Reading Time: 5 minutes
Last month I reviewed the artistic wizardry that is Myth Match from Laurence King Publishing. This week, I’m taking another LK work of art, the “fiendish puzzle adventure,” Hoakes Island. The book has been created by father-daughter team, Helen and Ian Friel, and is filled with mathematical and visual puzzles. It’s suitable for children around 8 upwards. Younger, with a bit of parental supervision.
What is Hoakes Island?
It’s a book with many hidden joys. First, there’s the band that goes around this medium-sized hardback’s cover. It looks like a swish frontispiece, designed to draw in potential readers in the bookstore. Which indeed it is, but it’s also a whole lot more than that.
Take the band off, and it folds out into a map of Hoakes Island, which will form the center of your puzzle adventure. In addition to that there are a few extra diagrams that will obviously form part of the puzzle; an array of 3D shapes, some flags with keys on, and a Cluedo (Clue) style blueprint of a house. A house which includes a Marshmallow Solarium and an Anti-gravity Inglenook.
If all that wasn’t enough, around the map are some comedy tourist-style adverts; ride the “Emotional Roller Coaster” and my favorite, “Whackit and Smashem Household Repairs. Don’t wreck your house with DIY – let us do it.” A father-daughter collaboration with dad jokes, clearly.
Assuming you’re still here and haven’t already gone off to order a copy on the basis of the map alone, let me tell you more.
The book itself is a smart hardback emblazoned with “This Journal Belong to Henry Hoakes.” Beneath that we are urged to “Follow the Clues”, “Solve the Mystery”, “Save the Island.” It’s so exciting! Closer inspection reveals that the light blue cover has the faint markings of a giant maze on it. By this time, I needed a sit-down, so overcome was I with the book’s possibilities.
And that wasn’t all. There’s a hole in the cover with a request to use the magic lens to help solve the puzzle. This turns out to be a red filter in shape of the magnifier, that lives in an envelope on the inside front cover (Note: there’s a pocket on the inside back cover too, in which to keep the map.) The book (and the map) are printed in 3 colors, red, blue, and black. The filter makes the red fade to nothing, allowing the authors to hide hidden treats inside the book’s illustrations.
Opening the cover we find a message from Rita, who tells us we were called to solve this mystery. Henry Hoakes went missing six years ago, leaving nothing but the map and his journal. Rita tells us the pages in the journal are out of order and that she’s confused matters further by adding her memoirs on blank pages. We’ll need the map, the lens, and a pencil to mark our journey around the island.
Right we’re off!
“Welcome to Hoakes Island.”
The first page is filled with some simple puzzle data and how to solve it. Everything is explained. We’re told how to progress around the map, and the sorts of things the red lens might reveal. The first puzzle is solved and we know which page to turn to next. After our next destination, however, we’re on our own. Things start fairly gently with the puzzles gradually getting more difficult. Adults and older children should have no issue moving through the book.
Each double page contains a puzzle, which when solved will tell you which direction to move on the map. The opening page of the book corresponds to the “Start Here” square on the map. From here with move one square north (the answer to the first puzzle). Each map square has a number in it – which is a new page reference. Each time you solve a puzzle you move in the correct corresponding direction on the map and use the number in the new square to find which page to turn to next.
As well as a directional puzzle, each double page may have some narrative sections that explain about the island, and why Hoakes may have disappeared. It also explains why your guide is talking aardvark. That’s right; a talking aardvark. After you have solved the first few puzzles the story is fully set, and the adventure on Hoakes Island can begin in earnest!
Why Read Hoakes Island?
For its tactile, low-tech way of wiling away a few hours with your children.
Hoakes Island is a work of art. From the paper map at the beginning to the four-tone illustration and its mixed media representation of the data. Inside the book, there are diagrams, press cuttings, code books, and diary entries. There are handwritten notes and typed missives. It really is a beguiling reading experience.
I haven’t worked all the way through the book yet, as I want to share it with my children. These last few weeks of school, before the summer holidays, are crazy busy and don’t lend themselves to relaxing with puzzles. Roll on the summer vacation, though. This is a great book to take on a trip. It’s light and compact, and is something the whole family can help with. When the summer holidays are dragging (as they inevitably will) but the sound of Fortnite makes you want to dance macabre, Hoakes Island will be a great way to wind down and connect with the kids.
I love books that don’t just tell stories. I love books that function as art and entertainment. Hoakes Island is a very fine example of both.
One other thing worth noting is that if you’re put off of puzzle books because you can never work out if you’re making progress, all the answers are in the back of the book, should you get stuck.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my other Word Wednesday posts, here.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.