by Chris Riddell
Reading Level: 8+
Interests: mysteries, adventure, travel, strong heroines, fashion, clever plans and maps
Next: Ottoline At Sea, Ottoline Goes to School
Ottoline lives on the twenty-fourth floor of the Pepperpot Building with her guardian and best friend Mr. Munroe, a small hairy bog man from Norway. Her parents are professors who travel the world and collect interesting things. Ottoline loves to solve tricky problems and work out clever plans. With the aid of Mr. Munroe, she discovers a fiendishly clever burglary ring headed by a suave yellow cat, and foils them in a spectacular fashion.
A totally charming chapter book/picture book hybrid, with enough text for a detailed and complicated plot, but broken up throughout with engaging illustrations, replete with tiny labels and asides. Wonderfully over-ornamented, absolutely gothic in style but with enough warmth and sentiment to keep it kid-friendly. It glories in the eccentricities of the characters, and delights in odd objects and titles – including numerous references to the Emperor of Heligoland. The plot is funny and entertaining enough to hook young readers, and entice them with the colourful vocabulary. (Ottoline has a Master of Disguises diploma from the Academy of Subterfuge, and she and Mr. Munroe sit on a Beidermeyer pouffe, for example.) Ottoline’s world is delightfully old-fashioned, quirky, eccentric, and entirely captivating. It’s all like Edward Gorey on Prozac: what would his books be like if he wasn’t such a morbid, gloomy pessimist?
The mystery, too, is handled very well. Clues are doled out and readers are left to connect the dots themselves. Once the criminals’ plot is uncovered, Ottoline’s clever plan to catch them provides further surprises.
Ottoline is an extremely clever and independent young lady. She is mature, cerebral and stylish as well (especially in her Madagascan Mohair Dressing Gown). Though she lives mostly on her own, like Eloise in the Plaza Hotel, she is the antithesis of Eloise – restrained, thoughtful, controlled and exact. (I would have adored Ottoline when I was a kid!)
Ottoline’s relationship with Mr. Munroe is that of equals. When she is unintentionally neglectful of him he goes up to the roof to sulk in the rain, but after much thought about their history together he quietly returns, all forgiven. There are quiet lessons here about friendship and thoughtfulness, and things that don’t need to be said – Mr. Munroe doesn’t like having his hair brushed, but he lets Ottoline do it because it helps her to think. And when she gets a little misty over a postcard from her beloved parents he brushes her hair because he knows it will make her feel better.
And as if all of this wasn’t enough, as a further bonus there is a marvellous new take on that old painting of “dogs playing cards”.
From about age 6 children will enjoy hearing this book read to them, and may be so hooked that they sit down to tackle it themselves. Independent reading level may be a little higher, since the vocabulary is fairly advanced – probably grade 3 or age 8 and up.
Highly Recommended! My daughter and I absolutely love this book and we’re hunting down the sequels!