Last Straw:The Case of the Haunted Chapel, I was utterly charmed.

The Case of the Haunted Chapel is a mystery novel written for children from the third to fifth grade. It contains exploding kitchens, animal chases, angry neighbors, and a possible haunting. In short, there's something to entertain every kid. Lurking under the entertainment are more serious moral themes. Each of the sisters struggles with a severe character flaw and a temptation to commit a particular sin. This is why their order is called Sisters of the Last Straw.

One sister struggles to break her habit (pun intended) of blurting out curse words. Another is addicted to smoking cigarettes, a kind of intemperance or gluttony. Although these themes add depth to Boyce's work, they might not resonate with all children. Perhaps because of our family's vicinity to Mayor Bloomberg's New York City, where smoking is banned in all public buildings and even outside in parks and on beaches, my children have never seen anyone smoking a cigarette. My kids would likely puzzle over a religious sister who enjoyed cigarettes so much that she couldn't quit.

These moral themes leave ample room for development in later books of the series. The simple vocabulary and short length (76 pages) of The Case of the Haunted Chapel works well to introduce readers to the quirky and lovable Sisters of Last Straw. But I would hope to see more sophisticated vocabulary and character development appear in later books. The current difficulty level of the series seems geared more to third-graders, or even advanced second-graders, than to fifth-graders.

The second book in the series, The Case of the Missing Novice, came out earlier this year. I'm eager to discover more exploits of the sisters. A fifth-time published author, whose other books have won awards, Karen Boyce is fully capable of delivering a winning series that meets or even exceeds its initial promise.

If you wish to purchase Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel from Amazon, click here.

Thanks to author Karen Kelly Boyce for providing me with a free review copy of the book.

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