The Silver Guitar

Published in 2011; author Kathryn Reiss; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


Mr. and Mrs. Vernon, who own the apartment building in which Julie and her mother and sister live, are holding a series of auctions to raise money for different causes. One big auction coming up is to help clean up a nearby oil spill. Tracy's high school is also raising money by holding a car wash, and Julie leads her class in making a big patchwork quilt for the auction, with each student making an ocean-themed quilt square. The Vernons will actually be out of town for a bit before the auction, and T. J. is hired to feed their spoiled cat while they're away. Mr. Vernon likes to collect things, much to the chagrin of his nagging wife (really, she's not very sympathetic, she just whines a lot until the last chapter). Among his collections is a set of guitars owned by famous people. A fancy silver-colored one happens to have been owned by the late Danny Kendricks, who seems to a fictional homage to Jimi Hendrix--similar name, accomplished musician, very popular, died too young, and even left-handed. Kendricks was T. J.'s favorite guitarist before the artist's untimely death the year before. He can't help but hold the guitar for a moment while he's feeding the cat, and of course he promptly drops it and cracks it. To make matters worse, Mrs. Vernon had needled Mr. Vernon enough that he'd agreed to sell the guitar at the auction.

Desperate, T. J. hides the guitar in the empty apartment above Julie's while he attempts to fix it. She finds him one afternoon, investigated the strange noises she's been hearing. But T. J. has only been in the apartment during the day, and Julie heard noises at midnight...who or what else has been there? Putting that mystery aside for the time being, Julie reminds T. J. that there's a guitar shop a few blocks away. They take the guitar there rather than risk damaging it further trying to repair it themselves. But the manager informs them that while the guitar can be fixed, it's a fake, and not a very good fake either. So, on the one hand, T. J. didn't break an irreplaceable instrument, but on the other hand, what happened to the real one? 

Then there's all the contrived bits and red herrings and obvious false leads that make me dislike so many mysteries written for kids. Is it the Vernon's lazy nephew, their housekeeper who lied about her mother being the hospital, the kid from the guitar shop who seems to be following them, the people who used to live in the apartment above Julie, the Vernons' nosy neighbor, or someone else? A few chapters of this back-and-forth later, Julie and T. J. find themselves lured into a shed on the Vernons' property. The kid from the guitar shop who had been following them was told he'd be paid $50 to get Julie and T. J. in the shed, by an older couple claiming to be their grandparents. Julie and T. J. manage to sneak out in time to "welcome" the Vernons home. They quickly tell them the strange things that have been happening, and in a flash of insight, Julie realizes the couple who used to live upstairs from her are the ones who were going to be posing as the grandparents. 

They were at the last auction, photographing Mr. Vernon's collections, and have been hanging around their old neighborhood. Since their lease on the apartment isn't up until the end of the month, they still have a key, and must have been making the noises Julie heard late at night. It turns out they've pulled this scam before, photographing expensive items for insurance purposes or auction catalogs, finding or making fakes (ah, that's why they were such good customers of Gladrags!), and returning to photograph with "better light" or some other excuse while they replaced the real items with forgeries. Then they sold the valuable pieces abroad. Thanks to Julie and T. J., they were stopped by the police before they fled the country, and the Vernons recovered their things. Other loose ends: the nephew's new girlfriend inspires him to get a job as a paramedic, the housekeeper was actually at an audition that didn't pan out, the neighbor is just nosy, and the kid apologizes for being duped by the con artists.

The auction is a huge success, with some handbags made by Julie's mother, the quilt, and the real Kendricks guitar fetching top dollar.

Looking Back

In the 1960s and 70s, benefit concerts became popular. People would use music to spread awareness and raise money for various causes, from cleaning up environmental disasters to funding after-school programs. People were inspired to do their part and work together to make the world a better place. holding other fundraisers like auctions.


This book is dedicated to "my daughter Isabel, whose stumble on the stairs sparked the idea for this story. Every cloud has a silver lining!"

T. J. is left-handed.

I don't frankly understand why the Kendricks guitar was going to be sold anyway. Mr. Vernon is very attached to it, having actually known its former owner. He could have picked a different item from one of his collections to sell, one that wasn't so special to him.

When Julie first hears about the oil spill, she's angry at the captain for being so careless. Later she finds out that had some sort of medical emergency, like a heart attack, which caused the boat to veer off course at just the wrong moment and hit rocks. Good, I'm glad the captain wasn't some strawman villain out of Captain Planet. Julie, Tracy, and their mom also talk about how oil is used to power so many things, and how placing restrictions on oil (like Julie's initial suggestion that it shouldn't be allowed on ships) would have a staggering impact on a lot of people. Alternative energy sources are a great thing to work for, but they're not going to available overnight.

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