Friday 22 February 2013

Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door, by Julia Donaldson. Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Children's laureate Julia Donaldson needs no introduction. Her picture books sell by the truckload. Her mega-successful Gruffalo spawned a mini industry of soft-toys, plays and even a television film.  Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door is aimed at 5 to 8 year olds with a reading ability of 6+.

Published by Barrington Stoke in their Little Gems series, this is a  reworking of a 2005 titled called The Jungle House. It's a witty and gently anarchic story told from a child's point of view. The unnamed narrator's family are forced to move when Granny starts getting too confused to live on her own.  The narrator and her brother, Elmo, are keen on taking up residence in a decrepit property they nickname The Jungle House.  Their parents plump for the boring house next door. But then the kids find a key to the back door of the Jungle House and set about turning into their own adventure playground.

Things get complicated when a man with an enormous grey beard moves into the house and the children are accused of trespassing.  Then Granny goes missing and the kids are sure Mr Birdsnest is holding her prisoner...

 Donaldson's text is reassuringly simple and a delight to read.  The story, divided neatly into four short chapters,  moves at a rollicking pace.  The book is a joy to hold, its flaps yielding jokes and instructions on how to draw a bird when lifted. Hannah Shaw's cartoony pictures compliment the words perfectly. The family are mixed race, which will be welcome in many schools and homes around the country. And the eccentric Mr Birdsnest seems to be modelled on that other master of mild mayhem, the real-life author Philip Ardagh. Have a look at the picture below and see what you think.

Title: Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Hannah Shaw 
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
First Published: 2012

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