Pirates, explorers, Tropical Terry and a mischievous dodo
Children’s books: new stories from Eirlys Hunter, Ruth Quayle, Jarvis and Jo Simmons
The Dodo Made Me Do It: an extinct bird is more troublesome than Jo Simmons’s hero could have imagined
Summer holidays = boring. That’s what 10-year-old Danny, the hero of Jo Simmons’s The Dodo Made Me Do It (Bloomsbury, £5.99, ages 8+), thinks, as he sets off for Granny Flora’s house in the wilds of western Scotland, “a total fun-desert, populated by weirdies and oldies and oldie weirdies. With midges.” Inspired by his favourite comic book hero, Danny decides to take dull matters into his own hands and comes up with a plan for “A & E: Adventure and Excitement”. He hopes to find enough shipwrecked treasure to get a train ticket home; what he finds instead is a dodo, who gets him into all sorts of scrapes, including a confrontation with a criminal seeking safe harbour in the seaside town of Kinoussie.
With Danny, Simmons has created a comically dramatic preteen, who is forced to find new ways of looking at the small town in which he is trapped for the summer. He realises that there are potential adventures in geriatric circumstances, and that knowing it all, like his sidekick Suzie does, is no bad thing.
Sheena Dempsey’s sketches are scattered generously throughout the book, bringing to life key scenes with glorious hilarity, including one in which the dodo is dressed in a hoody, as Danny tries to smuggle him into his granny’s house unseen.
Born explorers and a Hipster Ripster
What would Danny make of the adventure that the four wily Santander children embark upon in The Mapmakers’ Race (Gecko Press, £6.99, 10+)? In the opening pages of Eirlys Hunter’s novel, they set off into the mountainous wilderness without their parents. They are determined to win the Great Race, a dangerous mapmaking challenge with a lucrative prize.
The Santanders are not exactly orphans; their explorer father went missing on his last expedition, and their mother disappeared at the station just before their train took off. Arriving at the frontier town where the race begins with “no parents, no money, no home – what else could they do?” but set off alone. Anyway, they have enough experience and talent between the four of them to convince themselves they have a chance of completing the task.
Sal is a mathematics whizz, while Joe is a born explorer. Francie is an artist with extraordinary perception, and Humph, well, he doesn’t have any particular talents, yet. With the aid of a local guide, Beckett, who volunteers to help them navigate the inhospitable terrain, they just might beat their rivals, among them Cody’s Cowboys and Roger’s Ruffians, who aren’t beyond cheating. With Kirsten Slade’s illustrated maps guiding you through the chapters, Hunter has crafted a a thrilling adventure tale that stands ably among classic kids adventure tales by E Nesbit or Enid Blyton.
The McScurvys in Ruth Quayle’s The Battle of the Blighty Bling (Andersen Press, £6.99, 8+) could do with the route-finding skills of the Santander family. The Blighty Bling, a magic jewel they usually use for navigation, has gone missing, and Vic and Bert need to locate it, before their parents realise they have lost it (and their baby sister, Maud). It is a disaster, but it is surely more fun than going to school. You see, the McScurvys have been landlocked since their ship sank and have been struggling to adjust to their new life. “We used to sail the oceans,” Vic explains. “Now we have to wear shoes and do homework.”
By coincidence, their quest brings them face to face with the family’s biggest rival, Captain Guillemot, the Hipster Ripster, who has been tormenting them for years. So, with the help of two annoyingly proficient nonpirates, Arabella and George, the McScurvy kids manage to fulfill two important missions at the same time.
Quayle turns the pirates’ most terrifying habits into comedy. The McScurvys gleefully litter and offend: they are pirates after all. Eric Heyman’s illustrations and typographical design, meanwhile, make each page attractive, and fans of Jonny Duddle’s Jolley-Rogers series will enjoy this alternative version of an unconventional pirate life.
Aquatic fashion choices
There isn’t anything conventional about the glum and blushing octopus in Octopants by Suzy Senior (Little Tiger, £10.99, 3+), which charts his quest to find a pair of underpants that will accommodate his multitudinous limbs. At the Clam Closet and the Bargain Bucket, they merely laugh at him: “ ‘Underpants? For you?’ they said. ‘Oh no. We don’t have ANY. The problem seems to be your legs – you’ve just got six too many.’ ” Luckily, the dapper seahorse at the Under-Sea Emporium reminds him that his legs are really arms, and can supply him with just the thing he needs to cover his modesty.
The easy ryhming text lends an easy rhythm to Senior’s silly tale, while Claire Powell’s illustrations are a riot of colour and hidden humour. There are jellyfish in jewellery, eels in tuxedos, angler fish in frilly knickers . . . even the amoeba and coral creatures get facial expressions.
Senior and Powell’s stylish ocean inhabitants would get on well with the “dashing, flashing crew” in Jarvis’s Tropical Terry (Walker, £6.99, 3+), who force poor plain Terry to spruce up his scales to fit in with their snazzy undersea gang. Using a lot of sticky seaweed he is transformed from “Terry, the DULL fish” to “Tropical Terry”, who shimmers and shines more than any other swishy fish in the whole of Coral Reef City. When Eddie the Eel shows up, however, Terry realises being ordinary can actually have its advantages. With chalk and watercolour illustrations that pop against the bubbly blue background of Jarvis’s seascape, this is a gentle morality tale about the importance of standing up for yourself in a crowded sea of sameness.