I recently obtained three short chapter books from various publishers which I feel compelled to review as they are unusual in their style, content and originality. Unlike many short chapter books in the current publishing climate, these do not fall neatly into genres or categories. They do however contain quality language, great storytelling and appealing and relatable characters. It would be a great pity for these three books, one of which is an English translation, to be overlooked.
Belle and Sébastien by Cécile Aubry translated by Gregory Norminton
The language and style in Belle and Sébastien is more traditional and sophisticated than your average short chapter book but this need not be discouraging for a confident emergent reader. The familiarity of the family setting and the dialogue between characters will carry a fluent reader along with the French setting and simple plot. Sébastien is a child of the mountains, rescued at birth by a local man and adopted into his family. Belle is a Pyrenean mountain dog, roaming free in the mountains after 6 years of neglect, carelessness and circumstances by a variety of different owners. This is the tale of an unlikely friendship between boy and dog sustaining them both through their adventures in the mountains and the prejudices of the local villagers.
The Goat by Anne Fleming
Kid and her parents have moved into a New York apartment where there are an assortment of unusual characters. Kid’s home life has been a little unconventional and she struggles with her shyness. However, on discovering that there may be a goat on the roof of the apartment she finds the courage to investigate further. In doing so she becomes familiar with all the other residents and even makes some new friends.
This is a charming, amusing tale with very simple little plot and some great characterisation. The setting provides the ideal, atmospheric backdrop to this quirky little tale and gives a flavour of the diverse mix that makes up any inner city community.
A Different Dog by Paul Jennings
Paul Jennings is, I think, more famously known for his wacky humorous middle grade fiction and collaborations with authors such as Morris Gleitzman. So this was a refreshing and thought provoking departure for him. Of the three books reviewed, this is the easiest read with black and white illustrations introducing each chapter, clear spacing between lines and economy of descriptions and dialogue. However, of the content this is probably the most challenging tale to tell.
A boy walks up the mountain to run a race in the hope of winning the prize money to help his mother to feed and clothe the two of them. He is taunted and bullied by school children as he ascends and the reader discovers that the boy is an elective mute. He observes the driver of a truck coming down the mountain at speed, with a dog in the passenger seat. When the van passes him he realises it is going to skid out of control on the bend. He races after the van into the undergrowth to see if he can help, thereby passing up his chance to participate in the race.
There is depth to the plot and character development in this story despite the very simple premise and which cannot be told in a brief précis. As in Belle and Sébastien this is a tale of two misfits, boy and dog. By the qualities of the boy’s temperament, courage and resilience he saves the dog and in turn the dog saves him, against all the odds.
my thanks go to Alma Classics; Pushkin Press and Old Barn Books for copies of these books to review.