CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 36. . . .May 22, 2015
The Case of the Missing Moonstone. (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, No. 1).
Jordan Stratford. Art by Kelly Murphy.
New York, NY: Alfred A. Knoff (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2015.
219 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851-Childhood and youth-Juvenile fiction.
Lovelace, Ada King, Countess of, 1815-1852-Childhood and youth-Juvenile fiction.
Mystery and detective stories.
London (England)-History-19th century-Juvenile fiction.
Great Britain-History-1800-1837-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Amber Allen.
“A secret constabulary, then” said Ada. Thus satisfied, she returned to her newspaper.
To Mary’s way of thinking, rather a lot depended on words. And to her, the word “secret” meant intrigue. Adventure. Romance. It meant everything that Mary, in her fourteen-year-old heart of hearts, knew that she was. The word “secret” had suddenly made Mary’s heart bang around madly in her ribs, as the butterfly had done weeks before. She thought she was going to burst.
“This,” said Mary as calmly as she could, which was hardly at all, “is a very. Good. Idea.”
“What is?” said the part of Ada that wasn’t reading the newspaper, having forgotten already.
“A secret constabulary,” replied Mary. “Except they are called ‘private detectives.’ A detective agency.” And she leaned forward for full effect, whispering, “A secret one.”
It is 1826, and Mary Godwin, a romantic and adventurous 14-year-old, knows just how lucky she is as she is to be sent to be tutored alongside Lady Ada Byron in the 11-year old genius’ home. While Lady Ada reads insatiably, offering no regard to Peebs, the girls’ tutor, Mary listens politely and studies hard so as not to lose the opportunity she has been given. The two slowly grow to be friends, although their differences are immediately obvious. Mary is perceptive and kind while Ada is logical and a bit awkward. As the girls grow closer, they decide to form a secret detective agency – not an easy task due to their ages and gender – and their first case sets them on an adventure to discover the whereabouts of a priceless stolen heirloom and to acquit a lady’s maid who made a false confession in the process. With the help of an interesting cast of characters, and despite their tutor, the pair prove that girls are quite capable of solving difficult dilemmas and that opposite personalities can be quite complementary.
Jordan Stratford has created a girl empowered romp that perfectly blends fact with fiction. (The back matter clarifies where the author has taken liberties by giving age appropriate historical details about the time period, characters, and places in the story.) You can’t help but be swept up in the mystery as the language sets the scene and the tone pushes the action forward at a brilliant pace. Children will connect with both Mary and Lady Ada, two very different but equally interesting characters, as they use logical and analytical thinking to solve the case. The vocabulary is robust, and Stratford always offers definitions without condescension for the expansive language peppered throughout.
While The Case of the Missing Moonstone is a text heavy chapter book for a reader who is comfortable with chapter books, it still includes beautiful grey scale sketches every few pages. They serve to help the reader visualize the story, but they are also a reminder of the time period as Mary and Ada are timeless characters. This story has something for lovers of history, language, adventure, science, humour and/or math. A winning combination.
Amber Allen is a librarian in Toronto, ON, with a passion for children’s literature and writing.
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