Puns and wordplay and wit, oh my! It’s the Westing Game

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; published by Scholastic, Inc., New York, 1978; 216 pages.

“Uncle Sam” Westing is a powerful man in Westingtown, having built the city through his paper product industriousness.  Now, through his henchman Barney Northrup, he has called together 16 potential heirs to live in his apartment complex,  Sunset Towers, which overlooks Lake Michigan and his mansion.  Shortly after the novel opens, Westing is found dead and the 16 diverse individuals are called in for the reading of the will and ultimately are challenged to a puzzle-solving game in order to win the inheritance.  Should they work in small teams or as a group?  What do the incongruous word clues represent?  What does this socio-economically and racially diverse group have in common?  Readers must pay close attention to the words in this novel–nothing is as it seems and names can be dramatic clues necessary for solving the mystery.

Raskin’s puzzle-mystery won the Newbery Medal in 1979.  The brilliant use of puns, wordplay and wit challenges readers to pay attention to details.  Without being blatant,  Raskin is able to challenge readers to solve the mystery of the Westing heir.  The edition I read included book club questions and activities–what a treasure for librarians!

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 6-8

TheWestingGameCover Art: Fireworks erupting from the chimney of a mansion made of money may be slightly interesting to teens, especially since they are printed on a black background and the title is in red.  Combining the image with the title, however, makes the cover more appealing.  I think this cover would get attention and the red type on a black spine helps the book stand out on the shelves.

Suggested Reading List: On the Edge of Your Seat (Mystery, Suspense, Thriller)

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