Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell
|Ottoline Goes To School by Chris Riddell|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Magda Healey|
|Summary: A delightful book, and one that could easily become one of those childhood favourites which - thanks to the absurd humour, design sophistication and inter textual references - attain a cult status when the children grow up to be adults; while the gentle adventure carries the messages about true friendship and parental love.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 172||Date: February 2008|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
Ottoline Brown lives in the Pepperpot Building in the Big City with her friend, a small, very shaggy creature rescued from a Norwegian bog called Mr Munroe. Her collector parents are away, as usual, travelling and gathering objects and keeping in touch by a medium of wonderfully quaint postcards.
Ottoline is well cared for by a legion of various employees, from pillow-plumpers to curtain-drawers, but one day she meets Cecily Forbes-Lawrence III (and her pony Mumbles) in the park. Cecily, haughty and posh, and seemingly totally neglected by her parents, too busy having meetings to even talk to her, completely entrances Ottoline with her complex, bizarre and fascinating family tales that she decides to enrol in the school Cecily goes to. The school is called Alice B. Smith (could it possibly be a reference to Alice B. Toklas, or am I seeing things?) School for Differently Gifted, it's in a castle on the hill and the students are taken there in a very big, very yellow bus (work out the references for yourself, gentle reader). In the school, increasingly more jealous (but still understanding) Mr Monroe is shut in the East Wing with other pets, while Ottoline studies Sitting, Paper Folding, Advanced Musings and simply Being. Not everything is as it seems though, as the castle appears to be haunted. Will Ottoline manage to make use of her formidable talents for detection? And will she discover her very own Different Gift, comparable to curtain origami, invisible plate spinning and aerial flower arranging that other students excell at?
This is a follow up to the rather wonderful Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, and contains all the trademark features of the latter: outstanding graphical design, with careful typography, excellent drawings with embedded text and the absurd humour oozing sophistication, inter textual references to other works of fiction and subtle messages about friendship and parental interest.
My daughter - who fell in love with Ottoline soon after the first book appeared, still as a pre-reader, but since has learned to read for herself - pounced on this as soon as she arrived from school, sat on the sofa still in her coat and didn't move for the next 2 hours, after which she put the book down, claiming that she had now read it, and then promptly (with a break for shoving the coat off onto the floor) opened it again at the beginning, this time to explore the added extras (badge stickers) and to pore over the drawings.
It's a delightful book, and one that could easily become one of the whole childhood's favourites, and also one which, thanks to its absurd humour and design sophistication, could attain somehow cult status amongst the children when they grow up to be adults, up there near to (though not perhaps exactly as high as) the Moomins, Winnie the Pooh and the like.
A child not yet reading or not yet ready for book-length tries could enjoy Ottoline with parental help, but it's intended audience is undoubtedly the just-emergent reader and the way it's constructed makes it eminently suitable for independent use by that group. Despite a page count of 176, it really is much shorter as it contains more graphics (with many an embedded bit of text) then solid text segments, and the artwork will help resolve any doubts as well as provide a break and a breather in the process of reading.
Yes, there is a spectre of a franchise and plugs for other books in the series, but in comparison to other offerings for girls in this age group, Ottoline is a breath of fresh air. Recommended.
Thanks to Macmillan for delighting BookBag's offspring so!
If you like this book then you might also enjoy My Unwilling Witch by Hiawyn Oram.
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