There’s a perceived impression in publishing circles that boys are more interested than girls in snot and toilet jokes. In my personal experience, however, ALL children, regardless of gender, find farts funny. And my six-year-old daughter picks her nose and eats it. And my three-year-old’s favourite insult is ‘boo-boo’ which has something to do with bums, though I can’t now remember exactly what. Which is why Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes should appeal to practically everyone. This is how it begins:
It was three o’clock on aTuesday, and Miss Crabb was picking her nose. She was digging her long pointy finger right inside her nostril and pulling out the most awful strings of green snot.
Elspeth Hart was staring at her in horror. She didn’t want to watch, but she couldn’t help it.
Doesn’t that put you in mind of Roald Dahl? What child wouldn’t be instantly hooked by that opening? And the story lives up to its potential. Elspeth lives in the Pandora Pants School for Show-offs with her horrible aunt, Miss Crabb, who is the cook (though it’s a wonder nobody has died from the revolting ingredients she uses). Her parents are dead, killed in a mysterious flood, and Elspeth’s own memory is mysteriously lacking in details. She is miserable at the school, where she is used as an unpaid servant, cleaning and carrying and generally being treated badly in conventional orphan manner. Her only friend is a boy called Rory Snitter, who is a pupil at the school. Rory isn’t very good at being a Show-off (he’s been put in Remedial Tap Dance) because he’s a bit wet and inclined to being a crybaby, so he and Elspeth share a common dislike of the school and the rest of the pupils, especially the truly awful Tatiana Firensky, whose wealthy father runs a Glue Factory and wants Tatiana to be the ONLY star of the Look at Us! show.
One day, Elspeth gets a bump on the head, and suddenly tiny pieces of memory return, along with a half-remembered tune that proves to be very important indeed…
The plot is strong, the characters are strong, the gags are funny and the payoff is just great. I have very slight reservations about the ending being too obviously open for a sequel, but I’ll forgive it that. I really enjoyed Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, and what’s more, I’m handing it straight to my eldest daughter in the absolute certain belief that she will ADORE it. I just hope she doesn’t want to attend classes in Showing off in Public, Attention Seeking in General, Creating a Scene, Getting Your Own Way, and Extreme Boasting. Because, frankly, I think she is quite talented in those areas already…
Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs is published by Stripes, and I received a proof copy in return for an unbiased review.