Book: The Case of the Stolen Sixpence (Maisie Hitchins, Book 1) (iBooks link)
Author: Holly Webb
Illustrator: Marion Lindsay
Age Range: 7-10
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence is the first book in a fun new mystery series by Holly Webb, author of the Rose series. The Maisie Hitchins series is aimed at readers who are past early readers, but not quite ready for middle grade novels. The lines are widely spaced, the chapters are fairly short, and there are black and white illustrations by Marion Lindsay every few pages. I believe that this title would fall happily into the Early Chapter Books category for the Cybils awards.
Maisie Hitchins is an engaging protagonist. She lives in Victorian London with her Gran, who runs a highly respectable boarding house. Maisie helps out by running errands. But her passion is solving crimes. She is fascinated by "the famous detective Gilbert Carrington", and imagines herself "following footprints, spotting clues, trailing culprits..." Soon enough, by paying close attention to everything around her, she finds herself with a couple of mysteries to solve. She seeks to learn who tried to drown a poor puppy by tying it up in a bag, and, more importantly, to clear the name of a delivery boy who was (she believes) falsely accused of theft.
Maisie is assisted in her efforts by a friend from the neighborhood (a bit of a stealth friend, as Alice is of a higher social class), her new puppy, and a couple of the lodgers in the boarding house (one of whom is in the theater, and can help with disguises). Her Gran is harried and stern but kind underneath, and the delivery boy is realistically prickly.
Despite the design of The Case of the Stolen Sixpence, there is some relatively advanced vocabulary. Like this:
"Maisie had to make sure she wasn't around when Miss Sidebotham came to collect Alice, though. She wouldn't have thought that landlady's granddaughter was a suitable friend for her dear little Alice. Plus Maisie couldn't help sniggering whenever the governess's name was mentioned. It sounded exactly like Sidebottom, and Miss Sidebotham's rear end was rather enormous." (Page 21)
I wouldn't expect the average 8 year old to recognize "sniggered", but I think it's a great word to learn!
Marion Lindsay's illustrations feature wide-eyed, round-headed characters in old-fashioned clothing. The people aren't quite realistic (with a hint of the cartoon to them), but they are friendly, and make the book more accessible. For kids new to reading about Victorian England, they quietly introduce cobblestones, and the appearance of horse-drawn carriages.
Book 2 of this series, The Case of the Vanishing Emerald, will be out in 2015. This is a series that libraries will definitely want to stock - perfect bridge books for kids between The Magic Treehouse series and Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes books. And although the main character is a girl (shown in a purple dress on the cover), there is no reason at all why boys couldn't enjoy the amusing adventures of Maisie Hitchins.
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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