Book Review: Mio’s Kingdom

mios kingdom

Mio’s Kingdom, by Astrid Lindgren (translated by Jill Morgan), tells the story of a nine year old Swedish boy who releases a genie from a bottle and is taken to Farawayland. Here he discovers he is the long lost child of the King. He also finds the love and friendship he has always craved. As time passes he comes to realise it is up to him to defeat the evil Sir Kato whose actions cast a shadow over the otherwise perfect kingdom.

The tale is aimed at children but has much to offer the adult reader, not least what becomes clear from the denouement. First published in 1954 (this translation 2003) it is considered a classic of the genre. From my reading I would say it has not suffered through aging and remains relevant and appealing to young readers today.

When the story opens the protagonist, Mio, is living with his foster parents in Stockholm. His name here is Karl Anders Nilsson, known as Andy. His only friend is Ben who he plays with in Tegnérlunden Park. He observes how Ben is treated by his parents, wishing that he could be loved in this way. Andy’s foster parents regularly make clear that they regret taking him from the Children’s Home where he used to live.

“Aunt Hulda found me there. She really wanted a girl, but there weren’t any she could have. So she took me, though Uncle Olaf and Aunt Hulda don’t like boys. At least not when they become eight or nine years old.”

One evening, sent on an errand to buy rolls, Andy is offered an apple by a kindly shopkeeper. He takes it to Tegnérlunden Park where, from the bench he sits on, he observes families through lighted windows sitting down to eat together. Feeling very alone he spots a stoppered bottle on the ground with something moving inside. He knows from a library book he enjoyed reading, A Thousand and One Nights, that he must release the trapped genie – a somewhat scary prospect.

Andy is taken to Farawayland where he is reunited with his father, the King, and learns his real name is Mio. He befriends another young boy, Pompoo, who helps him explore the kingdom and its welcoming inhabitants. Gradually Mio learns about the evil Sir Kato, and that it has been foretold that a boy of royal blood must defeat him in battle.

The adventures Mio and Pompoo enjoy before they travel to the Outer Land on this quest are all relevant to the eventual outcome. The boys must then demonstrate kindness and bravery. Sir Kato’s dark deeds have made the lands he rules over a terrible place – he has spies everywhere. Mio finds help where least expected.

In many ways this is quite a simple fairy tale but it offers young readers the chance to dream of living in a wondrous place that they alone can save. It is structured to retain engagement with plenty of tension. The journey undertaken may be daunting but should not be too nightmare inducing.

A book to inspire daydreams that avoids the saccharine tone of Disney and its ilk. A wholesome tale of good defeating evil, offering a poignant depth to readers who understand what is beneath the surface of the fine adventures and then quest.

Mio’s Kingdom is published by Oxford University Press.

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Book Review: Archie’s Apple

Archie's Apple

“What will you discover when you’re exploring the woods?”

Archie’s Apple, written by Hannah Shuckburgh and illustrated by Octavia MacKenzie, is a work of art wrapped around an inspiring story that offers new delights on each perusal of the gorgeously rendered illustrations. The tale being told was inspired by true events. It tells of a young boy named Archie who discovers a new variety of apple, thereby making him famous. Except it isn’t a new variety but rather one that has simply not yet been classified by humans. It grows on a very old tree that has quietly existed for many, many years. Archie comes to realise that he cannot lay claim to the apple, or anything in the wood that is his natural playground. The flora and fauna are rightly available for anyone willing to look and appreciate.

Archie lives in an old stone cottage with his daddy. Each day after school he pulls on his wellies and goes to play in a nearby wood. He enjoys the changing seasons, watching as the plants and creatures go about their business. He has been well taught that it is good to observe but not to disturb.

When Archie spots an unusual looking apple lying on a path deep within the wood he takes it home to show his daddy. Experts are consulted and it is declared a new variety. This generates so much interest a businessman sees a money making opportunity. He declares that he can make Archie very, very rich.

“Let’s make this fruit bring home the loot! What do you say?”

Archie and his daddy don’t know what to say, unused as they are to this way of thinking. They find themselves being swept along in a tide of acquisitional interest. Once they remember what is truly valuable they find their voices again. Archie already had a life that many would treasure. His local woodland remains a trove of as yet undiscovered bounty.

Although presenting important issues the tale never becomes too moralistic. It may be written for children but there is much for adult readers to enjoy and relearn. Archie is a delightful character – it is pleasing to read of a child whose natural inquisitiveness does not lead to cruelty or destruction. His appreciation of nature is inspirational.

A beautifully presented book containing a story that is both interesting and engaging, one that will inspire its readers to explore and learn more about nature and their surrounds.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Little Toller.

Robyn Reviews: Peter Pan (Mina Lima Edition)

The story of Peter Pan, first published in 1904, has been adapted so many times that most are familiar with the core elements of the story. In this edition, Mina Lima have republished the original with a number of deluxe illustrations and interactive elements, from the crocodile’s clock with moveable hands to a pull-out newspaper detailing the events in Kensington Gardens while the children are in Neverland. The story itself is obviously dated but still holds an element of magic, and the added extras are fun and creative. While this appears to be aimed at collectors, each interactive component would appeal to children.

Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, loses his shadow in the home of Mr and Mrs Darling and their three children. He returns to the house to look for it – but along with his shadow, leaves with the children too. Wendy, John, and Michael fly to Neverland to join the Lost Boys, a band of children Peter has similarly collected. Wendy becomes the Lost Boys’ mother, and they live a dreamlike life, punctuated only by the threat of Captain Hook and his band of pirates. However, the dream is not all pleasant. Their lives are lived according to Peter’s whims – and the longer they spend on the island, the more they start to forget the life they lived before. As time seeps by at an unknowable rate, the children must decide whether to stay on Neverland and never grow up – or return home to the comfort of a normal life.

The writing style is typical of the era, with a level of detachment, but it still creates an excellent atmosphere – darker and more eerie than modern adaptations would have you believe. Mina Lima add addendums to explain some of the more dated terminology, making it accessible to the modern reader. Neverland is a wonderfully creative example of fabulism – a delightful place where nature is in harmony with its inhabitants and mermaids and fairies are as normal as cats and dogs. The balance between the dark atmosphere and keeping things child appropriate is struck well.

Certain aspects have dated more than others. The references to the Redskins, with terms like savages, are inappropriate in modern literature. Similarly, while the Lost Boys go on adventures, Wendy’s only purpose is to look after them – she does the cooking and the laundry, tucks them into bed at night, and can only be the damsel in distress. However, by staying entirely faithful to the original story, the reader is given a window into society at the time and their expectations, even in their fantasies. Some of the magic is lost, but the cleverness and imagination is still apparent.

The Mina Lima edition is beautifully presented in a high-quality hardback that looks wonderful on the shelf – especially with its companions in the Mina Lima classics set. There are currently seven, with an eighth due to be published this year. Inside, each chapter has a full colour introductory illustration, and within the chapters are more illustrations and pop-out design elements. There are fairy wings which flap, a clock with moveable hands, and a multi-part diagram with insight into the children’s brains (one of my favourite elements, as scientifically inaccurate as it is). The only downside of these elements is that some have metal pins in, and whilst MinaLima have included pieces of card to protect the surrounding pages, they do still get damaged with repeated reading. While each element is great fun to explore, this is clearly more of a collectors product that doesn’t stand up to too much wear and tear.

Overall, the Mina Lima ‘Peter Pan’ is a faithful adaptation of the original story with some fun, attractive extras. For fans of classic children’s stories it makes an excellent addition to the shelf.

Published by Harper Collins
Hardback: 2nd June 2015

Robyn Reviews: The Forest of Stars

‘The Forest of Stars’ is an enjoyable, if dark in places, middle grade novel about a floating girl who finds a home in a magical circus, but finds her new home under threat from a hidden foe. The mystery elements are relatively predictable, but the atmosphere and found family elements are lovely.

All her life, Louisa has been hidden away by her mother. Her bones are full of too much air, so she glides around without her feet touching the ground – and a wind too strong could blow her away, just like her father when she was young. When her mother dies, twelve-year-old Louisa is left to fend for herself – but the world is dangerous for those who are different. However, her fortune changes when she receives an invitation to a mysterious carnival. The carnival is full of those who are different like her. Louisa finds herself torn between making the carnival her home and going in search of her missing father. Her decision is complicated when a mysterious magic starts attacking the carnival’s residents, leaving Louisa and her friends to track down a hidden foe.

Louisa is a sweet, naive girl, loyal to her friends but hindered by a lack of knowledge of the world. She also has little to no control over her magic, regularly drifting into the sky then finding herself unable to come back down. For a child so young, Louisa has experienced a lot of grief,and the way this is handled – with a twist of fabulism – is excellent. Louisa isn’t the strongest protagonist, but she’s likeable enough and her determination to do the right thing is admirable.

The fabulism is the strongest part of the book. The magic those at the carnival possess, from Louisa’s floating to Mercy’s control over shadows, is great, but there are other elements too, like the love bugs which appear any time anyone is sad. All these elements are well woven into the narrative, adding to the atmosphere. The fabulism has a darker twist than in many books – rather than a fortune teller, there’s a misfortune teller – and this works well, lending gothic undertones without ever being too much for a child.

The main weakness of this story is the plot. There are two core mysteries – Louisa’s missing father and the mysterious foe targeting the circus – and both are relatively obvious from an early stage. Admittedly, this is a children’s story, so the elements being obvious to an adult is not necessarily a bad thing, but the hints dropped could be more subtle. The denouement is still satisfying, but it lacks the shock factor that would really elevate it to the next level.

Overall, ‘The Forest of Stars’ is a fun, creative children’s book with some lovely found family elements. Its not the most original storyline, but the magical elements make it an enjoyable read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 11th May 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Last Bear

‘The Last Bear’ is a beautiful and moving children’s book about eleven-year-old April and her summer on Bear Island. It combines gorgeous writing with a wonderful tale about a girl and her connection to nature – and especially to Bear, the only polar bear remaining on an island cut off by the receding polar ice. Woven throughout is a rallying cry about littering and climate change. This is a lovely little book, perfect to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

After April’s mother died suddenly in a car accident when she was four, April was left to be raised by her father, a climate scientist. However, his grief at his wife’s loss led him to throw himself into his work, more or less leaving April to her own devices. When he receives an invitation to spend six months manning the research station on Bear Island, April is ecstatic – finally, her and her father can have their own adventures. Instead, her father once again occupies himself with work. But her isolation leads April to make the most extraordinary friend. There are no bears on Bear Island – but there might be just one.

April is the sort of plucky heroine that children’s fiction thrives on. She’s stubborn, determined, and has an absolutely huge heart – especially for animals of all shapes and sizes. Her connection to nature is absolutely beautiful to read about. In many ways, April is reckless and foolhardy, but it’s impossible not to root for her every step of the way.

At its heart, this is a story about two relationships – the one between April and Bear, and the one between April and her father. Both are wonderfully and intelligently written. April’s relationship with Bear is heartwarming to read about – the way she’s determined to help him right from the start, and the way he always seems to understand when April’s having a bad day. Such a close friendship between a young girl and a polar bear is entirely unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so beautifully done. April’s relationship with her father is much sadder but no less moving. In many ways, April lost both her parents when her mother died, and the guilt she feels for thinking that is cleverly rendered. The author simultaneously manages to make April wise beyond her years but also feel exactly like a real eleven-year-old girl, a difficult balance.

Hannah Gold’s prose really makes the story come to life. There are beautiful depictions of the wild landscape of Bear Island, but it’s the way Gold infuses the story with emotion that makes it stand out. The reader feels April’s delight, fear, desperation, and determination right along with her, making the happy moments all the more enjoyable and the sad moments even more moving.

The story is illustrated throughout by Levi Pinfold, and his depictions are fantastic, bringing elements of the story to life. The moments he’s chosen to capture are very powerful – especially the final scene. It’s hard to pick out a favourite image as they’re all excellent, but the emotional value of that moment is undeniable.

Overall, this is a wonderful children’s story recommended for children and grown-up-children alike.

Published by Harper Children’s
Hardback:18th February 2021

Book Review: The Last Bear

The Last Bear, by Hannah Gold (illustrated by Levi Pinfold), is a magical tale about a lonely girl and her unusual friend. Set on Bear Island, an outpost between Norway and Svalbard inhabited only by wildlife and research scientists, it offers a warning about the impact of climate change wrapped around an exhilarating adventure, beautifully told.

The protagonist is April Wood, the eleven year old daughter of an academic still grieving the loss of his beloved wife seven years previously. April is happiest when alone with nature – in her back garden or on visits to her grandmother on the coast. She finds school a trial.

“April didn’t like school, or the girls at school didn’t like her. She didn’t know whether it was because she smelled of fox or the fact she was the smallest girl in her class or even that she cut her own hair with a pair of garden scissors. Either way, April didn’t mind too much because she preferred animals to humans anyway. They were just kinder.”

When April’s father is offered a six month position at a weather station in the Arctic Circle, his daughter is delighted. She imagines the fun they will have spending time together, sledging and exploring. Her father is often so wrapped up in his work he barely seems to notice she exists.

On the journey to Bear Island, April meets Tör, the ship captain’s son, who mentions that there are no longer any bears at her destination. However, three weeks after she arrives at the small cabin she and her father will call home for the arctic summer, she comes face to face with an injured and emaciated polar bear. She calls him Bear and sets about earning his trust.

Contrary to expectations, the important work her father is doing for the Norwegian Government takes up all of his time. April is therefore left to her own devices. She explores the island, slowly forming a bond with Bear. She intuits his backstory from the knowledge she can glean and the affinity she has developed with all wildlife. She determines to help Bear but must work out how.

The author has taken certain liberties with what would be reality to paint the island and April’s adventures there as an enchanting time. Throughout, however, tension builds to the almost unbearable climax. The reader will become invested in Bear’s prospects as April risks everything to try to offer him the chance of a less lonely life.

Such a story couldn’t work without the skill of the author in creating her fully formed characters with the lightest of exposition. April’s attitude, bravery and stoicism will appeal to children and adults alike. The young girl takes her disappointments and turns them into opportunities. Her observations of people and place bring them to life.

The author writes in her note at the end of her passion for the planet.

“how it needs our protection and how anyone, no matter how big or small, can inspire hope and create change”

Although weaving this into her story she succeeds in avoiding polemic. At its heart this is a tale of a lonely girl seeking love, finding it, and choosing to set it free despite the personal cost. It is an adventure crying out to be made into a dialogue free animated film, preferably harnessing the illustrator’s stunning pictures. I adored the story and recommend it to every reader, whatever their age.

The Last Bear is published by Harper Collins.

Book Review: Sunny and the Wicked Lady

“‘Just because she’s a story in a book,’ said Herbert, ‘doesn’t mean she’s not real.”

Sunny and the Wicked Lady, by Alison Moore (illustrated by Ross Collins), is the third story in a delightful series of children’s books featuring the titular young boy and his cohort of friendly ghosts. Sunny lives in the flat above his parents’ antique, vintage and second-hand shop, where the ghosts mostly rest by day inside furniture or a store cupboard. They come out at night to socialise and pursue their hobbies, although will occasionally join Sunny on wider adventures. Adults cannot see ghosts so Sunny’s parents believe he has imaginary friends. They tolerate this as a phase he is expected to outgrow.

The tale opens with a daytrip to Okehampton Castle – a ruin that is rumoured to be haunted. In a delicious quirk we are reminded that it is not just people who can be afraid of ghosts. The long dead Herbert has been reading a book of ghost stories that left him decidedly nervous. He became convinced that a lady said to have murdered each of her husbands could now come after him.

It turns out that Okehampton Castle is where the lady lived. She tries to follow Herbert, who is subsequently terrified when she turns up outside the shop in her carriage made from human bones. Meanwhile, the proprietor of a new museum starts to buy the ghosts’ favoured furniture. She has nefarious plans linked to her proposed exhibits.

Just like people who are still alive, ghosts can get lonely if denied company. They value their friends and are willing to help them when necessary. First impressions can be wrong, and a willingness to accept what others find important is a strength that should not be mocked. Such awareness is equally valid for adults and children.

The language and structure of the story are perfectly pitched to engage young readers whilst avoiding condescension. Indeed, there is plenty to entertain readers of all ages. The adventures related are enhanced by the wonderful illustrations. Along with the previous books in the series, this is a story of bravery and friendship that I highly recommend.

“‘You only get one afterlife,’ said Walter. ‘You might as well make the most of it.'”

 

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

Robyn Reviews: They Threw Us Away

‘They Threw Us Away’ is the first book in the ‘Teddies Saga’, a new children’s series by Daniel Kraus. Packed full of tension and adventure, it’s a story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike – especially fans of teddy bears or other furry friends. Kraus is known for writing adult horror stories, so this isn’t always the most cheerful story – but the sticky situations (sometimes literally sticky) are counterbalanced by the courageous teddy bear protagonists and underlying themes of friendship and teamwork.

Buddy’s head is full of stuffing and he doesn’t know much, but he does know this – he’s a Furrington teddy bear, and his job is to wait in the Store until he’s selected by a child. However, something has gone very wrong. Instead of the Store, he’s ended up being thrown out with the trash – and now he’s stuck at the dump, where danger lurks around every corner. Fortunately, Buddy manages to find some allies – fellow Furrington bears Sunny, Reginald, Sugar, and Horace – and together, they make a plan to escape the dump and find their way back to the Store. The perilous journey will see them battle with birds, rats, bulldozers and more – it’s a scary world when you’re made of fur and stuffing, even when you’re a Furrington bear with a Real Silk Heart.

Buddy makes a brilliant protagonist. Elected the leader by his companions (mostly by Sunny), he struggles to make himself appear brave and strong when he has no idea what to do next. Buddy is a caring bear who wants nothing more than a child to love him, and he’s not cut out for this new world where bears have to fight for survive. I spent the entire book wanting to give Buddy a hug (and if I ever get a blue bear for myself, he’ll now have to be called Buddy).

Sunny is the strong, decisive bear of the group, always striving for action. She’s got a bit of a temper but always has good intentions, and stirs the other bears to action when they’re worried about what to do next. However, she clashes a bit with Reginald – the oldest bear, and the brains of the group – and Sugar, who was damaged on her way to the dump. Sugar is the happiest bear, always speaking in rhyme, and regularly more insightful than her rash behaviour makes her seem. The final member of the group, Horace, is terrified of the outside world and relies on his friends for strength.

Each adventure the bears undertake feels tense, with the reader never sure what’s going to happen next. Survival for each bear is never guaranteed, and damage – from ant bites, bird beaks, the trash around them – could hurt their chances of being chosen by a child. The atmosphere is heighted by the gorgeous illustrations by Rovina Cai. Her images are black and white and show the bears at key moments, and both the colour scheme and style are beautifully suited to Kraus’s story.

Overall, this is a fun, tense read that will make you want to hug any bears in your life a bit tighter. Recommended for children aged 7+ and anyone looking for a good adventure story – especially fans of teddy bears.

Published by Henry Holt
Hardback: 15th September 2020

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling, is the fourth installment in the popular children’s series that follows the eponymous wizard through his years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is a review of the 20th Anniversary edition, published in the four Hogwarts House colours that each include distinct content. Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw so it is this book that I purchased. As my daughter is in Slytherin I also mention the additional content that varies between these two house editions.

The original Goblet of Fire was the first Harry Potter book that I read. It impressed me enough to purchase the previous three books in the series – and to pre-order each subsequent release. My review is therefore a reread after many years and having watched the film adaptation on numerous occasions. Being familiar with the story will have impacted my reaction to the writing.

The book opens with an introduction to Ravenclaw. It summarises key plot points in the following story, from the House perspective. If reading for the first time it may be wise to leave this section until the end in order to avoid spoilers.

There is then a map of the grounds of Hogwarts drawn as an ink sketch. Illustrations in this style enhance other sections.

The story proper starts with a chapter titled ‘The Riddle House’. An elderly gardener spots a light in the empty house he has long worked at. On investigating this suspected break-in he encounters his first wizard. He is not treated well.

From the second chapter the reader follows Harry Potter and his friends. As with previous books in the series, the timeline opens in the summer holidays. Harry is whisked away from his unhappy home where he lives with his uncle, aunt and cousin. The family of his best friend from school, Ron Weasley, invite Harry to join them at the Quidditch World Cup. The third member of the children’s friendship group, Hermione Granger, is also invited. These early chapters serve to bring the reader up to speed with previous plot developments and key elements of the wizarding world. Such detail may be necessary, and I recognise this is a story aimed at children, but it did come across somewhat as an info-dump.

As well as the excitement of attending a magical, world ranking, sporting event, including enjoying the match itself, dastardly deeds occur involving dark wizards. The Weasleys and their guests return home subdued and concerned. There is little time for the youngsters to reflect on what happened as the new school term is imminent. Within days they must travel to London and board the Hogwarts Express.

The school year is enlivened by the announcement of an historic tournament to take place over the coming year, hosted by Hogwarts. Students from two other witchcraft and wizardry schools in Europe will visit to compete. As part of the traditions surrounding this event there will be a Yule Ball for students from the more senior years. All of this adds colour to a plot line that still revolves around more normal school activities.

House rivalries play out, exacerbated by the interest of a tabloid reporter, Rita Skeeter, who has somehow breached the Hogwarts defences. Harry is favoured by the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. The boy is again picked on by the Potions professor, Severus Snape. Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Rubeus Hagrid, has found yet more dangerous animals for his pupils to care for, injecting welcome humour into the tale. The tasks set for the Tri-Wizard Tournament provide challenge and peril, giving the three friends much to work on. House elves play a role, especially when Hermione decides they should be freed. The visiting students allow the reader to learn of additional magical powers, previously unmentioned, including historic prejudices and allegiances.

Despite the length of the book – some 600 pages – the pace, action and development retain reader engagement. The climax is well balanced to portray the horror of where the series thus far has been leading. Clues dropped along the way are pulled together in a lengthy dialogue – another info-dump but a useful explanation.

A subdued end to the academic year sets the scene for the series arc to continue in a more focused direction. With the cast aging there has been a shift in character development to appeal to a slightly older readership than previously.

The book concludes with three additional sections: a brief reminder of key moments in the life of a Ravenclaw alumnus, Garrick Ollivander; a look at some of the magical paintings that hang in Hogwarts; a quiz on what has just been read (I scored 9/10).

The Slytherin edition opens with an introduction focusing on this house. In the concluding, additional sections the alumnus is Lord Voldemort. The magical paintings section surprised me by mentioning events that happen in later books in the series. It is revealed that characters in paintings may move beyond Hogwarts, not just within the school as was suggested in the Ravenclaw edition. The quiz that concludes the book is the same.

I am a fan of the Harry Potter books and this reread has not changed that opinion. What it has done is to highlight certain flaws in the style of writing. Nevertheless, the popularity of the series, and the young people it has brought to book reading, make such quibbles appear pernickety. I am not the target audience but still thoroughly enjoyed the tale.

I purchase the 20th Anniversary editions as they become available. It is pleasing to see how well my growing collection looks on my shelves.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is published by Bloomsbury.

 

Book Review: Wed Wabbit

Wed Wabbit, by Lissa Evans, is a children’s story laced with humour and riddles. Its protagonist is Fidge, a young girl who is still struggling to cope with the death of her father. Grief is not an explicit plot thread but goes some way towards explaining why Fidge acts as she does. Her mother is doing her best under difficult circumstances, again not something the children reading this tale may take away. They will likely enjoy the adventure and more fantastical elements, especially when our heroes must do battle in a popular fictional world.

Ten year old Fidge is tired of reading the same storybook, night after night, to her four year old sister, Minnie. But all Minnie wants is The Wimbley Woos. These tales are set in a colour coded community of creatures shaped like dustbins with limbs, who each have different skills and use them to help the others. Fidge would far rather be packing for their upcoming outdoor activity holiday. She is trying out a high-density packing technique to minimise her required luggage. Unlike her mother and sister, Fidge is organised.

The next day there is some last minute shopping to be done. Fidge has been promised a pair of flippers but first Minnie needs sandals. As usual on these excursions there are distractions. They run out of time. Angry that she is the one who ends up carrying the plethora of toys Minnie insists on taking with her everywhere, which she then drops when something exciting catches her eye, Fidge lashes out in anger with devastating consequences.

All of this means that Fidge must go and stay with her annoying cousin, Graham, who is scared of: stairs (in case he falls down them), toast (in case he chokes on a crumb), insects (in case he catches a tropical disease) – the list goes on. His parents pander to his phobias and talk of little other than their concerns for their son. Fidge doesn’t believe Graham has anything wrong with him that couldn’t be cured with a change of attitude. Graham regards Fidge as far below his superior intellect.

Fidge is still carrying Minnie’s toy collection including her favourite bedtime companion, Wed Wabbit, which Fidge hates. The cousins argue, the toys end up at the bottom of the cellar stairs, Fidge realises Minnie will need Wed Wabbit but a massive thunderstorm cuts off power. And then, because this is what most of the story is about, the cousins end up in the land of the Wimbley Woos.

Although filled with feats of derring-do and puzzle solving, this is a gently told tale injected with a great deal of wit. Fidge needs to solve a riddle if she is to bring Wed Wabbit home. Wed Wabbit is not so sure that this is what he wants as he is angry, which puts the entire land in danger. Even with her detailed knowledge of the Wimbley Woos’ skills, Fidge struggles to get them working as a team. And then the rainbow land starts losing its colour.

There are obvious (at least to an adult) uplifting messages underlying the tale. These do not detract from the fun way the challenges being overcome are portrayed. All the characters, even the initially annoying ones, have their part to play. A great deal is learned by Fidge and Graham – without too much moralising.

Wed Wabbit is published by David Fickling Books.

My copy was borrowed from my local library.