"The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman"; Harper ($5.99 paperback); "The Mystery of the Missing Everything" (HarperCollins, $16.99), both by Ben Winters.

Any mystery fan will love these two entertaining books, both set at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School and starring middle school detective Bethesda Fielding. Winters, who just published an adult horror novel titled "Bedbugs," does a great job creating a whole school full of believable characters (including a sadistic teacher who schedules a "floating midterm" worth 33 percent of your grade).

My favorite of the two books is "Secret Life," in which Bethesda, as part of a special social studies project to "solve a mystery in your own life," tackles the mystery of her mousy music teacher -- and discovers that quiet Ms. Finkleman used to be a rock star. "The Missing Everything," with the same fun cast of characters, involves the theft of a giant gymnastics trophy from the school trophy case and the enraged principal's cancellation of the eighth-grade camping trip.

-- Jean Westmoore


The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda, will kick off the holidays with activities from noon to 4 p.m. Friday and Sunday. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, the museum will begin its Santa series with lunch, a visit with Santa, holiday stories with Tiger Tom Walsh and more. For information, call 693-1885 or visit


Ever wonder why you have a belly button? While you were in your mother's womb waiting to be born, you had to eat and breathe. Of course, you couldn't order a pizza, so nature gave you an umbilical cord. The umbilical cord connects a developing embryo, or fetus, with the mother's placenta, a lining that transfers blood and nutrients from the mother to the fetus. The cord's main function is to carry nourishment and oxygen from the placenta to the fetus or embryo. The cord also carries out waste material. Your belly button, or navel, is the place where your umbilical cord was attached to you before it was cut at birth.

-- Time Book of Why