The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
January 15, 2015
Book: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Author: Jordan Stratford
Illustrator: Kelly Murphy
Age Range: 8-12
The Case of the Missing Moonstone is the first book in a very fun new mystery series for younger middle grade readers. The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series features the imagined adventures of two real-life historical figures: Lady Ada Byron (daughter of the poet, and who has been called the world's first computer programmer) and Mary Godwin (author of Frankenstein, and who has been called the world's first science writer). In Jordan Stratford's reimagined history, Ada and Mary are close in age (unlike their actual 18 year age difference), and become friends after sharing a tutor. Together, these two largely unsupervised girls form a detective agency.
The author includes a brief preface, as well as a more extensive notes section at the end of the book, outlining the historical vs. fictional elements of the story. He slips in various other historical figures thought the story, profiling them at the end. But the primary focus of The Case of the Missing Moonstone is on Ada and Mary.
Stratford's characterization, particularly in regards to Ada, is quite strong. Ada is a quirky genius who would perhaps be diagnosed on the autism spectrum today. She fears leaving her house (though she is brave when necessary), has little thought for the people around her (not even aware of her maid's name), and sees mysteries in terms of variables to be fit together. She is dirty and sometimes rude, and altogether a breath of fresh air.
Mary's nature as a writer, as well as her uncomfortable status as being from a lower social order than Ada, come across clearly also. She is an observer who often sees things in a poetic way, and she's also a pragmatist who can sometimes balance Ada's quirks. Her admiration for the tutor, who has the initials PBS, is a little inside joke for the adult reader. Here's an example of Mary's (limited third person) voice:
"Pitter clop splosh badunk? Clop splosh badunk pitter.
Mary listened to this conversation between the coach, the horse, the cobblestones, and the rain, but felt she had little to add. Instead, she observed the unexpected stranger seated opposite her." (Page 17)
"Mary entered Ada's bedroom for the first time. The word "disaster" presented itself to Mary. It does a good job of describing things like earthquakes and mudslides and tornadoes, but it was simply not up to the task of describing Ada's bedroom. Mary suddenly felt sorry for the word." (Page 37)
The mystery itself is interesting and age-appropriate. The solution turns on a word which is reasonably well-known today, but was something new and unknown at the time of the story. There is some rather implausible action here and there, but I think that young readers will find it fun.
Stratford's writing style is well-suited to the historical time period, a little bit formal ("Ada continued to look displeased..."), but not so much so as to be over the heads of the target audience. Like this:
"Mary followed, thinking of poor Anna Cumberland (the maid), who would have to clean up Ada's mess once again, if "once again" meant "all the time without stopping ever." (Page 129)
The Case of the Missing Moonstone also includes regular black and white illustrations, generous line spacing, and a light humor that makes it work well for readers on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum. Kelly Murphy's illustrations help bring Ada and Mary, and the time period, to life for readers. The girls' hair and dresses convey the time period, even as other details to the pictures lend humor to the story.
The average 9-year-old reader is not going to know much of anything about the historical figures starring in The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency. But I think that Ada and Mary are strong enough characters, as portrayed in this book, to hold any young reader's attention. Bonus points for both protagonists being strong young women, each somewhat ahead of her time (but not in an unrealistic way, given that, you know, they were real people). The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone has an intriguing plot and plenty of humor. I think that it will make a very nice addition to the ranks of mystery series for elementary age readers. Recommended!
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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