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29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Illustrated by Lisa Brown

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket

As Lemony Snicket gets further from the series that brought him notoriety, he finds himself exploring terra icognita, or unknown territory. He finds new ways to craft stories, experimenting with what children's books are capable of. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy is a fascinating if challenging example of these efforts. The book follows two children as they investigate the mysteries of a peculiar business. They obsessively list what they have learned from their research, casing the joint like bank robbers.

1. We are very curious about the Swinster Pharmacy. We travelled all the way from the next town to find out what it sells.

2. Inside the window are three Styrofoam heads wearing wigs. Inside, the employees wear coats in the same shade of white....

As the book progresses, we are given more clues to the children's motives, but we also find some odd diversions along the way.

11. When the town aches, the Swinster Pharmacy aches with it....

What a haunting image for a children's book, and there are more. Snicket offers a underlying darkness to the proceedings, and it only adds to the growing mystery.

15. The building is a perfect square. We measured it last night....

Why the children are investigating the store is never fully explained, and the fact that the points on their list are referred to as "myths" makes me think that we are not supposed to find out. 

20. Three pets have gone missing within a block of the Swinster Pharmacy in the last fourteen years....

What makes the business so strange? What makes it so worthy of this duo's scrutiny? Some questions are best left unanswered. Lisa Brown's illustrations make for a splendid collaboration as the children give sideways glances towards the sinister Swinster Pharmacy.

22. Nothing's perfect. The Swinster Pharmacy is not perfect. The glow of the moon on the car, there, is not perfect....

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy is not that comforting of a bedtime read, but it would be an excellent conversation starter with your children. Ask them why they think the children in the story are so focused on this little business. Talking with your child about the books you read together helps them to understand the stories better and enjoy the act of reading.

The title might also pique the interest of early elementary schoolers making the transition to chapter books, and it certainly would appeal to fans of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.  

Lemony Snicket is best-known for his upper elementary reads that appeared as A Series of Unfortunate Events, but it is his picture books that are the most experimental. They also offer a quality of danger and mystery not usually found within the medium of picture books. Snicket's best picture book to date is The Dark, his collaboration with Caldecott-winning illustrator Jon Klassen. In it, a boy overcomes that greatest childhood fear.

Another worthy curiousity is the vocabulary-building title 13 Words, which Snicket worked on with artist Maira Kalman. You'll find few other children's books so eager to use the term haberdashery!

As long as you do not mind your mysteries shrouded in further uncertainty, 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy offers excitement and dark humor in a nice, little package.