The Gingerbread Star by Anne Fine is the second book up for review in the new parcel of treasure sent to me by Barrington Stoke, the dyslexia friendly publisher I am such a champion of. The Gingerbread Star is another in their Little Gems series, perfect for younger readers to tackle. The bright illustrations by Vicki Gausden, traditional quest style story, and the usual Barrington Stoke quality in terms of the book’s physical appearance make it a worthy addition to the series.
There is the usual attention to detail in terms of clear, easy to read font; gorgeous illustrations which strike a good balance with the number of words per page; child friendly chapter lengths and the usual, cream pages. On the end pages of the book are a lovely maze puzzle, and a fabulous recipe for gingerbread stars you can make yourself, little treats for the reader, and additional reasons to come back to the book again and again.
Barrington Stoke give this a reading age of six years plus, and an interest age of 5 to 8 years. As with the other Little Gem books, this would make a fabulous story to share at bedtime with younger readers over a series of nights. It’s a perfect tale to snuggle up and share with children.
Anne Fine is probably better known for her books for older readers. Madame Doubtfire, Flour Babies and Goggle Eyes are usually read in Upper Key Stage Two classrooms and given to independent readers aged about 8-12. She has won awards for her searing teen/YA novel, The Road of Bones, which I reviewed on Making them Readers a while back, and I have seen her chapter book, Bills New Frock regularly used in schools as a class reader or transitional reader for children aged 6-8. This is the first time I’ve come across her work for younger children and it is rather lovely.
You can read a guest blog post by Anne Fine for Barrington Stoke here.
The Gingerbread Star tells the story of a ‘plain little grey worm’ called Hetty. One night, Hetty sees glowing in the trees near her home. When she goes to investigate she discovers glow worms, and longs with all her heart to become one. Her parents are sympathetic but try to reconcile Hetty to the fact that she is never going to glow.
Hetty is determined. Mostly she wants to glow so that she can read under the covers at night without anyone else knowing. I totally empathise with this and was rooting for Hetty from this point onwards.
Hetty tries figuring out what she needs to do, and who she needs to talk to to make her dream a reality.
This ‘try, try, try again’ quest format is fairly traditional, but there are things about Fine’s story that I found fresh and interesting. Firstly I liked the interaction between Hetty and her parents. I liked the fact that they were pretty realistic about things rather than encouraging Hetty in her fantasy. It might sound odd, when you’re dealing with a story about worms, but I liked the fact that Hetty’s family unit is pretty normal, and therefore children can relate to Hetty’s situation.
I also liked the fact that despite this, Hetty does not give up, and Fine shows her figuring out what she needs to do next. She shows Hetty’s thought processes, and despite Hetty’s disappointments she shows Hetty rising to the occasion and logically working out what needs to happen next. Again, it is this ordinary, common sense that really appealed to me rather than a lot of wishing and vague hoping in the face of adversity.
I also liked the fact that when Hetty finally meets the magician who we know will help Hetty, that the plot takes a sharp twist into humour which really freshens up what could be a fairly humdrum resolve into something altogether more appealing.
This is a lovely story, made lovelier by the illustrations of Vicki Gausden, whose bright, blocky style and fabulous use of colour really lifts the story and makes it sing. You can read about a day in the life of Vicki Gausden, here.
If you’re not quite convinced by my ramblings, please take the time to read the first chapter for free by following this link. You won’t regret it.