Kirstine and the Villains
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
When several thousand dollars disappear from the safe of the Vancouver office of Garfield Explorations, Kirstine Summerdale’s father, who is the company treasurer, becomes the principal suspect, for only he and his boss, Mr. Becker, knew the safe’s combination. Kirstine, almost eleven years old, sets out to discover the real thief’s identity. The office offers three suspects: Mrs. Dodsworth, the boss’s gruff old private secretary; the young and pretty but nervous Vanessa Birk, the office secretary; and funny, free-spending Dick Sawyer, the Supplies Officer. Kirstine is aided in her sleuthing by friend Tracey and a group of imaginary characters, the villains of the title. Kirstine possesses an imagination so vivid that animals and people about her get transformed into the “bad” characters from fairy tales. Villains, such as the Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, the Ugly Sisters from Cinderella, and the Troll of Three Billy Goats Gruff, point out to Kirstine that they had been labelled as “bad” because everyone judged them on the basis of their actions without considering the motivation behind their behaviors. Using the Villains’ advice to look beyond the act to find the real person ultimately leads Kirstine to the thief. Having assumed that desire for easy profit was the thief’s motive, the girls followed the three suspects to see if one of them displayed a need for a large sum of money, only to find that they all did. Finally the girls realize that, by hastily accepting the assumption that the theft was committed for material gain, they had ignored the obvious thief, who had taken the money as a jealous way of stealing Mr. Summerdale’s reputation.
Any regular reader of juvenile mysteries should correctly guess the thief in the first chapter, though the motive remains hidden until the book’s conclusion. Characters, as in most mysteries, remain largely types, but Read’s amusing device of using Kirstine’s “Villains” as a form of conscience reveals growth in Kirstine, initially as she finds herself labelled by her school peers as a “thief’s” daughter and then as Kirstine changes roles and passes superficial judgments about the robbery’s suspects. In intermediate grade classrooms, the book’s villain device could stimulate language arts activities focusing on the motivation of other “bad” characters in traditional literature. Because most of the seven full-page, black-and-white illustrations portray the fairytale characters, the illustrations might mislead eight- to ten-year-old browsers in search of a book, but they are meaningful when the book is read.