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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Review: The Comic Cafe by Roger Stevens


Author: Roger Stevens
Title: The Comic Cafe
Genre: Mystery/adventure/humour (children's)
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Published: April 2012
Source: Won from the publisher in a Twitter competition

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says:
Accidentally abandoned in a rundown seaside cafe, how are Will, Elizabeth, Jaz, Briony and Sammi going to endure the summer?

Ghostly sounds, oddball visitors and a mystery surrounding the cafe's previous owner all conspire to sabotage their grand reopening plans in this laugh-out-loud comedy of errors from one of the UK's leading children's poets.

My verdict: Genuinely funny; suitable for Scooby Doo fans (i.e. everyone!)
Lots of aspects of this book reminded me of Scooby Doo including potential ghosts, mystery elements and zany characters (most of whom you can't help but suspect of something). The story is highly improbable, and yet you can't help but be drawn in. It succeeds entirely in casting that story spell which prevents you from questioning any of the bizarre events or characters.

Will narrates this story and his quirky (but natural) voice is definitely part of the appeal. Who can help but love a narrator who has a thing for words and uses particularly interesting ones, like "surmised", at points in the story? And don't worry for the child readers - since Will speaks to us in a direct way, he explains all of these fascinating words. It's a great way of characterising Will.

His sisters are all sharply characterised too and it's easy to distinguish between them. They all have a part in dealing with the weirdness of being accidentally abandoned, in preparing for reopening and in working on the mystery. I can't imagine that any child would fail to find someone they empathised with in this motley crew of child characters.

The parents are also well drawn. It isn't easy to create sympathetic characters out of parents who accidentally abandon their five children, but Roger Stevens does so effortlessly. It's partly a factor in the general craziness of the story, and partly because the parents are drawn almost entirely through the loving eyes of their children.

Overall, the general craziness of this tale make it a genuinely funny read, easily accessible by both genders of around 8 and up.

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