book reviews

The Detective's Assistant


From Booklist

Starred review! ★

"After 11-year-old Nell Warne's family drops dead, one after another, she turns in desperation to her Aunt Kate. But Kate Warne isn't in the market for a long-lost niece—she believes Nell's father murdered her beloved husband, and besides, as the first female detective at Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, she's too busy working undercover to care for a child. Determined Nell has other ideas and soon, Kate has no choice but to let her do the odd detecting chore to pay for her keep. And she's awfully good at the job. Hannigan keeps a strong narrative hand on the several stories she has going on simultaneously: the mysteries surrounding the deaths of Nell's father and uncle; Nell's correspondence with her best friend, who traveled the Underground Railroad to safety in Canada; and several Pinkerton adventures that involve chicanery, American history, and lots of excitement. An author's note explains that Kate Warne was a real person who did many of the things described in the book, making this a great title for promoting women's history. But even if Kate were purely fictional, Nell—strong-willed yet scared, tough but needy—makes a solid heroine. The terrific cover will drawn em in." – Booklist, May 1, 2015


From The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Starred review! ★ 

Thrust unceremoniously upon her only surviving relative in mid nineteenth-century Chicago, thirteen-year old Cornelia tries hard to prove her worthiness to Aunt Kitty, who carries a grudge against the girl because Cornelia’s father shot her husband, his own brother. Still, despite the tension between them, Kitty—based on the real-life Kate Warne, the first female detective—finds the girl’s quick thinking and keen observational skills helpful in solving crimes, and soon Kitty and Cornelia, now known as Nell, form an uneasy duo. Their tentative bond solidifies when Nell proves that her father’s shooting of his brother was an accident that occurred when the men were aiding in the efforts of the Underground Railroad, a revelation aided by Nell’s correspondence with her friend, Jemma, whose family escaped to Canada thanks to Nell’s father. Nell and Jemma reveal information through codes and clues that ring true to their age and give readers something to puzzle over, while Nell and Kitty’s detective work offers excitement and intrigue without an intense sense of fear or danger—a remarkable balance that keeps this novel accessible and captivating. Sprinkled with period details (often cleverly revealed through Nell’s voracious appetite for daily newspapers), this novel provides a rich but approachable historic context for the smart, admirable Nell and the steely Aunt Kitty, both well drawn here under Hannigan’s sure hand. Her extensive author’s note offers readers information about Kate Warne and the actual cases on which the book’s adventures are based, including the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln. With skilled writing that conveys the excitement of detective work, the appeal of history, and Nell’s authentic, good-humored personal growth, this is one for the ages. – The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July/August 2015

From Common Sense Media

Five star review! ★

"Parents need to know that The Detective's Assistant is a funny, history-packed novel from Kate Hannigan based on the true story of the first female detective in history, Kate Warne, and her imagined relationship with a long-lost niece, 11-year-old orphan Nell. Together they solve crimes as undercover female detectives as the country approaches Civil War. Though a sense of loss and death, alleged murder and thievery permeate the novel, it's a stunning, fast-paced yarn that champions smarts, problem-solving, women, and the importance of family. Great role models for girls."

See the full review at Common Sense Media. 

From Publisher's Weekly

"Hannigan (Cupcake Cousins) makes skillful use of period details, bringing the novel’s threads together in a nail-biting conclusion. Nell is a fearless, no-nonsense heroine, and her dry-witted narration drives this rollicking historical escapade."

For the full review, go to Publisher's Weekly.



From Kirkus Reviews

"Hannigan’s quick pace and Nell’s spunky voice successfully suspend readers’ disbelief, and the author manages to pack an amazing amount of historical tidbits in along the way."

"A rousing fictional account of the remarkable career of a pioneering woman."

Read the full review in Kirkus Reviews.


From School Library Journal

"Nell is an irrepressible character: spirited, thoughtful, and intuitive.  . . . Although there are plenty of madcap adventures, grief and the longing for a home are at the forefront of the story." 

"Recommend to readers who enjoy adventure, history, and stories featuring independent, strong-minded girls."


From Mother Daughter Book Club

"The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan is funny and touching while also shedding light on such historical happenings as the Underground Railroad, boarding house life, the tensions leading up to the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln’s election and first inauguration. Nell is a wholly delightful character who can be both perceptive and clueless as to what’s going on around her. She likes to read newspapers, has to work hard at learning correct grammar, and thinks the fashions of the day are silly even if she does want to wear them. She’ll clomp her way to your heart while wearing her daddy’s boots and have you cheering for her every step of the way."

Read the full review at Mother Daughter Book Club.



Cupcake Cousins

From Publisher's Weekly

". . . debut novelist Hannigan has assembled all the ingredients for an entertaining and gentle-natured family tale." 

"The ending is almost as sweet as the recipes that end several chapters."

Read the full review in Publisher's Weekly.


From Kirkus Reviews

"Hannigan deftly portrays the angst Willow struggles with as she approaches the early-preteen years. With keen insight, she also explores Delia’s worries about her father’s job loss and concerns about her parents’ marriage."

"Hannigan’s lively tale celebrates family and friendship."

Read the full review in Kirkus Reviews.


From Booklist

Willow and Delia are nine-year-old cousins and fast friends who love spending their family vacations together in Michigan, and hate their flower girl dresses for Aunt Rosie’s wedding. They want to prove that they can contribute more to the event by baking the cake than by parading down the aisle in bubblegum pink dresses, but their early attempts to help the cook range from unpalatable to disastrous. Meanwhile, Delia’s biracial family is dealing with tensions following her father’s layoff from his job. In the end, the cousins triumph as flower girls, pastry chefs, and problem solvers. While the book’s conclusion is more rosy than realistic, the characters are engaging, and young readers caught up in the story may find it entirely satisfying. Pencil drawings appear at intervals, and, for would-be cooks, recipes (blueberry smoothies, bacon-wrapped dates, frosted cupcakes) appear after certain chapters. This sweet chapter book is Hannigan’s first novel. — Carolyn Phelan


From the Chicago Tribune

Cupcake Cousins author embraces young readers with lighthearted novel — and tasty recipes. – Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2014 


The Good Fun! Book


From the Chicago Sun-Times

"How to throw a party that gives back"

In The Good Fun! Book (Blue Marlin), Hyde Park mother Kate Hannigan Issa and former neighbor Karen Duncan give parents detailed instructions for hosting 12 pre-tween parties that make service fun. The parties offer a range of themes, from helping animals to feeding the hungry, and each includes two service ideas, a party food recipe the guests can make and eat together, and a craft activity kids can take home. All parties have been tested on the authors’ families and friends."

Read the full article at the Sun-Times.


From Huffington Post's Ellen Galinsky

"The other day in the mail I received a wonderful gift. It was from Darell Hammond, the visionary CEO of KaBOOM!, the group that has helped bring playgrounds to children around the country. In keeping with Hammond's passionate commitment to 'saving play' because it's declining in America, he want to share this book with friends and colleagues.

"This book is called The Good Fun Book by Karen Duncan, the wife of the Secretary of Education, and Kate Hannigan Issa. It is a gift in the real sense of the word because it can help us turn the gimmes into giving; it serves as an antidote for extravagant children's parties; and at the same time it really provides lots of 'good fun' for kids and adults."

Read the full article at Huffington Post.



From School Library Journal

Gr 3-6-For each month of the year, Duncan and Issa suggest a party with a service theme. For example, they suggest making Valentines for children at a local hospital in February, cleaning up a park for Earth Day in April, or making jack-o-lanterns for a nursing home in October. The ideas are realistic, age appropriate, and thoughtful. The authors have done a good job mixing fun with function. Some of the activities are geared for a large group, like a school class, while others would work with a Cub Scout troop or a birthday party. Almost all the projects require an adult leader to contact and coordinate with a community organization like a nursing home or food bank. Each plan contains two ideas, a treat recipe, a craft, and information about a national charity related to the theme. The book is illustrated with child-friendly color cartoons featuring youngsters doing good deeds. The Kid's Guide to Service Projects (Free Spirit Publishing, 1995) has more service ideas, but they are not organized in a party-plan format. This is a great resource for any school or public library.
– Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT (c) Copyright 2010.