Bernie Magruder and the Bats in the Belfry

Bernie Magruder and the Bats in the Belfry

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Tony DiTerlizzi

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There are strange goings-on once again in Middleburg. Someone has put up posters warning townspeople that the dreaded Indiana Aztec bat has been sighted in the area. What's more, the town is in an uproar over the bells recently placed in the church belfry that chime every hour — twenty-four hours a day! It seems the whole town is going batty with the constant


There are strange goings-on once again in Middleburg. Someone has put up posters warning townspeople that the dreaded Indiana Aztec bat has been sighted in the area. What's more, the town is in an uproar over the bells recently placed in the church belfry that chime every hour — twenty-four hours a day! It seems the whole town is going batty with the constant pealing!
Bernie Magruder is determined to get to the bottom of things. Who put up all those posters about a species of bat no one has ever heard of? What can the townspeople do to return some peace to their lives? And are the bats that Bernie and his family see swooping about the belfry the dreaded Indiana Aztecs? Looks like Bernie, and his two friends Georgene and Weasel, have their work cut out for them again!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A rare breed of bats invades Middleburg, Ind. (or have they?), that horrible hymn still rings from the belfry (but why?), and Bernie and his friends are determined to figure out why the town's gone batty in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Bernie Magruder & the Bats in the Belfry, a follow-up to Bernie Magruder & the Case of the Big Stink. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Sixth-grader Bernie Magruder is focused on discovering the reasons behind several strange goings-on in Middleburg, Indiana. The most curious of these is the appearance of the little-known Indiana Aztec bat, announced by mysterious flyers around town. The Indiana Aztec is deadly to those who disturb its nesting place, according to the flyers. And when these bats occupy the church belfry, they coincide with another part of the plot; the church bells that ring the hymn "Abide with Me" seemingly nonstop as according to the will of a rich citizen. All this takes place around the time that a very private visitor comes to stay at the hotel that Bernie's Dad manages and where Bernie's family lives. Bernie and his two friends try to piece together this mysterious puzzle on their own. Between the bells driving the town crazy and the bats' presence scaring everyone, this story is full of creativity¾from Bernie to the author herself. Despite the overwhelming number of characters, including those who unnecessarily go by different names, Bernie's problem-solving adventure is sure to give young readers chills, and will probably even make them laugh out loud. 2003, Simon and Schuster,
— Cherie Ilg Haas
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Devotees of Bernie Magruder and his antics at the Bessledorf Hotel will find mystery and adventure in this humorous and rollicking installment. The author masterfully weaves a story line about church bells that ring out parts of a hymn every quarter hour as a gift from the deceased richest woman in Middleburg to her husband, driving residents crazy and into camps for and against; the appearance in the belfry of Indiana Aztec bats with a green glow; and a strange new hotel guest. The sixth grader and his friends find the surprising and satisfying solution to the mystery of the bats as Halloween approaches, and long before Officer Feeney and the other adults do. Naylor's characters are consistently well done, with father talking in clich s that express wisdom and humor, and she provides an old-time sense of community that is charming in its innocence. For readers who are not already Naylor fans, this welcome addition may be the book that leads them further into her work.-JoAnn Jonas, Chula Vista Public Library, San Diego, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The game's afoot once again around the Bessledorf Hotel, whose quirky residents are joined by a secretive stranger, while anonymous warnings of poisonous bats, along with new church bells that play the same melody every 15 minutes, send all Middleburg into a tizzy. It seems that wealthy Mrs. Scuttlefoot left several valuable gifts to the church, and the rest of her fortune to surviving relatives, on the condition that her bells chime out "Abide with Me" until deaf old Mr. Scuttlefoot passes over. As time goes on, it begins to look more and more likely that he might get a helping hand from some maddened Middleburger. The general stress level rises even further when some very oddly behaved bats, along with a weird green glow, appear around the offending steeple. What's going on? Leave it to young sherlock, Bernie, along with sidekicks Weasel and Georgene, to find out. With customary virtuosity, Naylor strews the tale with oddball characters, slapstick mishaps, and artful clues. In the end, bats and glow turn out to be artificial, a stratagem employed by an estranged Scuttlefoot son to keep his inheritance. As in previous episodes, however, things don't turn out quite as planned. Another winner from this versatile veteran, replete with ingenious twists and capped by a wild Halloween night climax. (Fiction. 10-12)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Bernie Magruder Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.40(d)
1040L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: A Little Bit Nuts

The Bessledorf Hotel was at 600 Bessledorf Street between the bus depot and the funeral parlor. Officer Feeney said that some folks came into town on one side of the hotel and exited on the other.The Bessledorf had thirty rooms, not counting the apartment where Bernie Magruder's family lived, and Officer Feeney said that the hotel was a haven for nut cakes, as far as he was concerned.

"What do you mean? We're all crazy?" Bernie asked as he and the policeman sat across from each other in the drugstore, each enjoying a chocolate sundae.

"You and half the town of Middleburg," Feeney said. "Half the town was a little bit nuts to begin with, and the other half's headin' in that direction. And I'll tell you what's doin' the job: those blankety bells in the belfry."

As if on cue, a deep-toned bell suddenly tolled four o'clock, and immediately afterward, all the bells together played "Abide with Me," as they had been doing for the past month. A quarter past each hour, the first four notes of the hymn were played; at half past, the next six notes; at threequarters past each hour, the next ten notes rang out over Middleburg, and on the hour, every hour, day and night, the bells played all forty notes of the hymn.

Bernie put his hands over his ears. "Why do they do that?" he asked.

"Because," said Officer Feeney, scooping out the last bit of chocolate syrup in his dish, "they ring in memory of Eleanor Scuttlefoot, who died in September. 'Abide with Me' was her favorite hymn."

"How long is this going to go on?" Bernie asked.

"Forever, I suppose, because Eleanor Scuttlefoot donated those bells, and this was part of her will."

They left the drugstore and started down the sidewalk, Feeney swinging his nightstick, when suddenly Bernie noticed a bright yellow sheet of paper with black letters tacked to a telephone pole up ahead. "What's that?" he asked, and they walked over to see.

"Wow!" said Bernie.

Feeney stood shaking his head. "If there's anyone left in Middleburg who isn't nuts because of those bells, Bernie, these bats'll finish 'em off."

"All except you?" asked Bernie.

"Why, Bernie, I can keep my cool no matter what — bats, bells, you name it," bragged the policeman. "I never met a problem yet I couldn't handle."

"Well, good luck!" said Bernie, and headed home.

When Bernie stepped inside the lobby of the Bessledorf Hotel, his mother was sitting at the registration desk working on her latest novel, Lusty Eyelids. His sister, Delores, was polishing her fingernails on the overstuffed couch, while the cats, Lewis and Clark, sat on each arm of the sofa, surveying the proceedings through halfclosed eyes.

"The bats are coming! The bats are coming!" Bernie cried.

Lester, Bernie's younger brother, dropped the doughnut he was holding, his other hand in Salt Water's cage, removing the old newspaper. He was so startled that he left the cage door wide open, and the parrot flew about the room squawking, "Hit the deck! Hit the deck!"

"What's this?" asked Joseph, the older brother. "What are you talking about?"

"On the telephone pole outside," Bernie said. "A notice about the Indiana Aztec."


"The what?" his mother said. Everyone went out to see.

"Well, nobody said a word about this at the veterinary college," said Joseph, studying the warning. "And you'd think we would have been the first to know!"

"Do you suppose they're vampire bats?" said Lester. "Do they eat live people or just dead ones?"

"Oh, I wish your father was home," Mrs. Magruder said. "This can't be good for business."

Bernie could hear the phone ringing inside, so he ran back into the lobby and answered. It was his friend, Weasel.

"Bernie, have you seen the notices posted around Middleburg?" he asked. "About the Indiana Aztec?"

"Yeah," Bernie said. "We're waiting to see what Dad has to say when he gets home."

"Man, I sure hope I don't get bitten," said Weasel. "I'll bet if one bit you on the finger, they'd have to cut off your arm to save you!"

"And if they bite you on the cheek, I suppose they'd have to cut off your head," said Bernie.

"If I see a bat, I'm not going to bother it at all," Weasel told him. "I'll keep my eyes straight ahead. Won't even say hello. If it crawls in my bed, I'll sleep on the floor. You sure won't find me disturbing its habitat."

It was, however, the chief subject of conversation at the dinner table that evening. Even the cats and

Mixed Blessing, the Great Dane, who regularly hung around when the family was eating dinner, should some dainty morsel fall on the floor, seemed to be paying attention.

"I'm going to carry a baseball bat wherever I go and fight them off if I have to," said Lester, his mouth full of mashed potato.

"I'm going to wear a football helmet when I go to work, so they won't get tangled in my hair," said Delores.

"Oh, what a wonderful idea the bats would be for a novel," said Mrs. Magruder. "My beautiful heroine will go to the window to wait for her beloved, just as a bat flies in and bites her shoulder. When her love comes by that night to serenade her, he finds her lifeless body draped over the window ledge, and...."

"My dear, dear family," said Mr. Magruder, looking around the table. "Let us not look for trouble before trouble comes looking for us. Let us not fear the birds and beasts of the field till we have more information, and we certainly should not go around putting bees in people's bonnets."

"What's he talking about?" Lester asked Bernie.

"Bats, I think," Bernie answered.

"If there is anything to fear from the Indiana Aztec, we have our very own veterinarian-to-be to protect us. Joseph will ask around at the veterinary college tomorrow, and tell us what to do," said Bernie's father. "So let's not go off half-cocked with our heads in our hands, but keep our wits about us and our muzzles loaded. I just came from a town council meeting, and I assure you that Middleburg has enough to worry about already."

"Oh, Theodore," said his wife. "Do you mean there are even worse things happening?"

"Just the usual trials and tribulations, my dear," said Mr. Magruder. "Elections are coming up in November and each candidate is talking against the other. Halloween's a few weeks away, and that's worth a worry or two. If it's not the preacher's parking space people are fussing about or the hot-dog vender down by the library, they're arguing over the church bells going off every fifteen minutes. Half the people in Middleburg open their windows to hear the music, and half close them tight. Whatever comes, my dear, we must bite the bullet, for it never rains but it pours."

And once again, the bells began to play on the half hour. Delores got up from her chair and banged the window shut. Hard. And then, for good measure, she opened the window and banged it shut again.

Suddenly there was a frantic knocking on the door of the apartment, and Mother got up immediately to answer. There stood one of the hotel regulars, Felicity Jones, a thin young woman with large frightened eyes, who cried, "Oh, Mrs. Magruder, there's a bat in my room, and I want it removed immediately!"

Copyright © 2003 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Meet the Author

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written more than 135 books, including the Newbery Award–winning Shiloh, the Alice series, and Roxie and the Hooligans. She lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. To hear from Phyllis and find out more about Alice, visit

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