Books & Literature

Book Review: Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters, by Anna Zobel

JUNIOR FICTION: An adorable and charming new story about everyone’s favourite witch Little Gem.

Perfect for newly independent readers with a story that would appeal to any young child.

Anna Zobel is an illustrator, writer, and teacher who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters is Zobel’s second book as a writer and illustrator. It is also the second in the Little Gem series.

In the first book, Little Gem, who was attending Witchcraft School, found herself in the strange town of Ellsworth Pining, 100 years in the future, when her travelling spell went awry! She found a home there and became their resident witch, not telling anyone that she was not from their time, or that she was in fact still learning how to be a witch. 

In this new addition to the Little Gem series, we find her still solving the problems of the local villagers and rehearsing for the town play for the Midsummer Festival. But her magic begins to go wrong, and amongst her mail, she begins receiving mysterious letters which are a great cause for worry. 

Gem is still friends with those we met in the first book. Henry, the resident housekeeping ghost, Renzo, who helps his postman dad in the holidays, Amira, who now has a pet dragon, and Mrs Silva, who runs the local café. 

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters is also a perfect read-aloud chapter book for parents or teachers of children in years 1-3. There are many lessons to be learned and discussed through themes like learning from your mistakes, taking ownership of your errors, children who feel they are always the odd one out, those who find things difficult, persisting, and most of all …… always being kind.

The idea that, sometimes, when you get lost, you find a place where you should have been all the time, is one that anyone can take on board and would see children set on a path of discovery and learning. 

As the story unfolds, we learn more about the people of Ellsworth Pining and find out that not everyone is who they seem to be. Children who love a good mystery will enjoy being kept guessing until the end.

Little Gem is an unusual size in that it is a smaller-sized novel than children of this age usually read, and seems quite hefty. It gives the impression it is an adult novel and would thus give the child a sense of achievement at having read it. It is, however, not a difficult read with its 33 chapters and large font, story, themes and language. Zobel’s sketch-style black-and-white illustrations will help newly independent readers develop their reading and imaginative skills, giving just enough small prompts to help with the text.

In this magical kind of village of Ellsworth Pining, where the reader gets the impression anything could happen and nobody would blink an eye, the characters are generally kind and welcoming. It is a feel-good story about friendship and finding your place in the world. 

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters is a perfect second book in this delightful series.  

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Penguin Random House
Released: 1 June 2021
RRP: $14.99

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