A dyslexia friendly sci-fi adventure story with a strong environmental theme and diverse cast of characters.
Pete, Krish and Nancy live in Crooked Oak, a quiet village where nothing much ever happens. Pete and Krish spend their free time (as well as the time they should be doing schoolwork) looking up the latest weird stories on their favourite website – The Mystery Shed. Nancy, however, has other things on her mind. Her parents are acting strangely. They’ve started keeping the curtains closed all of the time, even when it’s sunny outside. Their eyes are blank, they won’t eat, and they don’t react normally when Nancy talks to them. Krish initially thinks Nancy is overreacting but Pete is intrigued. He persuades his friends to investigate and they quickly discover that the unexplained phenomena in Crooked Oak would be worthy of inclusion on The Mystery Shed.
At its heart The Invasion of Crooked Oak is a sci-fi adventure story with a fast moving plot that will keep you turning the pages. When you stop to reflect, however, you’ll find there is more depth than you first thought. There is a strong environmental theme, including a child friendly description of fracking with the potential negatives illustrated by the community’s objections. Author, Dan Smith, also skilfully introduces a diverse cast of characters without losing sight of the central story. (Indeed, it’s the first time I’ve registered a character who suffers from chronic pain in a children’s book).
Dan’s words are accompanied by a selection of striking illustrations by Chris King. The bright red and orange on the cover should make the book stand out on a bookseller’s shelves while the full page black and white illustrations inside certainly add atmosphere to this already spooky story.
Before finishing this review, it’s worth noting that The Invasion of Crooked Oak is part of Barrington Stoke’s ‘Super-readable’ series with black text on a pale yellow page and a unique dyslexia friendly type face that’s designed to help more people love reading. It’s a short book (just 97 pages) but it will, I hope, inspire more middle-grade aged readers to explore the exciting adventure stories available to them.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to read one of Dan Smith’s longer novels. I’m a big fan of Boy X by Dan Smith, although I also really enjoyed Below Zero. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a middle grade adventure from Barrington Stoke why not try The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll or Tin Boy by Steve Cole.
Publication Date: September 2020
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Author’s website: Dan Smith