Children’s literature likes to side-line parents, mainly so that the children can take part in exciting adventures and explore dangerous places, without the restrictions of rules and risk-averse parental guidance.
These two books flip this concept on the head, by introducing parents who are very much present, and whose actions inspire the children to seek out their parents’ motivation for behaving in such a way.
But both these books also push the boundaries of acceptability in a delightfully comic, original, and subversive way.
Jim Reaper: Son of Grim by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Jamie Littler is hilarious. Jim is an ordinary kid, with a longing for a new limited edition Bazoom! Scooter, and a cute innocent crush on his best friend’s totally awesome older sister, Fiona. He lives at home with his health-mad mum and his boring accountant Dad, and his cute but mischievous little sister.
When Jim devises a scheme to convince his Dad to buy him a scooter, it involves sneaking into his father’s dull accountancy office and leaving a note, but when he and best friend Will do break into Mallet and Mullet accountancy firm – it’s not quite how they envisaged. Why does Jim’s Dad’s office bear the sign ‘G Reaper’? If your Dad is Death – what would you do? And would you still want a Bazoom! Scooter?
Sprinkled with Dr Who references, wonderful snapshot characterisations, and a really amusing motivation behind the plot, this is a brilliantly funny story. Told in the first person by Jim, the reader is with the protagonist all the way, rooting for him to obtain all his goals, and hoping that his dad turns out to be a friendly Death!
Rachel’s writing bounces off the page – it’s lively, winning, clever and fun, and the suspense of who his Dad really is pulls throughout – especially when he tells his son jokes about coffins for example, but sways unsteadily at the mention of blood.
Each character has his or her own foibles, comic identity and character traits – from the peskiness of little sister Hetty: “Arguing with Hetty takes stamina,” to the superiority of Fiona: “’See you later, losers!’ She spat the words at us like a she-Viking gobbing into a fire pit.”
Of course there’s much fun to be had when you’re playing with a taboo subject, and Rachel Delahaye comes up trumps here – from the Dad’s suffocating hugs, to Jim squeezing his Dad’s hand “as if his life depended on it.” And don’t be scared, the equally funny illustrations by Jamie Littler depict the scooter with far more zap and panache than the offices of death (“Was it Dress Like Dracula for Charity Day?”). Buy a copy here – your life may depend on it. Age 8+ years.
It was as much fun as reading Hell’s Belles by Tatum Flynn, illustrations by Dave Shephard, a continuation of the story from The D’Evil Diaries that does not disappoint. The D’Evil Diaries was told from Jinx’s point of view – the son of Satan. Hell’s Belles continues with a dual narrative structure this time – told both from Jinx’s point of view, and from Tommy’s, a dead girl who happened to end up in Hell.
The stupendous world building carries on in Book Two, with a sumptuous flipping of our world into the hellish belly of the world – from Damnazon delivered parcels, to shops including Miss Selfish and Scarehouse, as well as the new Poisoned Apple Store.
There’s plenty that doesn’t exist in our world too, from the living gargoyles, demons and dragons to the ten-ton yellow monsters called Dreadbeasts (like cows, but less pleasant).
But as in Rachel Delahaye’s book, it’s the writing that shines through. Confident, easy to read, incredibly witty and original. The pace is steady, the characterisation spot on – yes even Satan is more than a two-dimensional bad-ass, and the plotting is tight.
Tommy enters a deadly competition to make the demons in Hell realise that she’s as feisty as they are even if she’s a human girl – she’s already dead, so what could she possibly lose? But when she discovers she may be the descendant of Pandora – a woman cursed for her inability to create a sturdy-enough box – she may have to seek some answers in some rather unpleasant places (and Hell is full of them). It’s a cracking read, as punchy as its heroine, and contains all the ingredients of a good yarn – from the characters of myths and legends – Persephone, Pandora et al, plus a particularly evil stepmother, some nasty snakes and ferocious kittens, as well as a rather cute electrifying companion.
I breezed through it – loving every minute. Tommy and Jinx are brilliant child characters, with depth of thought and emotion, and spirit. Fun for everyone – especially those who like a little cheeky subversion. Intricately crafted illustrations in framed pictures are sprinkled throughout the book too. Don’t abandon all hope – ye can buy a copy here. Age 9+ years.