Granny is baking her own grandma’s secret recipe to win the Great Village Bake Off. It’s complicated by the fact that she has her three grandchildren staying: Tom, Pip, and our narrator, Joe Robinson. However, things get even messier when her recipe goes missing, and the children decide to solve the mystery of who has stolen it.
In the annual fiercely competitive bake off, it seems natural that one of the Muddlemoor neighbours may want to stop Granny winning, and seeing as the children have little better to do during their holidays, they set off to find out the culprit. Unfortunately, though, they are better eaters of cake than mystery solvers.
With a winning narrative voice, not unlike that of Izzy’s in Pamela Butchart’s great series of books for younger readers, Joe Robinson sees things from a fairly naïve point of view, sharing his intimate thoughts with the reader, whilst really the reader is one step ahead of him. It’s a nice touch, and leads to the inevitable trouble he and his cousins get themselves into. At the same time, the children do their best to channel their inner Secret Seven, exploring motives and picking up clues, in order to solve the simple mystery.
There is so much to like in this first of a new series, from the map at the beginning of the book, which outlines the village, to the periphery characters, which include a phone-obsessed teenager and a former professional spy. There are also oodles of food descriptions in the text. Quayle excels at pointing out the common misconceptions of children, but also the things that children notice, including the difference in the ways the cousins are being raised, to their very different personalities. The conversational, chatty style of the narration, with occasional use of capitals for hyperbole, makes the story feel intimate and real, and the rambling stories to illustrate their experiences and truisms gives the text enormous relatability.
Joe Robinson is a great protagonist, and even more admirable is the way in which he is depicted as more of a follower than a leader, despite being the main character, and all the more likeable for it. He is flawed and a scamp, but with a heart in the right place.
Illustrated throughout with expressive black and white pictures, this is a particularly adept portrayal of the different characters in a small village, and how their quirks come to make them lovable. A community-feel, diverse characterisation, and a large dollop of humour make this a recipe for success. A lovely addition to younger fiction for fluent readers.
With thanks to Andersen Press for the review copy.