Children do love stories about children who are even naughtier than themselves. Go to a primary school on their Dressing-Up As A Children's Book Character Day, and you always bump in to multiple Pippi Longstockings and Horrid Henrys. Well, there's a new kid on the block as far as fictional naughty children go, and her name is Martha Bones. As a middle child myself, I relate to Martha, loathing her goody-goody older sister, jealous of her can-do-nothing-wrong baby brother, vying with friend/enemy next door, but expressing all those familiar feelings in such joyously REALLY NAUGHTY ways (she bit Father Christmas, for goodness sake!) that she's a real pleasure to read about. It's Martha's view of events that we get, and we very quickly realise that her views are somewhat prejudiced. A few sentences into the story we are told - 'It wasn't fair, she thought. anybody could accidentally drop their sister's library book down the toilet. And then pull the flush. anybody could accidentally write Baby For Sale accross their baby brother's head. In green felt-tip. The Non-Wash-Offable kind.' Isn't that escalating of naughtiness to the point of wickedness delicious?! But a reluctant and incompetent Interstellar Agent (an updated form of Guardian Angel) called Fred is soon doing battle to make Martha good. The results of their tussle are fast-moving and slapstick, with situations all too familar from real family life, but taken here to enjoyable extreme. But this isn't just a comic romp of a book; it also lightly explores something of the complexities of goodness and badness to show that things aren't always black and white, and that adults as well as children struggle with goodness.
As a rare treat in a book for children of about five to eleven, this book has full page illustrations. They are rather beautiful black and white pictures done in characteristic style by Emma Chichester Clark. The book is nicely presented altogether.
You'll be glad to know that Fred doesn't totally succeed in his mission to make Martha good. Will we see more of this character? I do hope so.
Review by Pippa Goodhart, website: www.pippagoodhart.co.uk
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