The Spiral Stair by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake

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The Spiral Stair by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: This story is worth reading for the doughnut machine alone. Silliness galore!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 80 Date: August 2015
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
ISBN: 9781847806949

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I'm rather fond of Arabel and Mortimer. I like the outlandish situations that they find themselves in, and the way Joan Aiken wrote the stories without speaking down to her readers in any way, inserting humour for the grown ups reading them too. Here our terrible twosome have been sent to Uncle Urk at the zoo whilst Mr Jones is in hospital. Aunt Effie, however, has little patience for a noisy raven. Will Mortimer land them both in trouble? Or will they somehow manage to save the zoo from a scurrilous animal-stealing plot?

A book that begins with me laughing out loud is usually destined to go down well. This time is was Mrs Jones who set me off giggling, talking about her husband having his various veins seen to in hospital! Mortimer continued to enchant me by eating an entire bowler hat and following this up quickly with an uncanny impersonation of a milk float. Not that many children will know what a milk float is any more, but it's nice to explain these things and then reminisce privately about those silver foil bottle tops and the cream on the top of the milk.

Once they've arrived at the zoo, Arabel and Mortimer have quite an interesting time, as you can probably imagine. Mortimer manages to fall into a cement mixer, scare a bunch of ostriches and then, delightfully, he discovers the zoo's doughnut machine. After watching one doughnut being made and then given to Noah the Boa Mortimer, of course, requires his own doughnut. Arabel kindly uses her one 10p that her mum gave her (10p? Those were the days…) to make Mortimer a doughnut. He watches it being made in the machine, and then sugared, and then dropped into a paper cup. However, before he can get his doughnut, the head of Derek the giraffe appears from nowhere and gobbles it up! Mortimer is, quite rightly, enraged! He gets very loud and says some very bad words to the giraffe but, fortunately, Uncle Urk comes along with another 10p for the doughnut machine. I already found myself chuckling at this point, but then I properly laughed aloud as when Mortimer finally gets his doughnut he can't help but fly around, holding it in his beak, taunting the giraffes. You can probably guess what happens. Yes, he drops the doughnut! And Elsie the giraffe eats it up. Poor Mortimer! Things continue in a similar vein, with never a dull moment for mischievous Mortimer.

Although this is only a short book, four chapters in all, there's lots of action and a good story. In amongst all the doughnut shenanigans, Arabel and her raven manage to thwart a plot to steal lots of the zoo's animals and Mortimer does, eventually, get his revenge on the giraffes. Although some of the vocabulary might be a little challenging for emerging readers the book is a good length for those who are beyond picture books and want to try something a little harder. Sit nearby to help out with words like 'galvanised' or if it's just too hard at the moment then save it for a bedtime story you can all enjoy. Beware, however, it's very hard to stop at just one chapter and you'll probably find yourself reading the whole book aloud just to see what happens next!

Further reading suggestion: Take a look at the first Arabel and Mortimer story, Arabel's Raven to see how it all begins, or you might enjoy trying Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

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Buy The Spiral Stair by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Spiral Stair by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Spiral Stair by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Spiral Stair by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake at


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