An entertaining and easy to read story for emerging readers.
Arlo and his classmates have a new teacher – Miss Pythia – and she’s a little bit unusual. She has a strange eye-like tattoo that looks like it’s watching you, she always seems to know exactly what’s about to happen, and she has a rather unique dress sense. (She always wears a floor-length white dress with a snake-shaped bracelet and frequently has the class snake, Oleander, draped around her shoulders). Arlo’s friends, Nathan and Daisy-May, claim Miss Pythia is completely normal but Arlo’s not convinced, especially when she turns up to school with a beautiful box that must never be opened. However, it’s only when their class take part in an inter-school competition to produce a ‘Play in a Day’ that they begin to discover the truth – about Miss Pythia and about themselves.
This is the second book about Arlo and his friends but, fortunately, you don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this story. Indeed, this book contains a fun extract from ‘Arlo’s notebook’ that very effectively summarises everything you need to know in just two pages. (I particularly liked the short and snappy descriptions of the interesting people in Arlo’s class: Mitchell, for example, is summed up by the fact that he “throws things, breaks things, takes things without asking”.)
The story is written in simple language to make it accessible to emerging readers but still has strong characterisation (particularly of Arlo who narrates the story) and some wonderful humour. I’ll give you just one example that made me laugh out loud. There’s a short scene in chapter one when Arlo is listing the things that he believes make Miss Pythia weird. When he points out she shares her name with an Ancient Greek priestess, Daisy-May replies: “So what? … My surname is Bacon and I’m a vegetarian. It means nothing.”
While the writing is entertaining and easy to read, the plot also has just the right amount of interest and intrigue for the age range. I especially liked the twist about the fate of the class kitten. (Sorry, it’s a plot twist so I can’t tell you more!) The themes about friendship and the importance of teamwork are also well handled, being subtle enough not to detract from the plot.
I can’t conclude a review without a quick mention of the fun black and white illustrations by Mike Garton. Deliberately childlike, these are likely to appeal to the target readership while, as an adult, I had more appreciation for the things children won’t consciously notice such as the diversity amongst the characters.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to read about Arlo’s adventures with his previous teacher in Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo by Alice Hemming. Alternatively, for another story about friendship, I’d definitely recommend you read The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shepherd.
Publication Date: March 2019
Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing
Website: Alice Hemming