A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Robin Brancato (Winning).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of James Otis Kaler (1848-1912), Toby Tyler: or, Ten Weeks at the Circus, and Lucy Bate (1939â€“1993), Little Rabbitâ€™s Loose Tooth.
- In 1915, Pluto, considered a planet until recently, is photographed for the first time.
- The United States Congress establishes time zones and approves of daylight savings in 1918. Read Daylight Runner by OisĂn McGann and Saving Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
- Itâ€™s National Quilting Day. Read The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, The Quilt by Gary Paulsen, and The Quilt by Ann Jonas.
For our celebration of mysteries that began last week, letâ€™s look at one of our best-written mysteries for young readers, Philip Pullmanâ€™s The Ruby in the Smoke, first published in the United States in 1987. With this book, Pullman, a former schoolteacher raised in Rhodesia, Australia, London, and Wales, launched his career as a writer for children and young adults. A few years after the Sally Lockhart mysteries appeared, Pullman became internationally famous for the His Dark Materials series, which began with The Golden Compass and was later adapted into a movie.
Sometimes we continue to love best the first book we read by an author, and The Ruby in the Smoke remains my favorite title by Pullman. In it he explores neither religion or theology or any other serious matter; he simply uses his many gifts to tell a good tale. Perfect for Sherlock Holmes Weekend, the book is set in Victorian London, with its dark alleys, poverty, and underworld crime. Sally Lockhart, who believes she has just become an orphan at sixteen, shows up at her late-fatherâ€™s offices and asks about a mysterious note sent to her with the words â€śThe Seven Blessings.â€ť When she mentions the phrase, an office worker, Mr. Higgs, dies on the spot. So Sallyâ€™s quest begins â€“ to find Major Marshbanks, also mentioned in the note, and ultimately to go on a quest for a valuable ruby. The story explores opium dens, Britainâ€™s trade in the Far East, the development of photography, and life in London for those with few resources.
So completely does Pullman evoke the world of Sherlock Holmes, that readers almost expect him to make a cameo appearance. But Sally, as the heroine of the tale, doesnâ€™t need him to emerge. With ingenuity, bravery, and some help from people who become her friends along the way, she locates the ruby and unravels other crimes of the past. And, best yet, she receives enough money in the end to set herself up in businessâ€”and for future stories as well, including The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well, and The Tin Princess.
Ideal for ten- to fourteen-year-olds, as well as adults, the book demonstrates Pullmanâ€™s strengths as a writer. Even in this, his first book, he masterfully weaves a complex and interesting plot that envelops the reader with mystery and suspense. Iâ€™ve always thought that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself would love to read The Ruby in the Smoke.
Hereâ€™s a passage from The Ruby in the Smoke:
Beyond the Tower of London, between St. Katherineâ€™s Docks and Shadwell New Basin, lies the area known as Wapping, a district of docks and warehouses, of crumbling tenements and rat-haunted alleys, of narrow streets where the only doors are at second-floor level, surmounted by crude projecting beams and ropes and pulleys. The blind brick walls at pavement level and the brutal-looking apparatus above give the place the air of some hideous dungeon from a nightmare, while the light, filtered and dulled by grime in the air, seems to come from a long way offâ€”as if through a high window set with bars.
Originally posted March 19, 2011. Updated for .