Sarah's Reviews > The Mystery of the Monster Movie

The Mystery of the Monster Movie by David A. Adler
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's review
Apr 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, novel, childrens, middle-grade

The original Cam Jansen series follows the exploits of 10-year-old 5th grader Jennifer "the Camera" (aka "Cam") Jansen and her best friend, classmate, and neighbor Eric Shelton. Cam got her nickname because of her photographic memory. All she has to do is say "Click," and Cam can remember everything she's seen, which comes in pretty handy when trying to solve mysteries.

David Adler has written several beginning chapter book series, but Cam Jansen is one of the earliest and most successful. He's been writing the series since 1980 and now writes roughly one volume per year. He has also started a Young Cam Jansen series of even simpler chapter books. Reading level wise, I'd say children they'd interest children from kindergarden through fifth grade who are just starting to read chapter books. I didn't read any of the the young Cam Jansen books, but it looks like they're more limited in scope and probably would be considered "baby books" to anyone beyond 2nd grade.

Because the books are so short, I read essentially the first half of the series and the 25th anniversary special "The Valentine Day Baby Mystery" where Cam's mom has twins, ending Cam's only child status, and Eric's mom has her car stolen, only to be returned when Cam's quick thinking discovers the thief.

Overall I was surprised at how engaging these stories were. I would totally recommend them to children just starting to read chapter books. The print is big and there are still several black and white drawings scattered throughout the text, making them an easy transition from picture books. Plus, they're well-written enough that I think they can nudge children to move on to better quality titles as they move on to longer chapter books.

Of course they're not perfect, though. It seems that adults Cam and Eric interact with choose to not accept Cam's photographic memory only when it's necessary to create tension in the story. Otherwise most adults take for granted that this 10-year-old can solve diamond thefts and bank robberies. Still, it has to be empowering for kids to read about someone close to their age solving mysteries like that.

I was also kind of bothered by the way Cam always ends up being right. Sometimes she comes off as a little too cocky and unwilling to listen to others. In nearly every story Eric plays the wet blanket suggesting that they tell an adult what they've discovered rather than trying to catch the bad guy on their own. However Cam always forges ahead and ends up getting her suspect. Again, I'm sure kids love the feeling of accomplishment, but sometimes it feels like Cam's walking the fine line between extreme confidence and recklessness, as in the Chocolate Fudge Mystery where she trespasses into someone's back yard just because she thinks it's weird that no one's home. Her dad and Eric both tell her she shouldn't be doing this, but Cam doesn't care because she's certain there's a mystery to be solved. She turns out be right (there's a bank robber hiding in the house) and her disregard for strangers' privacy is forgotten.

And honestly, that's the problem I had with these books when I was little. While it was cool to read about a kid doing cool stuff like solving robberies, I could always tell that the stories weren't quite true to real life. I guess that's why I always preferred stories of kids doing amazing things that were based off real stories like Island of the Blue Dolphins or at least seemed more realistic.

My husband, however, loved these books as a kid and said he read every one he could get his hands on when he was younger, so I guess that's at least some proof of their appeal to both sexes. Both libraries I checked these books out from had multiple copies of the titles in this series and even then I had trouble finding all the titles actually on the shelf, so they continue to be popular titles. I think they would be great additions to a school or public library collection.

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