I feel badly, because I can no longer find my copy of Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones. I don’t remember when I saw it last, and I don’t know where it is. Unsurprising, as I have a bad memory and I’ve given up on remembering things. But there have been short periods of my life during which I tried really hard to remember everything as exactly as I could. One of those periods was when I was around 6 or 7 and reading the Cam Jansen books.
Cam’s real name isn’t “Cam”. I don’t remember what her real name is, and it doesn’t matter, because her nickname is way, way cooler. Her nickname is Cam, short for “camera”, because she has a photographic memory. All she has to do is look at something, and she remembers exactly how it was. To help herself out, she says “click” out loud, and winks (yes, I’ve tried it; no, it doesn’t work; yes, people look at you strangely).
Cam and her best friend Eric bump into mysteries and adventures wherever they go, and with the help of Cam’s memory, they are able to solve them all. The Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones starts out during a school trip to the museum, when Cam and her class look at a newly-unearthed dinosaur skeleton and Cam takes a mental picture. Later that day, they go back to take a look and Cam sees that one of the bones is now missing! It takes some fast talking (to convince the grown-ups) and looking for clues, but the young sleuths eventually find the missing bone and nab the thief. Hurray for Cam and Eric!
So what’s the skinny? I like dinosaurs, I like dinosaur bones, and I like mystery stories, so Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones was more interesting to me than the first book with the mystery of the missing diamonds (jewelery just isn’t my thing) (although I did like The Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball, and I don’t really like baseball). I like the format, too. The chapters are not quite as short as the Frog and Toad series, and each book contains one mystery/adventure (unlike the Encyclopedia Brown series). Sure, the writing is formulaic (first few pages contains an intro to Cam, Eric, and Cam’s “special powers”; mystery unfolds; Cam and Eric save the day), but I remember liking the familiarity of Cam’s story. I remember feeling clever and special when reading chapter 1, because that’s where David Adler explains why Cam is called “Cam”, and I already knew. I felt like I had “one up” on all those readers who were discovering Cam for the first time.
Adler has been very successful with Cam. Since the 1980s he has published and re-published books about Cam and Eric – the original Cam Jansen mysteries as well as a spin-off, the Young Cam Jansen series. And for good reason! For kids who like to figure things out and feel clever, Cam is a good introduction to whodunnits. Adler’s books encourage further mystery-reading and I, myself, am (ahem) a graduate the Cam-Encylopedia Brown-Nancy Drew-Sherlock Holmes School of Sleuths.
Reading Ages: 7-8.