Book Focus — September 2006
Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars:
Young readers aged 9–12 are drawn into an intriguing world of mystery in Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas, Casebook No. 1, published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic. Sherlock Holmes and his young assistants, the Baker Street Irregulars, a band of street urchins, investigate the strange deaths of the Amazing Zalindas, a troupe of circus tightrope walkers. The book features illustrations and period maps of London, a Cockney slang glossary, information on Victorian modes of transportation and the art of deduction, and more.
We asked co-authors Michael Citrin and Tracy Mack — why Sherlock Holmes? Who are the Baker Street Irregulars? What propelled you to write a new mystery series?
MICHAEL: Until I was 11 years old, I had hardly ever picked up a book, and certainly not willingly. I was the kind of kid who spent most of his waking hours in front of the television set, or playing after school sports (I didn’t do this willingly either, but that’s another story). But that same year (6th grade), my father gave me his Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it changed my life.
When my father was a young man, he suffered from polio. For the year or so that he spent in the hospital, he received many books (reading being his sole form of entertainment). After he returned home, he labeled all of the books he’d received in the hospital—including The Complete Sherlock Holmes — “The Polio Collection.” A friend once told me that the books you read when you’re ill stay with you for life. That was definitely the case with my father. Even though it had been years since he’d read the Sherlock Holmes stories, he could still talk in detail with me about them as I read them for the first time. Since my father couldn’t play sports, this bond through reading was especially meaningful—and the Sherlock Holmes stories became a language of connection for us.
Sherlock Holmes was also my introduction to literature. I became so obsessed with the master detective and his methods that I began collecting Sherlockiana, even going so far as attempting to recreate his famous sitting room at 221 B Baker Street in the basement of our house. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I went on to discover other mystery writers, such as Edgar Allen Poe, G.K. Chesterton, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, and eventually writers of other genres. That same couch potato kid who’d read nothing but the TV Guide ultimately became a writing major in college.
The one thing that always bothered me about the original Sherlock Holmes stories is that while Holmes’s partner Watson (the narrator of the stories), acknowledges a gang of street urchins who assist Holmes in his cases, the Baker Street Irregulars are mentioned only four times in the whole canon of 60 stories. As a kid, I’d wondered a lot about these boys who Holmes refers to as his “eyes and ears on the street.” If they’d been so instrumental in helping Holmes solve his cases, why weren’t they given more credit?
TRACY: Growing up, I wanted to be Harriet the Spy. So much so that I started my own spy club called Rat Fink, which consisted of me and occasionally my babysitter, who I wrangled into my schemes. Like Harriet, I would skulk around the neighborhood, spying on the neighbors and taking copious notes. I was also a liar. One of my favorite pastimes was trying to convince my friend Carol that another girl on our block and I were actually twins but just happened to live with different families. (Carol remains one of my dearest friends today, which is still a mystery to me and says much more about her character than mine, but that’s another story.) Since then, a writer friend told me that writers make up lies to tell a larger truth. I’m certain that’s what I was doing back then. (A prize to the clever reader who can tell me what larger truth I was getting at.)
The house I grew up in was very loud. I have two older brothers who are both musicians, and who both had bandmates jamming in our basement seemingly ’round the clock. I would flee to my bedroom or to the great limbs of one of the many trees that framed our house and disappear into a book. Reading became my refuge.
My mom is a huge reader, and she fed me, at an early age, the Bobbsey Twins (some of her favorites), Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and lots of other great books and characters. That was my first introduction to mysteries. I loved trying to solve the puzzles the characters faced. I loved the adventures. And, because my mom read aloud to me for a very long time (yes, even in high school), I loved this connection we shared through books.
I eventually moved on to some fantasy and, later, realistic fiction, which remains the heart and soul of my reading and writing. But I’ll never forget the excitement for reading that mysteries first instilled in me or the thrill of deciphering a clue or discovering a new concept (reasoning) for the first time.TRACY & MICHAEL: A shared love of literature and stories first brought us together and continues to be a powerful language of connection for us in our marriage, as well as with our young daughter. For years, it’s been a dream of ours to collaborate creatively on a book. And because mysteries excited and ignited us both when we were young, that seemed like the right place to start. We hope that you have as much fun reading Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, Casebook No. 1: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas as we’ve had writing it, and that you’ll want to share it with young people. Happy reading!