Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Tribe: Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks


Tribe: Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks by T. M. Alexander. Review by Ellen Renner


Once upon a time, books about school friendships were a commonplace. But in these days when 'high concept' is a mantra in the publishing industry, books about ordinary children in real-life situations have become something of a rarity. Series fiction, however, can occasionally offer the younger reader a break from a steady diet of protagonists with special powers and/or an affliction of zombies, vampires or fairies.

In addition, T. M. Alexander has succeeded in creating a series for 8-12 year olds which appeals across gender lines. The Tribe is neither blue or pink; it is merely witty, well-written and positive. Here is a writer who enjoys exploring the wonders and disasters real life holds for real children, and who allows her readers to do the same.

My son and I were introduced to The Tribe in 2010 with the publication of the first book in the series: Jonno Joins. My then 13 year old swallowed Jonno in one sitting, and had very positive things to say about the humour and characterisation. We've gone on to enjoy the subsequent titles: Goodbye Copper Pie, Labradoodle on the Loose and now the fourth instalment: Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks.

The books are episodic in content and narrated in first person by one of the four Tribe members, Keener. Alexander is spot on with the voice, worries and preoccupations of a ten year old boy. She cleverly incorporates lists and diagrams in the books, sprinkling humour or World Record-like information throughout the text. This lightens the whole and breaks the text into easily digestible chunks.

Instead of affliction at the (dead) hands of zombies and vampires, Keener and his friends – Jonno, Copper Pie, Fifty and Bee – suffer lost dogs, school bullies, scary head teachers and tiresome siblings. The adventures are on the mild, rather than the wild side, but they are engrossing nonetheless, and the reader enjoys spending time with the five very different members of the Tribe. The heart of the books is an exploration of the importance of friendship, but also finding individual identity within a friendship group.

Recommended for boys and girls aged 8 to 12.

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