Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Wednesday, November 9, 2022: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels

Michael O'Mara Books/Buster Books: Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels by Tim Collins, illus. by John Bigwood

Michael O'Mara Books/Buster Books: Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels by Tim Collins, iillus. by John Bigwood

Michael O'Mara Books/Buster Books: Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels by Tim Collins, iillus. by John Bigwood

Michael O'Mara Books/Buster Books: Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels by Tim Collins, iillus. by John Bigwood

Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels

by Tim Collins, illus. by John Bigwood

Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels encourages children to join the most famous of canine detectives--accompanied by his trusty feline sidekick--in an investigation that is mysterious and exciting enough to "really puzzle over." This interactive book is the first in a series and is filled with energetic spot illustrations and a variety of games that are sure to absorb budding sleuths.

Sherlock Bones of Barker Street feels "gloomy" when things are too quiet, so his good friend Dr. Jane Catson obligingly searches through her newspaper, The Morning Terrier, for an item of interest. Catson suggests that Holmes investigate a missing shipment of Swedish carrots or an heirloom pocket watch stolen from a large Doberman. Bones wants "a crime that's worthy of the front page, not page eight." The detective is delighted when he hears a large dog approaching: Inspector Bloodhound has arrived to ask for help with something big enough for Bones to really sink his teeth into.

The Queen's crown jewels have gone missing! "The most valuable jewels in the country" were stolen overnight from Kennel Palace without any of her guards noticing. Inspector Bloodhound tells Bones and Catson that his police pups uncovered three clues that morning at the palace, but the bloodhounds "need a little help working out what they mean." First, there was the "low rumbling noise" heard by a mole over on Kitten Mews; second, "some strange markings on a tree in the park opposite the palace"; and third, "a trail of prints leading away from a puddle on the front lawn." "The world's greatest detective" leaps into action, hat on head, magnifying glass in paw and Catson hot on his heels.

Even though the police pups have turned the front lawn outside the palace into "shapeless mush," Holmes manages to spot a trail of muddy prints going down to the river, across the bridge and up the hill to posh Kennel Heights. The footprints lead to the front door of actress Molly Ruffington (of Rover and Juliet and Catbeth fame), who reports that her diamond tiara has also been stolen. Holmes thinks the tiara thief and the crown jewel thief may be "one and the same person," and he and Catson continue searching the neighborhood. Holmes finds a scrap of paper announcing yet another robbery--a beloved pocket watch taken from a Doberman named Butch. The Doberman saw the "horrible" thief, and describes a "thick black tail, large ears, and sharp, werewolf-like teeth." There have been many other burglaries in the neighborhood, too: a wedding ring stolen from the wombats in number 166, a golden racing medal taken from the greyhound in number 121 and two silver brooches thieved from the vole in number 148.

Bones and Catson head back to Barker Street to ponder their troublesome case. When the sun sets, Bones leaps into action. He grabs a bucket of water, flags down a cab and heads back to Kennel Heights with Catson. They station themselves outside Molly's home until a muddy beast with a "cruel, savage look" and long teeth "as sharp as pins" emerges. Bones and Catson apprehend the despicable thief.

But this is only the beginning. Bones and Catson, still searching for the Queen's jewels, move onto the other clues gathered by Inspector Bloodhound and the police pups: the "low rumbling noise" and the "strange markings." Homes and Catson's investigation leads them through a dark tunnel where they evade a shrieking Sewer Phantom and out to the park where they apprehend a vicious cat. But the more clues they investigate, the longer their list of suspects becomes! After many twists and turns--and plenty of puzzles for readers to solve--Bones and Catson bring their case to a satisfying conclusion.

Award-winning author Tim Collins, whose books have been published in the U.S. and abroad, uses a witty and engaging style to fashion this twisty mystery. His action-packed text provides plenty of clues to encourage readers to guess the culprit's identity. Illustrator John Bigwood, working in pencil and Photoshop, does his part by offering up intricately designed visual problems that practically beg to be solved. At first, readers are asked to rearrange letters in a word finder to figure out which story will interest Bones. Then they can "help" Bones and Catson follow the trail of prints to the river. After that, they need to arrange panels in the correct order to reveal Butch the Doberman. One fun puzzle after another peppers the text until readers follow clues to the storage chamber where the jewels are hidden, identify the villain and even figure out which of the "excitable" police bloodhound pups receives their medal first. Answers are at the back of the book, ready to be accessed immediately or pondered together at the narrative's end. All in all, Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels--Bones's "trickiest case yet"--should have young readers brandishing their very own magnifying glasses. --Lynn Becker

Buster Books, $9.99, paperback, 192p., ages 6-9, 9781780557502, February 7, 2023

Michael O'Mara Books/Buster Books: Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels by Tim Collins, iillus. by John Bigwood

Tim Collins: The Lure of Mystery, Puns and Puzzles

Tim Collins is the author of more than 30 books including Cosmic Colin, the Wimpy Vampire series and the Dorkius Maximus series. They have been translated into over 30 languages. He lives near Oxford. Buster Books will publish Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels on February 7, 2023. Shelf Awareness spoke with Collins about using classic mysteries--and puzzles--to draw kids into reading.

Are you a big Sherlock Holmes fan?

Yes, I love the Holmes canon and many of the books that have been inspired by it. I used to walk home down Baker Street every day, and pass 221B. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is one you can write to endlessly, even if you make them a dog and a cat.

What did the process for writing this book look like? Did you read any Holmes stories for inspiration before you began?

As with all detective fiction, you start with a solution and work out how to seed the mystery in the minds of readers. I wanted to pitch the book at the right level for the age group and, weirdly, many young readers guessed who did it before many adults!

I didn't re-read any specific Conan Doyle adventures before writing the book, though I found myself throwing in references to stories such as "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Later in the series, there are references to the works of other crime writers, such as Agatha Christie and Ethel Lina White.

Where did you get the idea for including puzzles, mazes and other interactive challenges in this book?

The book was originally going to be a branching story in the tradition of Choose Your Own Adventure. But as Buster Books have a lot of experience with puzzle books, we decided to integrate puzzles into the story instead. At one point, we even thought of doing a branching story and puzzles at the same time, but that would have been a bit much.

How did you work with illustrator John Bigwood? Did you provide detailed notes or more general ones about the kind of puzzles you wanted?

I provided a brief description of each puzzle, and the editor, Frances [Evans], found examples of similar ones so John could see the sort of thing we were after.

The dog and cat puns are hilarious. Can you give readers an idea of how you come up with them?

I try not to come up with too many puns, because they're not great for foreign editions of the book. It's much easier to pun in English than many other languages, so you don't want to give translators too many headaches. But sometimes you just can't stop yourself. There's no way I could resist changing "Baker Street" to "Barker Street," for example.

What do you enjoy most about writing for this age group?

Books can be magical objects for this age group. They can feel a real sense of achievement when they've finished a novel on their own, especially one like this, where the puzzle-solving makes them feel part of the adventure. Many children like to collect a series and place the books in order on their shelves--a habit that never leaves some of us. 

As an author, you're trying to draw children into reading for pleasure which can have a hugely positive impact on their lives. 

What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

I hope the puzzle format will appeal to children who want to read but are put off by big chunks of unbroken text. And that they'll have fun trying to crack the case. Someone got in touch and said their daughter was jotting down clues in her notebook as she read it, which is excellent sleuthing!

I also hope that those who enjoy the series will one day seek out the work of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know about Sherlock Bones and Dr. Catson?

Those who are familiar with the original stories will not be surprised to discover that Bones has an arch-nemesis. He's called Moriratty, and he will cause plenty of trouble as the series goes on. --Lynn Becker

John Bigwood: Cluing in on the Art

John Bigwood is an illustrator and graphic designer based in London. He has worked across a range of books for children and adults, including How to Draw People for the Artistically Anxious and the Sherlock Bones series. Shelf Awareness spoke with Bigwood about creating the art for Sherlock Bones and his own love of puzzles.

How do you make your art?

I use a mixture of traditional and digital methods. I start the process with rough pencil sketches and, once I'm happy with the general look and composition, I begin to add more detail and character. This leaves me with a reasonably developed draft, which is then scanned into Photoshop, where I digitally create the final line work using a Wacom tablet and pen. I find placing a piece of paper over the Wacom tablet, so that I'm drawing directly on to the paper, helps to create a more organic line with the pen. The shading and textures are then added digitally, using a variety of brushes I create in Photoshop.

Producing the final artwork digitally helps me to work a lot faster and allows for any mistakes to be quickly amended, which is always helpful! I do find the initial process of drawing and sketching on paper very important, as it allows me to create the artwork more intuitively and with greater freedom. It's also nice to be able to work and draw somewhere away from my desk every now and then.

Are you a big puzzle fan yourself?

I am. I'm not sure how good I am at them, but I certainly enjoy the challenge of trying to work them out. Riddles and logic puzzles are perhaps my favorite. When I was younger, I received a book of riddles and logic puzzles for Christmas, which I absolutely loved. I spent the next two days reading aloud puzzles to my family, assuming they were enjoying them just as much as I was. Mysteriously, the book disappeared without trace just after Boxing Day, a puzzle I'm still trying to solve!

Is there anything in the art that readers should look for that might not be in the text?

I wouldn't want to give too much away, but there are a few subtle clues in some of the illustrations that might help eagle-eyed readers work out some of the story's mysteries. Being a good detective is all about spotting clues and being able to decipher what they might mean. If you look hard enough, you may well spot the odd pointer that could help you solve the case, even before Bones and Catson. --Lynn Becker

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