One of my fondest childhood memories is of reading mysteries. My favorite series was The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West. I received one in the mail every month. Each new arrival meant my family wouldn’t see me for hours—which I seriously doubt mattered much to my siblings. I didn’t even want to stop to eat!
Well, everything changes. A few years ago, I pulled out that box of Happy Hollisters books with the nostalgic notion that I’d read them aloud to my granddaughter. After just a few pages, she politely asked if we could move on to something else. Sadly, the Happy Hollisters are a bit dated and old fashioned.
Fortunately, there’s a new mystery series (I hope) on the block. Now, the only thing better than a Henry Holt book is a story by children’s author Tracy Barrett. Put them together and you’d expect a fun book, which is exactly what this pair supplies.
This first among many books (I hope) introduces us to American siblings who travel to London. There, they learn that they’re related to the great detective, Sherlock Holmes. Of course, Xena and Xander are wanna-be detectives and Barrett doesn’t waste any time throwing them into their first real mystery.
Just a few pages into the story, the kids receive Sherlock Holmes’ unsolved casebook. Can two American kids do what Sherlock Holmes couldn’t? Barrett’s story moves quickly, but not too quickly. Each new clue leads to new questions. Solving one mystery simply exposes another!
Barrett masterfully paints the characters of Xena and Xander while launching the story’s plot, and I like that. I so much want to turn that first page in every book I read and this one certainly didn’t disappoint me. Barrett’s beginning is a charming device that sets up the plot without boring the reader. Everything fits.
I loved the way Barrett uses a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, to lend credibility to her characters. In addition, she gives Xander a photographic memory so the kids have quick access to information. It’s a marvelous way to solve a literary problem while making Xander a “real boy.” Kids will easily identify with both Xena and Xander because Barrett allows them to be kids, not just miniatures detectives. Xena and Xander matter just as much as solving the mystery.
I hope Henry Holt is listening—if The Sherlock Files isn’t slated for a series, it should be.
The above review was contributed by: Susan Sales Harkins: Susan is a Software consultant and the author of several articles and books on database technologies. She and her husband, William, collaborate on children's non-fiction. Click Here to read more of Susan’s Reviews.
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