The Case of The House at No. 74

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What is it?

A storybook for mid to upper primary-aged children.

Who is it by?

By Heidi Shamsuddin, with illustrations by Lim Lay Koon, and published by Oyez!Books.

What is it about?

This is the fourth book in Heidi’s The Door Under the Stairs series. The series is about friends Emil, Joe and Hanna who discover a small door under the stairs in their school. Behind the door is a room and another door that acts as a portal, taking them to the past where they help prominent Malaysians. The first three books featured our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman; legendary footballer Mokhtar Dahari; and multi-talented actor P. Ramlee.

This time, the children end up in the forest during World War II. There they are caught by a band of men, led by Berani. To make matters worse, Emil injures his arm. The men take the trio to see “Mother” in Papan. She turns out to be Sybil Kathigasu.

The children are not sure who she is and what they are doing there and how they’re supposed to help her. They always need to help someone when they go through the time portal. It is their only way to get back home.

Meanwhile, they spot their teacher Ms Resa at the Papan market. What is she doing in Papan during World War II and what is her role in the door under the stairs? Adding to the suspense is the portal’s location in the forest – will they be able to find it when they want to go home?

What can children learn from it?

Children will learn a bit about Sybil Kathigasu and her role in helping Malayans during WWII. It will also give them a peak into life during the war and how dangerous it was, as well as the things that brave people needed to do to survive then.

There is a little fact sheet at the back of the book. It’s a good start and hopefully will lead to children wanting to learn more and finding more information on Sybil on the Internet and in books.

What did I like about it?

I have read all of the books in this series and I think this is the best of the lot. Heidi’s writing and the depth of her stories seems to be improving as she progresses.

I loved that this book had so many dimensions – besides the main plot, there was the subplot about Ms Resa, and the interesting characters of Sybil’s daughters Olga and Dawn. There was also Berani and the resistance fighters; as well as Sybil’s husband. Each of these characters added interesting facets and made me want to know more about them and their role in the whole WWII story.

This is the first book from this series that made me sigh when I reached the last page and closed the book. It gave me a deep sense of satisfaction and I wanted to read more about Sybil. I think I’ll finally read No Dram of Mercy – the memoirs penned by Sybil.

Heidi’s books really do work to get you thirsty for more information about these important people from Malaysia’s history.

Where to get it?

You can get it at Silverfish bookstore or online at http://www.oyezbookstore.com/series.html.

Should you get it?

Get the whole series. Must read, especially for Malaysian children.