N.J. Bennett grew up on a large grain farm, in a large family, and had an even larger imagination. Nature and the abundance that it provides for creative play is a reoccurring theme in the Norma Jean Mystery series. Abandoned homesteads, tree forts, dugouts, grain fields, garbage dumps, ditches, haylofts, a turn-of-the-century farm home, a cabin at the lake, a community school house, are all places a farm kid plays, and discovers mystery. As a first generation Canadian, the author is dedicated to writing and preserving a history of the family farm in the 1960’s. Weaving farm life and immigrant stories together into middle grade mysteries, N.J. Bennett teaches through story. Written into all the books is the use of a Clue Notebook. The two protagonists, Norma Jean and Howard, write their observations as each mystery unfolds, using words as math to cipher out the solutions.
Once a farm kid; always a farm kid. N.J. Bennett is still a farm kid at heart. She is married to Roy, (who at one point in his life lived in a teepee in the mountains) and they have two grown daughters. Norma Jean now resides in Southern California, where she and her husband have built a fort in their backyard. They sleep out, year-round, under the stars.
CHARTER SCHOOL APPROVED
It’s the mid 1960’s on the central Alberta Prairies. School is almost out for the summer, and twelve-year-old Norma Jean longs for adventure an excitement. The Alberta grain farm where she lives with her five brothers and one sister is great for imaginative play, but Norma Jean wishes her life could be more like the books she reads—full of mystery and surprise. And then, while gazing out of the school bus window, her younger brother and faithful friend, Howard, sees a suitcase in the ditch. As soon as they get home they race their bikes to Old Sven’s place, an abandoned homestead, and investigate the mysterious suitcase. Through what they discover, Norma Jean and Howard are swept up in a mystery that takes them back into World War II history, and their family’s fascinating involvement with the Danish Resistance. What they learn will shock and change this emigrantfamily’s life forever.
It’s the mid-1960’s on the central Alberta Prairies. The Nielsen Family’s summer cabin becomes a place of historical mystery and farm-kid play. Chicory coffee, Cajun omens, French riddles, and coondogs…all these things and more arrive the summer Gypsy comes to visit. Norma Jean, her brother Howard, and Gyp, spend the summer in the rustic cabin on the lake property, just down the laneway from the big cabin. The kids discover that the family’s Acadian roots are alive and well when an ancient riddle is found in a dusty French Bible. Norma Jean gets her notebook out, once again, and the kids deduce the mystery—clue by clue.
It’s been a full summer at the Nielsen family grain farm, in central Alberta, Canada. Swathing has finally began and the farm is in the full-swing of harvest. Twelve-year-old Norma Jean, and her eleven-year-old brother, Howard, discover a stranger has been coming into their close-knit farm community and stealing purple gas. Little do they know that the thief has deeper, more sinister motives that have to do with an old man, a dark and dank school house basement, and a British Home Child’s travel trunk. When Violet, with her strong British Cockney accent, comes as a domestic helper to the farm next door, the children befriend her and discover a world of Canadian secrets, stories, and mysteries. Together, they solve the riddle of the hidden Barnardo Home Child trunk and learn about the thousands of children that immigrated from England to Canada to work on farms, and as domestic servants. Using their notebook to keep track of clues, Norma Jean and Howard help to bring happiness and closure to a sad chapter of an old man’s life.
This notebook provides the empty pages needed for the reader of the Norma Jean Mystery Series to create their own story…observations, clues, plot ideas, storyboard, and drawings. The lined pages have a N.J. quote at the top, and the sketch pages have corner artwork from the NJ artist. Every creative mind should carry a notebook. Always be prepared—one never knows when an idea may come or when a mystery may present itself!
A writing workbook such as this is the kind of thing that this Teacher-Mum was looking for…kinda fun, creative, and most of all…IT WORKS! This STORYBOARD method, for Middle Grade, is quite truly how our first book, Norma Jean and the Mystery of the Suitcase in the Ditch was written…except we didn’t use the dining room table or the kitchen counter, no…WHAT’S THE FUN IN THAT? We stuck our sticky notes with relish and abandonment across the top of one of those fabulous pieces of cardboard that Costco places between their stacks of toilet paper. We organized the book, then we went to the washroom and said, “It is well with my soul…and the book is awesome.” So, now…after all these years, and after working many years as a Court Recorder for the Feds (someone had to pay for their education!) this Teacher-Mum finally has time to get ‘er done. And done it is.
Norma Jean at the Alberta AHEA Convention