J Historical Fiction

THE CASE OF THE MISSING MARQUESS by Nancy Springer

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On her fourteenth birthday, Enola Holmes discovers that her eccentric mother has vanished. Even her older brother Sherlock cannot find the marquess. As her eldest brother, Mycroft, makes plans to send her away to boarding school, Enola discovers a series of clues that her mother left specifically for her, and she begins to realize that the mystery may not be quite what it seems.  Her investigation and her desire to avoid boarding school at all costs prompt Enola to flee from her brothers and seek refuge in the city of London.  With the help of her analytical mind and her gift for disguise–traits which she shares with her brother Sherlock–Enola is determined to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and any other mysteries she stumbles across along the way.  And nothing–especially not her being a girl–will stand in her way.

Springer builds a vivid and detailed picture of life in Victorian London, the poverty of the East End, and the challenges of being a woman in the nineteenth century.  Add a brilliant, snarky narrator, hilarious disguises, codes to crack, clues to unravel, and the indomitable Sherlock Holmes as a rival and adversary and you have one of my favorite children’s mystery books!  The only down side to this wonderful mystery series is that its reading level is a bit more difficult than its interest level.  It is best for advanced upper elementary readers, (possibly also middle school readers) and will probably be of most interest to girls.  I highly recommend it!

Five books follow The Case of the Missing Marquess in the Enola Holmes series:
2. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
3. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet
4. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
5. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
6. The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye

 

THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick

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When Hugo’s father perished in a fire, Uncle Claude took Hugo into his apartment in the train station and taught him how to care for the clocks.  Now that Uncle Claude has disappeared, Hugo takes care of the clocks himself, hiding in the walls of the train station, stealing food when he can, and avoiding the Station Inspector.  As soon as the clocks have been tended to, Hugo turns back to the secret project that keeps him going: the automaton man at the writing desk that Hugo’s father had been repairing when he died.  Hugo is sure that if he can fix the automaton, the mechanical man will write a message from his father.  Using his father’s notebook as a guide, he steals toys from the station toy booth and uses their parts to replace the missing and broken pieces.  But one day, the toy maker catches him.  When he sees Hugo’s notebook, he seems horrified and confiscates it immediately.  Although Hugo follows him to his house, he cannot convince the toy maker to give it back.  But he does meet Isabelle, the toy maker’s goddaughter, who seems to have secrets of her own.  Together, she and Hugo try to get the notebook back and to decipher the automaton’s mysterious message.

This book has a very interesting premise that was inspired by a true story.  It is told in words and pictures, switching back and forth between pages of prose and full-page drawings.  As you discover later in the book, the format is very intentional for this particular story.  I found it a bit challenging to get into because the transition between words and pictures was somewhat jarring (very different from reading a graphic novel!).  But once I got into the rhythm, and deeper into the story, I was grateful for the story-telling images.  The book deserves its Caldecott Medal.

Side note: Martin Scorsese is directing a film adaptation, which will be released in November 2011, and which I am very excited about–not least of all because the toy maker will be played by Ben Kingsley!  I have very high hopes for this film, and you will definitely be hearing my opinions on it in November!

A MURDER FOR HER MAJESTY by Beth Hilgartner

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As the daughter of a nobleman, Alice Tuckfield probably shouldn’t have been climbing trees.  But when she sees her father murdered by his supposed friends, her hiding place in the tree saves her life.  After overhearing the murderers imply that their orders came from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Alice doesn’t know who she can trust.  She immediately sets off on her own in the hope of finding her father’s old friend Lady Jenny, who lives miles away in York.  When she finally reaches the city, exhausted and starving, Alice runs into some boys from the choir school—or rather they run into her, literally.  After sneaking her into their boarding house and getting her some food, the boys decide that it would be a great laugh to dress Alice up like a boy and see how long it takes their choir master to notice that he (she) is in the choir.  Alice (now known as “Pup”) realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to disguise her identity and hide from her father’s assassins, who might be after her next.   But as she gets comfortable in the choir school with the boys–and even begins to develop a friendship with the cantankerous organist who seems to get along with no one else–the assassins get closer and closer to discovering her whereabouts.

This book is an old favorite of mine, with a great blend of mystery/intrigue and schoolyard shenanigans, and of course the classic “girl-disguised-as-a-boy-so-she-can-do-things-she-wasn’t-allowed-to-do-in-the-olden-days” plotline.  And as someone who sings and plays piano myself, I greatly appreciate the music in this book!   (Also, Master Kenton, the organist, is a great character and I really want to be his friend.)   A Murder For Her Majesty is targeted for older elementary readers.

If you like A Murder for Her Majesty, you might also enjoy The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.