Mystery is always a popular choice among young readers, and as Kevin Sylvester as proved with his successful Neil Flambé series, mystery with a bit of humour and some spot illustrations is even better. Evan Munday’s new series is a great step up for older Flambé fans. His text is full of pop culture references, some more obscure than others, but comes with a handy reference guide in the back. Not knowing the references won’t frustrate or deter readers from the story. A successful graphic artist, Munday also proves himself to be a worthy wordsmith on his first foray into children’s literature.
October Schwartz is new to the aptly named Sticksville, located somewhere in Southern Ontario. She is motherless, likes to wear black, and is deep in the writerly throes of a book entitled Two Knives, One Hundred Thousand Demons, which she toils over in class or in the cemetery beside her house. It is this book that brings about the appearance of five dead kids, representing various historical eras (an aspiring loyalist shipbuilder, a depression era quintuplet, an underground railroad escapee, a Scottish immigrant from the early 1900s, and a Native activist). Their deaths are mysterious, but the reader is led to believe that they will one day be explained. I am always on the look out for a good supporting cast, and I especially took to October’s living friends- an unassuming, mild mannered boy named Stacey and the indomitable Yumi Takeshi. This trio of lovable outcasts have some great dialogue and their camaraderie feels authentic.
Canadian history is a much moaned about topic among students, who find it too dull, too diplomatic, and lacking in drama. Frieda Wishinksy’s Canadian Flyer series (for wee ones), Eric Wilson’s Tom and Liz Austen mysteries (a much adored series from my childhood that is perhaps in need of a cover makeover), and Scholastic’s uber successful Dear Canada and it’s brother series, I Am Canada, have gone to great lengths to improve the impressions young Canadians have about their country’s history. Munday’s new series is a welcome black sheep to this literary family, touching on various historical periods with tongue placed firmly in cheek.
Fun, fresh and punchy, The Dead Kid Detective Agency adds life and a good dose of humour to Canadian history.
Available from ECW Press in September 2011.
If you are in Toronto and would like to attend the launch, you can find out more about that at Evan’s website here.