Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella

Publisher: Scholastic

In her first venture into chapter books, Cerrie Burnell presents Harper: a perky young heroine in a bright yellow raincoat and purple wellies. Wet-weather gear is pretty much indispensible if you live in the City of Clouds, a magical world where it rains incessantly. 

The story begins when her beloved Aunt Sassy gives Harper a new umbrella. However, Harper soon discovers that this particular umbrella can do a lot more than just keep the rain off - it can fly. 

It's something that comes in handy when she and her friends discover that cats are inexplicably vanishing all over the city - and they leave their home in the Tall Apartment Block to investigate. Carribed by the magical umbrella, Harper embarks on an adventure to solve the mystery of the feline disappearances.

This unusual story introduces a determined young protagonist but also an affable band of trusty companions to help her.  Music is a strong theme in the book. Intriguingly, each of the young characters has a particular interest or skill associated with the arts, so the book features many references to ballet, poetry and song. 

Among her friends (and particularly appealing) is Nate, who is visually impaired and always accompanied by his loyal pet wolf. The book mentions his limited sight a number of times but without over-egging the point. He's a thoroughly likeable and convincing character in his own right. It's also clear that his role in the mystery solving is by no means hindered by the fact that he happens to be visually impaired. Indeed, sometimes his other abilities (such as a well-developed sense of hearing) prove invaluable. 

This is an endearing book with beautiful black and white illustrations, a light, fairytale-like quality, and a sense there may be more Harper adventures to come.

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