Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we discuss ideas that are hounding readers and clue them into some relevant titles, in case they need a new literary obsession.
The holidays are just around the corner, so it would be perfectly reasonable to start talking about wintry or holiday books. But this week, we’re talking about something else: murder. Specifically, the murder of Enoch Drebber. The murder of this fictional Mormon kicks off the first story to feature fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the story was published in the 1887 edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, and first hit newsstands on December 1. The rest is literary history.
To celebrate 115 years of the world’s greatest detective, we’re recommending children’s books about, based on, or similar to the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Nearly any mystery story is – in some fashion – indebted to the stories about Sherlock Holmes. But with this roundup, we’ve focused on those that most clearly are an homage to the great detective, or – at the very least – have a distinctly Victorian flavor.
What better way to start a young reader’s journey with Sherlock than a picture-book biography about the man who created him? Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock by Linda Bailey and Isabelle Follath chronicles the incredible life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: a doctor, adventurer, tireless campaigner for justice . . . and, of course, creator of the world’s greatest detective! Any kid with an interest in mysteries will love this lively story of the facts behind the fiction.
For a book of mysteries that many kids will know, and are conundrums worthy of Holmes himself, try Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty?: And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries by David Levinthal and John Nickle. Who committed a B & E at the Three Bears’ family home? Did Humpty Dumpty really just fall off that wall, or was he pushed? A streetwise investigator delves into five fairy-tale criminal cases, and though Binky wears a fedora (rather than a deerstalker hat), his shrewd mind has much in common with the great detective.
As Holmes and Watson are to London, Sam Cat and Dudley Pig are to Busytown. And in Richard Scarry’s The Great Steamboat Mystery, the almost-dynamic duo have to solve a jewel theft during a wedding aboard a steamboat (instead of eating cake). The best part is that young readers can assist by finding clues and helping crack the case in this humorous story book.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Ghost and human child friends Simon and Chester may live in the here-and-now, but they are inspired by Sherlock Holmes in Cale Atkinson’s graphic novel Simon & Chester: Super Detectives! In the duo’s first comic-book adventure, Simon is busy writing a mystery (a regular Arthur Conan Doyle!) when Chester discovers a detective costume, complete with deerstalker. The two quickly decide to start solving mysteries themselves – starting with how a strange (yet adorable) dog wound up inside their house! (Perhaps a far cry from The Hound of the Baskervilles.)
Though their adventures take place decades before the first Holmes story, Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley make for effective tween alternatives to Holmes and Watson in Jordan Stratford’s The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. The girls who grow up to become the first computer programmer and Frankenstein writer join forces to make a secret detective agency dedicated to unlocking only the most puzzling mysteries, whether those involve missing wills, counterfeit dinosaur bones, or coded messages from princesses.
And while Marthe Jocelyn’s beloved Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen series very explicitly takes inspiration from Agatha Christie and her fictional detectives (rather than Arthur Conan Doyle’s), there’s no denying these mysteries, inspired by the imagined life of Agatha Christie as a child and her most popular creation, Hercule Poirot, have a touch of Sherlock in them. At the very least, they occupy the same era of British mystery – and now you can burn though all four books in the series (mysteries from fall through summer) in one handsome ebook bundle.
If you need a YA fix for your Sherlock jones, look no further than the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer. Now a series of motion pictures starring Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Superman (Henry Cavill), the books star the teenaged sister of Sherlock Holmes, who finds herself investigating missing mothers, missing ladies of wealth, and even missing landladies (sometimes with the help of her talented older brothers, and sometimes while evading them!) And, like the Aggie Morton series, they are also available in one digital collection.
Equally intriguing is Shane Peacock’s The Boy Sherlock Holmes series. From The Eye of the Crow, the first book in the saga, to Becoming Holmes, the sixth and final book, Peacock reimagines Holmes as a teen social misfit with an aristocrat mother and poor Jewish father whose wits are his only defense – and an incredible asset when solving baffling murders in Victorian London. (Additionally, the books feature no nightmarish food sequences like that Young Sherlock Holmes film!)
Though Sherlock Holmes is not referenced, Singaporean-Canadian Y. S. Lee’s four-book series, The Agency, features secret assignments undertaken by heroines in a Victorian atmosphere. Mary Quinn, an orphan, is brought to Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, which is a front for an all-female investigative unit who use disguises and wits to infiltrate everything from high society to damp cargo ships to solve the era’s most dastardly mysteries.
What if Sherlock Holmes had to solve the mystery of his own death? Well, Lemony Snicket is no Sherlock Holmes. But he has been poisoned in the book Poison for Breakfast (you can probably guess when the poisoning happens), and it’s up to the author to follow a winding trail of clues to solve the mystery of his own murder plot – with more than a few diversions along the way in this archly comic novel.