The Peacock Detectives
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that children who enjoy reading will likely read more. The same holds true for adults. Children who read more get exposed to more material, each holding new opportunities, presenting stimulating concepts, introducing them to new cultures, and engaging both their imaginative and empathetic muscles.
If a book comes along that somehow manages to do all this at once, however, it likely does come as a surprise. We don’t expect this to happen very often. The very existence of such a work is a gift, it seems, and one that ought to be shared.
Such is the case with Carly Nugent’s debut middle grade novel, The Peacock Detectives (Text Publishing). The book releases August 29th, 2019, in Australia, Ms. Nugent’s homeland, but young readers in America will have to wait until January 14th, 2020. This is a shame because the book pulls off quite a feat.
The novel centers around Cassandra Andersen (called Cassie by her family and friends, Andersen by her enemies), an “eleven-turning-twelve” year-old girl with a penchant for sleuthing and storytelling, especially when it comes to her neighbors’ pet peacocks. As she puts it, “Noticing details makes me a good writer and it also makes me a good detective, like Sherlock Holmes.”
We meet her best friend, Jonas, a science-loving boy who spouts trivia facts at every opportunity, and her enemy Rhea Grimm, whose personality bristles at Cassie and causes a number of conflicts. The supporting cast deftly provides fodder for intrigue and plot progression.
However, Cassie’s parents and sister play the more difficult roles. Through mysterious circumstances (to an eleven-turning-twelve year-old) and a series of unfortunate events, Cassie discovers (and we along with her) that life is not always as it seems — or as we remember it to be.
Ms. Nugent sets this book apart not only with phenomenal writing for young readers, but she also incorporates educational moments throughout in a way that is seamless, instructional, clever, and above all, fun.
Photo Courtesy of Text Publishing
Written in the first person, we experience the world through Cassie’s eyes. Her mind seeks to suss out the meaning in everything and to show her work at every step. She talks about different parts of speech, the definitions of interesting words, and even the inner workings of a piece of literature. Ms. Nugent does all this without ever striking a pedantic tone.
On the contrary, what the reader finds through Cassie, her parents and sister, Jonas and the rest is a place where learning, reading, writing, and problem-solving are integral aspects of the world, as natural as eating or sleeping. This approach lends the pages credibility via entertainment and art.
In one passage, Cassie expertly describes the mechanics of storytelling and the difficulties inherent in being a writer of fiction (she also introduces some vocabulary):
When you are writing a story for the first time it is hard to decide which details are important and which ones are superfluous (i.e. ones you don’t need to understand the story). This is because sometimes you don’t know what your story is about until it is finished. So you have to write down everything and when you get to the end you can go back and cross out the superfluous details.
In the span of just a few short sentences, Ms. Nugent has Cassie wax philosophic on the nature of writing, defines a tricky word which happens to be related to the subject, then uses that word again in context to reinforce the point. Quite the hat trick.
The book is chockfull of such gems and nuggets of wisdom. I have no complaints about the book — except perhaps that it won’t be available to American children until next year. Once The Peacock Detectives does hit bookstores here, though, I have a feeling this award-winning novel will have young readers (and their parents) snatching it off shelves as quickly as they can.