I’m back! It’s been a busy few weeks for me, with not much reading getting done, and also, lots of re-reading of Harry Potter (Yay for Pottermore!), but now the big days are upon us, and it’s time for the longlist for the Waterstone’s Children’s Bookprize 2012! A very exciting time for me, as just barely into my first year as a Children’s bookseller for the company, and I’ve been chosen as one of 50 lucky enough to be provided with the full longlist of titles to read and review! I’m unbelievably happy about this situation, and also slightly daunted at the mighty task of tackling 40-something titles, even if some of them ARE picture books, but that’s just about my level of intellect anyway… ^_^
The first title I’ve tackled was The Windvale Sprites by British comedy actor Mackenzie Crook (best known from the award winning – and pants wettingly funny – The Office, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies).
Set in 1987, against the backdrop of weatherman Michael Fish’s infamous failure to predict one of the UK’s worst hurricanes, it follows the story of Asa Brown, a young boy who finds, amid the destruction of his garden, the body of what appears to be a fairy. Unable to fight his curiosity, he endeavors to get to the bottom of this unusual find. Getting next to no information from either of his parents, and fearing ridicule from asking school-friends, he begins a single handed mission, starting where else, but at his local library! Here, he discovers the legend of a local scientist from two-hundred years ago, Benjamin Tooth. As the mystery of Tooth unravels, Asa decides he must capture one of the creatures alive, to accurately study. Under the pretense of a Biology Field Trip, he travels to the nearby moors while his parents are away, camping out, laying traps and exploring the old house of Benjamin Tooth. Sooner than expected, he has his prize, a live creature, which he takes back home to live in his greenhouse, all the while, studying the old scientist’s notes. To his horror though, he finds a darker secret to Tooth’s interest in the fairy-folk, resulting in horrific experiments and multiple killings and raids on the creature’s homes. Feeling himself no better than Tooth, he decides he must let his captive go, but the fairy has other plans for him… Drawing young Asa Brown into a magical two-hundred year old mystery never before seen with human eyes.
The Windvale Sprites is a short title, easily finish-able in the space of a few days, but don’t let the size put you off by any means. It’s a rich story, complete with beautiful and simple pencil and ink greyscale images by the author, which really add a stark sense of bleakness to the story, as well as to the magic and the general feel. What is that feel you ask? A good, classicly twisted English fairytale. The overall feeling I had going in to the story was that it would be quite a childish, but nice story, but what I got was something totally unexpected: It was dark and wonderfully sinister, with some fairly grotesque descriptions of the old Benjamin Tooth’s horrific experiments. Running through the whole thing was a sense of childlike wonderment and curiosity, which really struck a chord with me (I was a child fascinated with nature and the idea of exploring a new species), and a good sense of understanding the need to respect nature and those things which we don’t understand… Because they might just appreciate it more if we do. Writing-wise, Crook’s descriptive passages are brilliantly written, making a great use of adjectives and pronouns to really bring the scenes to life (aided wonderfully by his illustrations), and the pacing is quick, getting into the action quickly, and while it makes for an odd mystery pacing, it works well for the age group it’s targeted at. I think too much mystery would put off a lot of it’s target audience.
Overall, I distinctly enjoyed The Windvale Sprites, and I think it’s a highly promising debut title. My only drawback is I think it may well not attract the audience it intends, but with informed bookselling and word-of-mouth, I think this will ended up delighting boys and girls with a sense of mystery, curiosity and a love of nature. It put me well in mind of another superb WCBP title, the 2010 winner in fact, which also uses a darker twist on the classic English fairy tale; Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Treasures.
Thanks for reading (if you did), and I’ll be back soon!