The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop (illustrated by Ashley King) – review

Bishop’s tale of an 11-year-old detective-cum-worrier is a charming hymn to the imaginative power of books

Earlier this month, a video did the rounds on Facebook demonstrating dispiriting facts about gender and children’s books. Such as: 25% of kids’ titles don’t have any female characters at all; of those that do only half have female characters who speak. Simply baffling, at the very least because girls grow up to be more avid readers of fiction than boys.

There are no such shortcomings in The Bookshop Girl, Sylvia Bishop’s follow-up to her well-received 2016 debut, Erica’s Elephant. The protagonist, 11-year-old Property Jones (so-called because she was adopted after turning up as lost property in a secondhand bookshop run by Netty and her brainy son Michael), is by turns detective, comic, action hero and worrier.

Perkily illustrated, the plot rips along: after winning a competition, Property, Netty and Michael trade their musty bookshop for the feted Montgomery Book Emporium, complete with an aggressive cat known as “the Gunther”. But trouble soon arrives in the shape of the sinister Eliot Pink and his security detail, the Wallups, on the hunt for a valuable Shakespeare manuscript.

Bishop’s voice is breezy and warm, but the book’s real charm is in its celebration of the imaginative power and tactile pleasures of books. The emporium consists of more than a hundred themed rooms that move on a mechanical wheel, a magical conceit that takes the reader anywhere from the Room of Knights (stone walls, chilly) to the Room of Space Adventures (twinkling lights, books hanging on threads). And a clever plot device at the end has the family defacing books (for good reason) with the silliest annotations they can think of, thus smuggling in great jokes about Aristotle and maps. Delightful.

• The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop is published by Scholastic (£5.99). To order a copy for £5.09 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Contributor

Sarah Donaldson

The GuardianTramp

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