Saturday, 29 March 2008

Alluring, witty and imaginative tales

Hugo Pepper Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell, Corgi Yearling [Random House], 264 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99. ISBN 978-0-440-86696-1
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat Chris Riddell, Macmillan, 172 pages, hardback, NZ$23.
ISBN 978-1-4050-5057-9
The Floods 4: Survivor Colin Thompson, Random House, 216 pages, paperback, NZ$18.99 ISBN 978-1-74166-129-3

Fun for young readers:

There are never enough funny books for young readers but these three are gems.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (who signed books in Christchurch recently) have created some of the wittiest books for young people and they have the sales, awards and fans to prove it. Every title in their Far-Flung Adventures series, including Hugo Pepper, has won a Nestle prize. This is the utterly outrageous account of how Hugo, adopted son of Arctic reindeer herders, flies his Aeronautic Snow Chariot to Harbour Heights, (a town rich in old lamp-lighters and fortune telling tea sellers), seeking the secret of his past. Every time the reader expects an explanation, another amazing revelation erupts instead. Mermaid godmothers, snow sheep, moth dogs (“No carpet shop should be without one.”), three-toed yetis and even stranger creatures appear. Paul Stewart’s amazingly ludicrous, but also very funny, sidetracks and reunions are superbly illustrated by Chris Riddell. In fact the high quality of the text and illustrations is only outstripped by the vivid imaginative powers displayed by the two creators. Parents, buy a copy for your children and read it yourself.

In Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, Chris Riddell proves that he can write witty prose as well as create vivid and graceful drawings. Ottoline is a remarkably self-possessed heroine, an amateur detective of flair, who enjoys a luxurious lifestyle that Lord Peter Wimsey would covet. Her assistant – Mr Munroe, a small hairy bog person from Norway – may be unconventional but the crime the pair investigate is even more outlandish. The elegant cover and imaginative illustrations (not to mention five royal postcards) make this the most handsomely produced young person’s book since the Lemony Snickett series.

When a tight-laced Aussie family find themselves living next-door to a family of witches, you might not expect a charming tale of suburban mateship and friendship. In The Floods: Survivor, that’s just what you get, plus lots of jokes and puns. In the previous three volumes, Colin Thompson has developed a lovely mixture of gruesome fun – just at the level his young readers enjoy. In Survivor, his words and pictures are just as distastefully droll. Bullies meet their fate at the wrong end of an elephant, while a barbecue creates flambéed cucumber sandwiches. Now we know which sauce witches favour: ‘I can’t believe it’s not blood Barbecue Sauce.’

This review by Trevor Agnew was first published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 9th June 2007.

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