by Daniel Anderson
The “Nate the Great,” series by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat is a win for both father and son.
If you’ve ever met my 4-year -old, you know that he’s constantly on the move. Like
never not moving. Ever. And this is not a new trend. Ever since he was a baby, Finn
flat out refused to cuddle, snuggle, or even sit still for longer than 20 seconds.
Sacrament meeting with a 15-month-old Finn was all too similar to trying to battle a
Borg warrior from Star Trek. If you’re not as nerdy as I am, the Borg are a hive-mind
race that has the ability to adapt to weapons used against them. The Enterprise crew
could only beat two or three Borg with their phasers before the entire race would
adapt and their weapons were useless. It was the same situation keeping Finn
entertained at church–finger puppets bought you 30 seconds to a minute, then he’d
adapt. And the lift-the-flap book would be good for a minute maybe two, and then
he’d adapt. Cheerios flying, high-pitched screaming, etc. Our phasers were useless
So imagine my delight when Finn finally became old enough to be interested in and
entertained by books. Here he was, of his own volition, sitting perfectly still and
snug up against my side for however long it took to finish the book. It was nothing
short of miraculous. We are now big readers at the Anderson household.
One of the challenges, though, of reading to your kids (which is almost universally
agreed on to be important) is the complete lack of interest in a lot of the children’s
books out there. I mean, it’s not surprising that some are a little boring—they’re
made for kids, remember?
And this is why I love the Nate the Great series so much. Written by Marjorie
Weinman Sharmat, these books are the perfect combination of simplicity (so a 4-year-old can understand what’s happening), and sophistication (so the parent
reading them can stay interested and amused). And there are tons of them. A few in
the series are full-fledged chapter books, but almost all of the rest are short enough
to read in 15 or 20 minutes (of pure snuggle time!).
Each story follows the same basic pattern—Nate is interrupted from some activity
with his trusty dog/partner Sludge by one of a rotating cast of oddball friend
characters who have misplaced something. Nate takes the case and (as an aspiring
Sherlock Holmes) uses deductive logic to crack the case and return the missing item.
They have that terrific quality common to all good mysteries where, for example,
upon learning where Rosamund (the cat-loving weirdo) misplaced her tuna can, you
immediately slap your forehead and go “oh of COURSE—how did I miss that??”
In each story, typically the case is cracked wide open after a stumped Nate the Great
mulls over the evidence with a stack of pancakes (his favorite) and sees his dog
Sludge do something completely ordinary. As an added bonus, each book has a
section in the back full of activities and information related to the case—e.g. in a
mystery about where a stray turtle came from, Sharmat loaded an appendix full of
information on turtles, activities like building a turtle shell out of cardboard, and a
pancake recipe. Does it get any better than that?
In the immortal words of Brian Regan, I submit that it does not.