This book is a charming, engaging, and imaginative story on one level, but with a necessarily darker tone than some children’s books that enables the discussion of the danger from strangers between parent and child. Please read the full review below to find out more…
In some ways, this simple children’s tale is oddly complicated to review, so I’ll do the easy part first:
In the second book in the series, the adventures of the pair of child-magicians continue, as this time they venture into the dark depths of the attic in search of a wand for Julia. Living in such a magically charged house it is, perhaps, unsurprising when things do not go according to plan and they spot a large shadow on the wall. When the large shadow disappears into the wall Mikolay, as curious and impulsive as ever, decides to follow. Julia, although afraid, reluctantly goes too, knowing Mikolay will likely get himself into trouble and need her help.
There they find a strange circus, filled with of cages full of hungry children and badly treated animals. Milkolay and Julia discover they have all been imprisoned by the mysterious and evil Strangers, the owners of the circus. Our heroic duo resolve to free everyone, and every beast, and get them home. Will Mikolay and Julia be captured themselves? Will they have to choose between freeing the children and the animals? What will the evil Strangers do, if they find our dauntless heroes? Read the book to find out more!
Is this book as good as the original? It has all the charm, imagination, and the beautifully stylised illustrations characteristic of Mikolay and Julia Meet the Fairies. The main characters read as children should, and the book’s naiveté and whimsical narrative carries the reader along nicely. The book is generally well put together and thought out.
Perhaps most importantly my four year old engaged with the story straight away, and was determined to get to the end when we were unavoidably interrupted. He asked questions throughout, and the characters, setting, and story obviously gripped him and fired his imagination.
If in doubt, he is the reviewer whose opinion I would give the most weight too. He’s a kid, and so he knows more about what makes a good kid’s book than I do, and he gave it a very definite thumbs up.
Now things get a little more complex…
The Message: Be wary of strangers.
The tone of this second book is somewhat darker than the first, with the impending sense of menace coming from the strangers more personal and immediate, probably because the target of said menace is the children, and not the environment. The questions a parent with a sensitive child, or one who has vivid nightmares and an over-active imagination, are going to ask are, “Will this book upset my child?” or, “Is this something I can read to them, just before I put them to bed?” I cannot answer those questions; the answer will depend on the individual child, and what time is ‘story time’.
Although the darker tone could present a potential problem for some, if you need a way of broaching the subject of ’stranger danger’ with your child, and you have no idea where to start, then this book is a heaven-sent answer to your prayers. It gives the parent and child an age-appropriate, understandable, and interesting framework to discuss the issues of the potential risks of your child talking to, or going off with, a stranger. The simple warnings at the end of the book provide easy-to-learn guidelines for the child, and could be used as the formal component of a learning exercise in a classroom environment. In terms of fulfilling one of its main aims, to educate your child on this difficult issue, I endorse the book completely.
So, should you buy this book? The answer is either a ‘definite yes’, or a ‘probably not’…
Any issues around the serious subject matter have already been covered above, but there may be a couple of other considerations worth bearing in mind:
Do you need to have read the first book in the series? There are a couple of events in the story which make more sense if you have read Mikolay and Julia Meet The Fairies, but if you are imaginative it’s so easy to invent something that fills in the small gaps in the story that these do not, for me or my son, present a problem. If you are a parent who is exhausted at the end of each day, and really cannot face using your grey-matter, and so you desperately need to read your child a story that contains all the information they would be curious about already written down on the page, then this book may not be for you.
Are you a parent, or an English teacher, that wants to teach an older child English grammar, punctuation, or phrasing? Let’s be clear – the book is perfectly readable, but in the preview version I read there were still a few small punctuation errors, and some of the word-phrasing in places was a little unusual, but as a story, the punctuation was good enough that the small errors are irrelevant and never affected the readability. As for the phrasing, for me, it actually adds to the whimsical charm of the book, but I know some parents can be quite strict about exposing their children to ‘correct’ word-patterns, so again, this might not be the book for them.
Despite the caveats above, my son and I both thoroughly recommend this book. He loved the story, and I found it an incredibly helpful way to teach him something about the real world that I wish I never had to.
For more advice on educating your children about the potential risk from strangers, please click here.
NOTE: All images and quotations were included with the kind permission of the author, Magda Olchawska, and remain © Copyright of Mayan Books, 2010.