The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear

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The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A fun adventure in which the past intrudes on the present in a very helpful way. Interesting central character and just the right length for a newly confident reader.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 80 Date: July 2017
Publisher: Matador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1788032535

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Hannah lives with her parents in a flat above the nursing home where her mother is matron. Hannah is an only child and so she enjoys making friends with some of the home's residents. So when Mrs Oberto moves in, Hannah is keen to make her acquaintance - Hannah has never met anyone Italian before. Mrs Oberto is quite standoffish at first but Hannah persists and soon they are the best of friends. Mrs Oberto is particularly keen on helping Hannah with her school project about ancient Rome and relates many interesting stories about her Sicilian childhood. But she remains tight-lipped about the mysterious wooden chest, the key to which she keeps around her neck...

... but then Mrs Oberto suffers a stroke and is rushed off to hospital. And at last she is prepared to share the secrets of the chest with Hannah. They may provide her only chance of a full recovery. And if Hannah is to help, she will need to speak to a girl from those ancient Roman times and invoke the help of an ancient Roman God!

Aww. The Secret of the Wooden Chest is a lovely book. I loved the setting of a nursing home - something I've not come across before in a chapter book for younger readers. It gives Rosevear the chance to illustrate the valuable friendships young children can make with old people, which can be so life-affirming. The mystery narrative is exciting - what is in that chest? And there's humour enough to make you smile but not so much that it gets in the way of the story.

Hannah is a great kid. Chatty and outgoing, she genuinely enjoys the company of the old folk at the home. Even when her enthusiasm proves too much for Mrs Oberto, Hannah gets over the scolding very quickly and is immediately thinking of the best way to make amends. Mrs Oberto herself is a very believable old lady. She can be crotchety but she can also be almost as enthusiastic as Hannah when her interest is piqued and readers will want her to recover from her stroke as much as Hannah does.

The supporting cast of characters is also well-drawn. Mum is busy and distracted because running a nursing home is a 24/7 kind of job. Dad is a little bit scatty but always cheerful. And Mrs Beadle, a ballroom dancer back in her salad days, is a delight. It really is nice to see prominent older characters in a book for the young.

If I were to criticise, I would say that the writing style is quite dense for the target age group. The paragraphs are quite long and the sentences rather complex, often with multiple clauses. And, while a stretching vocabulary is a good thing, some of the choices here are quite adult in a formal way. I think The Secret of the Wooden Chest would benefit from some editing to make the text a trifle more direct and the vocabulary a trifle more engaging. A little bit more show and a little bit less tell.

That said, it really is a lovely book. And it sets the scene nicely for further adventures for Hannah and the magic inside Mrs Oberto's wooden chest. I'd be happy to read them. And just so's you know: 15% of the profits from the sales of this book will be donated to BBC Children in Need. What a nice touch.

Buy The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear at Amazon.com.


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