Review – Ole and Zac and the Port of Tumbattle by Michael Madden

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A review by Helen, for little ones..

Ole and Zac and the Port of Tumbattle by Michael Madden

This is a book with an interesting history because, after it was written, a competition to provide the illustrations was held in schools in the author’s local area.  After the entries had been submitted (by both children and adults) over 100 pictures were selected by the author and his wife for inclusion in the book.  The result is a really colourful, cheerful piece of work which I think would be more attractive to children for the fact that other children have made a visible contribution.  The book has now been self-published and is being sold to raise funds for the PFA of one of the schools.

The story itself – written in rhyme – is a fantastic, quite dreamlike tale of two boys who go searching for treasure with the help of various new friends they meet along the way, including Henry McGrew the turtle and his “crew” Hercules the mouse, mysterious twins James and Thomas and Wrangleburt the Rumplefox (a mythical creature like a dalmatian with pig’s trotters and long flowing hair!).  At first I wondered if it would appeal to a child as young as Erin (4) as, despite its large, picture-book format, the ideas of pirates and danger seemed aimed more towards primary age children of perhaps about 7 or 8.  However, she is very keen on rhyming stories so we gave it a try and she did enjoy hearing it, even getting quite excited in places!  There are characters and ideas that children will relate to readily, such as Ole being more brave and Zac being rather nervous and hesitant, and lots of mention of food and picnics which I think most children enjoy!

For me there were one or two disappointments:  the rhyme and scansion were rather dodgy in places (the author sets the bar rather high for himself at the beginning by referencing Dr Seuss, and doesn’t always live up to the challenge!) although perhaps that’s forgivable when the story is so long and he does manage to maintain the pace and atmosphere throughout.  The other issue for me was the repeated use of an apostrophe after the word “its” (Its’ body had spots like a dalmatian dog, / But its’ feet were just trotters, like those on a hog. etc).  I think it’s important to proof-read all books for this kind of thing, but with children’s books – and in particular a book such as this which has close associations with a school – it should be of particular concern because children learn so much from what they read and see in books.

It’s quite a long tale and we found that as a bedtime story it took three nights to get through (the final one being a bit longer as we didn’t want to break off again!).  I’d advise a bit of advance planning if you are going to break it up, as there are some points which round off a section quite nicely (e.g. everyone going to sleep) but other times a stanza or page ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger (e.g. are there going to be pirates when they get there?!) and it might not be appropriate to stop!  Alternatively it might be a fun thing to read all in one go on a rainy afternoon and is sure to spark off ideas for imaginative adventure games afterwards!

Thanks, Helen. It’s in our shop now.