The Source (AU/NZ) ~
‘What a splendid day for an adventure.’
This young novel begins (and ends) with a missing grandfather. Lucy (9) and Lily (6) are baffled when their inventor grandfather disappears, leaving them alone in the world. Their only clue is a postcard from the village of Florez and the name of The Hardly Ever Open Bookshop. After the two sisters find the bookshop, the proprietor admits to knowing about Florez.
‘It’s magical, mystical and exists in a completely different time from now.’
She suspects their grandfather has gone there and that the girls will be going there as well.
‘Just make sure you get the right village,’ she warns.
The postcard provides an unexpected way for the two girls to reach their destination. They are helped by Frederick, a talking fox. With Frederick guiding them, they soon reach his home in Florez, a charming and ‘perfectly normal’ village where bicycles float and sunflowers talk. Frederick deduces that Granddad’s disappearance must be linked to the nearby village of Muck and its ‘mean and selfish’ usurping ruler, Queen Diedre. The hospitable Frederick offers to use a ‘secret map’ to lead the girls along ‘the secret route through the secret tunnel’. Various obstacles are encountered as they pass through Trevor Forest, including Horrible Bob, a hostile band of Diedre’s bodyguard Henches and a huge falling rock, but none of these perils deter the plucky girls. Meanwhile the eponymous Queen Diedre is preparing to celebrate her fifth year since hi-jacking the throne of Muck by taking over Florez and destroying its niceness. (Diedre is so repelled by nice things that they make her vomit. The puking triggered by a nice afternoon tea sounds like a walrus that has swallowed a trombone and takes six lines of bold type to replicate.)
Will the girls find their Grandad? Will Diedre capture them? Will the people of Muck rise up? Will there be a show-down?
Isaac Thackray has written this story as an amusing page-turner for young readers and it delivers the goods. What young reader can resist a book with a sneak-walking giant cupcake in it?
The dialogue in Queen of Muck is often very amusing, not least when the girls meet the fox.
‘You’re a talking fox,’ exclaimed Lily.
‘Am I? Well, fancy that,’ said the fox.
‘And you’re standing on two legs,’ Lily added.
‘You forgot to mention this very smart dinner jacket I’m wearing, too,’ he grinned.
The story is also good at showing how people can resist bad behaviour and there are many examples of characters rising again after setbacks. The Henches, who are in touch with their inner ballet dancers, are witty examples of the way that stereotypes get turned upside down. Then there’s her royal horribleness, Queen Diedre, whose wicked ways keep the plot rolling along. The denouement, when she has to face what she has become, is both moving and witty. Never has niceness been portrayed so heroically as in the final pages.
The line illustrations are by Millie Perocheau, who based them on drawings by Isaac Thackray’s own daughters Alice and Lila. As a result the cute, naïve and funny drawings are a perfect match for this cute, naïve and funny tale.
Kiwi author Isaac Thackray
Find out more about Isaac on his author page.