Walker Books Australia
Allison Rushby‘s delightful new book brings together a host of currently popular themes but presented for your lower primary readers. In the vein of Enola Holmes or Rose Ravensthorpe, this tricky mystery combines all the charm of Victorian quirkiness with strong female characters who possess both boldness and intelligence.
Young Penny Pickering is stuck in a miserable existence at Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind while her scientist parents are who-knows-where busy with who-knows-what. Penny does not fit in at all with the school’s aims nor the other girls. She is far more interested in the type of activities frowned upon by Miss Strickland, for example, the avid reading of ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as those written by her famous Aunt Harriet.
When the celebrated authoress turns up in person and whisks Penny away – with a very evasive explanation that the girl’s parents are indisposed – Penny is only too keen to depart the much hated institution. Not so pleased is Aunt Harriet’s publisher, the rather surly Mr Crowley although there is little he can do about it. And so the first adventure begins as it has been arranged for Aunt Harriet to visit a Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd where, reputedly, some taxidermied kittens come to life during the night and enjoy a tea party. The very bizarre nature of the exhibits in the museum are pure Victoriana and will fascinate, although likely repulse, young modern readers.
Penny may not have the sort of enquiring mind Miss Strickland expected from her young ladies but she certainly is canny enough to realise that stuffed kittens do not come alive on a nightly basis and begins to unravel the mystery in a very efficient manner. And not surprisingly, the unpleasant Mr Crowley is deeply involved in the whole dubious attempt at hoodwinking. Miss Penny Dreadful may have saved some helpless kittens and helped out the local Lord in doing so but she certainly hasn’t earned any brownie points from scowling Mr Crowley. Readers will very quickly realise that this odious man will continue regard Penny as his bête noire while the delightfully eccentric Aunt Harriet remains blissfully unaware of the undercurrents surrounding her.
All in all this is jolly good fun for readers from around 7 years upwards with adventure, mystery, humour and a splendid dash of history as well and I have every confidence that any reader will look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation.
Highly recommended for lower to middle primary kiddos.