Monday, January 9, 2017

The Code Busters Club: Guest Post by Penny Warner

Agatha Award winning author Penny Warner has written over 60 books on subjects ranging from cooking to parenting guides to children's activities.  Her first mystery series featuring Connor Westphal, a deaf reporter in the California Gold Country, won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, and was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony Award. Her other mystery series features event planner, Presley Parker, and is set in the San Francisco Bay Area. As Penny Pike she writes the Food Truck/Food Festival Series. Her non-fiction book, THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK, was nominated for an Agatha Award. You'll read more below about her middle-grad mystery series: Code Busters. Penny writes a column for the local newspaper on family life in the Valley, creates fund-raising murder mystery events for libraries across the country, and teaches child development at Diablo Valley College.


Like many women, I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Nancy was a role model to many of us because she had the freedom, courage, and spirit to do things we couldn’t. I learned a lot from reading about her adventures—how to survive quicksand, how to send messages via carrier pigeon, how to write “SOS” with lipstick (backwards) when you’re bound and gagged and left for dead in an attic.

I also discovered my love of codes from reading Nancy Drew. I learned sign language, Morse Code, and many other code that Nancy used to track down evil villains and solve puzzling mysteries. After writing dozens of activity books for kids, and two mystery series for adults, I wanted to write a series that combined both. That’s when I came up with the idea to write THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB, a mystery for middle-grade kids (seven to twelve years) featuring codes in every chapter for young readers to crack.

I created four ethnically diverse kids—two boys and two girls—so reader appeal would be wide. Then I set the first mystery—SECRET OF THE SKELETON KEY—at a “haunted house” in Berkeley, where a strange old recluse called “Skeleton Man” lived. When the Code Busters see odd stick figures the old man has drawn on his dirty window pane, they realize he’s trying to send them a message.

The code turns out to be drawings representing Semaphore code, and soon the Code Busters are involved in a mystery that includes wild cats, crazy sculptures, and hidden treasure… Naturally the kids have to solve a number of codes before they can solve the puzzle. And the reader solves them right along with the Code Busters! The book was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.

The second book in the series, THE HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE, is set on Alcatraz—the perfect place for a mystery! The Code Busters discover a message written by a former prisoner Diamond Dave, alluding to stolen diamonds. Their hunt for the missing loot leads them on a chase through the University of California campus to the haunted Claremont Hotel—and right into danger! This one won the Agatha Award.

The third book, MYSTERY OF THE PIRATE’S TREASURE, features the California Missions and the state’s lone pirate, also nominated for an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award. Book #4, THE MUMMY’S CURSE, is set at an Egyptian Museum and offers puzzles about artifacts, antiquities, and of course, mummies. Another winner of the Agatha Award! Book #5, HUNT FOR THE MISSING SPY, takes place at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, (get out the disguises), and Book #6, SECRET OF THE PUZZLE BOX, showcases Angel Island and features the Immigration Station, the west coast Ellis Island.

Each book includes new and old codes, so that readers can practice their code-cracking skills while learning new ways of sending secret messages. I do a lot of speaking at schools, where I give out “secret packages” filled with code cards readers can use with the book or with their friends to create their own Top Secret messages. Readers can also join The Code Busters Club ( and receive a code-busting kit that includes a dossier, Top Secret stickers a Caesar Cipher, and an invisible ink pen—for free!

To my surprise, the series is popular in Japan—they’re up to book #9!—and I had the opportunity to meet my fans there last year. I can’t wait to go back but I really need to brush up on my Japanese!

So if you’re a fan of Nancy Drew—or the Hardy Boys—try your hand at cracking codes and solving mysteries, right along with the Code Busters!

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