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Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock was recommended to me by one of my Year Five readers at school. The children I listen to regularly are a great bunch, and generally introduce me to a wide variety of books I have never come across before, in amongst the usual Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates offerings.  I don’t get time to read everything they tell me about, but this book was particularly intriguing and also published by Nosy Crow a growing independent publisher whose development I’ve been following with keen interest.

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Dear Scarlett tells the story of eleven year old Scarlett. Scarlett’s dad died about five years before the story starts, and Scarlett believes that he was a thief who spent most of her childhood in and out of prison. As a result her memories of him are few, and rather confused. She gets teased a lot at school about her criminal father and feels pretty conflicted about his legacy, such as it is.

A few weeks after her eleventh birthday a man appears on Scarlett’s doorstep saying that he was Scarlett’s father’s solicitor and he had been instructed to give her a box of items from her father when she turned eleven.

Scarlett is intrigued, and doesn’t know what to make of the strange collection of postcards and other memorabilia that her father has left her.  Soon after the box is delivered a series of strange events happen to Scarlett, some of them frightening, and Scarlett is led to believe that her father has left her a trail of clues to follow, but what exactly are they, and what will solving them lead to.

This is a great adventure story which ties in rather beautifully with Scarlett’s newly blossoming understanding of her father and her relationship with him, and her relationship with her mother’s new boyfriend and his daughter. I loved the way the author deftly juggled the kind of theme a Jacqueline Wilson novel usually deals with, and leavened it with the adventurous nature of Scarlett’s quest. It really perked up a rather tired genre and gave it new places to go and things to say.

As well as being a bit of a breath of fresh air in terms of publishing that will primarily appeal to girls, it is also very well written and extremely engrossing. There are a few elements of rather surreal humour which were startling, such as Scarlett’s relationship with her horrible teacher Mrs. Gayton, and her trials and tribulations trying to rescue some penguins from the local zoo. The book really does have something to appeal to every reader, but without coming across as too cluttered. It is to the author’s credit that the story hangs together well and each element works.

The book is clearly marketed at girls, which is a shame because the adventure elements are strong enough that the lack of boy characters wouldn’t be too much of a problem if you could just get a boy to try it. It’s the sort of book you’d have to read an exciting bit out of in class or at home, and hope that any boys who are interested enough can overcome the girl friendly cover.

I’d recommend it to confident readers aged 7-12. It would make a lovely bed time story to share with younger children or with older children who still enjoy being read to.

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