29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy Book Poster Image
Open-ended mystery gets kids thinking about the unexplained.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows kids gathering information, making thoughtful observations, and using a measuring tape. And there's some sophisticated vocabulary, including "arson" and "panned," as in "the camera panned the street with the Swinster Pharmacy on it." The cover folds out into a poster that's a map of the area, drawn by the siblings, which may inspire kids to draw a map of their own area. 

Positive Messages

Things are not always what they seem. Observe and gather information before coming to a conclusion. Working with your sibling on a secret project can be fun. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The brother and sister get along well. They're smart, curious, open-minded, creative, thoughtful kids and keen observers who don't jump to conclusions. The kids also are very self-sufficient, taking the bus or riding their bikes to observe the pharmacy.

Violence & Scariness

Another pharmacy burns to the ground. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy is a quirky picture book by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), illustrated by Lisa Brown, Handler's wife and a children's author herself. It's the story of a brother and sister puzzling over a mysterious pharmacy in a nearby town and making statements such as, "A woman went in once and came to fifteen minutes later wearing the exact same outfit" and "The building is a perfect square." Kids looking for a definitive solution to the mystery might be disappointed. But kids and parents who appreciate the unknowable will savor the oddball observations that don't seem to add up. Great for reading aloud and layering on excessive significance to selected "myths." 

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What's the story?

A brother and sister notice a strange store in a nearby town and try to figure out what goes on there. They offer a list of 29 "myths" -- really just statements -- about the place, some of which are rumors, others that come from personal observations as they lie in wait watching customers and employees go in and out, notice what's in the window (including wigs) and on the counter (candy and fruit), and even take measurements of the building. Still, they're baffled by the operation. Is something sinister going on?

Is it any good?

There's a delightful sense of foreboding and mystery in 29 MYTHS ON THE SWINSTER PHARMACY, a title whose slightly off grammar itself reflects a kid's-eye view of the world. Parents may be quicker to see this as a telling reflection of childhood, when lots of things in your neighborhood or a nearby town are a mystery -- for example, how does that place stay in business when it seems like hardly anyone ever goes in there? 

Kids may be frustrated on first read to discover there's no solution to the mystery and no punch line. The list just ends. But repeated readings bring added enjoyment to the intriguing clues and red herrings -- especially if the book is read aloud ominously. Lisa Brown's cartoon-like illustrations have a retro feel (the kids' TV has rabbit-ear antennae) and are loads of fun to pore over for amusing details -- like the black cat seen both in and out of the pharmacy and on a lost-pet poster. The cover opens out as a poster depicting a map of the area drawn by the siblings, which could inspire kids to map out their own neighborhoods and pinpoint mysterious places and goings-on worthy of investigation.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about unsolved mysteries. Is there a mysterious place in your town you've always wondered about? 

  • Why are mystery books so popular? What's fun about kids solving mysteries in the world of grown-ups? 

  • Draw a map of your neighborhood and point out the most mysterious house or store. What do you imagine is going on there? 

Book details

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