The Trouble With Wenlocks by Joel Stewart

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The Trouble With Wenlocks by Joel Stewart

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A beautifully sweet story about the pleasure pain principle. Joy cannot exist without sorrow. It features and admirably challenging vocabulary rare in books for newly-confident readers and has a quirky surrealism children will love, plus Stewart's trademark whimsical illustrations.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385610070

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Stanley Wells is on a train on the way to visit his father when he meets his first wenlock. Everyone else seems to have fallen asleep, but Stanley hasn't. He is strangely immune to the soporific atmosphere created by these sorrow-stealing apparitions. Luckily for Stanley, Dr Moon and his enthusiastic dog Morcambe are also on the train, and they have an idea what's happening. Stanley's never met anyone quite like Dr Moon - who is a detective of sorts. His ears are so long that he can twist them into a turban and rest them on the top of his head. Odd appearance aside though, it's obvious to Stanley that if anyone stands a chance of preventing the wenlocks from turning all the children into emotionless shadows, it's Dr Moon. I'd ruin it all by describing the ensuing adventure to you - but suffice it to say that Stanley finally learns how to play the ukulele to stunning effect.

I've said before that there aren't enough good books for children of this age. Newly confident readers aren't nearly well enough served. Too many books have uninspiring plots, dismally unambitious vocabulary and not a quirk in sight. Imagination is squashed by healthy and safety. The Trouble With Wenlocks isn't like this. It's ever so slightly surreal and its hero Stanley does all sorts of things that would have panicking parents in fits. He jumps out of a train, a train his parents have let him take alone. He paddles down a canal in a leaky coracle. He breaks into a disused building. This is because, in case you hadn't noticed, it's a story. And stories with all the fun sucked out of them by over-anxious adults are no fun. You're not supposed to believe it - that's why it's ever so slightly surreal. Children understand this, and why so many adults don't simply beats me.

Children don't just want to read stories containing the words they already know. Children are hungry; they want new words - it doesn't really matter if they understand them or not, as long as they're new and they sound fun, or exciting, or mysterious, or naughty, or creepy. The Trouble With Wenlocks has lots of good words - the aforementioned coracle for instance, or inexplicable, or pterodactyl, or owlish. There's also a lot of super-duper imagery - how about sick-bellied sadness for getting an feeling down absolutely pat?

The message is a wise and comforting one. It's ok to be sad from time to time. For if we don't experience sorrow, we'll never know what joy is like. Stewart's vivid pictures of the automatons children become once their fears and hurts are stolen by the wenlocks are striking and easily understood. Children will appreciate what this sweet little book about a boy, a detective with ears so long he can plait them, a madcap dog and a grieving little girl is trying to tell them. And they'll love those drawings, too. They might even ask for ukulele lessons.

My thanks to the good people at Random House for sending the book.

If they enjoyed this, they might also like Louis Sachar's Someday Angeline or Roald Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine.

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Buy The Trouble With Wenlocks by Joel Stewart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Trouble With Wenlocks by Joel Stewart at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Trouble With Wenlocks by Joel Stewart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Trouble With Wenlocks by Joel Stewart at


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