Summer of the Woods is one of those books.
The first of "The Virginia Mysteries," the book is written by Steven K. Smith. A father of three boys, he shares the adventures of his sons on his blog, MyBoys3.com, which, coincidentally enough, is the name of his self-publishing group (MyBoys3 Press). The book is set in Virginia, which is also where Smith lives (write what you know about, they say).
Maybe that's why the book was so enjoyable. It was simply written, aimed at an audience of perhaps 8 - 10 year olds (and since his two main characters, Sam and Derek, are those ages respectively, it definitely reaches its target audience). The introduction of the boys flows easily, and their personalities and characteristics are well developed throughout the course of the story. Derek is the prankster, Sam is the heavy sleeper. Derek is afraid of thunderstorms, Sam is afraid of snakes. Derek is all about adventure, Sam is more reserved and wants to think things through. There are definite limits to their knowledge, and they aren't afraid to ask about something they don't know. They also have to face the consequences of their actions (as one of them finds out in this story), no matter what good they may have done.
The mystery centers around the woods behind the boys' new house in Virginia. When they go exploring for the first time, they discover a huge boulder with a plaque on it, indicating the area was owned by the Virginia Mining Company. They spy two other boys about their age exploring around the rock, but when they are noticed, they take off running for home - but not before Sam finds an old penny in the stream. That penny leads them to discover a story about a valuable coin collection that was stolen from a local museum years ago. Their curiosity peaked, they decide to search some more.
A hidden cubby-hole in their very own house. An antique box with a cryptic notebook and another old coin. A map to an old mine. A secret passage beneath the boulder. All of these things make for some interesting, and sometimes dangerous, adventures for the two boys, and ultimately leads them to the find of a lifetime!
The story has everything a good mystery should have, and it is clearly Derek and Sam's story. Their parents are simply "Mom" and "Dad." Alex and Henry are introduced, but there is little to their story (although whether the reader learns more about them in future books, we shall see). Their neighbor, Mr. Haskins, is described amusingly from a young boy's perspective. "It was the middle of summer, but for some reason, old people seemed to always dress like it was winder, noticed Sam. He thought Mr. Haskins must be a hundred years old." (p. 40).
And perhaps that is the key. The storytelling, while in third person, definitely comes across from a child's point of view, and in reading it, one almost feels as if you are drawn back to that age, looking at everything from that innocent perspective again. Whatever the reason, Smith hit the nail on the head and told a great story that was certainly worth the read.
Now to see if the second book, Mystery on Church Hill, holds us just as well!
RATING: 9 Indian head pennies out of 10 for taking me back to my childhood and reminding me of a more innocent age.