Children’s book of the week: The Clockwork Sparrow

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Introducing our new weekly spot where we review and recommend a book for young readers: and we’re starting with a terrific series for 8-12 year olds.

One of the areas that’s been heavily cut back on as newspapers and magazines trim their budgets in current times is reviews of books for young readers. As such, it’s getting trickier and trickier for authors of books for children and younger readers to get their work noticed. This weekly spot on the site is our attempt to do something about that. If you see a book you like here, please do spread the word. And who knows? We may see some of these stories on the big screen in the future.

Enough from me: onto our first weekly review. – Simon Brew, Editor, Film Stories

The Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

Right around the time children get to grips with chapter books, they often fall for mysteries. Crime capers hook even the most reluctant readers. For more sensitive souls, they give the world excitement bound by rules and conventions, a safety net in which to be just a little deliciously nervous. The great news is there has never been a greater range of mystery fiction for young readers to choose from – of such great quality that older readers are also falling for it in droves. Nestling comfortably into that mix are Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair’s Mysteries, starting with The Clockwork Sparrow.

Despite all the theft, kidnapping and corruption on show, it’s actually a really cosy read. Sinclair’s is a brand new luxury department store modelled on the early days of Selfridges, which opened in 1909. To match these opulent surroundings, each section of the book is prefaced with a snippet from a millinery catalogue. We join that world behind the scenes, thanks to quiet but shrewd shop girl Sophie, whose upper middle class fortunes have recently taken a tumble. Soon, we meet part time actress and store model Rose, who offers a more fiery side to their budding friendship. Gradually, two boys, Billy and Joe, join them, rounding out an accidental sleuthing squad who end up on the trail of a mysterious East End gangster, the Baron.

The Clockwork Sparrow builds pace sedately at first, though it leads to an explosive finale. It’s particularly suited to the kind of young reader who wants to know every detail of each character and the world around them. Woodfine clearly relishes getting to use some more vintage turns of phrase, but she also quite deliberately spares her readers too many vintage attitudes; in fact, her characters subtly but actively challenge sexist and classist ideas. And she has fun referencing the penny dreadfuls and dramatic adventure stories of the time – Billy always keeps one about his person – while being considerably less lurid about the crimes of her shadowy villain.

That more gentle approach makes The Clockwork Sparrow and its sequels quiet little sisters to books like the smash-hit Murder Most Unladylike series (which mixes lashings of early YA into its Golden Age homage). They’re perfect transitional reads for kids whose reading age is pushing well ahead of their emotional development; a great way to get nerdy with language and history without being overwhelmed by violent imagery. 

Target age: 8-12
Publisher: Egmont
More details: right here

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