I was just mourning the lack of Barrington Stoke publications in my life when they popped a parcel through my front door with Mad Iris and the Bad School Report by Jeremy Strong in it. As I’m currently struggling my way through The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan in my grown up reading world, I was delighted to get something a little lighter, that looked infinitely more fun.
For those of you who don’t know yet, Barrington Stoke is a dyslexia friendly publisher who publish a wide range of reading material for all ages and abilities from early years to teens. Mad Iris is one of their books aimed at eight year olds in terms of reading abilities and which they rate as having an interest range for eight to twelve year olds. As ever, i think that the book would be perfect for younger readers if you were looking for a fun, bedtime read over a few nights. Its broad humour and extremely silly situations will definitely have a universal appeal to all under twelve year olds I know.
Regular readers will know that up to now I’ve tended to focus on Barrington Stoke’s Little Gem readers, which are specifically designed with slightly younger readers in mind, particularly in terms of their size and illustrations. Mad Iris is a little more sophisticated to reflect the older age group it should appeal to and avoid the accusation of it being a babyish book. Which of course is absolutely not allowed unless you’re over the age of 25, in which you relish any sort of book you can get your hands on that entertains you. Mad Iris still has the Barrington Stoke trade marks of clean, dyslexia friendly fonts and word spacing and cream pages instead of white, which helps children with reading difficulties focus better on the page.
Mad Iris is regular paperback sized but slimmer, as it has considerably less pages than the average novel. This is no bad thing. Like the Little Gems, the chapters are short and manageable for the age range and ability the book is targeted at. There are still illustrations, but these are black and white drawings in a more comedic cartoon style than some of the Little Gems. The illustrations here are provided by Scoular Andersen who is a stalwart of children’s books, having published scores of his own work and illustrating more of other people’s in the process. His dinstinctive images are bound to ring a bell with something you’ve read somewhere.
Jeremy Strong, the author is a prolific author of children’s books and his books are a stalwart of school libraries, and indeed regular libraries everywhere. He is perhaps most famous for The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog series, and my children all loved his series about the Viking, their favourite being There’s A Viking in my Bed.
Mad Iris is an Ostrich who lives at Pudding Lane Primary School in the care taker’s shed, having been rescued in the first book of the series by pupils Ross and Katie. Mad Iris is very affectionate, but also mad, which explains some of the scrapes she gets into, and the school into by proxy.
In this story, the children are really excited about the prospect of a visit by Captain Kapow! A famous explorer who is bringing his collection of animals to the school. The children are inspired to make life sized cardboard animals to show him, just as three school inspectors turn up to make the children and Mr. Grimble the head master’s life a misery. On top of all this, the school gets a new pupil called Charlie Fretting, whose mother assures Mr. Grimble that Charlie is allergic to doors, reading books and ostriches. It all adds up to a fine recipe for the disaster that ensues.
There is lots to like about this book. It is well written with a really brilliantly defined sense of whimsy. It is sharp and observant, and funny without being cruel. It is peopled with wonderful, likeable characters and not only did it make me laugh out loud on a couple of occasions, it also made me think of several children I know who would absolutely love it, boys and girls alike.
You can read the first chapter of Mad Iris and the Bad School Report here.