Picture Book Reviews

Review: Real Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker



Real-Life Mysteries is a fantastic book which has been nominated for the Blue Peter Award. It is the ideal book for helping young children understand the topic of 2017: Fake News. Real-Life Mysteries works on two layers. 

  • It is a factual book about unsolved mysteries 
  • It teaches children skills to decide for themselves where the facts lie in a piece of information

img_4739Real Life Mysteries turns unsolved historical stories into a detective’s casebook, and leaves the reader in charge. It encourages them to approach stories objectively, and carefully, and to work through all the facts before they draw a conclusion. A page at the front explains these skills, including the meaning of the word objectively. After that the mysteries are presented. A double page spread gives the story context (eg. historical and geographical) then a further double page spread presents a ‘case file’ where the evidence is layed out. 

img_4743What I love most as an adult reader is that the book does not patronise its readers, nor tell them when something is not fact. Aside from a friendly warning on the cover that not all writing is true, it lets readers make up their own minds. This is hugely important. Arguing with a young child about the existence of Bigfoot is like arguing with a tabloid reader about political misinformation. Nobody likes to be corrected, being corrected can make people more stubborn and it can make them less willing to engage in reasoned argument. 

The mysteries examined are wide-ranging, from Bigfoot to curses to superpowers and spontaneous combustion. The selection might encourage children to remain objective. If they are certain one idea is true, what do they think about Bigfoot? If the only answer is ‘it says so here and I think this is true’ they might be reminded about objectivity. 

img_4745This is an attractive book for young readers. The theme of detectives is created with the notice board background. Notes and diagrams are pinned to the board. It is just serious enough that the child might think it is something more than play, while bright splashes of colour and cartoon-style pictures keep things safely in the realm of fun. I like how much thought has been given to the child reader – they need to feel they are taken seriously, but may need reassurance if the stories get overwhelming. 

The text is broken into small chunks. It would be a great book for reluctant readers, as the theme encourages lots of breaks for discussion, and it can be made into an activity where the child is encouraged to make their own case file with diagrams and pictures. If a child connected with this book, they might search out others linked to their favourite stories. 

Real-Life Mysteries is an attractive book which puts the child reader first. As well as being a good fact-file on historical mysteries it identifies a concept which children need to learn. The need for objectivity to be taught at a young age has never been more apparent, and this would be a great place to start. 


Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Bounce Marketing for my wonderful prize. All opinions my own.

2 thoughts on “Review: Real Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker

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