One of the loveliest things about blogging in the kidlitosphere is that some days you get home from work to find just the right book to perk you up, as if the lovely publicity people at X publishing house knew exactly what you needed to brighten up your reading life. This happened yesterday, when I opened a package addressed to Shelf Elf and found Graeme Base’s latest picture book, Enigma: A Magical Mystery, inside. “Goodie,” I said.
I said “Goodie” because when I was a kid, The Eleventh Hour, Base’s first solve-the-mystery picture book, was a book I read until it was all beat up and bent and thoroughly loved. Now Base is back with another title that is every bit as innovative, gorgeous to look at, and downright fun (for grown-ups too, I must admit).
Bertie Badger is the pint-sized sleuth in Enigma, and he has his work cut out for him when all sorts of magical props go missing at the Retirement Home for Elderly Magicians, where his grandfather, Gadzooks the Great, now lives. Bertie wanders about the home, visiting his grandfather’s housemates – magicians and illusionists all – trying to piece together the whereabouts of the important magical items that each one of the animals has lost. As in The Eleventh Hour, the tale is told in rhyme, and it’s the illustrations that hold the key to solving the mystery. At the very back of the book is one of the niftiest additions to a picture book I’ve come across in a while: a fantastic code-breaking device that involves turning three dials to show the correct series of symbols, which then allows the reader to decode a message hidden in a letter from the story. When I first found this code-breaker device, I think my exact words were, “How cool is that?”
Very cool indeed, actually, and it just adds to the reader’s motivation to discover the “answer” hidden in one of the pictures within the book. As if we needed any extra encouragement to pore over Base’s tremendous illustrations, every one rich, detailed, humorous and magical. Once kids have figured out how to break the code, the patient way or the cheater’s way (aka my way), there’s more to do: hunt for magic paw prints in every picture, find the missing objects, and track down all of the hometowns of the animal magicians. This is one crafty, and well-crafted picture book package. Can you say, Christmas present? (or birthday or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or any other holiday out there you happen to celebrate).
It seems that others share my excitement for Enigma. Publishers Weekly just gave it a starred review, and interviewed Graeme Base about the book, his art and his upcoming North American tour.
So a big ol’ thank you to Abrams for sending me this treat. I’ll be sure to pass it on to a lucky kid.