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Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: Just right for kids

Two books perfect for your young ones.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti | Updated: December 12, 2015 12:00:29 am

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Title: Crowns and Codebreakers (The Marsh Road Mysteries)
Author: Elen Caldecott
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 245
Price: Rs 199
Appropriate for: 9+

Minnie’s grandmother comes all the way from Lagos, hoping to find a home with her son’s family in England, but things begin to go wrong right from the beginning. She picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport and instead of her favourite hibiscus tea, finds it full of boy’s clothes and a faded postcard with a mutilated photograph of a group of young boys. Then there’s also the case of the little boy travelling on his own all the way from Lagos, who, she is convinced, was too young to travel alone. Minnie can’t get her mind off that photograph, or the boy, but the12n their house gets burgled and the only thing that is taken is the suitcase. Despite repeated calls, the local police refuses to show up and Minnie and her friends — Piotr, Andrew and the sisters, Flora and Sylvie — realise it’s time for them to step in and solve the mystery. As they dig deeper, the children realise that the missing boy is just the tip of the iceberg. At the heart of the mystery is an elaborate case of art smuggling with culprits who seem always a step ahead.

A detective story is a perfect platform to focus on society and its many foibles. Caldecott’s imaginary Marsh Road does not disappoint in its selection of cast or setting. A melting point of cultures, Marsh Road houses diverse businesses and ethnicities that make for colourful and idiosyncratic characters. Caldecott’s young sleuths are a bunch of second generation immigrant children, who come from humble backgrounds — for instance, Piotr’s father is a security guard, Minnie’s mom runs a hairdressing salon and the children walk a fine line between precocity and naivete. Written with warmth and humour, and reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Five Findouters series, this second book in the series is a highly enjoyable read, particularly for middle-schoolers.

Title: Finding Audrey
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 280
Price: Rs 499
Appropriate for: 13+

Fourteen-years old Audrey Turner is undergoing therapy for a severe case of anxiety following an incident of bullying in school. She stays indoors, wears dark glasses to avoid eye contact and finds herself incapable of having any social interaction with people outside her family. But then, Linus, her brother Frank’s friend, reaches out to her tentatively and Audrey finds herself wanting to get better a whole lot sooner. Can she manage to and will Linux have the patience to help her along?

Sophie Kinsella forays into the world of young adult fiction with Finding Audrey, where she is dealing with something far more serious than a case of shopaholism. To her credit, she does a good job of talking about mental illness and its long, agonising road to recovery. “I’ve sat in enough rooms with teachers, doctors, regurgitating the same story, using the same words, till it starts to feel like something that happened to someone else,” says Audrey. Kinsella writes about the setbacks and the feeling of inadequacy in not just the patient, but also in the caregivers, with great sensitivity and without self-deprecation. The format (it’s written as a diary and as film transcripts) and tone of the book is reminiscent of Maria Semple’s 2012 novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, another refreshingly honest novel about an agoraphobic architect trying to come to terms with her illness and the complexities of motherhood.

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