Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A HEN IN THE WARDROBE by Wendy Meddour. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull



Ramzi has a problem.  His dad is sleepwalking.  He comes into Ramzi's bedroom in the middle of the night and searches for a hen in the wardrobe.  He climbs a tree in the garden in his pyjamas while dreaming that he's a snow leopard.

Something has to be done.

The doctor diagnoses homesickness and says it's time Dad went home for a holiday.  Dad is a Berber and his home is a small town in the mountains of Algeria.  It's a long journey, and a big change for Ramzi and his English mum.

Back with his extended family, Dad soon begins to feel happier.  Life in his home town is very different from life in suburban Cinnamon Grove in England.  It's noisy.  There are loud calls to prayer before dawn and parties that go on till late at night with drums beating, women ululating and guns firing in celebration.  At first Ramzi and his mum enjoy themselves.  Ramzi makes friends with his cousins and his Uncle Kader and sees off the local bully.  But before long there is a new problem: Dad wants to stay, but Mum and Ramzi want to go home.

A number of strange remedies are tried, but when at last they do go home it is Ramzi, with the help of his Uncle Kader, who finds a solution that keeps everyone happy.

This is a cheerful, zany story, with illustrations by the author that add greatly to its charm.  It shows people of different races and religions sharing a neighbourhood; parents and children who play games together; and neighbours who look after each other.  There are hints of a darker side.  Ramzi is bullied in both England and Algeria for being 'different'; and at airport security Dad is taken away for questioning for no apparent reason.  But this is not in any way a book that thumps home its messages.  It leaves you with a warm glow and a strong sense of how people ought to live in a community and, indeed, do live most of the time.

This book is the first of a series, and the second one, The Black Cat Detectives, will be published in August 2012.

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