The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill is full of gems, the greatest of which is Hazel Kaplansky. Hazel is part Harriett the Spy and part Emma (a la Jane Austen).
"Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of of knowledge and truth — and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions begin to swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it’s up to her to find a suspect . . . starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious gravedigger. Plus she’s found the perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. As Hazel and Samuel piece together clues from the past and present, the truth suddenly is not what they expected, and what they find reveals more about themselves and the people of their cozy little town than they could ever have imagined."
Hazel is well-intentioned, but misguided, and she possesses just enough information to get her into trouble. Hazel's intelligence is like a super hero's cape, it protects her, but it sometimes gets her into trouble. The invincibility of her super power is threatened when someone just as smart, if not smarter enters the picture. Thank goodness for Samuel, his wisdom is often needed once he and Hazel team up to investigate the gravedigger.
"And just look at the way he dresses. The perfectly creased dungarees? Nobody here irons jeans, but I bet in Russia they get inspected twice a day just to make sure their creases are straight."
After listening to this explanation along with some other ideas of Hazels, Samuel wisely cautions her, "I think you may be rushing to judgement." Yes, Samuel. I think so too.
Readers of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill will gain a better understanding of the dangers of rushing to judgement and the consequences of acting on misinformation and misunderstandings. These insights are delivered with compassion by Blakemore. We readers root for Hazel, all the while seeing misguided steps that she takes.
A few things about this book:
I love the story of Hazel's mother.
I love when Hazel comes to understand her mother's story.
I love Samuel, wise beyond his years, and yet so vulnerable.
I love that this historical time period is available to middle grade readers.
I love that reading things like this, "Did you know that in early American society, cemeteries were right in the center of town, and often weren't well-maintained? It wasn't until 1832 with the development of the Mount Auburn cemetery that we started to get large, landscaped graveyards," makes me want to go to the library or my laptop to read more on cemeteries.
I think one could write a paper on the friendship between Hazel and Jack. Life can be a bumpy road, but it is so much better when traveled with someone, as shown in this passage:
"My mom has this jar of rocks, "Samuel said. "It's one of the only things she's sure to carry with us from place to place. She gets a rock in every town. We've got beach rocks and river rocks and gravel from driveways."
"Why does she do that?"
"She said it's a way to keep her grounded."
"Ha, grounded!" Hazel laughed, but Samuel didn't. "I just meant because they were rocks. From the ground."
"I know," he said.
"I wonder what kind of rock she took from here," Hazel said. "I would take a nice shiny hunk of mica."
I think students will appreciate and relate to Hazel's imagination, and how it can run amok, like when hasn't heard from her friend, Becky.
"Maybe some terrible fate had befallen her. Maybe she had been kidnapped or had gone for a walk in the desert and been ripped apart by coyotes."
I enjoyed all the characters in this book, Megan Frazer Blakemore imbues each of them with traits that make them understandable, relate-able, and real, even the bullies. Most of all, I love Hazel. For all her misguided attempts and misunderstandings, Hazel is a gem. She has a heart of gold and in the end, that heart leads her in the right direction.
Triangle people unite!