Real-Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker


In childhood, there were thrills galore on camping trips in which peers or adults told stories about urban myths, real-life mysteries, unexplained happenings. Which child hasn’t at some point shuddered in horror at ghosts, looked at lights in the sky and wondered about UFOs, or stared across the water hoping to see a Loch Ness Monster? This new colourful non-fiction from b small publishing invites the reader into the world of unsolved mysteries, and helps him or her to become aware of the skills of critical thinking. The reader is not just reading the book; each reader is analysing the evidence presented, sifting and sorting and drawing their own conclusions. In a world of fake news, this is an excellent primer for thinking about what’s fact-based and what’s not. And this week, my choice has approval from the Blue Peter Book Awards Judging Panel, who shortlisted it for Best Book with Facts Award 2017.

The book highlights a whole host of real life mysteries, including Bigfoot, the timeslip of Versailles, Nasca Lines, the curse of the Hope Diamond, cases of human spontaneous combustion, crop circles and many more. Of course, some of these may bring an element of fear, but the book attempts to give some sort of explanation, making the unexplained far less scary and enabling the reader to analyse each case as a cool-headed detective.

This approach to the book is what makes it great. Each ‘mystery’ is dealt with as if it were a case to be solved by the reader. The mystery is presented, and then dealt with in a case file, in which the book  highlights the different elements: witness statements, and witness reliability, theories, physical objects, locations and photographic evidence. (Sadly, with this last, the book is illustrated so, for example, none of the photographs which people claim to have taken of Bigfoot have been reproduced here). But there are diagrams, and the ‘case files’ are laid out in the illustrations as if the pieces of evidence have been put upon a pin board – complete with post-its, captions, drawings.

Difficult words are pulled out and explained (as well as a glossary at the back), and the reader is asked to think about things carefully in a further investigation. For example, with Versailles, the reader is encouraged to tell friends an interesting story and then a week later ask the friends to repeat it back, listening to see if it’s the same. This will inevitably lead to further discussion about memory, truths and hearsay.

The book is colourful and bright – the text is accessible and interesting. Just be warned, the book might teach your children too much information. With conspiracy theories, self-fulfilling prophecies, and premonitions explained, they may want to talk to you a little more about that new ‘word’, fake news. They’ll be assessing whether you secretly ate the last biscuit while they were at school, and working out what you bought them for Christmas before you’ve even wrapped it. You can buy this wonderful book and solve your mysteries here.