Genre: children's / historical
Sinclair's: (1) The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
Recently orphaned Sophie Taylor is just one of many shop girls in London’s newest and most illustrious department store, Sinclair’s – and it hasn’t even opened its doors to the public yet! She’s immensely proud of her position in the store’s millinery department and though the other girls make fun of her, she’s learnt to ignore their snide comments and whispered asides and instead concentrate on building a new life for herself. When Sinclair’s is burgled the night before it’s due to open and all the precious and priceless jewels stolen from the Exhibition Gallery, including the rare and unique clockwork sparrow, London’s greatest department store only gets more famous. Sophie is of course, naturally curious about the break-in, but doesn’t expect to discover that she’s the prime suspect! With her new friends, Billy, an apprentice porter and Lil, a store model, Sophie is determined to clear her name whilst uncovering the mystery surrounding the clockwork sparrow ...
I adored this debut from Katherine Woodfine, the Booktrust’s arts project manager, who finds time to manage the Children’s Laureate programme and Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) on top of writing this stunning debut. Tapping into the growing trend and thirst for detective historicals (Clockwork Sparrow is set in the Edwardian era) like Robin Stevens’ acclaimed Murder Most Unladylike (Wells & Wong #1) published in 2014, this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls and young readers and more advanced readers alike. The stunning cover (oh, what beautiful foiling!) and internal illustrations (Júlia Sardà is a genius) only enhances the appeal – I got a few stares on the train! – and though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I hope that it encourages lots of people to pick it up.
Woodfine has a wonderful way of pulling the reader in, whether you intend it or not. Suddenly, another five chapters have flown by and though it’s time for bed or your train is pulling in at your station, it is ridiculously difficult to not turn the page. This is partly because the characters are so easily likeable: Sophie is innocent yet forced to grow up fast in difficult circumstances after her father dies; Lil is bold and charming as one of Mr Sinclair’s ‘Captain’s Girls’ and; young Billy is inquisitive and forever getting into trouble for reading instead of working. It’s hard not to like them as their adventures take them to all corners of Sinclair’s as they are compelled to do the Right Thing and discover the truth behind the missing clockwork sparrow.
Woodfine spins a great story and everyone who reads TMofCS will definitely want to get their hands on book 2 in Sophie’s adventures: The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, due on our shelves in 2016. I’m expecting great things of both titles, once they’re published: the writing is slick and fast-paced, still weirdly relevant despite being set a century ago and Woodfine is a fresh new voice in the middle-grade age range that deserves a voice in the crowded market. In Nancy Drew meets Mr Selfridge, Katherine Woodfine is one to watch as TMotCS joins my (growing) list of 2015 favourites.
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.