We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt!
From Where’s Spot? to Treasure Island, treasure hunts make the basic plot for heaps of books for readers of all ages. There is something deeply satisfying (and deeply involving) in finding scattered clues, exercising our brains and figuring out riddles, while having our eye on a clear, definite prize: a little dog hiding (SPOILER ALERT) in a basket, untold riches buried in a distant land. And the surprises encountered along the way also count as gems, whether they are crocodiles lying under the bed or marooned pirates. Each have their story to tell and further the adventure for both character and reader.
Very little children love these stories, especially when they come with flaps as does Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill. They are still learning about object permanence, the understanding that objects don’t stop existing when they are out of sight. That’s why they love games like peekaboo. For them, there is a real sense of suspense when the grown-up come out from behind their hands or when the flap is lifted: what will appear now? Will it still be Mam or Dad or Spot, or will it be something or someone else? Both options are equally thrilling! Another great thing about treasure hunts is that they really develop your sense of observation and attention to detail. Treasure Hunt by Allan Ahlberg and Gillian Tyler invites the reader to look for Tilly’s favourite things hidden in the kitchen, the shed, the snowy garden and so on. All the information needed is in the pictures rather than the text, leaving the youngest of readers in charge of the scavenging operations. Slightly older readers will enjoy losing themselves into intricate pictures as they look for clues, as with Alice Melvin’s Grandma’s House.
For a different take on the whole treasure-seeking business and a reflexion on what constitutes treasure, readers of 4 and up should try Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. They will hoot with laughter as the heroes dig and dig for nothing, narrowly missing bigger and bigger booty. The treasure hunt plot is also a clever way to cover various topics. In books such as Treasure Hunt House (by Katie Davis and Becca Stadtlander), All Aboard the Discovery Express (by Emily Hawkins, Tom Adams and Tom Clohosy-Cole), or Rick Riordan’s 39 Clues series, readers will quench their thirst for historical knowledge about everything from dinosaurs to Shakespeare via the invention of the bicycle. Plus, they will get involved in the hunt by collecting clues and working out riddles.
Because of course the very best thing about scavenger and treasure hunts is to be able to do them yourself! Even very young kids can take part. All you have to do is hide (not too well, now!) visual clues around the house. Draw a simple, recognisable picture of where you have hidden the next clue on a post-it note placed in a safe place and let your little one take it from there! As children grow older, your clues will have to get more sophisticated: you could write them in code (swapping As for Zs, etc. or replacing letters by numbers), you could think up riddles, you could use your children’s maths skills or knowledge of multiple languages, you could set up some challenges (juggling with two balls, doing 5 star jumps, reciting the alphabet backwards, spelling out ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and so on) … Make it fun, make it that little bit tricky and your adoring fans will keep asking for more!
Juliette Saumande is a writer and translator who spends a lot of time devising cunning ways for her own children to speak more of her native French, from running a cine book club with them to pretending Asterix doesn’t exist in English. See how she does it here: www.juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie
0–2: Treasure Hunt, by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Gillian Tyler, Walker Books, ISBN 97807444594959
There is nothing little Tilly loves more than hunting for treasure. She has no time for maps or X-marks-the-spot, though. Tilly is all about looking for things by herself, moving about, rooting around and keeping her eyes peeled. A banana in the laundry basket, a teddy in the toolbox, a white cat in the snow… Tilly’s always looking for something and the reader can help her by being super observant of the pictures. A warm, playful read for dynamic explorers that also makes room for quieter moments and plenty of cuddles!
2–4: Grandma’s House, by Alice Melvin, Tate Publishing, ISBN 9781849762229
A little girl visits her grandmother after school, but today she can’t find her anywhere! We explore the bright, uncluttered house in search of Grandma, checking the kitchen, the bathroom, sneaking up to the attic and generally having a good nosey around rooms and objects that feel familiar and also old-fashioned. With flaps to lift and cut-out pages that allow the reader through doors and windows, Grandma’s House has a classic, slightly nostalgic feel that should boost young readers’ curiosity and have them demand a game of hide-and-seek.
5–8: Treasure Hunt House, by Kate Davies, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, ISBN 9781847809575
Here’s a treasure hunt where the reader has work to do if they want to get to the next clue. A series of riddles lead two siblings (and the reader) from room to room and from one historical object to the next. There are things to look at and figure out on each of the big, full-page illustrations, and plenty to learn about from old musical instruments to the history of jeans! Complete with cat flaps to lift, oven doors to open, carpets to peek under and plenty more hiding places for clues, Treasure Hunt House is a winning combination for those who love their history fun, unexpected and interactive!
8–12: The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan, Scholastic, ISBN 9780545060394
On the death of their beloved grandmother, Dan and Amy Cahill inherit a golden ticket to take part in a thrilling and also terribly dangerous, real-life treasure hunt. The clues are obscure, the competition literally lethal and the siblings don’t quite know where to start. Except… except they can rely on their own strengths, and Amy-the-bookworm and Dan-the-mathemagician do just that, working out riddles, following hunches half-way around the world and making the best of what they’ve got. This is absolutely action-packed, with plenty of funny moments between revelations, cliff-hangers, explosions and more. If your kids love it, that’s their reading sorted for a while, as this is the first in a 4-branch series which currently gathers over 20 novels!
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.