EBook Review – Leon Chameleon P.I. – Jan Hurst-Nicholson

Leon Chameleon PI and the Case of the Kidnapped Mouse

This is a beautifully written children’s book with fabulous illustrations. The story brings to life the little woodland creatures we scarcely consider in daily life. The author introduces these creatures gradually, capturing the imagination of a shared animal existence unknown to humans.

Razberry Rating: 


Throughout the story children will learn interesting facts about nature in a fun-filled adventure. In particular the addition of the Interesting Facts section at the end of the story makes this entertaining and educational all at once.

About the Author….in her own words

"I was born in the UK and emigrated from Liverpool to South Africa in the 1970s.  I started writing in the 1980s and began with articles, humorous articles and short stories and these have appeared in South African and overseas magazines.

My first children’s book was ‘Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs’ published by Gecko Books. It was one of Bookchat’s 1993 South African Books of the Year. This was followed by ‘Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the kidnapped mouse’ (both now also available as e-books on Amazon)Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the bottled bat’ is awaiting publication. These are humorous, animal, detective stories set in a nature reserve.

Bheki and the Magic Light,’ which tells of a rural child’s fascination with a torch, was published by Penguin SA.

Jake,’ was published by Cambridge University Press."

Where do you get your inspiration from for your characters and storylines in your books?

"I enjoy humour, mystery, animal, and detective stories, so I decided to combine all these elements for my first children’s book. I wanted the story to be both entertaining and educational (as this would make it more likely to be bought by schools) so I needed to find an animal whose natural abilities would make it a good private detective. I chose a chameleon as they can change colour to blend with their surroundings as well as having eyes that swivel back and forth.

The stories take place in a local nature reserve called Pigeon Valley, and assisting Leon Chameleon PI are the Pigeon Valley Police. I chose Sergeant Loerie (a bird who is in charge of the Flying Squad) after searching through a bird book for an ‘officious’ looking bird. Sergeant Loerie’s sidekick is a bumbling character and I chose Constable Mole because he has poor eyesight and stumbles about above ground, but is very efficient when working on ‘underground’ operations. Lieutenant Crow (a Margaret Thatcher-type character) is in charge of the Pigeon Valley Police.

The storylines are based on true-life situations. All the animal details of food, habits, and lifestyle are true to nature (apart from Constable Mole’s sunglasses!) and the animals solve the crimes using their own natural abilities so children will absorb much knowledge of the small creatures of Africa without being aware of it.

Bheki and the Magic Light is an action adventure story set in South Africa. The herd boys who look after the cattle in the rural areas of KwaZulu Natal were the inspiration for this story. Some of these boys have no experience of electricity and a torch is truly a ‘magic light’. Bheki is small for his age and the magic light makes him feel important, but in the end he discovers that it’s his small stature and bravery that makes him a hero."

What were your favourite books from your childhood?

"The first books I really remember were the Beatrix Potter stories, especially The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle as we had hedgehogs in our garden. Although some people don’t agree with anthropomorphising animals, I think it teaches children empathy for animals. One of my favourite TV programmes as a child was Tales of the Riverbank where real animals were used and Johnny Morris did all the voices. I found the stories enchanting and would love my Leon Chameleon P.I. stories to be given the same treatment. Animation companies have shown an interest, but unfortunately funding has been a problem."

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

"The best thing about being a writer is the thrill of receiving ‘fan’ letters from children. I have a file of letters from children telling me which characters they liked, and what part of the story made them laugh. The letters are also insightful and let me know which characters the children identify with (quite a few identified with egg-eating snake because he was blamed for something he didn’t do!)

The worst thing about being a writer used to be finding an agent or publisher – but thanks to e-publishing we can now self-publish. However, this means we have to do our own marketing and it’s not easy competing with the over 1 million e-books for sale on Amazon."

Tell us a little bit about your books?

"The Leon Chameleon PI stories are humorous, animal detective stories (and also educational – but don’t tell the children!) for 7-12 year-olds.

This is the blurb from the first story:

When Mrs Canary’s eggs mysteriously disappear, a frantic Mr Canary dashes straight off to the Pigeon Valley Police for help. Unfortunately, Sergeant Loerie and Constable Mole’s hasty attempts to make an arrest lead them to the wrong suspects. Leon Chameleon PI, who has quietly kept an eye on developments, decides it is time to step in and offer his services – after all, isn’t he the best Private Eye in Pigeon Valley? He puts all his skills to work and finds vital clues which Loerie had overlooked. Now a daring plan is needed to trap the suspects and bring them before Spotted Eagle Owl’s Court, where Leon springs his final surprise…

Janet Hurst-Nicholson draws on the habits and characteristics of the small creatures living in Pigeon Valley, Durban, to create a thrilling detective story. Barbara McGuire’s illustrations capture the story’s humour, while portraying the animals as they really are.

Bheki and the Magic Light is an action adventure story aimed at the 8 – 12 yr age group.

This is the blurb from the book:

The big day has arrived and Bheki’s house is flooded with electric light for the first time. He remembers the time, many years before, when his father gave him a light that really did seem to be magic. The torch brought him many friends and a new status in the kraal, until its beam began to fade. Bheki’s journey to bring power back to the magic light tested him to the limit but ended in magic of a different kind. It gave him a belief in himself.

At the end of the story, Bheki explains how batteries work and how electricity is generated and brought into homes across the world.

Bheki and the Magic Light was first published by Penguin Books SA."