Thursday, 10 February 2011

What's life without a talking mouse?

Today's review/recommendation is dedicated to the memory of Brian Jacques, who died last week. Jacques wrote the acclaimed Redwall series, which has been popular for years with children of both genders from the ages of about 8 to 12.

The series focuses around a fantasy world populated by talking animals, with a clear good/evil divide made between 'vermin' such as stoats, rats, foxes and weasels, to name a few, and good creatures such as mice, badgers, moles and shrews. Although you might see a worrying tendency to demonise creatures of a certain species, Jacques does challenge this in his book 'The Outcast of Redwall', so children aren't taught by this series just to judge blindly.

'Redwall' was the first book published in the series, and is a good starting point, although it has some differences from the rest of the series and is not the first book chronologically speaking. There isn't really any need to follow the publishing order, though, as each book stands alone, although certain characters will make several appearances. 'Mossflower', the second published book but first to be written, is another excellent starting point.

The series is usually focused around Redwall Abbey, and tends to involve large pitched battles to the death, exciting confrontations, humorous interludes, and surprisingly well-fleshed-out characters. Expect tear-jerking scenes (for the kids, not you), riddles to solve, and a variety of funny accents to play with if reading out loud. The animals also eat fantastically well, with huge feasts at the least provocation, and it has been suggested that the reason for Jaques' amazingly realistic descriptions is that he first began writing these stories for the pupils of a school for the blind. In any case, the stories are great to read out loud, but voracious readers may well take the books from you and finish them. The books are long, but each one is its own little epic, and may well introduce children to the idea of reading longer books.

I should make it clear that Redwall is a series that kids grow out of. I don't know many children who kept reading the books into their teens, and the books have an essentially childish nature, for all of their themes of love and war, that tends to put off older readers. Also, the level of description (and the talking animals) might well put off reluctant readers, although that said, imaginative children will have great fun working Redwall into their games.

However, for the time that the kids do love Redwall, each new book that they find will be a joy. Younger children can be introduced to the series through the Redwall picture books, such as 'The Great Redwall Feast', which is beautifully illustrated by Christopher Denise. And even though I grew out of Redwall years ago, I still have a soft spot for all the old stories I used to read, and would recommend them to intelligent young children who might be bored of shorter books. Thanks, Brian Jacques. RIP.

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