In Memory of Marjorie Weinman Sharmat 1928-2019

Nate the Great and the Sticky Case – Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Marc Simont, Yearling, 2006 (reprint of 1978 edition, with additional material)

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It is no small accomplishment to write even one well-crafted and engaging chapter book for newly independent readers.  Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, who died on March 12, wrote over one hundred books, more than two dozen of them in the Nate the Great series about a smart and somewhat less than modest boy detective who seems to have all the answers. Sharmat’s career was not limited to this series, but, in paying tribute to her long career, one characterized by great intuition about what children would like to read, it seems appropriate to remember what is innovative and durable about him.

Nate has a sense of humor, one appreciated by those beginning their journey in literacy.  In Nate the Great and the Sticky Case, when Nate’s friend Claude is bereft by the loss of his stegosaurus stamp, Nate reassures him: “It is hard to find something that small…This will be a big case.”  Nate loves his mom. So, considerately, he leaves her a note when he departs to go out on his latest case:  “Dear Mother, I am on a sticky case…Love, Nate the Great.”

Nate’s stories include challenging vocabulary and content.  It’s one thing to like dinosaurs, another to learn about distinctions between the tyrannosaurus, ichthyosaurus, and stegosaurus.  Claude’s collection of dinosaur stamps in extensive.

Nate is loyal.  Nate’s dog sludge is “not a great detective” and sometimes gets in the way, but Nate tolerates this flaw. Nate’s friend Rosamond is a little odd. In this book, she has the enterprising idea of selling cat hairs.  Her cats have scary names, like Big Hex and Plain Hex, but her very quirkiness is part of why Nate likes her.

When Nate becomes discouraged, he doesn’t give up.  After a plate of pancakes, he is better able to focus: “Suddenly I, Nate, felt great.  I had pancakes in my stomach and a good idea in my head.”

Nate can dream up crazy ideas and think outside of the box: “I, Nate the Great, wished that I had two brains and that one of them would solve this case.”

After the conclusion of a successful case, Nate keeps his perspective, calming walking home with his dog Sludge: “We were careful not to step in any puddles.”

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Nate the Great is a little bit Sam Spade for kids, a little bit Philip Marlowe. Each of Sharmat’s books about him has a satisfying predictability, which is a great asset for beginning readers. They also have surprises and twists, and dramatically detailed pictures by Marc Simont.  The new reissues of the series include additional activities; Nate the Great and the Sticky Case has several, among them a brief history of the U.S. postal service, a diagram with the parts of a stamp, and a recipe for dinosaur lollipops.

It’s no mystery that Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s contributions to children’s literature, identified with, but not limited to, Nate the Great, will not disappear.

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