We’ve been super lucky to have had several books to review recently, mostly prior to publication which always feels a bit special as we get
a peek behind the scenes at how the books are produced. One of our favourites from the current set of reviews has been The Dundoodle Mysteries: The Chocolate Factory Ghost. This has had an unexpected overlap between our main blog purpose of promoting STEM and our role as book hoarders (ahem, I mean reviewers) because it turns out that the author, David O’Connell, is a talented scientist as well as an entertaining author.
The Chocolate Factory Ghost is a fun, fast-paced adventure as Archie McBudge and his new friends must race to use clues to find a great treasure before sinister forces get there first. The book taps in to a font of childhood fantasies and Ollie and Toby loved imagining themselves in the place of the heroes of the story, from inheriting a sweet making empire to exploring haunted castles and meeting magical creatures. Reading about the secret den inside a sweet factory has provided the inspiration for a lot of imaginative play in our house this week.
The children in the story are resourceful, loyal and determined as they fight to save the fudge factory and all of its employees from ruin. The book feels well thought out and well written, the different elements hinging together cleverly and the bittersweet tinges of sadness for lost family members making the story believable.
David O’Connell’s writing pairs well with the great illustrations provided by Claire Powell, which help to keep younger readers engaged while being read to as well as being fun for older, independent readers. Our copy did not have all of the illustrations that will appear in the published version, but the boys really liked the ones that were included. Toby’s favourite was the picture (below) of Archie McBudge first encountering the amazing tropical glasshouse attached to the Hall he has just inherited. We’re moving house soon and Toby has added this glasshouse to his list of things he wants for his bedroom in the new house.
I was intrigued by the link between science and art in the life of the author, as I firmly believe that the two disciplines greatly benefit each other and shouldn’t be separated in the way we have come to do in the last hundred years or so. With this in mind I dropped an e-mail to David O’Connell to ask if he minded sharing a bit about his scientific background and the role it plays in his writing. He very kindly replied with this:
“You’re very welcome to mention my science connections. I did my PhD at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. My thesis was on the role of maternal nutrition (food again!) in embryo development during pregnancy and the long term post-natal effects on health.
Even though I work in books and illustration, my science background informs everything I do. I always need things to have a proper logic to them, even when magic or nonsense is involved. It has to ‘work’ in my head otherwise it’s not believable.
A PhD is fantastic training for analysing and solving problems, and very helpful for plotting stories, particularly with a mystery element (as well as just dealing with life generally)! As part of creating a book, you often have to pull your story apart and put it together again in a different way, but make all the parts fit. Information has to be organised. Creativity is involved, of course, but having a mind trained to think logically helps me a lot”
David has a bimonthly newsletter (The Dundoodle News) which has has background info on the books and characters, and the world they live in. The Chocolate Factory Ghost sets the scene well for what will hopefully be a long running series of Dundoodle Mysteries as my boys are hooked.
Notes: This book was provided free of charge by the publisher in return for an honest review for the site LoveReading 4 Kids. The Chocolate Factory ghost is due to be published in April.