Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach is a historical detective story for middle grades.
The Plot: What is worse than always being the "new kid" at school? Having a father who is a Shakespeare scholar who names his children after characters in the play. And the character he picks for you is -- Hero, from Much Ado About Nothing. And on the first day of school, someone says, "hey, that's the name of my dog!".
Meet Hero, the delightful heroine of Shakespeare's Secret. She's in 6th grade, and a dismal looking year may turn itself around, thanks to the nextdoor neighbor, Mrs. Roth. And the mystery Mrs. Roth shares with Hero: a diamond from a 500 year old necklace is hidden somewhere in Hero's new house. And cute, popular, 8th grader Danny is interested in the mystery and in Hero.
The Good: A mystery that doesn't involve ghosts. And while there are coincidences, as the book says, "but really, there are no coincidences. Coincidences are just other people's choices, plans you don't now about." Coincidences don't drive the plot; they are not some mystical message.
The kids -- Hero and Danny -- act. Mrs. Roth supports them, and is a source of information. But Hero and Danny are the ones who actually do things; and they are the ones who take that information and make conclusions. They are the ones who think and do.
Like Down The Rabbit Hole, S'sS uses working parents to get the parents out of the way so that the kids can investigate. Like DTRH, there is no guilt or drama to parents working. It's a simple fact.
I loved the history in this! It turns out the missing diamond may have something to do with William Shakespeare and with the "real" author of the plays. S'sS offers one possibility. I don't want to give away the "secret", but I think this book will inspire readers to learn more about Shakespeare and English history, much like Konigsburg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver led to my lifelong love of history.
Hero and Danny are real kids -- despite her name and her father's occupation, Hero has never read a Shakespeare play. Hero has trouble making friends -- her difficulty in school brought back painful memories. Hero and her sister have a great sibling bond, sometimes arguing, sometimes getting along.
Cynthia Leitich Smith's interview with Broach can be found at her cynsations blog.