The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook
|The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: If you, like me, thought this was a vanity project, then be prepared to be staggered. A boy discovering fairies has hardly been covered in a better way.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: November 2011|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
The 'hurricane' of 1987, that Michael Fish famously dismissed while it was en route, brought a lot of destruction, that we know. But what hasn't been known before now is that it also brought a dead body to Asa Brown's attention - the dead body of a fairy. Looking into things at the local library the lad finds more and more clues that a local eccentric, two hundred years previously, had been the only other person to know of the sprites' existence. But what the clue trail leads to, Asa would never possibly suspect...
Throughout this short and lovely book there are clues Crook knows exactly what he is doing. There's a brilliant beat when the mundanity of school closures and other evidence of the storm's passing are knocked to one side by the dead fairy. There are touches put in purely for adults - or exceedingly knowledgeable kids - like Asa living near Cottingley Woods, and Napoleon's monkey. And there are each and every one of the author's own illustrations, which are nigh-on outstanding. Mostly bold ink outlines with textured pencil shading (I think), they marry the slightly cartoonish with fine art, and show Crook could easily have had that as a career.
But then there's the writing. He uses a style that is perfectly in tune with making an instant classic. Timeless in aspects, it’s warm, brisk, no-nonsense and absolutely clear. It's funny without forcing out the jokes, involving while having a for-all-comers simplicity, and effective at everything it tries to do.
So I'll come out with it. I've read books by TV celebrities and famous names trying something very different on for size (hello Craig Charles, Tim Burton). They've generally all underwhelmed. But the simple truth is that nobody will have expected a book this darned good to come from this source. From the bloke that was, shall we diplomatically say, the least photogenic one in 'The Office' comes a quite beautiful book of charming lightheartedness, fine invention and warm, gripping drama.
I'll close by saying it never fails to satisfy, but there is a strong sense of further stories to come from this. I foretell Asa coming back, to learn more from the fairies (there's possibly a book in their tattoos, and one in Asa's shoebox if Crook fancies using those as callbacks). Heck, being set in 1987 allows for a generation of sequels. But if it was a case of a TV comedian turned Hollywood actor turning up at publishers’ doors with the words 'I've got an idea for a juvenile fantasy trilogy' then I can't think of better consequences. Faber have done Crook proud with a delicious gold-embossed hardback, but he has served us best of all.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
For a different species of sprite, we fancy Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children by Conn Iggulden and Lizzy Duncan will entertain those slightly younger than Crook's audience. While for those just a bit older, why not let their hero encounter gods instead, with Wishful Thinking by Ali Sparkes?
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