As a child I sometimes used to sneak inside a wardrobe and push gently on the back wondering if I could reach my beloved Narnia. This wonderful, epic adventure by Abi Elphinstone will have a new generation of children trying to discover the secret entrance to the magical world she has created.
Eleven year old Casper Tock is an unlikely hero. We first meet this quiet, lonely, anxious boy hiding in a lost property basket trying to avoid the school bullies, Candida Cashmere-Jumps and Leopold Splattercash, who are just as dreadful as their names imply. Casper doesn’t take risks, he is fond of to do lists and strict timetables and likes to avoid trouble whenever possible because he is most definitely a boy of a nervous disposition. Yet one day an unexpected event occurs and all Casper’s lists and plans are no help at all when you find yourself in a magical kingdom full of dangerous beasts, storm ogres and drizzle hags. Casper wants to go home but a girl called Utterly Thankless, an impetuous child who hates rules and possesses a fierce and independent air has very different plans for him. As the story unfolds Casper, Utterly and a miniature dragon named Arlo, embark on a dangerous journey to try to save the kingdom of Rumblestar from the evil Morg and in doing so protect Casper’s world too.
All of Abi Elphinstone’s adventures have had friendships at their heart but Rumblestar feels subtly different to her previous books. Alongside the danger and the beautifully created world of the Unmapped Kingdoms there is humour and clever wordplay. The names of some of the characters and the language used is reminiscent of Dahl’s The BFG. I may adopt the term wigglysplat myself for occasions when life gets a bit complicated. I also thought the snow trolls were wonderful characters being both endearing and wise. It is Bristlebeard the Snow Troll who helps Casper to see what really matters in life and how he may manage to achieve it.
It is this wise message of the importance of friendship and loyalty that is at the heart of the adventure. Utterly and Casper, with Arlo’s help, face great danger and difficult decisions and through learning to trust one another they both develop as people throughout the story. Many children who enjoy reading adventure stories are not naturally adventurous themselves and by accompanying Casper on his journey perhaps they too will gain a little confidence. Sometimes it helps to see that just because you are frightened it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to be brave. Utterly is not all she seems intially either. Occasionally first impressions can be wrong and readers will see that even the fiercest of characters may be hiding troubles of their own.
In Abi’s last book, Sky Song, I was struck by the beauty of the world she had created. In Rumblestar, again, the descriptions of the landscapes are clearly inspired by the author’s own adventures and are all the more vivid for this reason. Once, in a school in which I worked I was told that in education it is our duty to inspire in young children a sense of “awe and wonder.” Abi Elphinstone does just that by prompting the reader to take a moment to stop, think, look at and appreciate the beautiful world around us. A timely and important message.
This is the writing of an author who understands children and how they feel about life and this is, I think, why it works so well. Rumblestar has all the ingredients that encourage children to enjoy a book: an exciting edge of your seat adventure, characters that readers will empathise with and root for, an evil villain and a dash of magic too. Oh, and what child will be able to resist a loveable miniature dragon who fits in your pocket!
Rumblestar can be bought at all good bookshops, online or borrowed from your local library.
Rumblestar is the first of the Unmapped Chronicles, a series of stand alone novels about these magic kingdoms. The prequel, Everdark, was one of the World Book Day special £1 books. The stunning cover of Rumblestar is by Carrie May and Jenny Richards and the book also contains a super map by Patrick Knowles.
Thank you very much to Abi and her pubishers, Simon and Schuster Children’s Books for providing my free review copy.
Teachers who are planning on using Rumblestar in the classroom may be interested in the scheme of work designed by Ian Eagleton, The Reading Realm which is available to download on Abi Elphinstone’s official website