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Flash Reviews: Children’s Books (30th May 2014)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson ****

‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson (Puffin Classics)

Storyline: “Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold.”

1. The narrative voice is engaging from the start, and a marvellous array of characters people this novel.
2. The entirety is filled with adventure.  As soon as one thing happens, it sets another event in motion, which keeps the action moving throughout – a domino effect, if you like.
3. Treasure Island is so well written.  This is the first of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s books which I have read, and I doubt very much that it will be the last.

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A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley ***
Storyline: The novel’s protagonist is a young girl named Penelope, who lives in London in the twentieth century.  She visits her family home, Thackers, in Derbyshire, and mysteriously finds herself in Elizabethan times.  ‘Her sixteenth-century family is scheming to free their beloved Mary, Queen of Scots’.  Penelope is catapulted into the past and present throughout, and both stories run concurrently with one another.

‘A Traveller in Time’ by Alison Uttley (Jane Nissen Books)

1. Penelope’s world, with particular emphasis upon her surroundings, has been wonderfully evoked throughout.
2. A Traveller in Time is a rich novel which has been filled with history, and its story has clearly been well thought out.
3. Had I read this as a child, I am sure that I would have adored it.  It has just the right amount of time travelling and history alongside its rather sweet protagonist, and had I been eight or nine when I first stepped into Penelope’s world, I doubt that I would have ever wanted to leave.  As an adult, I sadly found the novel a little disappointing, but I did still enjoy it.

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After by Morris Gleitzman ****

‘After’ by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin Books)

NB. This is the fourth novel in the series which features Felix (a fact which I was entirely unaware of when I requested it from the library), but Gleitzman writes that each is a standalone novel.

Storyline: Felix’s parents have both been killed in a Nazi concentration camp when this novel begins.  After is set in 1945, where Jewish Felix, after having been sheltered by a kindly man named Gabriek for two years, finds himself joining a band of partisans in a Polish forest.

1. Felix is an interesting construct.  In terms of age – thirteen – he is little more than a child, but when one takes into account the awful things which he has seen and has had to do, he seems very old indeed.  He is a marvellous narrator, and is endearingly naive.  One of the character traits which I found the most compelling about him was the way in which he continually prays to British author Richmal Crompton, merely because her Just William books kept him company whilst he was in hiding.  He is a likeable character, and is both earnest and persistent.
2. The way in which Gleitzman has crafted Felix’s first person narrative voice, which has been written entirely in the present tense, makes everything almost urgent, and this suits the story perfectly.
3. The story is both believable and well-imagined, and the twists and turns throughout render it an unpredictable novel.

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‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain ***

My Dad gave me this book rather a long time ago, and on each occasion in which I have begun to read it, I have thought that I should really read its prequel of sorts, Tom Sawyer, first. I have never got around to it, however, so when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn came out of my book choice jar, I began it regardless.

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain

The book, which was first published in 1884, is told in dialect – quite a light one on the whole, which is not at all overdone and which is quite easy to get into the style of. I did find Jim’s dialect a little taxing at times though, and I occasionally found myself skipping over the things he said because it simply felt like too much of a chore to interpret it all. The social and historical elements of the story are strong, and nature looms large throughout, almost presented as a character in itself. Indeed, things like the Mississippi River bring life to the tale, and without this one important landmark, there would certainly not be such an exciting adventure within the book. The importance of the river – both to Huck and Jim and to the population at large, who depend upon it so very much – is well portrayed.

I did not read any of Twain’s work as a child, and part of me is glad that this was the first time in which I encountered The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It holds a lot of interest for me as an adult with regard to its historical perspective, but if I had read it when I was little, I am sure that it would merely have felt like a boy’s adventure story, and would have lost some of its intrigue in consequence. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is very of its time, and that is why I feel that it is such an important book to read.

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