I first came across Karen Inglis when I was working at the children’s reading charity Read for Good, which exists to encourage children to gain all the life advantages that come from the habit of reading for pleasure.
Finding books that lure boys in particular into regular leisure reading is particularly challenging, and I was very interested to discover how Karen has been specifically targetting that tricky group. Her books will of course be enjoyed by eager readers too.
I’ve enjoyed each of her books as they’ve come out of the last couple of years, so I was especially pleased to be offered a free early review copy of her latest children’s novel, Harry Haynes and the Great Escape.
An Adventure About Books
This book tells the story of a boy who falls into the pages of his library book and finds himself in the middle of the adventure he’s just been reading about. He is mistaken for a naughtier boy who has been rude about the animals on a visit to the zoo, and now he’s compelled by the snake apparently in charge to let them all out of their cages, on a quest for better living conditions.
Animal Welfare Message
On that level, the story, used in a classroom setting, could be a useful opener for discussions about the rights and wrongs of keeping animals in zoos, but it’s done with a light touch. I love the different personality types assigned to the various species, especially the refined accent of the elegant and stately giraffes.
However for children reading this book at home will simply enjoy it as a fun, pacy adventure.Engaging illustrations and short chapters will keep them turning the pages. Even reluctant readers will be keen to read on to find out how young Henry Haynes fares after falling into the adventure within his library book. (Plot spoiler alert: he lives to tell the tale thanks to his own quick thinking!)
A Special Role for Librarians
I especially love the way the story is framed within Henry’s trip to the library, where he is slightly in awe of the knowing and kindly librarian. It’s a great way to encourage children to visit their local library – librarians everywhere will want to stock this book! I remember also having such respect for the library ladies at the public library we went regularly when I was a child (I’ve described those fond memories in my blog here), and at that age I would have been ready to believe that librarians have magic powers!
Though essentially a fantasy, the story is well grounded with nice touches of realistic detail, making it easy for young readers to relate to Henry as a “real” boy.
A Latter-Day Narnia
The device of falling into an adventure contained within a storybook is a good and timeless one, and I wonder whether Inglis has more adventures of this kind in mind for Henry? In the same way that the Narnia books have long had children everywhere checking the back of their wardrobe for snow, I’m sure there will be young readers gazing hopefully into their reading books once they’ve read about Henry Haynes’ adventure.
Brilliant for Boys (But Also Great for Girls)
This is a useful book to encourage boys in particular to lose themselves in a good book – just as the hero does, quite literally! It’s good for 7-9 year olds, I’d say, though there’s nothing in there that older boys of 10 and 11 won’t enjoy, if they are reading a little under the target for their age group. They won’t find it babyish or patronising either, which is very important.
As an added bonus, there are a couple of chapters of Inglis’s Eeek! The Runaway Alien at the end, which is a slightly longer and more challenging read about a football-loving alien. This will encourage young readers to be more ambitious with their reading. There’s also the blurb for Inglis’s The Secret Lake – another cracking adventure story in short, easily digestible chapters that will appeal to both boys and girls of 9+. Apologies if that sounds sexist, but as the mother of a daughter and the aunt to a nephew of a similar age, I remain old-fashioned in my conviction of the fundamental difference between boys and girls, in my family at least, and hey, my blog, my rules! 😉
For more about Karen Inglis, please visit her website: www.wellsaidpress.wordpress.com