Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes

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Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: An entertaining 'cautionary tale' about a young orphan girl who is forced to do menial labour in a prestigious boarding school.
Buy? MAYBE Borrow? YES
Pages: 192 Date: May 2015
Publisher: Stripes
ISBN: 9781847155955

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Imagine, dear reader, a poor girl who is never allowed to play outside like the other children. Instead, she has to spend her day performing horrid chores, like sweeping up mouse-droppings in the creepy, dark cellar and shooing away the cockroaches in the kitchen. So begins a long list of woes for shy Elspeth Hart, who toils tirelessly during the day and spends her nights sleeping in a dusty, cramped wardrobe.

Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs is a modern-day take on the Victorian cautionary tale. Our poor heroine has to perform all of the dirty jobs at a prestigious boarding school for up-and-coming celebrities. Hovering in the background is her hideous Aunt Crabb, the school dinner lady, who hates children and puts disgusting ingredients like mouse-tails and chin hairs in the school meals. Fortunately for Elspeth, things are about to take a turn for the better, when a bang on the head causes her to recall elements of her life before she came to work at the school. Piecing together scraps of information, she searches for clues that may enable her to escape.

I enjoyed the Dear Reader second-person narrative style, which puts the child at the heart of the action. Elspeth is a sweet and likeable protagonist and we desperately want to see her get the happy ending that she deserves. In contrast, the grotesque Aunt Crabb is as obnoxious as they come, a nod to memorable villains like Granny in George's Marvellous Medicine. Young readers will no doubt raise a chuckle at her vile antics, which include farting loudly whist performing aerobics and concocting gruesome school dinners.

The illustrations in the book compliment the narrative beautifully. James Brown does an excellent job at capturing the worn, wistful look on Elspeth's face as she carries out her tasks. The pictures are also crammed with humorous details, as well as the odd mouse, cockroach or spider web lurking in the page corners.

The story was enjoyable, but not without its flaws. The people and settings were first-class, but the plot had some pacing issues and the ending felt rushed. Some characters, like Tim Fitzgibbons and Esmerelda Higginsbot, were introduced and then hardly used again, which makes me wonder why the author chose to include them at all. The stronger plot elements were pieced together by a weak and shaky framework, which led me to feel let down by a book that initially seemed to have a lot of promise.

The author has set things up nicely for a sequel, so I will be interested in seeing what happens next for poor, hapless Elspeth. If the sequel can build on some of the deliciously imaginative concepts introduced in the first book, it has the potential to be something quite special. Many thanks to the publishers for my review copy.

Fans of this genre may enjoy Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl.

Buy Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes at Amazon.com.


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