The children's book "The Secret of the Lonely Grave" by Dr. Albert Bell Jr. of the Hope College history faculty has won the inaugural Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Book Award from Western Kentucky University Libraries.
To be eligible for the award, books must have a significant Kentucky-related theme or have been written or illustrated by a Kentucky author or illustrator. Bell's book is set in modern-day southern Kentucky and focuses on a mystery dating back to the Civil War.
Bell will be honored with a reception at the university on Saturday, Feb. 16. He will also be the featured speaker during an event sponsored by the university's Center for Gifted Studies for students in grades one through seven.
The award has been established to honor the memory of Evelyn Thurman for significant contributions to children's librarianship and literacy during her more than 25 years of service as a librarian at WesternKentuckyUniversity. In alternating years it will honor books for older children (grades five-eight), like "The Secret of the Lonely Grave," or children's picture/early-reader books (grades K-four).
"The Secret of the Lonely Grave" centers on two 11-year-old friends, Steve and Kendra, when they notice that someone has taken an interest in the long-neglected grave of a young girl who died in the 1860s. Their investigation leads them not only to discover her story, but to lessons on the Civil War, slavery and the Underground Railroad.
"MyShelf.com" has described the book as "an entertaining mystery that even adults could enjoy. It has some memorable characters, as well as lessons about why hatred and bigotry are wrong... while they learn, kids are treated to a great can't-put-it-down mystery."
Although the story is fictional, its setting in southern Kentucky is real. It was inspired by Bell's visits to see his wife's family in the area, and a tombstone that he had noticed set off by itself while walking through an old cemetery.
Weaving history into the story was a natural approach for Bell, who is a professor of history at Hope, where he has taught since 1978. Excerpts he includes from a period diary are literally true, even though adapted to the fictional situation.
Bell is the author of five works of fiction, most of which draw extensively on his academic background. His mystery novel "All Roads Lead to Murder" is set in the first century A.D. and features the historical figure Pliny the Younger as his sleuth; his mystery "Kill Her Again" involves an archaeological dig in modern-day Italy; and his historical novel "Daughter of Lazarus" is set in first-century Rome. His books also include the mystery "Death Goes Dutch," set in present-day Grand Rapids, and the autobiographical "Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives: A Memoir Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Don Larsen's Perfect Game," which reflects on the 1956 World Series.
His scholarly work includes the book "A Guide to the New Testament World," which reviews the social, political and cultural background against which the New Testament was written, and a number of articles.
Bell has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1978. He holds a bachelor's degree from CarsonNewmanCollege, a master's from DukeUniversity, a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Seminary and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.
"The Secret of the Lonely Grave" is published by Claystone Books, an imprint of Ingalls Publishing Group Inc. of Boone, N.C., and available in paperback for $8.95 at the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore or at any bookstore or online book dealer.