Sunday 23 June 2013

Sleuth On Skates by Clementine Beauvais, illustrated by Sarah Horne, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

Image of Clémentine Beauvais
This is an absolute treat of a book! 

Even before you read a word of text, the physical book is a pleasure.  It has a cover that feels velvety soft, and glints in places.  That cover has tucked-in ends as if it was a wrap-around.  Inside are full-colour decorated end-papers.  It is bright and enticing, with quotes from real child readers rather than the usual suspect rent-a-quote other authors.  The text is printed in a particularly pleasing font, and it is all lavishly illustrated with funny Sarah Horne pictures.  The whole book looks and feels fresh and special … which is just right because what you find inside that cover IS fresh and special.

I read quite a lot of ‘funny’ children’s books, and can often get right through such books without a single outward chuckle, and hardly a mouth twitch towards a smile, even when I can appreciate that funny things are being portrayed.  This book genuinely had me laughing out loud, and annoying my family by reading bits out to them when they were trying to concentrate on other things.  The result is a queue of family members now wanting to get their hands on the book. 

 What’s so funny?  Genuine clever wit and observation is what’s so funny. 

Sophie Margaret Catriona Seade (better known as Sesame) suffers from having a professor Master of Christ’s College Cambridge for her mother, and the college chaplain for her father.  Those parents might be clever, but so too is our Sesame.  She tells her own tale of daring sleuthing discovery of dastardly deeds in her own, inimitable, fresh and observant voice.  She says things such as –

‘I try not to get too attached to them (students) because, like rabbits, they only last three or four years and then they’re gone.’

‘…I had to flatten myself like a plaice against the wall…’

‘On the banks of the river, the grass grew thick and tangled, and croaked ‘ribbit ribbit’ when the glistening ripples of water reached it.’

The story revolves around a mysteriously missing student who should have been performing in Swan Lake.  “What part?” asks Sesame’s friend.

“The Lead.  I don’t know the story, so I’m assuming it’s either the swan or the lake.”

When Sesame, who hates anything tutu-related, has to sit through the whole balletic performance, she takes her seat and... 'quickly went into power-saving mode…’

I mustn’t go on quoting bits that particularly tickled me, or struck me as true, because we could be here all day.  What I want to convey is quite what an excitingly fresh storytelling voice Clementine Beauvais has.   This is a cracking good story too, full of excitements and surprises, and very nearly believable. 

As somebody who grew-up with a professor father based at Jesus College in Cambridge, and a mother who had been a college secretary, and who now lives in the village where the missing girl in the story is found, I particularly enjoyed the Cambridgeness of the book, even if the geography is played with a bit.  I hope that Clementine Beauvais gets free blueberry cheesecake in Auntie’s Tea Shop from now on!  And I am quite sure that her ‘Maman cherie’ to whom the book is dedicated is, rightly, extremely proud. 

Hats off to Clementine, to Sarah Horne, and to Hodder for producing an exceptional book for children …. and I see that a second book in the series is coming out in October.  This book has my vote to be winner of the next Roald Dahl Funny Prize.



Ann Turnbull said...

This sounds fun! What age approximately is it for, Pippa?

Pippa Goodhart said...

Well my husband, enjoying it at the moment, is 60! I'd say generally for about 6-10, though.

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