Elliot's Arctic Surprise by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa

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Elliot's Arctic Surprise by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa

Category: For Sharing
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: Elliot feels that something must be done about the pollution in the Arctic and he sets out with the help of a mysterious ship captain to do just this in a well-intended, but slightly haphazard children's Christmas story.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 32 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
ISBN: 9781847806680

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Ever since I was a child the environment has been at the forefront of teaching. It is hoped that each generation will finally be the one to tackle the encroaching global warming crisis. The problem is that books about green impacts can be very earnest and not as fun as a Gruffalo or Aliens in Underpants. How can you get a child to think about the shrinking icecaps in the Arctic when they could be discovering where Wally is hiding? Perhaps if you throw in a Christmas surprise or two?

Elliot has a lot of worries for a boy of his age. Rather than ponder whether he likes peas or not, he is disturbed by the news that we are destroying the Arctic. He sets off on an adventure to travel all the way to those cold climes and stop a huge factory that is stationed there from destroying the landscape. With the aid of hundreds of other children and a friendly bearded ship captain, can Elliot save the day and pave the way for a brighter future for us all?

Author Catherine Barr certainly has her heart in the right place with Elliot's Arctic Surprise, teaching children that pollution is ruining the environment is a valid goal in life. The simplified story of one boy against a factory wraps the argument up in a way that a 5 year old can understand – pollution bad, animals and the environment good. As a cynical adult I can't help feel that the message is a little too on the nose as I find that educational stories work best when they mask their message behind an otherwise normal story. Elliot tries to do this in its titular surprise that brings in a Christmas message to the book that you and your child may find a little odd. Where did that come from?

The story has a certain creaky charm to it and this is continued via Francesca Chessa's illustrations; they sit on the thin line between retro and underdone. When the characters are writ large there is a colourful chalk look to them that is appealing and draws in the eye, but once any minute detail is required, it all looks a little mushy. One crowd scene is particularly strange as next to no detail is put into the people; it makes Lowry look like a details man.

Elliot's Arctic Surprise is a spirited attempt at teaching 3-7 year olds about the importance of the imagination, but it all feels a little poorly thought through. The environmental message is a little too obvious, whilst the surprise story is a little confused as it appears from almost nowhere. The images could have helped, but instead they too seem a little naïve and not stylised enough to distract a child who may already be flagging with the slightly flat story. The message contained in this book means that it is a decent buy for the environmentally minded parent, but don't expect it to be your child's favourite book.

If you are planning to travel to the Arctic, best not follow Elliot's example of boarding a random ship, try the information found in the Confident Reader level Serious Survival: How to Poo in the Arctic and Other Essential Tips for Explorers by Marshall Corwin. A superior Christmas book that also approaches the subject in a peculiar manner is The Tooth Fairy's Christmas by Peter Bently and Garry Parsons.

Buy Elliot's Arctic Surprise by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elliot's Arctic Surprise by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa at Amazon.co.uk.

Buy Elliot's Arctic Surprise by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elliot's Arctic Surprise by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa at Amazon.com.


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Emma Price said:

Dear Bookbag

I have just read the review of the above book by Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa and have to say I don’t agree with Sam Tyler.

I recently purchased the book for my 3 1/2 year old daughter after spotting it in my local bookshop. There are so few books for available for young children that tackle the implications of Climate Change and Pollution and what better way to captivate a child than through Father Christmas himself.

My daughter was enchanted by the book and her enthusiasm for it even prompted my 11 year old to pick it up and have a read too. He also loved the twist at the end and they both enjoyed spotting the seagull on each page of charming illustrations. I wonder if Sam Tyler read the book with a child, my children’s reaction to the book have certainly prompted a very different review from me! We all loved it.

Thanks. Emma