I’m always on the lookout for exciting chapter books that will grab my boy’s attention – and a flying car pursued by a powerful villain certainly fits the bill.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Illustrated by Joe Berger.
Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame, wrote the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang book way back when. This is a licensed new series, featuring the same beloved car (more or less) and a new family. The Tooting family’s father has just been laid off, and the thoughtful mother, in car sales, buys him an old camper van as a summer project to keep him from filling the house with his well-meant but less than successful home improvements. The family consists of the two parents (of different skin shades, noticeable only in the drawings), 15-year-old Lucy, 2 or 3-year-old Little Harry, and Jeremy-who-‘d-rather-go-by Jem, in between Lucy and Little Harry. Jem starts working on the car with Mr. Tooting, and they go to an old junk yard and find a powerful engine that they put in the car. As they work on the car, the family makes a list of all the places they’d like to travel in their van: Paris, Cairo, El Dorado, and dinosaurs. When the van is finally fixed up and they take it for a test drive, it starts driving on its own, first stop Paris. But is the van trying to fulfill their wishes, or is the engine trying to find all the pieces of the magnificent classic car it used to be?
This book is hilarious and suspenseful, as the Tooting family is pursued by a nefarious villain who will stop at nothing to get the car back for himself. I loved the characters, each one with his or her own strengths, and the plot device that allowed the kids to be in charge without their parents being painted as complete idiots. Lucy, for example, loves black and death and depressing things, but has spent the time locked in her room studying all sorts of arcane topics that turn out to be useful to their quest. Jem is good at mechanics and listening to people, while Little Harry (who felt much more like a two-year-old than the three the text puts him at) has that great toddler skill of noticing things that adults and older children don’t. There might not be much in the way of character arcs, but I’ve read many books that took themselves much more seriously without putting as much effort into making the characters come to life. The dialogue had me reading bits out loud quite frequently, and the spot illustrations really add to the book – one of my favorites showed the Mr. and Mrs. Tooting kissing for the camera, while the children look on in various states of disgust and embarrassment. This is a great choice for middle-grade students of both genders, and one I’m longing to read to my boy.