Growing up, Ms. Lysiak traveled around the country with her father, a former reporter for The New York Daily News, when he was on assignment. Asked what she remembers from that time, she mentions a wild turkey chase in Staten Island and a visit to an oversize Christmas tree in Pennsylvania.
But her father notes that she was exposed to serious reporting early on. They spent a month in Florida after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman and went to South Carolina after the massacre at a church in Charleston.
“We would have conversations, but I wish I could tell you I said, ‘Well, in journalism, here’s what we do,’” Mr. Lysiak said. Instead, Ms. Lysiak learned through exposure.
Credit Mark Makela for The New York Times
The family moved from New York City to Pennsylvania when she was 6, and soon after she started covering minor family events — she broke the news to her father, for instance, that her mother planned to buy a new car — writing the articles on notecards in crayon. But she quickly realized it “wasn’t getting me anywhere” and asked her dad if he could help her start a “real” newspaper. He agreed to handle the printing and the layout if she did all the writing and reporting.
She began by covering her block, then broadened to the neighborhood. Sometimes she gets stories from emailed tips, but mostly she rides around on her bike, asking people if they’ve heard of anything strange going on.
Ms. Lysiak started out charging $1 for a year’s subscription and had a few dozen subscribers; now her print circulation is close to 600 — $20 for a yearlong subscription — with hundreds of thousands of online views. Ms. Lysiak uses some of this money to pay her 13-year-old sister Izzy $25 a week to be her videographer. She credits her older sibling with making her paper a multimedia operation.
Ms. Lysiak is home-schooled and used to spend all her time reporting. “She’d leave in the morning, and we wouldn’t see her until the afternoon,” said Mr. Lysiak. His wife, Bridget, wanted to make sure their daughters had a contingency plan in case their passions changed. They balance out reporting with regular math, science and history lessons for Ms. Lysiak, while Izzy, who has a regular advice column in The Orange Street News and works as an actress, takes 10th-grade-level math, biology and history at the local high school. Ms. Lysiak also has two younger sisters, Juliet, 3, and Georgia, 6.
Credit Mark Makela for The New York Times
“Our family’s really big on people having free time,” Mr. Lysiak said. “There’s so much homework in school these days, and we had to make the decision about whether she’d have her paper or not. And she really wanted her paper.”
The Lysiaks send Hilde to camp for a few weeks every summer to make sure she gets a break from reporting, and she spends her free time making slime, which “I find great joy in,” she said.
In fact, slime comes up quite a bit, to her father’s chagrin. Ms. Lysiak laments that her biking limits prevent her from riding to Walmart, where they sell inexpensive glue that is “great for slime.” And she recounts an accident in her “laboratory” — her closet — after which her parents relegated her slime-making to the outdoors. Ms. Lysiak is as serious about her reporting as she is about being a kid.
“Hilde Cracks the Case” is part of the Branches line at Scholastic, a group of early chapter books geared toward children 5 to 8 years old who are newly independent readers but not yet ready for conventional chapter books. It’s the brainchild of Kate Carella, a senior editor at Scholastic; before getting into publishing, she was a teacher, and she noticed a gap in the books available to her students who were burgeoning readers.
“I want to have a series that can reach every reader,” Ms. Carella said. “Kids at this level need to build their reading stamina and fluency,” and it’s important that they be allowed to “make their own reading choices.” The Branches line was first introduced in 2013, and now it includes 18 series (the 19th will be published in January), with 12 million books in circulation. “Hilde Cracks the Case” is its first mystery series.
When the real Hilde’s parents left New York, they thought they were putting journalism behind them. Mr. Lysiak had become disenchanted with the industry, so he left his job at The Daily News.
“When I saw her real passion, it brought my passion back,” he said, “because she does it so simply — it’s like who, what. The things that I used to go do before it got complicated.”
Despite earlier criticism, people in the town definitely take her seriously now.
“There are a lot of people in town that don’t like her,” Mr. Lysiak said. “ They want her writing stories about parades and promoting the town. But no, Hilde wants to report crime and scandal when she finds it.”
In response to her neighbors’ wariness, Ms. Lysiak added, “It makes me think I’m a good journalist.”