Posts Tagged mysteries

Meet Fred Bowen, author of the FRED BOWEN SPORTS STORY SERIES

Today at MUF we’re so excited to welcome Fred Bowen, author of Peachtree’s popular Fred Bowen Sports Story Series for middle grade readers. A lifelong sports fanatic, he has coached youth league baseball, basketball, and soccer. His kids’ sports column “The Score” appears each week in the KidsPost section of the Washington Post.  His latest book in the Fred Bowen Sports Story Series is Soccer Trophy Mystery

Here Fred shares his rules for writing for middle graders, his favorite teams, and the most important thing we can learn from sports.

Soccer Trophy Mystery

MUF: Thank you so much for answering a few questions for us. Starting with the hardest question first: What’s your favorite sport? 

Fred: I enjoy most sports if they are well played and the teams or players are well matched.  But my favorite sport to watch is baseball.  My son, Liam, is the head baseball coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and so my favorite team to watch is the UMBC Retrievers.

Growing up, I played lots of sports: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis and even street hockey.  I wasn’t great at any of them but I loved playing and being active.  Now that I am older my favorite sport to play is golf.  I am still trying to score my first hole-in-one.

MUF: As a kid, did you love reading, love playing and watching sports, or love both? What led to your career as a sportswriter? 

Fred: Both. As I said above, I played lots of sports growing up.  I also spent many hours watching sports on television.  Living in New England, I was a big Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics fan.  Because my father was in advertising, he would get tickets to see the Celtics and the Bruins, Boston’s pro hockey team.  So I was lucky enough to see such great basketball players as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and many others up close in the Boston Garden.  I also saw the incomparable Bobby Orr of the Bruins play hockey several times.

As for reading, I grew up on the Chip Hilton sports books.  The books, written in the 1940s and 50s by Hall of Fame basketball coach Clair Bee, followed Chip and his friends’ sports adventures at Valley Falls High School and State (his college).  I suspect the books would seem very old fashioned now, but I loved them.  They helped me understand the joy of being lost in a book.  I also read sports magazines such as Sports Illustrated as well as the sports section of several newspapers.

Finally, I did not start out as a writer.  I studied history at the University of Pennsylvania (PENN) and then went on to law school at George Washington University.  I was a lawyer for more than thirty years.

The most important reason I became a writer is because I married my wife, Peggy Jackson, who was, at the time, a journalist.  She encouraged my writing.

Fred Bowen

Kidlit author Fred Bowen

First, I wrote movie reviews for local papers.  That was fun.  I got paid to go to the movies!  A few years later, after my son was born, I started reading sports books to him.  I didn’t think they were very good so I tried writing one.  Those efforts produced T.J.’s Secret Pitch, the first in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series.  I now have 24 books in the series with Soccer Trophy Mystery being the latest.  I plan on writing kids’ sports books as long as I am having fun doing it and kids want to read them.

MUF: For your young readers, what would you tell them are the most important things they can learn about the world and themselves by participating in sports? What if they’re not sporty at all? 

Fred: There are lots of things kids can learn from sports such as sportsmanship and how to be a good teammate.  But I think the two most important lessons kids can learn from sports are:

  • Always try your hardest. That way you can be satisfied even if things do not turn out the way you had hoped.  It is easy to say, “I could have gotten an “A” if I had studied.”  It is harder to study your hardest and get a “B.”  But at least you will know you gave it your best effort


  • I have hinted at this lesson in the first answer. Sometimes, you can try your hardest and things still do not turn out the way you wanted.  Your team loses or you don’t make the team.  Life is filled with disappointments.  Sports is often a good (and safe) place for kids to learn how to deal with disappointments but to bounce back and try again.

Sports are not the only place to learn these lessons.  Some kids are not “sporty.”  They can still learn these lessons about effort and learning how to bounce back from disappointment if they are interested in music or theater or some other activity.  The important thing is you have to care about your interest.  Don’t be a kid who is always complaining things are “boring.”  Find something you like to do and give it your best efforts.

MUF: For writers, any advice on how you created such a successful and wonderful book series? What’s your secret?  

Fred: First, thanks for the kind words about the series.  One of my “secrets” is I am lucky enough to write about a subject that is interesting to me and my readers.  I have been a sports fan for my entire life and so it is a joy to write about the games and personalities in sports.  I think my readers sense my enthusiasm for the subject and that is one of the reasons they love my books.

As for the more technical aspects of writing, I was asked to speak at a conference of people who wanted to write for middle readers (ages 8-12).  So I came up with my Rules for Writing for Middle Graders.  Here they are (although I am sure I broken all of them at some time).

  • Write in short, clear sentences;
  • Avoid long descriptions;
  • Avoid adverbs and the passive voice;
  • Subject/Verb/Object is a good sentence structure 90% of the time;
  • Show, don’t tell;
  • All action should either reveal character and/or move the plot along;
  • If you can tell your story (or part of your story) clearly through dialogue, do it;
  • Try to break up the words on the page – no young reader likes to see page after page filled with words;
  • Think about your reader.

MUF: Finally, how can fans find you? Do you have a website and/or any social media that you use? 

Fred: The best way to reach me is to go to my website:

Click on the “Contact” heading at the top of the home page.  That will direct kids or any interested people to a way they can send me an email.  I always enjoy hearing from my readers and will answer any emails sent to me.

Writing Bingeable Books

What makes a TV show “bingeable”? What makes you click ‘next episode’ on your streaming service or faithfully plop on the couch when your favorite shSecrets of Sulphur Springs Splash Pageow comes? It’s something that I think about when I watch TV, and I watch a lot of TV. One show that I recently binged was The Secrets of Sulphur Springs on Disney+. In it, a 12 year old boy and his family move into a run-down and supposedly haunted hotel. As strange events occur, they boy and his best friend try to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of the young girl who they believe is haunting them. It’s the kind of spooky, mysterious, and slightly science-fiction story that is guaranteed to pique my interest.

But after binging all 11 episodes of the first season, I started to realize what kept pulling me in hour after hour. Each episode is a puzzle onto itself, and its resolution would provide small clues to the overarching mystery of the series. These clues were tiny, just enough to get me to continue watching until the next episode.

It made me start looking at my own stories, and how I plot them. How can we, as writers, create bingeable books? I think that it’s by giving our characters a goal and making sure that the resolution of that goal contributes to the larger story just enough to make the reader want to turn the page and see what happens next.

Our namesake, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a great example of this, and more mysteries can be found on the following booklists:

From the Mixed Up Files Cover

Mysteries in Bookstores and Libraries, at Book Fairs and Festivals, in Literary Landmarks, and Other Literary Places

Middle-Grade Mysteries, Spy, & Sci-fi stories featuring South Asian Characters: Interview and Giveaway with Sheela Chari

Diversity in MG lit #19 August 2020 Mysteries

But a book doesn’t need to be a mystery to be “bingeable”. What are some MG books that you couldn’t put down?

Mysteries in Bookstores and Libraries, at Book Fairs and Festivals, in Literary Landmarks, and Other Literary Places

Books and places featuring them inevitably have mysteries about them!

Books may be in a library or a bookstore, even in an attic. They can also be at book fairs or festivals, in a literary landmark, or in some other unusual setting where you wouldn’t expect to find them.

Here are some middle-grade readers’ stories that reveal some bookish mysteries, bookplace mysteries, and young protagonists getting caught up in them; both fictional and real. 

 Eleven year-old Celia lives with her Great Aunt Agatha. Although she must act in a proper way when out and about with her aunt, Celia has her room — her sanctuary — where she can be on her own. One day her aunt says that the attic needs sorting. It’s full of boxes, and books. That’s a chore for Celia. Then her aunt adds: “Oh, and it would be nice if you could find a book to read.” And so it is that Celia’s adventure starts….

Things have changed as a new school year begins, and young Neeghan (with a native Alaskan name) wonders how she’ll fit in. Then she finds a book that seems to have the answer she needs.

BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman / Emily, with new friend James, goes on a scavenger book hunt that an author has set up around the United States; particularly one in her new hometown of San Francisco. They search, guided by clues in puzzles. Then they discover an odd type of book they believe has something to do with the author, but something is missing. They find out, also, that the author has been injured and is in a coma, so he can’t reveal any more clues. And then there’s a feeling each has had ever since their discovery. Are Emily and James being followed?

Fiona and her family move to where her older sister is working on her ice skating career, but Fiiona feels alone. She finds the town library (a renovated mansion donated by its owner). In this place of respite or solace, Fiona discovers a book that captures her attention. However, the book soon  disappears and Fiona is told that there isn’t such a book! Fiona sets about aiming to unravel the mystery of this elusive tome.

THE LIBRARY OF EVER by Zeno Alexander / Lenora spends most of her time in her town’s library. One day while there, she discovers a secret doorway. Curious, of course, she enters. Suddenly she finds herself caught up as a library assistant helping library visitors with unusual searches. Meanwhile there’s something sinister in the air and she must uncover secrets and answers among the library shelves.

REBEL IN THE LIBRARY OF EVER by Zeno Alexander / Lenora came back to the secret library area she had discovered. Now, however, things are dark all around. She eventually finds some others, called members of a resistance group, who are striving to bring light back to the library. She, too must now face, stand up to, dark forces that are keeping the library in darkness.

ESCAPE FROM MR LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein / When a popular game maker becomes involved in the building of a new library in Kyle’s hometown, Kyle gets caught up in a contest, and wins one of the prizes offering a night of playing games in the library. He and the other winners have a fun night, but then when morning comes, they try to leave, but the doors are still locked. They discover that they must play another game, following clues and puzzles, to find the exit.

NIGHTMARE AT THE BOOK FAIR by Dan Gutman / Just as he arrives to try out for soccer, Trip is asked by his school’s PTA president to help her with something. Not really wanting to, but doing it anyway. Suddenly a pile of books falls on him. He gets knocked out. When he wakes up, he’s in a strange place. Now he just wants to get home, but strange obstacles are blocking his way!

MARY ANNE AND THE HAUNTED BOOKSTORE by Ann M. Martin (Babysitters Club Mysteries #34) / For a school assignment, Mary Anne gets a book from a local bookstore, where she is introduced to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, who may have visited this town where she lives. Caught up in Poe’s stories and poems, and must figure out a presentation for her school project. Eventually, Mary Anne is able to get a job at the bookstore, but then, she wonders, what’s that tap tap tapping? Are the spirits of the raven and Edgar Allen Poe lurking in the  shadows?

PAGES & CO.: BOOK WANDERERS by  Anna James, with illustrator Paola Escobar / Tilly enjoys visiting her grandparents bookshop, wandering around the bookshelves;  then one day she finds unusual wanderers wandering about, and she decides to follow them… into books…

THAT BOOK WOMAN by Heather Henson / Cal wonders why a strange woman always comes to where he and his family live on a mountainside in the Appalachian Mountains. She comes in any weather, rain or snow, and on horseback! All she seems to do is just to leave books for his sister to read. “There are better things to do,” Cal muses; or so he thinks.

THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites, retold from a true story / Thirteen year old Jewish girl, Dita Kraus, is imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in NAZI-occupied Poland during WW II, only because she is Jewish. Then she’s suddenly given a job by the camp’s Jewish leader. She is asked to be in charge of books for other children at the camp. The books come to her whenever prisoners secretly smuggle them into to the prison area when they are given the task of emptying suitcases taken away from new prisoners. / Dita’s future husband (a teacher at the camp) was called ‘a living book’; telling stories from memories of great works read before imprisonment.

LOST IN THE LIBRARY by Josh Funk / Illustrated by Stevie Lewis / Imagine. The library lion statues (named Patience and Fortitude), who guard the front entrance of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, New York City, are alive one night. A story in clever rhyming verse tells of Fortitude waking up and discovering that Patience is missing. He ventures into, and wanders about, the wondrous big library to search for his companion.

“The best kid-lit homes are extensions of their occupants’ personalities,” as said at, with a reference to the Weesley family home in the Harry Potter stories. Here are samples of how ‘kid-lit homes’ or ‘kid-lit’ author homes or other places of importance to children’s authors, could be settings for fictional mysteries.

Ever wonder about the houses and other dwelling places in classic stories, including Robinson Crusoe, David Copperfield, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and Charlotte’s Web? Here you can discover something about them.

Have you ever wondered about the house where young blind and deaf Helen Keller learned w-a-t-e-r and other words in sign language with her hands? Have you wondered what life was like in the pioneer houses where young Laura Ingalls Wilder lived? Have you thought about the house where iconic American poet Emily Dickinson spent her life, or the places where Mark Twain grew up or wrote some of his novels, or where Robert Frost wrote his poems? Have you mused about the house where Longfellow penned “The Children’s Hour”? Here you can get glimpses of them, and more.