I first found Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson on Goodreads, and was immediately intrigued. I made a request through the library network, and my book arrived quickly. I have read so many wonderful middle grade novels this year, and I’m pleased to report that Nooks & Crannies was another treasure that I am happy to have discovered.
This is an Edwardian tale, as well as a mystery. As the story begins, six lucky children around London have all received letters inviting them to meet the Countess of Windermere. Our plucky protagonist is Tabitha Crum, who is the shabbiest of the six children. Tabitha has a little mouse called Pemberley, and she is a fan of Percival Pensive mystery stories.
When everyone has assembled at the Countess’ country house, they learn that they are all orphans who were adopted from the same orphanage at the same time, and one of these children is the long-lost son or daughter of the Countess’ estranged only son.
But something is not quite right: the house is creepy, the Countess has some odd mannerisms, and then the children begin to disappear one by one. It’s a good thing that Tabitha loves mystery stories because she has found herself in the middle of one!
Of course, comparisons to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are inevitable. After all, it’s another story with six lucky children plucked from obscurity and promised a lavish rewards. But, in this story, no one wants to be chosen as the heir once the story gets underway. Good deeds are rewarded and brutish behavior is punished, but I would argue that this story also has shades of Matilda. Tabitha is a resourceful little girl; she uses her wiles to make sense of a bizarre situation, and she does not resort to retaliation when the other children deliver cutting remarks about her appearance.
I loved that the story was set in the Edwardian era. It’s not nearly as frequently utilized in children’s fiction, and it seemed to be the perfect choice. It is modern enough to have electric lights and motorcars, but historical enough to convey the sense of a bygone era. I also loved the mystery aspect. I am probably more astute than the average middle grade reader; there were some things that I was able to sort out, but there were still some surprises for me as the story unfolded.
I would absolutely recommend Nooks & Crannies. There is some mild scariness that would probably scare my eight year old, but much of the apparent peril is resolved by the end. Tabitha is a lovely protagonist- I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that being a lover of books and a kind person prove to be advantageous to her as she tries to make sense of her surroundings. I am looking forward to reading more of Jessica Lawson’s books in the future.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the delightful black and white illustrations by Natalie Andrewson. They appear infrequently throughout the story, but they offer the perfect accompaniment to Lawson’s story.