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Children's Fiction Mysteries & Detective Stories

The Artsy Mistake Mystery

The Great Mistake Mysteries

by (author) Sylvia McNicoll

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2017
Mysteries & Detective Stories, Dogs, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Aug 2017
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2017
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


They say he’s been stealing art. But is Attila being framed?

Outdoor art is disappearing all over the neighbourhood! From elaborate Halloween decorations to the Stream of Dreams fish display across the fence at Stephen and Renée’s school, it seems no art is safe. Renée’s brother, Attila, has been cursing those model fish since he first had to make them as part of his community service. So everyone thinks Attila is behind it when they disappear. But, grumpy teen though he is, Attila can do no wrong in Renée’s eyes, so she enlists Stephen’s help to catch the real criminal.

About the author

Sylvia McNicoll wrote her first book, Blueberries and Whipped Cream, as a project for a college writing course in order to explore a tragedy that occurred in her own high school. She went on to teach creative writing at that same college for nine years, edit a parenting magazine for another eight years and write 29 more novels for a variety of age groups.
Most acclaimed are her three dog guide fostering stories: Bringing Up Beauty, Beauty Returns and A Different Kind of Beauty, which won and were nominated for many children's choice awards. Last Chance for Paris, her adventure book set on the ice fields of Columbia, explored ecological issues with glaciers before climate warming became a popular issue.
Her recent novel, Crush. Candy. Corpse, tells the story about a teen on trial for the manslaughter of an Alzheimer's patient. Reviewers and bloggers have declared it a must read for all high school students. In her thirtieth book Death Goes Viral, already a blockbuster hit in Norway, Sweden and Finland, Sylvia returns to the theme of life and death and the values our own mortality inspires in us.

Sylvia McNicoll's profile page


  • Winner, Best Books for Kids & Teens, Spring 2018
  • Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Fall 2017 pick

Excerpt: The Artsy Mistake Mystery: The Great Mistake Mysteries (by (author) Sylvia McNicoll)


Renée and I have an arrangement. In the mornings when I walk my clients Ping and Pong, I swing round to her place and pick her up. She then takes charge of Ping, the hyperactive Jack Russell, a former pound puppy Mrs. Bennett pays me to exercise. I continue with Pong, the taller, quieter greyhound she rescued from Florida.
Renée doesn’t like to hang around her house alone, so she doesn’t mind leaving way early, the moment her older brother, Attila, takes off for class — he goes to Champlain High. If I were her, I’d want to leave even earlier.
He’s scary. His name suits him: Attila, like the Hun. Renée says it’s a popular name in Hungary, where her parents were born.
Right now I’m wondering if the arrangement with Renée isn’t a mistake. If it is, it’ll be the first one I make today, though, and not a big one. It’s important to make mistakes, my father tells me all the time. It means we’re trying new things, sometimes outside our comfort zone. Being friends with a girl is, for sure, outside my comfort zone, and Renée forces people to pay attention to her. From her sequined hair barrettes, through to her sparkly glasses, and all the way down to her light-up sneakers, everything she wears catches your eye. She’s also yappy, like Ping, always with one more thing to add or bark about. I’m more like Pong, tall and quiet.
Just not quite as calm.
Both Ping and Pong are white with black markings on the head and a black spot on the body. (Greyhounds aren’t always grey. Renée can explain all that to you.) They scramble ahead of me like mismatched horses pulling a carriage: Ping, a scruffy pony; Pong, a smooth-coated stallion.
This morning I can handle them by myself. It’s a great fall day, leaves swish as we walk, the sunshine feels warm. Even the hundred-year-old jogger, all bent over at the shoulders and back, wears shorts as he runs past us. The dogs give him a friendly bark of encouragement. Neither makes a lunge for him.
“Good boys!” I tell them.
Today, though, I think the route to Renée’s is all wrong for us. Usually, I make the dogs walk to the left of me so that when they go to the bathroom, it’s not on someone’s lawn. But today is junk pickup day. Once a month the neighbourhood gets to put out any objects, large or small, that they don’t want alongside their garbage and recycling, and the city picks them up. Dad calls it redecorating day. He is out walking his five Yorkie clients right now, scouting for a previously enjoyed bookshelf.
This junk slows us down, the large objects attracting the dogs’ attention. Sometimes, they bark at them; always, they like to pee on them. First Pong — with his long legs, he trots in the lead — then Ping. Brant Hills Park would be so much better for Ping and Pong’s exercise this morning.
“Stop that!” I yank Pong back from someone’s recycling bin just as he raises his leg to salute its contents.
Good thing. A banged-up white van pulls up beside us and a dad from our school jumps out to rummage through the recycling.
I want to call out, “Hi, Mr. Jirad.” I don’t know his son, Reuven, super well, but I helped deliver his paper route last week with Renée. Mr. Jirad concentrates on pulling out liquor bottles from the box and doesn’t notice us.
Maybe this is embarrassing for him. I’m going to pretend I don’t notice him, either, then. As he drives away, I see the big dent in the back of his van all caulked in with some kind of filler. A home repair that doesn’t quite work. Over the painted filler, wobbly black letters spell Pay the artist.
“I didn’t know Mr. Jirad was an artist,” I tell the dogs.
Ping growls, eyes intent on a teenager in a black hoodie and bright, flowered leggings. The sunlight glints off the diamond stud in her nose as she pulls the ugliest wall plaque I’ve ever seen from someone’s pile of junk. It’s a large grey fish, mouth open, pointy teeth drawn, mounted on a flat slab of glossy wood. Maybe Ping is growling at the fish, not the girl. In any case, I strain to hold on to both dogs.
She smiles as she admires the fish.
“It looks real,” I can’t help commenting as we get closer to the pile. The fish is bent as though it’s wriggling in a stream.
“It is real! Taxidermy.”
I wince. “And you like it?”
“It’s perfect!” She looks from the fish to me. “Oh, not for me. The plaque is for my prof. They’re redecorating the staff lounge.”
“Perfect,” I repeat, wondering about her professor.
She nods and grins as she walks away with her prize.
“Good dogs,” I tell Ping and Pong as we continue on. So far so good, anyway. Although, it’s not just the busyness of the route to Renée’s house that makes me wonder if our arrangement is a mistake. Does she expect me to share the money I’ve earned? I officially work for Dad’s company, Noble Dog Walking. Noble is our last name.
Also, if she wasn’t hanging around me so much, would I have a chance to make a real friend? Like Jessie. We used to have sleepovers in his pool house before he moved away last summer. Dad’s never going to let me bunk in the same room as a girl.
Ping and Pong pull hard now, Ping wagging his stub of tail like crazy.
A couple houses ahead, I see Mrs.Whittingham loading up all the children in her shiny black van. She operates a home daycare and it seems like she stuffs about ten kids in that van. She slides the door closed and then gives a friendly honk as she drives past us. The kids point and wave at the dogs. The dogs wag back.
That distracts me for a minute, and when Pong yanks toward the house near us, toward Mr. Rupert’s wishing well, I nearly miss what he’s up to.
“Oh, no you don’t! Your wishes won’t come true that way.” I pull him back. Mr. Rupert is the neighbourhood grouch and he got scary mad when Pong went number two in his flower bed last walk, even though I was cleaning it up before he started yelling.
Ping doesn’t like me scolding Pong and starts barking, sharp and loud. Ping, even though he’s a quarter of Pong’s size, likes to defend Pong when he’s not fighting with him himself.
“Don’t worry, I’m not mad at Pong.”
Apparently defending his bigger pal is not what Ping is up to today because he’s not looking my way. Instead, he strains at his leash toward Mrs. Whittingham’s house on the corner. When I don’t move quickly enough toward it, he bounces up and down on his hind legs like they’re bedsprings.
“What’s up, boy?” I ask. “Do you see something?” He can get excited about the slightest thing. A small black bag of dog doo sitting in a tree set him off a week ago. I thought that was kind of weird, myself. As we draw closer to Mrs. Whittingham’s house, Pong pulls, too, and I see what they want to investigate.
From the tree in Mrs. Whittingham’s yard, a yellow plastic swing moves slightly in the breeze.
It looks like there’s something sitting in it, too big for a bird or squirrel, bigger than a raccoon … oh, no … she’s left a kid behind in the swing!
The little boy looks paper white with purple circles under his eyes … like he’s, like he’s … but he can’t be; she only left a minute ago.
I run with the dogs to her house, dash up her lawn, bashing my knee on some stupid bird ornament. Ow. Then I grab for the boy in the swing. I think I’ve seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to.
That is … if it’s not too late.
“Hey, you! What the heck are you doing!” A voice blasts from behind me.
“What …”
“I know it’s butt ugly, but you leave that Halloween display just the way you found it.”
Okay, this is definitely mistake number one of the day, and it’s a doozy. Mr. Rupert catches me rescuing some kind of creepy lifelike doll.

Editorial Reviews

This heartwarming read for canine, art, and mystery lovers is a solid supplemental purchase for middle grade collections.

School Library Journal

The Artsy Mistake Mystery takes the element of complex mystery from The Best Mistake Mystery, and overlays it with the theme of art, which makes for a mystery that readers will enjoy solving.

Resource Links

McNicoll has written a lot of good books; these two are another pair for that list.

Canadian Materials

The fact that this award-winning Burlington, Ontario author has published more than 30 books provides a clue as to the quality of the second in the “Great Mistake Mystery Series.”

City Parent

User Reviews

Fun middle grade read !

I’d like to be the cool mom who can recommend a book to their children that they actually enjoy. Therefore, I read a good number of YA and middle grade novels. A little while ago, I read the Best Mistake Mystery and fell in love with it.

The thing I loved about The Artsy Mistake Mystery (book two) - was the sense of familiar. When I’ll read this title to my son, I can predict exactly what he will say : “Oh, I bet this will happen next – it’s like the last one” - --- > And that is the magic of a well-crafted series for young readers. It gives them a little power to figure things out yet it still offers a few new twists.

With this second installment, I got to know Renée and her family a little more. I love the friendship that exists between Stephen and Renée, they complement each other wonderfully. Even if there is a gun in this book, there is no violence and no one gets hurt. The relationships are platonic, the kids are resourceful and most importantly: there are dogs !

Stephen is a character my son can relate to. You see, I’m highly allergic to dogs (just like Stephen’s mom) and my son would love us to have a furry friend but we obviously can’t have one. My son is also very perspective and analytical - and because he’s different (he has Tourette’s), social situations can be a struggle for him. Having a character he can relate to is a real treasure.

It’s a wonderful series to gift to your young reader. I’m looking forward to book three in the mistake mystery series and will be on the lookout for other works by Sylvia McNicoll.

Other titles by Sylvia McNicoll