Karen McCombie’s latest book, St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Goats and Random Boys, is a highly enjoyable romp through ‘alternative’ education. Dani’s mum is a zoologist, and when she’s offered the opportunity of her career, studying penguins’ bums in the Antarctic, it means putting Dani in boarding school. Dani isn’t at all pleased by this, not least because she’s totally into making animation movies with her best friend Arch. Even worse, the boarding school her mum has picked looks the essence of dreariness, with posh kids in smart uniform and no fun anywhere on the horizon.
But when Dani arrives at St Grizelda’s, she discovers there’s been a recent regime change. And things aren’t quite so…organised. In fact, most of the pupils have left, pulled out by disgusted parents, and only a core of kids remain to experience the new curriculum, which seems to involve lots of running around outside, some artwork, and a whole load of learning about people and responsibilities and how to enjoy life. Which, to be frank, the real education system could benefit from.
Dani is a fun, relatable character, and there are bags of topical references, from You Tube to Harry Styles. As a reader, I wanted her to be a little more willing to try new experiences, but in the end, she makes a satisfying ’emotional journey’. Similarly, I would have liked the main plot to have higher stakes, but when you’ve got a goat as a mascot and a tree-climbing child referred to as a goblin, that kind of thing is really just being nit-picky 😉
There are plenty of illustrations by Becka Moor, who is popping up all over my children’s bookshelves at the moment, and this book contains some really wonderful stuff from her, perfectly capturing the zany hilarity of the story. Kids of 7 upwards will zip through the pages, and I can imagine there’ll be some laughing out loud from readers as they discover St Grizzle’s along with Dani. I’m going to pass this to my 8-year-old daughter, who recently enjoyed Katie Dale’s Mumnesia, and I think she’ll love this too. And even better news – it’s the first in a series!
St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Goats and Random Boys, is out on 12th January, published by Stripes. The second, St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Ghosts and Runaway Grannies, will be out in June.