Author Amelia Mellor has crafted a fine piece of social history as well as a riveting adventure story for readers 10+. The “hero” The Grandest Bookshop in the World is a bookshop. Coles Book Arcade was a famous institution, with locations in both Sydney and Melbourne. The Melbourne store was the grandest of them all, known throughout the world and a real destination for book lovers everywhere. It boasted a tea salon, real monkeys, talking parrots, various automata (an early form of robotics), a string quartet and various other diversions to support the astonishing three storeys of bookshelves, said to contain over two million books.
Mr E.W. Cole was the proprietor: a visionary, family man, and a fierce opponent of the White Australia Policy. He specifically designed the Tea Salon to combat racism against Chinese and Indian people. He was also a publisher of books and pamphlets, many of which are held in various museums today. His most famous book, Coles Funniest Picture Book has been reprinted many times and is still available today.
Coles Funniest Picture Book was part of my childhood, so I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting elements such as the riddles. Reading Coles Funniest Picture Book is like a trip into the past for me at two levels – firstly back to my own childhood reading from my grandmother’s library, and secondly a trip back in time to the social mores of the time it was published.
I dived into Amelia Mellor’s fiction book with great enthusiasm and I was not disappointed. The main character, Pearl Cole, is the daughter of Mr E.W. Cole and she lives in a flat above the bookstore with her family. They are a large and boisterous family, and the children are encouraged to be curious and inquiring.
A strange man appears in the store and Pearl begins to investigate the business he is undertaking with her father. This leads Pearl and her brother Valentine (Valley) on a fast-paced race against the stranger, The Obscurosmith. He has the magical power to wipe memories, plus his magic is draining the bookstore of its life. Only Pearl and Valley can save the family, their home and their beloved bookstore from a sad fate. They must play the Obscurosmith’s game, solving riddles within specific time frames, and beat him at his own game.
All of the action takes place within the bookstore, and much of it is based on the real rooms and attractions, architecture and design of the Melbourne store. The children enlist the support of other family members and store team members, the pace is driven by the clock, and the riddles become more difficult to solve, as well as more physically punishing. Memories start to fade as the children reach the critical point of the game. Will they make it through to the end of the game?
Amelia Mellor has created a magical world within a bookstore, set in the late 19th century. Her writing is quite cinematic and will appeal to today’s readers. Fans of movies such as Jumanji will revel in the imaginative exploits and time-trip.
This book has been beautifully packaged with a hardcover, gold embossing and rainbow coloured endpapers. It is like a little bit of 19th-century craftsmanship and a gorgeous gift for any reader, of any age.