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The Original Look

of the First Cam

published in 1980 and still in print!

David got the idea from the mystery

from being a stay-at-home dad with his infant son.

About Cam Jansen: the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds #1. No mystery is too great for super-sleuth Cam Jansen and her amazing photographic memory! Can Cam help catch the diamond thief? Cam and her friend Eric are sitting at the mall when the jewelry store is robbed. Cam sees the thief, but the police arrest the wrong person.   --- Viking/Penguin

After more than 40 years Cam Jansen remains a popular character with generations of new and old fans!

From Scholastic.com

Cam Jansen is an amateur detective with a photographic memory and enough exciting mysteries to fill a whole book shelf! Students in grades 1-4 will love solving mysteries with Cam Jansen and her best friend, Eric, in both the original series starring fifth grader Cam, and the Young Cam Jansen series geared towards beginning chapter book ...

                Cam Jansen
     and the First Chapter Book Revolution
Adapted from the Book Links article, July 2009.

Children's interests keep changing.  That's good new for writers.  Publishers can't just reprint old titles, and because they must find new ways to grab the attention of today's readers doors open for new books.  More than forty years ago the time was right for two pioneering series, David A Adler's Cam Jansen and Patricia Reilly Giff's Polk Street School stories.  Following the success of those books, many other "first chapter" books followed, books with stories divided into chapters despite spare texts.  The changes that led to those books were very reluctantly recognized  withing the publishing community.  Editors in the late 1970s didn't know what to make of the first "first chapter" books.  Beginning in 1980 when those early books were first published some reviewers also didn't know what to make of them.

     Adler wrote the first Cam book, Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds just after the birth of his eldest son Michael in 1977.  With an infant at home he took a child care leave from his role as a NYC math teacher while his wife returned to work.  You can easily see in the first Cam mystery the connection between Adler's involvement in child care and this book. 

     In Stolen Diamonds Cam and her best friend Eric Shelton are in a shopping mall looking after Eric's baby brother Howie when a jewelry store alarm sounds.  A man runs from the store and people chase after him.  Then two elderly women and a young couple also leave the store.  The couple has a baby with them.  The running man is quickly caught but he doesn't have the stolen diamonds.  What happened to the diamonds?  Something "clicks" for Cam Jansen, the girl with the amazing photographic memory.  Cam and Eric had all sorts of baby things with them to provide for Howie's needs but the couple left the store with just a baby and a rattle.  Where were the baby's bottle, diapers, pacifier, baby wipes and creams?  Sure enough, the running man was an accomplice, e decoy, and the baby wasn't a baby at all, just a doll wrapped in a baby blanket.  The stolen diamonds were hidden in the rattle.

       That first Cam and the ones that followed were written for emerging readers, children who read slowly, puzzling out one word at a time.  The written story is almost all plot.  The first editor who saw it quickly rejected it.  "Where's all the description, the characterization?  You obviously don't know how to write for young readers." She and other editors who saw that first Cam divided beginning readers into two groups.  First were those just learning to read. Frog and Toad and The Cat in the Hat and other easy-reads were for them.  Next were the children who were "real readers" and they had the Boxcar Children, Betsy and Tacy, and Ramona books.  There was almost nothing for children who had difficulty taking the relatively big step from Frog and Toad to Ramona.  Adler wrote Cam for them.   

      It's not just the reading level that makes the Cams and other "first chapter" books accessible to beginning readers.  It's the pace of the stories.  AND the Cams are mysteries.  Hopefully while chidren are reading them, they're both puzzling out words AND paying attention to what they're reading, staying alert for clues, hoping to solve the mystery before Cam.

      In 1978 the first Cam manuscript wasn't finding a publisher.  With a one-year-old baby and plans to buy a house Adler asked his agent for advice.  He had great hopes for Cam but the agent didn't.  She advised Adler to return to teaching math.  Instead, Adler dropped the agent and intended to sell Cam on his own.  The next week he sent the manuscript to Viking Press and thanks to editor Deborah Brodie and editor-in-chief Linda Zuckerman Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen DiamondsBUT that wasn't the original title.  The first story wasn't about a girl name Jennifer Jansen nicknamed Cam, short for "The Camera" for her amazing photographic memory.  The first manuscript starred Robert Barris nicknamed Kodak for the famous camera company.

     Adler had only written the one mystery.  In Viking's acceptance there was talk of launching a series, exciting news for Adler who was hoping for steady work.  In 1980 Viking was launching another series, Einstein Anderson by Seymour Simon, a terrific series about a boy who uses science facts to solve mysteries.  Viking editors wanted Adler to make the Cam books as different as he could from the Einstein Anderson stories.  The asked Adler to change his main character from being a boy to a girl.  That was easily done and with that change the Cam character broke some stereotypes common then in books for your readers.  Her was a girl who was inquisitive, assertive, somewhat impulsive, and determined -- traits at the time most associated in children's books wit male characters.  

     Viking editors also insisted Adler get permission from the Kodak company to us Kodak as Jennifer Jansen's nickname.  Permission was denied so her nickname became "Cam." 

     Of the many adventures Adler shared with Cam on of the most exciting came in 1983 when his son Michael was in first grade.  Michael was a beginning reader but still had not experienced the joy of reading.  He had a good collection of picture books and every night as part of his bedtime routine he chose the story his father would read.  But now he was a reader and Adler changed the routine.  Adler would now choose the book and his plan was to begin a story too long to complete in on night and tell his son, "We'll continue tomorrow."  His hope was that Michael would not be willing to wait and would want to read ahead.  Adler's strategy failed with the first two books.  For the third book he chose Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Television Dog.  Adler read the first chapter and then announced, "Well, that's it.  I'll read chapter two to you tomorrow."  Michael wasn't happy.  "But I want to know what happens next."  Adler told him, "We'll find out tomorrow night."  But Michael couldn't wait.  He asked permission to read on ahead himself.

     That night he finished reading the book himself.  He was so excited that he telephoned his grandparents and proudly told them he had read a chapter book.  Adler was more excited.  His son had experienced the joy of reading with one of his books. 







Cam Jansen Mystery #33

         Have a class discussion.

Would you like to have Cam's photographic memory?   

What pictures -- people, places, and happenings --

do you want to remember forever? 

How would you use your talent for remembering things?

Test Your Memory!
Take the memory quizzes

on the class activities page


        Have a class discussion.

After reading more than one Cam Jansen story compare the different mysteries and the way Cam solved each one.  Is her process always the same?  Are some of her mysteries easier for you to solve than others?  Would you have tried to solve any of them differently than Cam?  Which mystery would you have most like to help Cam solve?

      Have a class discussion.

Do you think you would make a good detective?  Why or why not?  What skills would be good to have if you were trying to solve a mystery?


Cam Jansen Mystery #30

      Have a class discussion.

What makes a good mystery?  In the Cam mystery you just read, what clue help Cam solve the mystery?


Cam Mystery #29

       Have a class discussion.

What happens when people "jump to conclussions?"  Have you ever done that?  What happened?  How did you feel later when you realized what you had done?

Cam Mystery #28

      Have a class discussion.

What make a good mystery?  Should the story be believable?  Should there be a surprise ending?  Should the clues be in the story so the reader could solve the mystery before the end of the story?  Do you try to solve Cam's mysteries before she does?  Have you been successful at that?

Cam Mystery #27

    Have a class discussion.

Are there intersting characters in the Cam book you just read?  What makes a character interesting?  What can you do when you write a story to create an interesting character?  HERE'S A GOOD QUESTION:  Are you an interesting character?


Cam Mystery # 26

    1, 2, 3, write . . . 

Choose any one of these writing prompts

to begin your story:

    Yuch! . . . 

    I hate shopping with Grandma. . .

    The room was filled with Styrofoam peanuts. . . 

    It's a glue stick and it stuck. . . 

    The field was covered with blue-green mud. . .

    I found a corn muffin in my shoe. . . 

    A snow-person followed me home. . . 

    This was the best day of my life. . .

    This was my worst day ever. . .

    A good friend wouldn't do what you just did. . .

Don't think so much. 

Just write. 

You can rewrite later.



Cam Mystery # 25 -- 25th Anniversary Special with added materials

Here's the beginning

of a new Cam Jansen Mystery:

"Look at that man,"

Eric Shelton whispered to Cam. 

"Then close your eyes

and say, 'Click!'"


It's up to you to continue the story.

 Answering these questions may help you:

--What is the man doing?

--Do Cam and Eric know him?

--Why does Eric want Cam to remember the man?

--Where are Cam, Eric and the man?

--Is the man alone?

--How old is the man?

--How is the man dressed?

--Are there other people nearby?

--What time of day is it?

Cam Mystery # 24

Did you ever wonder why libraries have so many books?

It's because everyone likes something different.  If you don't like what you're reading you just chose the wrong book for yourself.  Put it back on the shelf and find another book, something you like.  REMEMBER, READING SHOULD BE FUN.  And WRITING SHOULD BE FUN.  If you're not having fun writing, you're just working too hard at it.  That's what David A. Adler does.  He has fun writing his  first draft and then plays with what he's written.  That's what rewriting is.  Rewriting is playing with what you've written and PLAYING IS FUN!


Cam Mystery # 23 

A writing hint

from David A. Adler:

For your next story create a character based on yourself or someone you know.  If you do that, the character will seem real to you and hopefully real to your readers.  When something happens in your story and you wonder how the character will react just imagine what the real person your character is based on would do it what happened in your story really happened to her or him.

Cam Mystery # 22 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 21 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 20 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 19 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 18 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 17 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 16 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 15 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 14 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 13 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 11 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 10 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 9 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 8 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 6 (original cover)
Cam Mystery # 5 (original cover)
Cam Jansen Mystery # 4 (original cover)
Cam Jansen Mystery # 2 (original cover)
SUPER SPECIAL---3 full-length mysteries in one book, now available in paperback and hardcover
A SUPER SPECIAL Cam Jansenand the Summer Camp Mysteries -- 3 full-length mysteries in one book.

Questions and Answers with David A. Adler, author of the Cam Jansen books

Why did you decide to write the Cam Jansen books?

I had been a math teacher in the New York City school system and was just beginning a child care leave. My first son had been born and I planned to stay home and take care of him while my wife returned to her work as a school psychologist. I had already written a few books, but I wanted to work on a series. I wanted to create a character young readers would want to read about again and again. I remembered a classmate in first and second grade with a great memory. It was rumored he had a photographic memory. The character Cam Jansen began with him. I also remembered the trouble I had when I first learned to read, the difficulty I had with the books meant to follow the Dick and Jane series. It was too big a leap for me. Even in the late 1970s, when my first son was born, there were still very few books between the easy-to-reads and the eight-to-twelves. Somehow, children were expected to make that leap. For some, it was no problem. For me and many others, it was. The Cam Jansen books (not the Young Cam Jansens) are transitional readers, books for children "in transit," from easy-to-reads to middle-grade novels.

Why did you make the Cams mysteries?

Comprehension is a real problem with beginning readers. One of my sons once asked me about a book he had just read, "What's it about?" He read every word of the book and understood none of it. He was too busy sounding out the words to pay any attention to what he was reading. Mysteries are perfect for beginning readers. In the Cams, the clues Cam remembers at the end of the books, the clues that solve the mysteries, are there for the reader, too. Cam's readers, hopefully, are alert. They try to find the clues and solve the mystery before Cam does.

What makes Cams transtional readers?

The Cams are not simply chapter books with easy reading levels. Children who are just begining to read on their own, read slowly. They read every word. But they don't think slowly. We can't ask them to speed up their reading, so to keep their attention it's necessary to keep the story moving. The Cams move quickly. Something is always happening. Characters are introduced through dialogue and plot. Scenes are set in just a few words.

Why did you decide to make Cam a girl?

I like to write against stereotypes. Cam, as a girl, is curious and assertive, just as many girls really are. But that's not their stereotype. It's my hope that the current generation of readers will be open to treat people as individuals, whatever their gender, race, religion, or age.

Did your years as a math teacher influence your writing in any way?

I approach my Cam Jansen mysteries as math problems. First I set up the problem -- to create a mystery that will be solved with visual clues. Then I go about solving it.


Cam Jansen and Young Cam Jansen Mysteries

If writing is like swimming... An interview with Bruce Black:


1) how do you get into the water each day?
The only way to get into the water is to jump in. Don't over think the process. Just jump in and write.


2) What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
I keep rereading what I've written and that takes me deeper and deeper into my story.


3) How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
How can there be dry spells in swimming? Being dry can only mean you stepped out of the water. If I get stuck working on one manuscript, I start or continue work on another. I find it helpful to work on more than one project at a time.


4) What's the hardest part of swimming?
The hardest part, I find, is discovering the voice for my story and that comes at the very beginning.


5) How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Writers always swim alone. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, not to demand a great first draft. But I keep rereading and rewriting until I'm satisfied.


6) What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
It's the swim I love, not the jumping in the water, and not the stepping out. I love the rewriting, just playing with my words. I feel somewhat sad to finish the final rewrite and have to send off a cherished manuscript.

New Cam Cover #3
YOUNG CAM JANSEN and the Missing Cookie
CAM JANSEN and the Triceratops Pops Mystery
CAM JANSEN and the Mystery of Flight 54
New Cam Cover #4