Thursday, April 19, 2018

British Mysteries

35849459Hearn, Sam. Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this re imagining of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes as a child, we find John Watson newly enrolled at Baker Street Academy. He meets Holmes and is a bit taken aback by his observations, but finds Martha and her dog Baskerville a calming presence. Teachers Ms. DeRossi and Mr. Gapp seem very nice as well. After a class trip to the British Arts and Antiquities Museum, the children get enmeshed in the theft of the Alpine Star. They suspect that their one unkind classmate, the trench coat wearing James Moriarty, might be involved, but there are many clues to follow and proof to be found before Sherlock can determine who is responsible for the theft and recover the jewel.

While you have to look a bit to find the information, the use of the Sherlock Holmes characters has been approved by his estate. I like to see this stated somewhere in the credits, since young readers sometimes aren't aware of the original. Doyle's work is so impressive because of all of the imitative stories it has spawned. Everything from Springer's Enola Holmes to Andy Lane's Death Cloud books pay homage to this fantastic British author.

This book is a completely fresh spin on the tale, however, since it is a heavily illustrated graphic/notebook novel mix! The drawings are not only appealing and engaging, but crisp and clear. I loved how the pages were designed; it's a bit hard to describe, but there is a good variety of framing, panoramic settings, insets, and page decorations that makes this very visually appealing. Usually, I find illustrations a distraction from the text, but these really supported the story well and were fun to look at. I'm assuming that the illustrations are in black and white, but I did look at the Advance Readers' Copy and haven't seen a finished one to compare yet, but the black and white are still stunning.

The characters are all true to their original incarnations, with the addition of much more personality for Martha Hudson, who is given a lot more input into the action of the story. Since it seems to be a boarding school, it's nice that her family home is nearby, and her mother is around to be a parental influence... and provide cookies. Having a cute dog like Baskerville is never a bad idea, either.

  This is a great way to introduce a classic mystery story to students who will read ANY book as long as it has pictures!

35297437Stevens, Robin. Jolly Foul Play (Wells and Wong #4)
April 17th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Head Girl Elizabeth dies of injuries after the school's Guy Fawkes bonfire, Daisy and Hazel suspect that she was murdered. The position of the rake wasn't right, but this doesn't stop the head gardener from being fired. When pages from a notebook Elizabeth kept of everyone's secrets keep cropping up, the Detective Society realizes they have their motive. The five prefects are also suspects, and the girls work on narrowing them down. When Hazel writes to Daisy's cousin Alexander and shares details of the investigations with him (in order to get his help), Daisy is angry and stops speaking to her, which makes investigating difficult. Younger student Binnie goes missing, and it is feared that the murderer has taken her. With time running out, Hazel and Daisy make up, double up on investigating, and figure out who the murderer is before it's too late.
Strengths: Anyone who is a fan of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or British boarding school stories will adore this series. The fact that there are actual murders at the school make it easier to get these into the hands of students who might not want to read about England in the 1930s. The mean girl exploits, however, as well as the investigative techniques, make this a series that I wish more of my students would read. The covers are also brilliant.
Weaknesses: There is a romance between two of the girls that is judged more harshly than I think it would have been at the time. After all, in the wake of WWI, there were a lot of highly educated women who lived with female partners, and it was just kind of accepted. It just doesn't seem historically accurate that students would have cared about it.
What I really think: Definitely purchase these for my library. They aren't huge circulators, but I can see them being around for a long time.


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