Note from Selena Buttons: We’re very excited to have a new book reviewer here in the Consulting Rooms. Please welcome Elise Elliot, JHWS “Lucy”!
The Great Shelby Holmes
by Elizabeth Eulberg
Bloomsbury USA Childrens (September 2016)128p. $16.99. ISBN 9781681190518.
Elise’s Rating: 4/5
Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen―always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.
When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. The easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.
The Great Shelby Holmes is a super cute take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos. I thoroughly enjoyed the elements from the original canon that the author scattered throughout the book, as well as her willingness to adjust and change certain elements to better match her modern, child versions of the characters. The mystery was simplistic in its trappings (a dog show champion has gone missing), but had a number of potential villains with motives and opportunity which should entertain young readers as they follow along. Older readers (like myself!) should enjoy the whimsy of it all, because it’s truly a sweet version of a “Sherlock Holmes” mystery. The book also endeared itself to me because it was set in a realistic New York City; that is to say, there was a great deal of diversity in this book, reflecting the actual diversity of the city.
Shelby Holmes is a lovely character. She is a bit of an oddball and doesn’t make friends easily- though it’s wonderful to see her rocky attempts to do so. This is a Holmes that WANTS to be friends with people, but isn’t entirely sure how one does that. She has an adorably pretentious way of speaking (which may grate on some people, but I found it realistic enough when compared to some of the kids I’ve worked with), and a nicely tense, but loving, relationship with her family. It will be interesting to see how she grows as a person over the course of the books, especially as she has shown a (grudging) willingness to follow Watson’s lead when it comes to interacting with people.
I enjoyed this book, overall, and I’m really hoping the author has more planned for this series. It is such a promising beginning.
What About Our Watson?
Watson is the true delight in this book. Watson is our POV character (naturally), and while the book could be all about Shelby, given the title, it actually achieves a very nice balance between the two characters. Watson has his own objectives and concerns- he’s an army brat with recently divorced parents, in a new city, trying to make new friends. While he’s intrigued and curious about Shelby, he tries not to let her goals overwhelm and distract from his own.
This book introduced Watson to the art of observation and deduction, and showed him slowly learning the tricks and traits to become a detective and equal partner. Happily, the book didn’t decide to paint Watson as slower than Holmes; instead, it treated observation and deduction as a skill that Watson can learn, and we get to see him working at it. It’s a wonderful lesson for kids, as well as adults.
They gave some of canon Watson’s traits to his mother, which I personally thought was delightful (the fact that she’s in the military was the main one), but I thought it was clever and interesting to take some of the life-changing trauma that our canon Watson endured (the Afghanistan War) and transform it into the life-altering emotional upheaval of a recent divorce and subsequent estrangement from one parent. In this way, Eulberg’s Watson is still freshly wounded and grieving when he meets Holmes, just in a different way than Arthur Conan Doyle’s Watson.
Watson is warm and kind, and I’m hoping he’ll get to spend more time contributing to the mysteries in future books, now that he’s beginning to learn how detectives think and work.
You Will Like This Book If You Like:
Middle reader books; Modern retellings; BBC Sherlock or Elementary; New York City; Dogs.