The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger
by J. T. Williams
illustrated by Simone Douglas
Longlisted for the Little Rebels Award 2023
"Mama says that if we don't tell our own stories, someone else will do it for us. And, if we let them do that, how can we trust them to tell it right? Until the lions have their own storytellers, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
Lizzie and Dido Belle are both 12-year-old Black girls living in Georgian London. Lizzie helps out in her family's thriving, literary Westminster tea shop; Belle leads a rather different, genteel, life in Kenwood House, Hampstead. But when danger lurks at the famous Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, threatening the very life of Lizzie's father, the girls are brought together in a pulsing mystery...
The first in a new series, introducing an endearing and razor-sharp detective duo. The storytelling is a captivating whirl, told in a five act structure, set amongst familiar London landmarks and drawing in critical moments and people from Black British history. There are cameos by the likes of Olaudah Equiano and the Blackbirds of St Giles; we witness the activism of real 18th century campaigners, The Sons & Daughters of Africa; there is a highly insightful look at Britain's inhumane, criminal treatment of both enslaved and free people of African descent in the period presumed to be post-Abolition. Lizzie herself is imagined as the daughter of Ignatius Sancho (who is also fictionalised here to reference Ida Aldridge) and Belle is drawn from Dido Belle, a fascinating figure dubbed 'the first Black aristocrat'. There is also some excellent content on the treatment of women and some fabulous female characters beyond the protagonists. Watch out for Quebecois Meg with her cat-like voice and single gold hoop earring...
This is history perfectly fired up for a middle grade audience with occasional, striking black and white illustrations and a text broken up with newspaper extracts, theatre playbills, letters, and those all important case notes.
"Illuminating storytelling by lions, weaving fiction out of real lives from Black British history...There is plenty here to fascinate and to show where Black historical identity can be found. (Louise Tree, Historical Novel Society, 2023). Written and illustrated by Londoners- who are also artists of colour. Age 9-13, Paperback 359pp