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.
The Storyboarding With Norma Jean book is a fun paperback book that uses various events from the stories and ties them in with some fun writing, vocabulary, and general storytelling exercises. Presented like a journaling notebook, and from Norma Jean’s point of view, middle schoolers will learn new vocabulary words, write definitions, and lay out an outline to write a story of their own. It is complete with pencil sketches that are supposed to have been drawn by none other than Norma Jean herself. My twelve-year-old glommed onto this quickly, as she loves learning and incorporating new vocabulary. This could be used during the school year as a side study, or as a fun summer activity, or for anytime at all.