Growing pains and Disney magic


REVIEWS BY JAMIE KHOO

THE modern classic tomes we have on offer this week, courtesy of MPH Bookstores, are full of delightful stories and lovable characters. Award-winning children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson will touch you with her bittersweet observations of growing up, while Adrian Mole continues to pique the interest of many with his trials and adventures, and a “treasure chest” of Disney favourites beckons. 

Best of all, MPH Bookstores has decided to give a bigger discount – 20% – for each book. Now, isn’t that a holiday treat? 

 

JACQUELINE WILSON'S SUPERSTARS: THE SUITCASE KID/ THE LOTTIE PROJECT 

JACQUELINE WILSON'S DOUBLE DECKER: DOUBLE ACT/ BAD GIRLS 

By Jacqueline Wilson 

Publisher: Corgi Yearling Books 

Price: RM 39.90  

 

IN each of these four stories, Wilson’s heroines are thrust into the turbulence of growing up. Life “wasn’t fair. It never is”, says The Suitcase Kid, Andy, who is shunted back and forth between divorced parents. And yes, perhaps life isn’t fair, but Jacqueline paints an honest, down-to- earth picture of the dilemmas that young children go through. She doesn’t offer solutions, but gives the reader stories rich and real enough for them to relate to.  

Wilson deals with real problems that are often swept under the carpet and avoided in children’s literature. For example, twin sisters Ruby and Garnet, in Double Act, have to deal with changes in their lives when their father starts dating a new woman and they have to move to a new town; Mandy, in Bad Girls, becomes a victim of bullying at school; Andy The Suitcase Kid, struggles with having two separate lives with each of her divorced parents and their new families; and Lottie (The Lottie Project), finds that the comfortable, familiar world she lives in is changing for the worse. In each case, the problems are dealt with a poignancy and sensitivity that can truly be appreciated by children everywhere. 

Yet, for all her insight, Wilson cleverly injects humour in her narratives, which are complemented by lively, cheerful drawings. A unique way of telling these stories adds to the originality and spiritedness of her style.  

The Lottie Project is two separate narratives, told alternatively by the main heroine, Charlie, and by a fictional character created by Charlie for her school project, named Lottie, while Double Act is narrated through a written dialogue between twin sisters Ruby and Garnet. 

Wilson's stories paint convincing portrayals of young girls trying to make sense of the world around them and their place within it. She tells readers that it’s okay to feel down, and that although there may not be a magical way of solving everything, things will still work out.  

The pairing of realistic, often painful, life experiences with the lively, spirited approach to storytelling and illustration makes these stories heart-warming, and shows us that sometimes the best stories are the ones that are closest to real life.  

 

THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE, AGED 13 ¾ 

THE GROWING PAINS OF ADRIAN MOLE 

By Sue Townsend 

Publisher: Puffin Books 

Price: RM 21.95 

 

WE all know the sadistic adults who sneer rather condescendingly at a spot-infested teenager and tells him that this is the best time of his life, better enjoy it now before you grow up and have responsibilities ... Those adults have never been plagued by enormous pimples, were blessed with not having dysfunctional parents, or known the frustrations of pubescent love affairs. Adrian Mole, in these secret diaries, speaks for all of us who have gone through (or are going through) such teenage angst.  

A true-to-life account of the horrors and frustrations of adolescence is delightfully played out in these two books which chronicle the joys and pains of growing up between the perilous ages of 13 and 16. In both books we follow our hero, Adrian, a gawky teenager who has to deal not only with the trials and tribulations of his own turbulent teenage years, school and O-Levels, but also with fairly odd parents who thrive on disputes and shouting fits.  

Adrian Mole, set in the 1980s, can be seen to predate the recent hit Bridget Jones’ Diary, with as much dry humour and clumsy incidents as the adventures of that 30-something spinster. While the plot itself is not particularly remarkable, the books’ success lies in the accurate, laughable encounters that our lovable hero tumbles into. It marks a distinct place for teenagers alone; it is a world in which “grown ups are always telling adolescents to speak clearly then they go and talk a lot of gibberish themselves”.  

Within the span of three years, we see his attempts to submit his written work to the BBC (he believes himself to be an intellect), pursue a girl he loves, Pandora (who prefers to be called Box ? haha, get it?), and control the erratic behaviour of his “berserk dog”. He is told by his doctor that “he’s physically immature generally”, his beloved Pandora misspells his name after going out with him for a year, he writes poems that are generally ignored – in short, Adrian’s misfortunes are the sort that everyone finds themselves laughing at in the school canteen, over a soggy school dinner.  

At the same time, the books are a great cultural reference for the 1980s – ABBA, Charles and Diana's wedding and punk culture all find their way into the book – and are an insightful depiction of working class life in Thatcherite Britain. Also, note the cultural references peculiar to British life – marmite, PE shorts, Spotted Dick (a dessert), The News of the World (a trashy tabloid) and Chinese chip shops – all of which contribute to the lively, though very real, world of Adrian and other British teenagers like him.  

Beneath the comical antics and wit, however, the Adrian Mole books make strong satirical comments on the politics and social ails of the time, including racism and disharmony within the home and between families. 

Heavy issues aside though, the Adrian Mole books are a warm celebration of that nerdy, awkward, pock-marked teenage spirit inside all of us. It is the sort of laugh-out-loud humour that will appeal to both teenagers and adults alike because, despite everything, we do all secretly revel in the absurdities of adolescence. And because, well, perhaps these really are the best years of your life. 

 

DISNEY'S EASY-TO-READ TREASURY 

Publisher: Disney Press 

Price: RM59.90 

 

THE magical world of Disney springs to life in the pages of this beautifully illustrated hardcover tome. Featuring snippets of Disney's all-time favourite movies, it is a treasure trove of colourful pictures and even more colourful characters, like Winnie the Pooh, Lady and Tramp.  

Also featured are “modern” classics, such as Chip the teacup (from Beauty and the Beast), Simba the Lion King, Flit the feisty hummingbird (from Pocohontas), Aladdin's Genie, Ariel the Little Mermaid, Flik the ant (from A Bug’s Life), Buzz Lightyear the space commander (from Toy Story) and Mulan the female warrior.  

While Disney's superb animated features bring these characters to life on-screen, children can further revel in their adventures through the enchanting short stories in this easy-to-read book with huge lettering. Winnie the Pooh and his friends – Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit and Christopher Robin – get a starring role here with six stories, but who is complaining? 

Recommended read-together book and bedtime fare. Parents, no more complaints of too much TV now. 

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