I randomly picked up the first book, The Strictest School in the World, at the library because the subtitle looked interesting:
Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken (The Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones)
I liked the part about the clever girl because I always enjoy reading about clever girls (having aspired to be one in the past, I now just find them amusing). Most of my favorite books involve clever girls, and my favorite novel that I wrote for Nanowrimo stars a clever girl.
Emmaline’s dream is to build flying machines, and Rubberbones, a boy who can’t get hurt, is destined to help her fly them. However, her mother (in India with her father, a British colonial officer) wants her to become a lady, so she sends Emmaline off to a boarding school for girls that is known as the strictest school in the world. The rest of the Mad Misadventures series follows their adventures and misadventures with a cast of wacky and colorful characters, most of whom you would not want in your living room, even if they do mean well.
It had been a while since I read about England and its surroundings, and I have to say I enjoyed reading about the horrible boarding school and the cool Aunt Lucy (widowed, round in shape, fierce with an umbrella, enjoys cooking with slugs) who encourages her niece in her endeavors. I also loved Lal Singh, Aunt Lucy’s mysterious Indian butler, who seemed to have been a solider in a past life. He always seemed to appear in the right place at the right time, and his Indian curry sounded delicious, especially compared to Aunt Lucy’s slug cakes.
The headmistress of St. Grimelda’s School for Young Ladies reminded me of Miss Trunchbull (from Matilda, by Road Dahl), and disgusted me almost as much. The villain of the second book was also gross, as the faceless fiend really had no face. In comparison, the Collector (of mad scientists) in the third book was not nearly as intimidating or fleshed out as a character, as he sent his underlings to do most of his dirty work and just sat in his lair for pretty much the whole book.
The books all start off a little slow, but once the action starts, it continues until the very last page, with only a few breathers in the end. Every time one problem is resolved, another seems to take its place. The climax generally takes place very near the end of the book, and what comes after that is is rush of resolving loose ends that left me wanting more. Which was why I read the next book. And the book after that.
It is very effective, making me want to read more even after there were no more pages. However, at times, I got tired of the American mad scientist Professor Bellbuckle blowing something up–again–and Princess Purnah (the rightful heir to the throne of a small, very violent, country) messing up yet another plan with her random outbursts and thirst for blood and sweets. It’s loads of fun, but can get a little tiring if you read it all at once.
Overall, it’s a fun mad-cap adventure that never quite seems to stop, whether you want it to or not. I think kids of all ages would love their adventures, but for American kids unaccustomed to the speech and vocabulary of Britain, it may be a little difficult to understand. The more they are exposed to it, though, the easier it will be for them to absorb, so this may be a good place for them to start, as long as they are willing to skim over the parts they don’t understand (which is a good tip for any child reading anything that contains content that is above their level).
There is a little real history, mixed with real and fictional characters from a number of famous and not so famous books, including Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes, Sigmund Freud, and Nikola Tesla. The same goes for the map of the world Whitehouse created, which includes both real and made-up places. Kids may have a hard time telling fact from fiction (which is the point), but it would be a great place to start or end interdisciplinary work on the Victorian era.
Contains mild violence, kidnapping, guns, knives, pterodactyls, and a scary headmistress. Includes dialect that may be hard to understand for lower level readers, especially in places that are not England.
This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter S.*
*Note: I actually wrote this review almost immediately after reading the book last year and was saving it for this blog, so please excuse the length…