Rereading: THE MYSTERIOUS CHRISTMAS SHELL by Eleanor Cameron


© Eleanor Cameron, illustration © Beth and Joe Krush.

A few weeks ago, Ellen said, “I feel like reading a Christmas story. Do you have any I might like?” I looked around my bookshelves, thinking. There are a number of novels written for children with great Christmas chapters, but not many with an entire Christmas theme. One I love, and reread some years at this time is “The Box of Delights” by John Masefield (which was also adapted as a fine British TV series), but I didn’t think it would appeal much to Ellen, as she’s not a big fantasy fan, and I think it’s more of a boys’ story anyway. Finally I came to this title, which seemed perfect. I like all of Cameron’s books, but I didn’t remember much about this one. I gave it to Ellen, she read it, and thought it was okay, but didn’t love it. My curiosity aroused, I then read it again myself.

The story takes place in a small, rural town on the northern coast of California (I think, the book is not real specific), where Tom and Jennifer have come to stay with their grandmother for the Christmas holidays. Much of the book centers on another household, the large mansion occupied by their elderly Aunts Vicky and Melissa. Once a wealthy local businessman and landowner, their great-grandfather had built and occupied the house until his recent death, when his daughters, the aunts, found he left little money to keep the house and themselves going. In desperation, they agreed to sell a large area of undeveloped coastal land just outside the town. Now, though, they’ve recovered financially, and want to get the land back before it’s developed. The aunts are searching for a revised Will of their father’s they think will give the land to the state as a preserve, negating the sale. But so far they haven’t been able to find it. Tom and Jennifer are soon enlisted to help find that Will and save the pristine coastline they all love. Part of the story revolves around a missing Christmas ornament that may provide answers, and on a walk along the beach, Jennifer finds a rare shell with pink and green markings that she calls her “Christmas shell,” which also might lead to answers. Then there’s the secret Indian cave paintings hidden inside a difficult to reach cliff cave, and a treacherous tunnel on the beach that fills at high tide, endangering anyone who lingers too long on the wrong side of it.

This is not a typical Christmas story, so I can understand why Ellen was a little disappointed. There’s no snow, not a lot of Christmas activities, though there is a decorated tree. I still like it a lot. The book has great characters and a well-written mystery that doesn’t follow the easy and obvious path one might expect to a resolution. If, like me, you enjoy good short novels written for children, this is a great choice for this time of year.

The Mysterious Christmas Shell by Eleanor Cameron

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