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'Stretchable' Reads

Anita Vachharajani

By Charlie Small
David Fickling Books, 2008, pp. 204, £4.99

By Siobhan Parkinson
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 182, Rs. 300.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 11 November 2008

The thumb rule for me when it comes to evaluating a novel-length book for children is how much appeal it has for adults as well.   The best fiction for children—written by Satyajit Ray, for instance, or Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman—has what I like to call ‘stretchability’ between ages. You may not find everything in a children’s novel as exciting or profound as a member of its target audience, but good writing is good writing, and something of the book must touch or move you.   Of the two books discussed here, one does the above, and one does not. Charlie Small: The Daredevil Desperadoes of Destiny is a strictly kiddy book (ages 6 to 8) of the sort that most children can read through in a quick whiz. The ‘authorless’ series is about a boy, Charlie Small, who is caught in a time warp and is relentlessly tossed through space and time. ‘Something happened,’ he writes, ‘When I was eight years old, something I can’t begin to understand. I went on a journey… and I’m still trying to find my way home.’ Though Charlie has struggled, fought and survived for 400 years, he remains just eight.   In each breathlessly action-filled book (they all have alliterative titles), he meets people—villains and heroes—who fight and plot against him, or rescue him and teach him new things. Resourcefulness, wit and courage are needed to survive. In The Daredevil Desperadoes… he is chased by a cruel posse, befriends the Daredevils, rattles a rattlesnake, robs a bank and catches a cougar by its tail. After many adventures, Small is finally caught in a bison stampede, and then miraculously saved by the inventor ‘Jakeman’, who begins to tell him something but is suddenly grabbed by a mysterious hand that pops out of the desert sand. You get the picture.   In the spirit of the infinitely better Lemony Snickett series, the end of the novel does not mean the resolution of its plot. It just means a new book is planned, and a new plot direction taken. Don’t look for greatly nuanced writing here. The book is a decent read, with just enough thrills and spills to grab a tween’s attention—especially if she happens to be a reluctant reader, perhaps, one who is terrified that books might bore her, because this one certainly won’t. The best thing about ...

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