I just discovered that it isn’t that easy to find picture books that deal with whodunit themes. I visited two libraries and came up with a good deal of YA books (39 Clues-Books 1-4, I shall conquer you), but only a handful of picturebooks. This one, though, was a rare treat, and I believe is the perfect book to open our Mystery/ Mayhem/ Murder/ Whodunit Theme this May-June.
The Mystery of the Big Butterly Burglary. There are quite a number of things I enjoyed in this book, alliteration being one of them. There is this refreshing quality in the way that the narrative is delivered – neither quaint nor snotty, but just plain joy in the way that the words roll off your tongue with quiet ease.
The story works backwards unlike other whodunit themes wherein you need to decode clues and solve riddles before you save the girl, find the missing jewel, and identify whodunit. In this ingenious tale, two young mice, Tilly and Tom accidentally discovered a sparkling ruby ring in a bundle of newspaper as they were having a picnic.
Being quite morally upright, our two young finders brought the jewel to the police station where P.C. Dog immediately declared it to be a “worthless object.” Further investigation, however, reveals otherwise. Question is: who stole the ring? Who committed such a dastardly crime?
The author also inserts interesting bits in the story, asking readers little questions such as “Tilly and Tom spotted something, though. Can you?” – inviting young people to be more attentive to visual details in the story and to help solve the case. It actually reminds me of interactive children’s shows such as Dora the Explorer with its attempts to engage the viewer to respond in various ways.
The Absentminded P.C. Dog and the Princess’ Gold-edged Letter. I could not help but smile as I noted how the police detective dog was portrayed as highly ineffective, quite dense, and dim-witted. He is also quick to change his mind about things once he realizes the errors of his ways. His heart is in the right place, but his mind simply isn’t, seems like.
The Princess who owns the precious ruby ring was extremely grateful to the two clever young mice for having found her jewel that she decided to throw a lovely fete in their honor ‘the day after tomorrow’. In her letter, she also noted that she hopes the burglar will have been caught by then. And so everyone (including the squeaking young voles, Mrs. Blackbird’s choir, the village dressmaker and so on) was abuzz with our catchphrase for May-June: ‘WHODUNNIT???’
The Usual Suspects. In an animal story, who do you usually consider to be the culprit? Do I hear wolves? Yes. Foxes? True. In this lovely book though, we have four identified possible suspects. The villagers’ powers of deduction made them conclude that: “It must be somebody who went to town on the train last week.” And that would be:
- Mr. and Mrs Frog
- Mr. Fox
- Mrs Rabbit
- Mr. Rat
Things become even more complicated when all the main suspects claimed that they have been robbed. P.C. Dog has a list of all the things missing from each of the suspect:
Mr and Mrs Frog: One Jack-in-the-box.
Mr Fox: One Curly Shell for Listening to the Sea
Mrs. Rabbit: One Teapot shaped like a Cottage.
Mr Rat: One Valuable Gold Watch on a Chain.
The reader’s task is to spot whether or not all these things could actually be found in the suspect’s profile pages – as they are portrayed in their homes. Through the process of elimination (and one’s infinite powers of deduction), one can identify….
Whodunnit? That I shall leave for you to discover. =)
Whodunnit? By Caroline Browne, Story told by Helen Cresswell. Jonathan Cape. Thirty-two Bedford Square, London, 1986. Book borrowed from the NIE Library