‘It is not the blood that flows through our veins but the love in our hearts which brings us together.’ (chap 28)
A review in two lists
This is not the sort of book I normally read and review. Why?
1. I don’t much like comedy children’s books, particularly ones that feature farcical humour, cartoonistic characters and gross caricatures.
(I know they are popular, and get lots of children reading, which is an excellent thing. All power to them. They are just not what I choose to spend my time reading.)
2. The front cover makes this a book that I would be unlikely to pick up.
(It looks like it might be the sort I don’t like - see item 1.)
3. It was a Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week and Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month.
(It’s great when the media promote children’s books, which is not nearly often enough. Even when they do, though, it is generally limited to a very select number from the range currently available - and sometimes not even the best ones. I often like to leave these heavily promoted books alone and go for those deserving more attention than they get.)
However, without much optimism, I did try the first few pages of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates as a Kindle free sample. As a result I immediately bought the actual book from a real bookshop and couldn’t wait to carry on reading it. (I have no compunction in exploiting Amazon in this way and then giving my custom to a much more deserving independent bookshop.)
Why did I have to eat my own words and then devour Jenny Pearson’s too?
List B (the longer and by far the more important one)
1. This book is really very funny indeed.
2. Although the plot does contain some ridiculously farcical episodes, much of the humour is also quite subtle and clever.
(Even some of the fart jokes are quite entertaining. Viz, quote from Chapter 8: ‘A lady (was) wearing a T-shirt which said What do you make with onions and beans? on the front. I considered this for a while but when she turned around the answer was on the back. It was Tear gas.’)
3. When protagonist Fred, discovers, near the start of the story, that his beloved Grandma has died, it is very sensitively and quite movingly handled.
(There are touches of humour even here. Viz: Fred cannot understand why his Gran has been given a certificate just for dying, when he had to do all sorts of stuff to get his gold one for swimming. These only contribute to the emotional pull of his loss. It was this early section that actually caught me as a reader and made me want to read the rest. It means you care about Fred from the start and want to know what happens to him.)
4. Much of the humour comes from the endearing charm of a young boy who is sensitive and thinking but who doesn’t yet totally ‘get’ the adult world.
(As per the death certificate.)
5. Fred’s journey is about finding his biological father, who he has never known. Now you care about Fred, this is a very important and involving goal, and gives the trip a deep humanity, which it keeps regardless of the silliness of many of his adventures on the way.
6. Fred’s genuine and very heartfelt motivation makes for a totally absorbing and compelling story.
7. Fred’s two young companions on his journey, Ben and Charlie, are also escaping problems in their home life, and arouse similar empathy.
8. In her three young protagonists, Jenny Pearson captures the authentic thoughts, feelings and behaviours of young boys quite wonderfully.
(Even when their situation becomes ludicrous, they feel totally credible and leap off the page as characters.)
9. Ditto the dialogue, which is often quite brilliant.
10. Ditto her ability to understand and capture exactly the sort of friendship relationship often found between between adolescent boys.
(The way it switches between good-natured joshing, and apparently serious falling out without ever really losing its ongoing closeness, commitment and loyalty.)
11. Ditto her handling of the rich and complex relationship between Fred and his step-father.
12. There is a pleasing sense of the book representing , and ultimately celebrating diverse but inclusive aspects of our society.
(Charlie is ‘sturdy’, Ben is black, all three are from homes that, although ultimately loving and supportive, are not straightforwardly comprised. Diversity amongst the young protagonists is reinforced in Rob Biddulph’s illustrations. )
13. The lead character is a boy.
(Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the balance bring redressed in favour of strong female leads, after decades of negative stereotyping in books, as in life. But just at the moment children’s novels with girl leads are so ubiquitous, that it is actually a welcome change to find a boy protagonist. I repeatedly push the message that books about girls are not only for girls. Even so, boys do sometimes still need to see themselves as main characters in the books they read.)
14. For a very funny book, it can get remarkably philosophical at times.
“Did you know it is a genuine fact that it is physically impossible for a pig to look up at the sky.”
I turned to him and said, “What?”
“I read it on a yoghurt once.” He looked over at the window. “Imagine never seeing the stars and then being slapped between some bread, lettuce and tomato.”
It came out of nowhere, so I said, “What?” again.
“No matter how bad things get at least we’re not pigs. At least we can look up and see the stars.”’ (chap 20)
15. The whole episodic narrative is cleverly tied together not only by Fred’s search for his biological father but by an almost metaphysical exploration of what is and is not a miracle.
(Jenny Pearson’s book turns out to be a super miraculous journey too.)
16 And it’s really very funny indeed.
(Did I say that already? Perhaps what I mean is . . . )
16. Despite all this it is a very funny book indeed.
(Actually, its because of a lot of it.)
In all Jenny Pearson has given a remarkable gift to children’s reading, creating a hugely entertaining book that has kid appeal in spades and still manages to say a great deal about genuinely important things in young lives and say them in a very supportive, nurturing way.
Were I still teaching in Key Stage 2 it would be high on my list of books to enthuse children about reading and to show them how much it has to offer.
Sorry, Jenny Pearson , about List A, but thank you too. I shall try to be more open-minded in future. I could have missed so much.
‘It’s a bit like pigs not knowing about the stars. I needed to change my viewpoint to see what had been there all along.’ (chap 28)
There’s a US edition too