Jane Yolen & Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple,
The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History,
illustrated by Roger Roth (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple, explore the mystery of the abandoned brig, the Mary Celeste, employing a picture-book format that will engage the attention of the whole family.

The framework of the book is set by the narrator, a girl whose father, a detective, has inspired in her a love of old unsolved cases. Her current interest is in the Mary Celeste. She narrates the ship's history, presenting her case notes as well, then summarizes the various theories that attempt to explain the ship's desertion. A map and time line are also included, as well as a brief bibliography that appears on the copyright page.

The Mary Celeste was found adrift by the captain and crew of the Deo Gratia on December 4, 1872. When three of the crew boarded, they found the ship empty of the captain, Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife, Sarah, their 2-year-old daughter Sophia, and seven crew members. There was no sign of violence or of a voluntary planned departure, but Captain Briggs, his family, and his crew were never seen again.

The layout of the book is attractive and appealing. The text is set off in a box against Roger Rother's pencil and watercolor double-spread illustrations. Smaller colored boxes contain definitions of potentially unfamiliar words while on another box, shaped like a notepad, are recorded additional notes. At the end are several popular theories to explain the mystery, and Yolen and Stemple include questions for considering the possibility of each theory. The narrator (and by extension, the authors) leave it up to the reader to decide for him or herself.

This is a book to spark the imagination as well as demonstrate how to solve problems. It is brief but fun, and the carefully executed illustrations enhance and extend the story. Give this to the budding detective or historian in your family, but don't be surprised if you get hooked as well.

review by
Donna Scanlon


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