New Jungle Book Adventures: Spirit of the Jungle by Bear Grylls
|New Jungle Book Adventures Spirit of the Jungle by Bear Grylls|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: James Donald|
|Summary: An interesting reboot of The Jungle Book that tries very hard but has some fairly major flaws. This book tries very hard and grips the reader but ultimately it suffers from a slow start that will turn off its target audience.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: April 2017|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
As with the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling this is the story of a young boy lost in the Indian Jungle alone who gets help from animals along the way. Unlike the original our protagonist is an older child and the animals do not directly talk to him. The very basic outline of the plot is that Mak, a city boy, has to learn the skills required to not just survive but thrive in a hazardous environment. The creatures he meets along the way will not come as any surprise to fans of either Kipling's book or the Disney film.
This book is technically excellent but unfortunately it falls flat in the actual execution. Grylls uses trusted storytelling techniques such as the hero's journey and Chekov's Gun to produce a frame that should be engaging with the target audience but unfortunately it does not quite hit the mark. What we ultimately have is a great idea with some wonderful moments that never really recovers from a slow beginning.
Bear Grylls is an adventurer, solider, TV presenter, author and Chief Scout. His earlier book Living Wild was a tour de force. In that book he took an existing property and updated it; namely Scouting for Boys by Lord Baden Powell. This was done incredibly well and so I had great confidence that this book (a reimagining of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling combined with advice for surviving in the jungle) would be equally as good, it wasn't.
The major flaw with this boils down to the first part of the hero's journey – The Call to Adventure. This section is supposed to be a short introduction to the everyday life of our protagonist that shows what the world is like for them before it gets changed. This can be dull but important (such as any time that Harry Potter spends with the Dursleys) or whiney but well handled (such as Star Wars: A New Hope). When done well we are gripped. Lucas gave us the opening space battle before subjecting us to Luke Skywalker being a stroppy teenager so we wanted to stay; Harry Potter had the deaths and mystery at the start. Unfortunately we have a rather unlikable stroppy spoilt brat who we have to listen to moan and groan about being given the opportunity of his life.
I have asked two children in the age bracket that this book is aimed at to read it and they both set it aside before reaching the part where it gets exciting. I can't bribe or threaten them to go back to it, which is a real shame as it really does have some good points about it. The chapters are short and snappy suiting younger readers. Once the action starts it can really drag you in and it gives a genuine feeling of peril in many places. The structure is a little predictable for adults but perfect for children who will feel very smug about predicting that Mak's (the protagonist) magic tricks would save his life at one point.
One thing that is done incredibly well is the dialogue. Mak's family are British Indians and Grylls perfectly captures the tone, phrasing and beats of the English used by second and third generation well educated Indians. He utterly avoids any cliché (especially of the 'Goodness Gracious Me' variety) and yet sounds convincingly like many Indian, Sri Lankan or Pakistani families I know very well.
Once we are in the jungle and the adventure has started those who know the Jungle Book (either from Kipling or Disney) will love to spot all the cameos and shout outs. Mak's adventure on the whole feels real (with the occasional need to suspend disbelief but never taken to the extreme). Grylls neatly slips in some overt and subtle jungle survival tips but it never gets too heavy handed. In fact it is quite the opposite and I feel that there was room for more of this to have been included in the book.
It is a real shame that it takes 14 chapters (42 pages) for this book to really get going. Grylls shows that he has a deft touch for exposition and in just a few scarce words he paints a picture of our protagonist and his family; unfortunately he doesn't stop there and we just hang around with people we already know waiting for the story to start.
I enjoyed this book a lot and I will be finding a way to force the two children I asked to read it to do so. There is a lot of potential here and with better editing this book could have been superb.
Further reading. We don't have a review for the original Jungle Book on our site but the be Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling will be a great substitute.
You can read more book reviews or buy New Jungle Book Adventures: Spirit of the Jungle by Bear Grylls at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy New Jungle Book Adventures: Spirit of the Jungle by Bear Grylls at Amazon.com.
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