In elementary school, I read a lot of mystery books like the Nancy Drew series and The Hardy Boys mystery novels. As a grown-up, I look back and wonder how my world view as a child would have been different had I read books with diverse characters. Fortunately for my daughter and her younger cousins, things have changed and there are books written that better reflect the world we live in. One such book is “Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key” by Tracy Occomy Crowder.
It’s 2008, and ten-year-old Montgomery “Monty” Carver is out to find the origin of a golden key found in his South Side Chicago community—which may or may not host the next Olympic games, or supply the next President of the United States, or…have a potential ghost hanging around. Join young Monty as he embarks on a heartwarming mystery adventure through the vibrant Southside community of Washington Park.
The author does a great job of immersing the reader in the community of Washington Park. I love books that can transport you to another place and time! “Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key” is a terrific story for middle-grade mystery enthusiasts and for those who are a kid at heart! 😉
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Tracy to find out what inspired her to write the book.
What inspired you to write the book?
Tracy: I wrote Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key to support my son’s emerging love of reading adventure books. He was just learning how to read and was really excited about Geronimo Stilton books in particular, which featured a swashbuckling mouse. I wanted to help fuel this excitement and went in search of an adventure book with a Black boy protagonist like him. When we went to Barnes and Noble in search of a new book with this theme, the bookseller let us know that she had civil rights era books but nothing she would consider a fun-loving adventure. “You just might have to write it yourself,” she told me. A couple of weeks later, I started to do just that and, 7 years later, here we are.
How did your work as a community organizer shape and inform the book?
Tracy: There are many ways in which being a community organizer informed the story of Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key. First, in my work as an organizer, I support powerful Black and Brown mothers and grandmothers in challenged communities to make changes around issues that matter to them and their families. Monty’s landlord, Ms. Jenkins (aka Old Lady Jenkins), is a feisty activist looking out for Montgomery and his friends and advocating around neighborhood issues. Her character is based on the women I work with.
Additionally, some issues that the women I work with are advocating around have to do with eliminating conditions in schools that don’t allow our children to be children. Over the years, they worked to create more supportive environments, as opposed to prison-like atmospheres and discipline practices, and bring recess back to Chicago Public Schools. Since my mission was to write an adventure which usually involves freedom of movement and exploration, I decided to incorporate a subtle safety challenge as a theme and make the fact that Monty’s parents won’t allow him to roam around on his own one of the key obstacles to his quest for knowledge.
Finally, I had particular interest in having the politics of the time and place be part of the backdrop of the book: Obama’s eminent election as the first Black President of the United States; the debate around the impact on Washington Park if the Olympics came to take place there in 2016; and the issue of school closings that emerged around this time. These are key themes Monty grapples with throughout the book. He has to think about and figure out what these issues mean to him.
What do you hope middle-school readers take away from reading this book?
Tracy: I want readers to think about a couple of things as they read Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key. First, I want them to think about what’s truly important to them, especially when it comes to community. Monty begins his journey thinking that what’s important is how round his ‘fro is, winning the summer tennis tournament which could possibly secure him a spot in the Olympics that could take place in Washington Park in a few years, and looking “cool” to his friends. Ultimately, he comes to see community is important – his neighbors, his school and his friends. I want readers to think about that theme for themselves. Where is their community or what do they consider community, even if it isn’t a place? Who is part of their community and why are they important? What can readers contribute to their communities and what are good things about their community? These are key questions I would like for them to think about.
I also want readers to think about securing knowledge and answers as a process, instead of a destination. Monty used the scientific method to solve the mystery of the golden key but also to think through his personal experiences and try to come up with some answers. I want readers to understand that, for some questions, there is no right or wrong answer and sometimes you have to decide what you believe the answer is. Even when there is a right answer, the answers don’t always come right away, like the snap of a finger. You have to go through trial and error; there are steps and wrong answers to encounter before you get to the right answer.
The book is fictional, but there are elements of it based on real events, places and people. How did you decide what to include in the book?
Tracy: I put a lot of effort into providing as much reality as I could to give the story dimension and place to draw readers in. I already mentioned that I thought the real political and community events of Washington Park history would make an exciting backdrop for a mystery, so I included those facts to fuel and energize the story. In terms of the places, one review of the book states that it “depicts a vibrant community” which I’m really excited about. I want readers to get a sense of what Monty’s community consists of, so I mention as many of the places, institutions and organizations as possible to provide some depth to the setting. Finally, there are historical people and places related to Black horsemen that I wanted to include to share some unknown facts about Black history and its contribution to American history as part of the mystery. I wanted this new information to be revealed to the reader in the same way it is revealed to Monty so there’s excitement at the discovery. I was very intentional about providing as much of the real details of the community and its history as I could.
I highly recommend this book and with the holidays coming up, this would make an excellent gift or stocking stuffer for middle-grade readers!
“Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key” by Tracy Occomy Crowder can be found on Amazon and wherever books are sold. For more information, check out the publisher’s website.
Disclosure: No monetary compensation was received for this post. I received a complimentary book which helped facilitate this review. The images shown in this post are used with permission. As always, my opinions are 100% my own.