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 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