FUN, FICTION AND FACTUAL FOOTNOTES
I’ve always loved a footnote. They promise so much fascinating information. My eyes light up when I see that little number, perching above a word like a bountiful fairy godmother hovering over a baby. You never know what you’re about to find out. I once wrote a book stuffed with footnotes giving snippets of information about the world I’d created. OK, some of them were on the outlandish side of weird, but I loved them. My agent didn’t.
Anyway, I’m digressing, Philip Ardagh, author of The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny, Victorian House Maid (and Accidental Detective), is obviously a fellow footnote fan. This book is the second in a series of secret diaries, published by Nosy Crow in conjunction with the National Trust, and this one is a light-hearted but informative look at the lives of ordinary working Victorians. It’s stuffed with humour and interesting facts that are skilfully woven into the story.
Jane Pinny is a maid of all work. That word ALL needs to be emphasised. I didn’t realise before just how hard such work was. One of the footnotes informs me that maids would have to fit in 10-12 hours’ worth of backbreaking work before taking their ‘half day’ off. They couldn’t have been fit for much after that.
Back to the story. Hardworking Jane and her pet talking pigeon, Plump, take up a new position in Lytton House and between slogging her socks off, marvelling at the workings of the huge house and secretly fancying one of the footmen (and no wonder – footnote 45 tells me that they were chosen for their height and good looks), Jane finds time to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the mistress of the house’s valuable jade necklace.
Jane triumphs, of course, and the surprising wrongdoer gets his or her (I’m not giving any clues) comeuppance. Ardagh thoughtfully provides a postscript that tells us about Jenny’s later life, and about Plump and his descendants.
Jane is a lovely, appealing character – chirpy and resourceful. She is beautifully brought to life by illustrator, Jamie Littler. There are illustrations on every page and they’re wonderful. What with the lively story and the fun illustrations, it’s easy to forget that you’re learning as well as enjoying yourself, as you try to solve the mystery.
This series is a clever idea, with wide appeal. Got a child who hates history but loves mysteries? Try them with this series.
Or one who will only read fiction? The short footnotes are such fun that they won’t even realise that they’re learning! Or one who doesn’t like fiction, only facts? Point them at the footnotes and they’ll want to read the rest.
The first in the series, The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge, Medieval Knight in Training, also written by Ardagh and illustrated by Littler, is now on my Christmas list, and I’m looking forward to the next installment, due out next spring. I wonder when it will be set?
As Horace, my book loving ginger tom, was unavailable for review duties today, I asked his mum, Jezebel, to give me her opinion. She said that she loved it, and please could I find her a pigeon friend just like Plump.