Sunday, 15 November 2015

Classic children's book review: Where's Spot?

Here's something a little different today. As Emily eats more and more real food, and develops already-reviewed favourites, there are fewer opportunities to write about purees. Fear not, however! A few exciting opportunities and projects are on the horizon over the coming months... Vegetable lasagne in a jar, several flavoured crackers, meat, and to top it off, can I run a 60km trail race fuelled only by food designed for under one year olds? Only one way to find out, stay tuned for January 26!

But today, I thought it might be an idea to review some of the varied literature available for the infant market. I thought a good start would be one of Luke's current high rotation book, Eric Hill's classic psychological thriller Where's Spot?

When reviewing a book, the first step I usually take is reading already existing reviews. Hill's publisher, Puffin Books, makes this easy by including two on the back:

I'm not sure how to take the London Standard review. Clearly, if this is Hill's debut offering, it is a solid book, hinting at the heights he will later hit in Spot's Christmas and Spot Visits His Grandparents. However, the other read of this phrase also rings true: if you had not read a book previously, this would be an ideal start. Not so lengthy as to be a daunting prospect, yet with enough of a plot to draw the novice reader in. However, it is Child Education's review that intrigues me. 'Cleverly designed! Irresistible!' Steady on there... I assume the clever design refers to the flaps within the book, in which this strikes me possibly as a superlative too far... If this is clever design, just wait until Child Education sees pop-up, talking books, or, heaven forbid, iPads! 

The book itself serves as a salutary warning to parents not to be so distracted as to let your infant go missing. Sally, the main protagonist, becomes distracted from her parental duties by her dinner, only to discover that her son, spot, is nowhere to be seen when it comes to eating his. Not only this, but her house seems to have been invaded by a sinister gang of foreign animals. She journeys from room to room, but at each turn is met by a creature of varying threat. Early on, a boa constrictor is found hiding in a grandfather clock. Clearly a future influence for the popular Samuel L Jackson film Snakes on a Plane, this serpent appears to have either been whipped into some sort of hallucinogen-fuelled frenzy by some illicit substance, or suffering from a nasty bilateral conjunctivitis.

Fortunately, Sally is able to escape the maliciously drugged-up reptile, but is confronted by several other terrible fiends. There is a  hippopotamus sequestered in a presumably heavily strengthened grand piano, a crocodile underneath her bed, three cloned identical penguins in a random box, and a lion who, clearly finished with snacking upon adolescent wizards, is looking forward to a canine-sized desert.

Finally, Sally finds a presumably friendly, helpful, but terrified ally: a tortoise, who in clear defiance of the laws of physics is occupying a space much smaller than that of his own body mass under a floor rug. With a look of abject terror on its face, it screams instructions as to where her son is hiding.

Soon, mother and son are reunited. They trot off to complete their evening meal, ignoring the menagerie of doom now occupying their house, and thus setting up the perfect premise for a sequel, which has alas not yet been written.

I found Where's Spot to be a strong, enjoyable read, with strong, thoughtfully created lead characters in Sally and Spot, the unnamed tortoise providing good support. Where the plot is let down is the reasoning behind the hostile takeover of Sally and Spot's home... Who has sent these creatures, and what is their aim? This minor criticism aside, however, Where's Spot provides enough suspense and action to keep readers of all ages entertained for five minutes on end. Overall, a solid 7.5/10.

I'll endeavour over the future weeks, when not writing about food, to review further books, possibly even including my current favourite Maisy Makes Lemonade, number two in a trilogy which also includes Maisy Makes Milk, and Maisy Makes Chocolate Around The Corner.

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