Rita Wong and the Jade Mask by Mark Jones and Seamus Jennings

At the moment we are in a period that can only be described as something of a golden age for children’s books, but especially for the genre that surrounds crime and mystery writing.  When this is then widened to include beings such as dragons, werewolves and vampires, then you can expect to have an exciting time.

“Rita Wong and the Jade mask” encapsulates all of these characteristics, although it starts out being situated in the rather prosaic setting of Morecambe.  Somehow, despite it’s glorious Art Deco hotel and the associations with Morecambe and Wise, we cannot really think about this seaside town as being a centre of intrigue and a doorway to another world; yet, as Rita Wong discovers, this is exactly what it is.  13 (nearly 14) year old, Rita has moved to the seaside town with her parents, which is a bit of a difference from her previous home in Hong Kong and she is still struggling to make friends and settle into a new country.  Whilst waiting in a cafe for the library to open up, she sees something that intrigues and slightly confuses her and before she knows it, she is having a conversation with an eight foot green dragon called Lester Thyme.  He is visiting from a parallel world called Neon City, where crime is rife and there are more types of inhabitants than we are used to.

What happens thereafter is somewhat surreal, but Rita finds herself partnering Lester as a private detective, helping the local policeman, Inspector Donnelly, solve the theft of a variety of antique items.  The duo find themselves caught up in a mixture of crime and magic, which puts them both in danger and yet brings them a deep sense of satisfaction as they find challenges as well as new friends.

This really is a fantastic book for those who love their detective stories.  The two main characters have their imperfections, but they persevere in their enquiries, learn to make friends and also to balance out their individual skills and knowledge.  I really love the relationship between the two main characters and the humour that shows itself every now and again.

I particularly love the illustrations for this book.  The front cover puts me in mind of work by artists such as Satoshi Kitamura, David Roberts and Chris Riddell, with the use of very fine ink outlines and the use of shading to create the atmosphere and perspective.  There are other illustrations throughout the book, most of which introduce us to characters, or provide a sense of concern about what is about to happen.  This is very much about accepting people for themselves and realizing that being different can be a positive thing.  I am definitely looking forward to more adventures with this enterprising duo.

 

 

 

Mark Jones
Mark Jones is the author of poems and children’s books. He began writing for his college magazine, and later moved to Delhi. There he edited and wrote original stories whilst expanding his waistline with delicious Indian cuisine. He followed that with a job teaching English in Singapore, where he consumed large quantities of sushi. When he is not writing, he likes to travel to see someone he loves in Osaka.

from “Everything with Words” site

 

Seamus Jennings, illustrator

Seamus works as a political cartoonist and has work produced in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, amongst other publications.  This is his first children’s book.  https://www.seamusjennings.com/9d665dcf17-gallery

The Acrobats of Agra by Robin Scott-Elliot

Beatrice, known as Bea, finds herself in India and living with her Aunt, Uncle and cousin.  She has grown up living with her grannie in Scotland, after her parents had died in India, but as the latter got older she was no longer as able to care for Bea and the family packed Bea off to Aunt Constance.  Unfortunately the year is 1857 and the city of Agra and the surrounding region are fast becoming the centre of a rebellion by the Indian troops.  Bea and her relatives had just attended a performance of the Circus and but within days life has changed as the city of Agra finds itself under siege.  Bea finds herself caught up in events and together with Jacques (an acrobat from the circus) and an Indian servant called Pingali manages to escape from the city and head for the hills, in an attempt to find her younger brother George.  He had travelled to India with their parents and was sent to live with another aunt after their deaths.  The dangers that this group face, both from the rebels and from army deserters brings them into huge danger and makes them very aware that you cannot judge people by their ethnicity or background.  The epilogue at the end rounds off the story and we get an insight into how lives have changed over the three years since the rebellion.

Literature has long been fascinated by the Indian continent but although there are many adult novels written about the history and events, there are fewer written from a child’s point of view.  Even those are often about a person travelling from India to the UK and the differences that they find.  We can start with titles such as the “Secret Garden”  but we are now seeing an increase in books that give us a much better perspective of the country’s history as well as allowing us to share in the lives of a huge range of people.  Bea is a very strong and feisty character who did not want to travel to India, but is determined to be re-united with her brother whatever it takes.  She is the total antithesis of a Victorian young lady, having been brought up in Scotland and allowed to have freedom of movement and thought.  The strictures of life within the Raj are frustrating and you get the feel that the European women live in a constant form of social straitjacket.  Life in Britain was itself full of social restrictions, but this was only amplified in the confined communities that they found themselves in as part of the Empire.  We also get an insight into the total lack of cultural and religious understanding that the British had for the population that they were ruling; the rebellion was caused by the supposed use of pork and beef fat to coat rifle shells, which was insulting and against the beliefs of both Muslim and Hindu communities.  It  is to be hoped that the world has changed for the better, but I do wonder if there are still people with no empathy and understanding of those around them; however that is a question that should be a large area of discussion within schools.  Above all this is a thrilling adventure story that pits the central characters against all kinds of dangers, but they come together and even take on board the saying “All for one, and one for all” from the “Three Musketeers”.  It is a story that is very exciting but which will also make you think about what happened and why.

 

Robin Scott-Elliot has been a sports journalist for 25 years with the BBC, ITV, Sunday
Times, Independent and the ‘i’, covering every sport you can think of and a few you
probably can’t. In 2012 he covered the London Paralympics as the Independent’s
Paralympic Correspondent. He threw that all away to move home to Scotland and
write. He lives on the west coast with his wife and two children. His first book for
children, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, was published in 2019.