By Siobhan Dowd
This is a great London-based mystery for kids 8-14! The story is told from the point of view of Ted – the (roughly) 12-year-old protagonist. Ted’s Aunt Gloria and cousin Salim come for a visit and plan to stay a few days before they move to New York. Ted and his sister, Kat, take Salim to see some of the London sights. Salim is particularly excited to see the London Eye – where much of the action takes place. The book provides kids with a great introduction to some of London’s prime tourist destinations.
It’s not a bad read for an adult – so you could consider reading it yourself to share the experience. The action starts as Salim goes up on the Eye while Ted and Kat wait down below – but never gets off! How mysterious! Our heroes look to parents and police, who are predictably of no help. Thankfully through some outstanding detective work, the kids are able to solve the mystery and rescue Salim. Phew!
Parents might be interested to know that Ted is described as having a condition that is somewhere on the autism spectrum. He mentions that he’s not good at reading body language, that he has a particular interest in numbers, and that he has a good memory and retains the details of things that he sees. Ted also has a particular interest in the weather, and changing weather patterns. These characteristics indeed prove crucial to his efforts to solve the mystery. It’s a good way to give kids a perspective on Autism and related conditions. For a kid who shares this condition with Ted, it’s a great story about the ways in which some of the things that make them different can be strengths. And for other kids, reading the book will give them a perspective that will likely make them more sensitive to how kids like Ted perceive the world.
Parents should also be aware that the book does touch on a couple of sensitive topics – like running away from home, as well as (very briefly) the prospect of kids being kidnapped by sexual predators. It doesn’t go into any detail on this – and I’m pretty sure that it went right over my 9YO’s head, but just be aware that it’s in there and might provoke a question. Lastly, there’s also a scene where Salim’s friend Marcus from Manchester talks about being ridiculed in school for being different (his mom is from Bangladesh, and his dad is Irish). Salim helps the friend through this, which creates a special bond of friendship between the two of them. It’s a positive interaction that touches on some of the emotional challenges of prejudice and teasing in school.
The book makes a special mention of the view of Big Ben and Parliament from the Eye – and spends some time on a crucial scene in which everyone in the pod can pose for a souvenir picture. If your little one has read the book, they’ll likely enjoy it when they have this experience for themselves and thinking about the action that plays out in the book in this setting!
Big Ben and Parliament from the London Eye
In addition to the Eye, several other London landmarks serve as settings in the book. Much of the critical first scene takes place in the Southbank area, near the Eye. This is an area that any visitor to London should see – especially with kids – packed with street performers, ice cream trucks, and the all-important public toilet (though you do have to pay, so make sure to keep some change on hand). It’s one of the best places to be on a sunny day (or even an overcast day when it’s not raining!). This area also includes several other attractions that are worth checking out. The London Dungeon is just West of the Eye – which isn’t for little kids, but might be a good fit for pre-teen or teenagers who want to learn about London’s sordid past and don’t mind a bit of a scare. The London Aquarium is next door to the Dungeon. It’s not the world’s best aquarium, but if you have a little one who likes sea creatures, it will keep them entertained on the inevitable rainy day. In front of the Aquarium is a great place to get a good shot of Big Ben and Parliament from across the Thames.
J (7), T (5), L (3) on the Southbank
If it’s sunny, there is a unique log-climbing playground which is in a little park called Jubilee Gardens, right across from the eye. With the Eye to your back right, you can’t miss it. Kids from 5-12 will really enjoy this.
J playing on the logs near the London Eye
If you walk northeast from the Eye on along the Southbank (about a mile), you’ll eventually come to the Tate Modern Museum – a world-renowned modern art museum. Ted’s parents were more excited about it than Ted was, which we found to be true in our family as well. . That said, it usually does have at least one exhibit that’s geared towards kids – so if your children are into art, they may tolerate a brief visit. Like many of London’s museums, it’s free!.
Another free museum – the London Science Museum, is also mentioned in the book as a place that Salim enjoys visiting. It’s likely that your kids will enjoy it as well! It’s a bit dated in parts, but our kids really enjoyed the live exhibits and shows (the daily Bubble Show is great for little ones, aged 2-8). Coupled with the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum right next door, this makes for a fantastic day.
Trains and the London Underground (the “Tube”) also play a key role in the story. A kid who has read this book will recognize several stations that play a part in the story – including Embankment Station, Earl’s Court and Euston – as well as several others on the Northern Line. A fun activity to do with a child who is reading this book would be to check out a tube map and trace the journey of the characters as they explore London!
Earl’s Court Convention Center is a key location in the story – where Ted and Kat visit a motorcycle convention to try to track down a mystery man who they saw at the Eye, and who holds a key to finding Salim. The convention center probably doesn’t rank too highly on your list of must-see spots for a family holiday in London – but Earl’s Court is a busy intersection on the Tube where several lines cross and branch, so there’s a good chance that you might pass through there on your way to other locations in London. When you do, see if your kids remember when Ted and Kat were there!
Also mentioned towards the end is Tottenham Court road – and the many shops selling musical instruments that can be found on Denmark St and the surrounding roads south of Tottenham Court Road. f you or your kids are interested in musical instruments, you can easily enjoy an hour or two browsing here.
Questions and Discussion Points
- What do you think it’s like riding on the Eye? What do you think you can see from up there?
- Kat and Ted ride on the Tube by themselves! What do you think it would be like for a kid to get around London on the Tube?