A book review

We enjoy a bedtime story in our house.  We tend not to over-think our choices.  Usually we pick the next unread book in the pile.  Right now, we are reading Bugsy Malone.  The book was a gift from my mum, no doubt with a nod to my performance in the stage show when I was a teenager.  (It was one line only as I recall – the smallest named part in the script. The show wasn’t as bad as you might think, thanks largely to the star quality of the pudgy kid who played Fat Sam, now a chisel jawed actor).  I very briefly toyed with a career in the theatre but a pitch to my parents by my drama teacher was quickly dismissed and so the closest I get to a performance is the nightly bedtime story. I make the very most of my moment but I have a very limited range of accents, with most characters sounding a bit “Wallace and Gromit”.  Bugsy Malone is a bit of a stretch.

Mostly R enjoys the stories that we read.  She particularly likes funny books – we all loved David Walliams’ “The boy in the dress” – but she and I both enjoy Michael Murpurgo books too.  The problem for me though is that I have yet to get to the end of one of Michael Murpurgo’s stories without crying at least once.  I have read “I believe in Unicorns” at least half a dozen times and been a snivelling mess on every occasion.  (Its very difficult to remain in character in this state.)  I read Murpurgo’s “Cool” to R a while back.  Both F and EB had loved the book. The story is about a boy who is knocked down by a car and finds himself in hospital in a coma (its not actually his saddest book).  I thought, wrongly, that she might be interested in a story told from the point of view of a child without a voice.  But it upset R and we didn’t finish the book.

Still though, F and EB’s response to this story and to Jacqueline Wilson’s “Sleepovers” (the main character has a profoundly disabled sister) encouraged me to look for other children’s books that might reflect their experience.  I found one recommended on a website: “Out of my Mind” by Sharon M Draper.  The reviews on Amazon and everywhere else were 5 star (lots of hyperbole about it being a “must read” book). There are lesson plans on the internet. The “award-winning” author had apparently been inspired by the non-verbal child of a friend.  I don’t know why I decided to read the story before giving it to the children.  I never normally do. But the decision was serendipitous. The central character has a condition that has left her unable to walk or talk but with a photographic memory.  Her intelligence goes unnoticed until she gets a new communication device.  All good, so far. Against the odds, and a whole lot of prejudice, she makes the school quiz team and is the reason that the team make it through the regional heats and into the national finals.  And then, the team sneaks off to the competition and leaves her behind because they are embarrassed to have a disabled child in the team.  They don’t win. Book ends. That’s it. THAT’S IT. No consequences. Nothing.

I might be still a little raw, still a bit sensitive but this book also made me cry, only this time they were angry tears. This is a book aimed at children.  The adults in the story were appalling; the children in the story were appalling and no-one comes out with any credit at all.  Many of the reviews were stressing how important this book is.  It’s not. Its a horrible book.  And no child of mine is ever going to read it, least of all R.

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4 thoughts on “A book review

  1. I read this book a while ago, knowing that it was a children’s book. I really enjoyed it, although I do agree the lack of repercussions at the end. And the car accident seems a bit unnecessary too! I always took the point of the book to be teaching children about what people with disabilities face, and that the author was hoping that children would be equally shocked by the awful behaviour of both the children and adult. Some repercussions would have solved any issues though. I do think it’s good that a book on this difficult topic has become so successful.

    • Perhaps. But this is a book that advertises on its cover that it is suitable for children aged 10 and above. I suspect that if the main character were, say, overweight and not disabled and was bullied for that, not too many people would feel comfortable with the theme “chubby kids have feelings too but bullying is a part of life if you are different”. A book for children that age should, I think, go a lot further.

      • Yes, definitely. If it’s aimed at such young children who are still learning about acceptable behaviour and socialisation then there really should have been obvious repercussions. It’s almost as though the book was left unfinished. I’m noticing a real surge in children’s’ books about disability though, and I think this is great!

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