Maphead by Lesley Howarth

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MapHead by Lesley Howarth

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Lovely story of a boy from a parallel world returning to make contact with his human mother. Funny characters and universal emotions make this a truly heartwarming rite of passage story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: July 2011
Publisher: Catnip
ISBN: 1846471206

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MapHead and his father Ran are of the Subtle World. Ran can travel through time, make things disappear and erase human memories. MapHead can flash the map of any place across his face and bald scalp. MapHead is a halfling and now he is almost 12, Ran has brought him to meet his human mother. As they need to pass for humans, they've taken new names - Boothe and Powers, from a random movie - practised their English, and enrolled MapHead at the same school as his half-brother.

MapHead feels a real longing to meet his mother and wants to rush things along. But Ran wants to take things more slowly. So far, so recognisable, even to human children. But MapHead and Ran aren't human, so the action takes a great many twists and turns before Ran deems MapHead truly ready...

Ok, so really, this is a coming-of-age story. MapHead and his father have a strong, stable and loving relationship, but the boy has an instinctive need to meet and know his mother. And indeed, as his father tells him, he won't be able to become truly independent and assume his full Subtle World powers until he has done so. Howarth adds real emotional texture to the story in this underlying theme and it makes the book deeply affecting. I put it down with a big sigh. MapHead is only 150 pages long but sometimes the sweetest things come in small, intense packages.

But it's also very funny. MapHead struggles with speech - Subtle World beings don't use it - and colloquialisms escape him entirely. Even Powers, with all his wisdom, doesn't always get it right. So there is wordplay a-go-go and some real fingernails-on-a-blackboard moments as the Subtle World pair choose inappropriate slang or are literal when they shouldn't be. MapHead's mother may be lovely, and all he had hoped for, but his granny is awful. Nobody, even a long-lost grandson, could like her. But she gets her comeuppance in an hilarious interlude, and an unintentionally kindly one it is, too.

I loved this unconventional, funny, sweet and beautifully observed story. First published in 1994, it deservedly won the Guardian Children's Fiction Award, and is now happily reissued for a whole new generation of children who like imaginative fiction.

My thanks to the good people at Catnip for sending the book.

Skellig by David Almond has a slightly magical feel which would appeal to those who enjoyed Maphead. I can see The Iron Man by Ted Hughes also being a great choice for further reading. And Cold Tom by Sally Prue has a similar parallel world feel.

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Buy Maphead by Lesley Howarth at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Maphead by Lesley Howarth at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Maphead by Lesley Howarth at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Maphead by Lesley Howarth at


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