Ten year old Elspeth Hart is the clever, funny, resourceful heroine of Sarah Forbesâ€™ two (so far) humorous novels for children aged about 6-10 years â€“ Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-Offs and Elspeth Hart and the Perilous Voyage.
Elspeth is the Cinderella of the Pandora Pants School for Show-Offs. Supposedly in the care of the revolting cook, Miss Crab, and her dim-witted, smelly sidekick, Gladys Goulash, Elspeth finds herself there when her parents are â€“ allegedly â€“ washed away in a flood. Elspeth spends her days sweeping up mouse-droppings destined for school dinners and her nights sleeping in a wardrobe in Miss Crabbâ€™s attic. Elspethâ€™s only friends are the meek Rory Snitter and his chocolate-eating pet lizard. Their sworn-enemy is Tatiana Firensky, the biggest show-off of all.Â When the school is embroiled in a dastardly plot involving an extra-special sticky toffee sauce recipe, itâ€™s up to Elspeth to save the day.
Her adventures continue in book two, when Elspeth and Rory find themselves stowing away on a decadent ocean-liner, chasing Miss Crab and Gladys Goulash who have escaped prison with the famous recipe; a recipe Elspeth learns was created by her own missing parentsâ€¦
Sarah Forbesâ€™ stories are genuinely funny â€“ and disgusting: nose-picking, snot-sliding, knicker-showing â€“ in a way destined to appeal to younger children, and to be appreciated by adults for her well-written, racing-along plot. Even reading the books to my 5 year old, he did pause a few times early on to ask me â€˜could that really happen?â€™ but once reassured that changed to â€˜that canâ€™t really happen can it, but itâ€™s funnyâ€™.
Forbes achieves the unlikely childhood independence of Enid Blyton and the (not quite so dark) gruesomeness of Roald Dahl, and in doing so is setting up a series that both girls and boys will enjoy â€“ although later novels might want to feature Rory or something more â€˜boyishâ€™ on the covers because, like it or not, even the 5 year old was suspicious that these were â€˜girl-storiesâ€™.
That said, James Brownâ€™s illustrations are great; plentiful enough to ensure the text isnâ€™t too dense and they complement the words wonderfully.
An enticing addition to any childâ€™s book collection.
The Elspeth Hart books are produced by Litter Tiger Press at Stripes Publishing, priced at Â£5.99 each. Also available as eBooks.