Bee Trudgeon reviews some mysterious new junior fiction and middle-grade titles that have something for everyone: from the new chapter-book reader who likes plenty of pictures to help break up and decode the text, to the progressing reader who likes a laugh, and to the confident reader at the high end of the middle-grade phase. They are all mysteries with varying degrees of illustrations, but—apart from a flamenco dancing motif shared by the first two—that’s where the similarities end. These books sit at graduated levels on the reading ladder, so meet your reader where they’re at, and spark an interest in the capers and guessing genre otherwise known as ‘mystery and detective stories.’
Lulu and the Dance Detectives: Mystery at the Hotel Español, by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Lily Uivel
Mystery at the Hotel Español, by Sally Sutton, is the first in a series that is sure to become a collectable favourite—and a reading mileage builder—for young fans of dance and detection. If you have an Ella and Olivia, or Billie B. Brown fan, and are wondering who to introduce them to next, meet the Silver Stars dance troop.
This mixed-gender band of dancers all have unique and instantly relatable personalities (there’s one of each in many cliques we form, all complementing the greater effort): choreographer Lulu is flamboyant, manager Brio is a passionate eco-warrior, bubbly but unashamedly tearful Tina is the costume designer, Mouse is an introvert, Frankie has a penchant for getting into sticky situations—often literally, with her love of candy—Kenji has potential ninja skills—now you see him, now you don’t—and incredibly articulate Yippy is the crew’s canine companion, sniffing out danger and treats.
If you have an Ella and Olivia, or Billie B. Brown fan, and are wondering who to introduce them to next, meet the Silver Stars dance troop
Lily Uivel’s gorgeous and highly narrative illustrations represent the text really well, adding a visual layer of life. The layout is really well-designed, with pictures—including some double-page spreads—breaking up the 1.5 line-spaced, large font text. Some loud words are emphasised with capital letters, while others—like ‘psychopath’—are further accentuated with visual embellishments. Clues and red herrings are italicised.
The latter device is used effectively, with all eyes drawn to two distinctly dodgy characters. Learning to decode this technique will serve readers continuing in the mystery genre well and discovering that all is not as it initially seems is great practice for reading and life.
Lily Uivel’s gorgeous and highly narrative illustrations represent the text really well, adding a visual layer of life
The narrative clips along at a breathless rate; when things get a bit Scooby Doo, as a conniving plot is foiled by ‘A bunch of kids… a bunch of interfering little…,’ the only thing missing is a rubber head removal.
And if you thought walking in erroneously-assigned, webbed flamingo feet would challenge the dancers, you can look forward to seeing them switching their feet and legs for tails in the next Lulu and the Dance Detectives instalment, The Pool Party Poisoning.
Lulu and the Dance Detectives: Mystery at the Hotel Español
By Sally Sutton
Illustrated by Lily Uivel
Published by Puffin NZ
The Bad Smell Hotel, by Leela Chakraborti and Rajorshi Chakraborti
If you loved 2020, you will be into 2050—when The Bad Smell Hotel is set—in a big way. I understand if you didn’t love 2020, but we can probably agree, it certainly had its own, distinctive aroma: an excess of home baking, mixed with hand sanitiser, Dettol Glen-20 disinfectant spray, and all the fresh air you could legally neck. It was the year everyone was forced to interact in innovative ways online and compelled to learn a whole bunch of new skills via YouTube videos and Zoom meetings.
In 2050, it’s not just cars, cows and industry that are heating up the planet, but the smells emanating from citizens’ bottoms
Many people in 2050 wear face masks, which we also started doing in 2020; only theirs are a lot more elaborate, and the invisible threat the masks are protecting wearers from is a lot stinkier. Because 2050 has its own aroma too…and it’s an absolutely intolerable one. In 2050, it’s not just cars, cows and industry that are heating up the planet, but the smells emanating from citizens’ bottoms. When things get too farty, offending flatulators are sent to the titular hotels, where they live with smell-protection headsets on. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the fate that befell Covid sufferers or hopeful migrants when MIQ hotels were the talk of the towns.
Furthermore, the sorts of things happening inside Bad Smell Hotels, where ‘super-farters’ (‘…one of the few words with super in it that isn’t a good thing’) are locked safely away from their less gassy peers, sounds very similar to what we were all doing in 2020. At one point, under the auspices of a research study, ‘…ninety-two people do share videos of themselves baking, exercising, playing the piano, playing with their model railway, doing crochet, decorating cakes, hologramming with their families, dancing, juggling, speaking te reo with their robots, practising Chinese characters, painting, making a comic book, building with LEGO.’ Sound familiar? I’ll bet a few of them were making sourdough starters too.
It’s comforting to think of the father/daughter duo who wrote The Bad Smell Hotel extracting this futuristic slice of fun and farting from our own lockdowns
It’s comforting to think of the father/daughter duo who wrote The Bad Smell Hotel extracting this futuristic slice of fun and farting from our own lockdowns, spicing up their daily walks, and revealing the secret to (intestinal) wellbeing along the way. As is the practice of Lulu and the Dance Detectives, dropping hints that will solve the problem that is literally right under the noses of Bad Smell Hote residents will help the young reader—who is addressed directly, at one point—hone their own powers of detection.
The Bad Smell Hotel
By Leela and Rajorshi Chakraborti
Published by The Cuba Press
A Wayfinder Girls Novel: Maggie and the Mountain of Light, by Mark Snoad
Discovering your inherent power during adolescence is a tricky transition for even the boldest young woman. For twelve-year-old Margaret Elizabeth Thatcher—in spite of her “strong” female namesakes—it seems impossible. Second-guessing herself in an intermittent stream of consciousness, Maggie wishes she were Wayfinder Girl material, but she struggles with allergies and a lack of self-confidence, relying on her ever-handy meds bag, a strategically planned diet, and the moxie of her Kiwi friend Anahira Waititi to keep her going.
Maggie wishes she were Wayfinder Girl material, but she struggles with allergies and a lack of self-confidence
The fictional Wayfinder Girls movement—somewhat like an inadvertently supernatural-tasked Girl Guides—is a worldwide organisation, founded in England over a century ago. Its official mission is to strengthen and develop girls’ leadership capacities, both personally, and in the service of their communities. With branches in 157 countries, and regional headquarters in London, Colorado, Mumbai, Lagos, Hong Kong, and Rotorua, our heroines are an ethnically diverse bunch. And that’s before we even begin to consider the beings from the Fae world.
Two Fae creatures in particular, Tylwyth and Teg, support the lead cast of girls and group leaders. These transient, often comical, sidekicks are a fundamental part of a plot to steal the historically contested Koh-i-Noor—a.k.a (from the Persian) Mountain of Light—diamond from its heavily guarded home with the Crown Jewels, in the Tower of London. The governments of India, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, not to mention the Taliban have all claimed ownership of the Koh-i-Noor over time, demanding its return since India became independent from the British Empire in 1947. They may not be as interested in obtaining it once the Wayfinder Girls have finished their business with it.
Confident, middle-grade fantasy fans who appreciate plenty of gadget action will be entertained by this first Wayfinder Girls novel
Confident, middle-grade fantasy fans who appreciate plenty of gadget action will be entertained by this first Wayfinder Girls novel. It is published by Monarch Educational Services, who specialise in producing ‘clean fiction for young readers 10 and up’. Think age-appropriate, with no parental red flags, unless the idea of a child with the surname Thatcher being saddled with the first name Margaret (and a British monarch for her middle namesake) strikes you as offensive. It does allow for a miscommunication that could scarcely have happened with anyone else in the world. After all, one can hardly imagine former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself having been as receptive to a plot with the actual power to thwart evil and save the world.
Stay tuned for book two in the series, where Earth becomes the target of a toxic waste dump. It’s a sure bet the Wayfinder Girls won’t be letting that happen!
A Wayfinder Girls Novel: Maggie and the Mountain of Light
By Mark Snoad
Published by Monarch Educational Services
Bee Trudgeon is a children’s librarian, writer, strummer, storyteller, dancer in the dark, film buff, perpetual student, and mother of two study buddies. Often spotted urban long-distance walking wearing headphones and a ukulele, she lives in a haunted house in Cannons Creek, and works in Porirua and wherever anyone will have her.