Which books do children read? The answer to this question varies according to which source of information you consult. A more pertinent question might be, which books do children choose to read? I always find it fascinating to compare the lists for awards where the books are selected by children with the lists for other awards selected by adults. Among younger children in particular, books that they suggest are often ones with plentiful humour or illustrations and sometimes a combination of the two.
The Incredible Record Smashers is the type of book that children choose to read for pleasure. It is hilarious at times and tender at others, sometimes even both at once. Written by an author who understands children, this is a funny, touching and wise book.
Lucy is excellent at fixing things, nothing is discarded as Lucy will always have a go at mending it. Lucy’s mum is suffering from depression and although Lucy is desperate to mend mum too it is difficult and she is running out of ideas. Sometimes when her mother is particularly unwell and needs a stay in hospital Lucy goes to stay with her mum’s best friend, Aunty Sheila. Sheila is a natural ‘fixer’, a stalwart of the the local car boot sales, mender of things, one of life’s planners ‘just in case’ and a kind and caring surrogate family for Lucy. It is the start of the summer holidays and the days without her mother stretch ahead for Lucy who is anxious about her mum. The arrival of Sandesh, a boy from her class, at his grandparents‘ home next door to Sheila’s is a both a surprise and distraction.
Once Lucy has confided in Sandesh and he reveals to her the reasons for his behaviour too the pair quickly bond and become friends. Sandesh declares that they need to ‘fix’ her mum. Lucy and Sandesh devise an incredible and unexpected plan to make her mum happy again. She is sure that if her mum met Paul Castellini, one time favourite singer and now host of TV ‘s Record Smashers, she would be happy again. So all Lucy has to do is set a new world record on live TV with Sandesh as her partner. Immediately intensive practice involving a water melon, kumquats and a school ruler starts in earnest. The attempts at the world record are full of mishaps that provide a great deal of the humour, add in a couple of would be robbers and Aunty Sheila’s well intentioned surveillance plans and you have a recipe for laughs galore.
Just as in real life where humour can be used as a personal armour or shield for when times are bad there is an overlap of tears and giggles in this wonderful story too. Jenny Pearson’s observation of those small things that matter to children and the manner in which they can misunderstand conversations and events is excellent and used to good effect. The author’s experience as a teacher is also apparent in the portrayal of childhood friendship and the pitch perfect dialogue between Sandesh and Lucy. She never patronises her audience but shows a kind understanding of their world, the humour always gentle and never cruel. However, the unlikely adventure and the hilarity is used as a vehicle for an important and helpful message. Depression and its effect on those who experience it themselves or witness their loved ones struggling with it is an aspect of life that some children will recognise and Jenny Pearson addresses this issue with great sensitivity. She does not offer a quick and permanent fix but shows how happiness is a shared emotion and does not hinge on a big event or the acquisition of a particular thing and, most importantly of all perhaps, sharing your problems and talking about them can be helpful and not an admission of failure.
The Incredible Record Smashers does what the best children’s books do, it offers hope, empathy, kindness and fun to its readers.
I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne Books for my review copy. The Incredible Record Smashers will be published on 29th April and will be illustrated throughout by Erica Salcedo. I would highly recommend it. You can try out a sampler of the book here.
If you would like to read other children’s books dealing with the topic of depression in an appropriate manner I can recommend The Elephant by Peter Carnavas a delightful book suitable for slightly younger readers too or A Bad Day for Jayden by Tony Bradman published by Barrington Stoke and therefore accessible to a wide audience.