A fun and inventive story which has echoes of the now classic Clarice Bean series.
When Harriet, aged seven and a quarter, decides to go to Princes Park to practise ‘Going to the Park on Her Own’ (i.e. with her Grandad walking at least thirty steps behind) she can’t believe her eyes. The statue of Lord Commander Horatio Fredrick Wallington Nincompoop Maximus Pimpleberry the Third (or Horace for short) starts to move. He not only moves but stamps his foot, shouts something that would get him in serious trouble with Harriet’s mum, and climbs down from his pillar. Understandably Harriet can’t resist following and quickly finds herself dragged all around the town as Horace searches for a new – and more suitable – home. His sights are firmly set on the Mayor’s mansion and it, therefore, falls to Harriet to persuade him that there must be a better alternative. Sadly, Horace’s visits to the museum, cinema, train station, playground, bank and library all cause mayhem. Luckily, however, a competition in the park reveals the perfect answer.
This is a fun and inventive story which has echoes of the now classic Clarice Bean series. While it’s a very long time since I was that age, Harriet is a very believable seven-year-old and young readers will find it easy to identify with her. They may, however, find Horace less easy to understand and his antiquated language might be slightly difficult for some. Fortunately, the context will aid understanding and, if they’re still confused, there’s a very useful glossary at the back of the book.
While I liked our two main characters, my personal favourite is one the minor supporting characters, namely Horace’s trusty second in command – the pigeon Barry. (Barry’s most significant claim to fame is that he is the only pigeon in Princes Park not to have pooed on Horace while he’s been stood on his plinth.)
The plot is simple and straightforward for young readers and the use of familiar settings around town is likely to appeal. Emerging readers are also likely to enjoy the humour in the book, from the ancient battle involving cowpats and custard pies to the way nasty girl Angela ends up covered in pigeon poo. Personally what made me smile the most was the quirky chapter headings which range from ‘The Bit You Need to Know Before the First Bit’ to ‘The Next Bit’ and ‘The Last Middle Bit’.
While the story is well written, it is the wonderful two-colour illustrations that make this book really stand out. The characterisation is superb and there are some lovely additions and asides to the text. For example: the ducks laughing at Horace when he tries to invade the duck-house; Barry clipping a bush into the shape of a pigeon; and Grandad rowing a boat around the shed. (My only slight niggle is that I did wonder whether the picture of Grandad really looks old enough. But, perhaps, that’s just me getting old!)
If you enjoyed this, I’d recommend you read one of the stories in the classic ‘Clarice Bean’ stories by Lauren Child. Alternatively, if you enjoyed the slightly silly plot why not try Squirrel Boy vs the Squirrel Hunter by Dave Lowe.
Publication date: March 2018
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author’s website: Clare Elsom
Review first published on The Bookbag