Thursday, 21 May 2015

Review: The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt

When Mabel Jones unknowingly commits “The Deed” she finds herself swiftly bundled into a sack by one Omynus Hussh – a dastardly silent loris and the chief child-bagger on board the pirate ship the Feroshus Maggot.

Crewed by the strangest bunch of pirates you would ever want to meet and captained by the dreaded Idryss Ebeneezer Split (a wolf with a false leg carved from a human thighbone, a rusty cutlass sheathed in his belt and a loaded pistol tucked in his pants with no fear of the consequences), the Feroshus Maggot whisks Mabel Jones off on the adventure of a lifetime.

This book carries an incredibly important message that all readers, young or old, should heed or face the appalling consequences: if you are in the habit of picking your nose, it would be wise to pick and flick or pick and wipe, but never, ever pick and eat. Unfortunately for young Mabel Jones, she elected to eat the fruits of her nose-picking labours, and as such commits "The Deed". And if you are observed doing "The Deed" by the piratical crew of the Feroshus Maggot then like Mabel, you will find yourself press-ganged, and spirited away to a strange world by the super-silent-stealthy (and we're talking ninja assassin style super-silent-stealthy here) and wonderfully appropriately named loris, Omynus Hussh.

So begins a laugh-out-loud, swashbuckling fantasy adventure, with boisterous and irascible animal pirates, and a gutsy, fiery heroine, albeit a pyjama clad one (but it's ok, as she gets to wear a belt and carry a cutlass, rather than have a leg amputated in order to look more pirate-like). It's also really rather silly, not quite in a Mr Gum way silly, but certainly not far off at times. In fact, if Spike Milligan was alive and well and writing for 21st Century children then there's a damn good chance that this is the kind of brilliant, pants-wettingly funny story he would be producing.

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones is writer Will Mabbitt's debut book for children, and if it is anything to go by then Mabbitt is certainly one to watch. His writing voice is as infectious as it is off-the-wall bonkers, making the book perfect read-out-loud-to-children material (especially if you can 'do the voices'). There is also just the right level of yuk and gross-out for 8-11 year olds, so have the masking tape and staple gun ready for when their sides start splitting with laughter.

You only need half a brain to realise these days that books like this for this age group are made even better with high quality illustrations to add to the comedy, and those good people at Penguin Children's Books obviously have the requisite 50%+. As well as the brilliant writing of Will Mabbitt, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones features the wonderfully awesome illustrations of Ross Collins, which bring Mabbitt's colourful characters to life in a style that is somewhere between Tazzyman's crazy energy and Riddell's rich detail. Mention should also go to Mandy Norman for her dynamic, attention-grabbing text design.

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones is due to be released on 4th June. I believe there is a second adventure planned for Mabel, although I do not know when this will be published, I really hope that we will see more adventures beyond this sequel. I believe there is also an audio book version of The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones in the offing, narrated by the hugely talented Toby Jones (the voice of Dobby in the Harry Potter films, but also an incredibly talented British comedic actor). I've included a trailer below as a taster - this could be one book that needs to be bought in paper-form and in audio form.

My thanks go to the fab people at Penguin Children's Books for sending me a copy.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Review: Demolition Dad by Phil Earle

This is the story of Jake Biggs and his dad, George. George spends all week knocking down buildings ... and all weekend knocking down wrestlers. He's the Demolition Man, and Jake couldn't be prouder. But when Jake hears about a pro-wrestling competition in the USA, and persuades his beloved dad to apply, things don't quite turn out the way he expected...

If you were a child (especially one of the male variety) in the 1970s or early 1980s then I can pretty much guarantee that you spent a number of wet Saturday afternoons sat in front of the television watching wrestling on ITV's World of Sport. In these times where the US version of the 'sport' has become a multi-billion dollar industry with fans in every corner of the globe, it is hard to believe that the wrestling heroes of we Brits came from towns such as Halifax, Prestwich and Stoke-on-Trent. And yet, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki et al were all household names in those days, before the WWF came laong and took the world by storm.

Phil Earle was obviously one of those World of Sport loving kids, if his debut book for younger readers is anything to go by. Set in the modern day, it is both an homage to those spandex leotard-wearing legends of UK wrestling and a tongue-in-cheek poke at the shallowness of the big money US version of the sport. I pre-ordered Demolition Dad months ago, as soon as I heard about it, in the hope that it would be another example of the cracking middle grade British comedy stories that I love so much, in a similar vein to Walliams and Dahl, and I certainly wasn't to be disappointed. It is laugh-out-loud funny and chock full of wonderfully engaging and endearing characters, elements that should make this a guaranteed  hit with young readers (aged 8+). 

On top of this it is also a fantastic father-and-son read, mainly due to the fabulous relationship between main character Jake, and his dad, the Demolition Man. Jake idolises his father - it is a relationship that is very reminiscent of Danny the Champion of the World, and it is great to read a book where the parents are caring and spend quality time with their children, instead of being the child-neglecting, self-centred villains of the piece. Jake has his father on a pedestal, and manages to persuade him to take up wrestling, as long as nobody outside of the family finds out. However, Jake is such a fan of his father's performances in the ring that he wants more for him - he wants millions of others to see him the way he does. Of course, this is the first ingredient in the recipe for the disaster that ensues.

And yet there is even more to this than just being a touching father and son comedy story. I don't think it is spoiling things to say that things don't quite work out for Jake's dad when he gets his chance to fight for the big money US World of Wrestling. On his return to his small hometown of Seacross, he struggles to deal with the overwhelming sense of failure he feels, and sinks into a deep depression. Phil Earle deals with this aspect of the story with great sensitivity, and it is this that raises this book from being a great read to being a Powerslam-DaddySplash-Piledriver of a read.

It would be criminal of me not to mention Sara Ogilvie's brilliant cover and interior illustrations before I sign off. They are the perfect accompaniment to Phil Earle's comedic writing voice: they add, in turn, to the humour, action and poignancy of the story as it progresses, and despite the brilliance of Earle's writing, it would be a far lesser book without them.

Illustration by Sara Ogilvie

I hope this is just the first of many books that Phil Earle will write for this age group. I have a strong suspicion that there will be more to come, and perhaps we will even see more of Jake and George Biggs in the future, as the book does finish with the tantalising "(Not) The End...". Demolition Dad is defintely one of my favourite books of the year so far.