Eccentric young wordsmith Samuel Johnson finds himself home alone while his diplomat uncle is off diverting a crisis in Azerbaijan. As Samuel sits penning his memoirs and wondering how to divert the crisis in his own life – namely the big, hairy brute that is Boris Hissocks – he spots the little old lady next door acting very strangely. Is she actually chopping wood with her bare hands? Then the Monkey King comes knocking, and suddenly Samuel’s whole world is turned on its head…
Wow, I’m not entirely sure where to begin with talking about this book. I can definitely say it’s a funny, pacey read that will keep readers of all ages engaged, but to try and describe why is going to be a challenge – I really think this is one of those books that’s best discovered by reading. That won’t however make for much of a review so I’m going to do my best to talk about why I enjoyed it so much.
The plot is twisty and turny but is basically a story of goodies, Samuel and Granny Samurai, battling baddies who come in the form of school bully Boris Hissocks and the evil Monkey King who naturally has evil minions in tow. Poor Samuel is never quite up to speed with what’s going on, Granny Samurai is a lady of relatively few words and she certainly doesn’t waste them on explaining everything to him. This works really well for the reader, you’re as in the dark as Samuel is – I found myself coming up with all sorts of theories for what might be happening.
Samuel is an interesting lead character. I found that whilst I liked him and sympathised with his frustrations at not knowing what was going on I did also wish sometimes I could give him a little shake and encourage him to stand up for himself a little more. I imagine that the target audience won’t have any such feelings towards him. Granny Samurai, probably as expected, steals the book. She’s a larger than life, mysterious figure who comes out with absolute gems of dialogue. The book as a whole made me smile, most of the times that it made me laugh it was Granny Samurai who was responsible.
The book is illustrated, every double spread has at least one small drawing, on some the picture covers both pages and the text takes up only a small portion of the space. The pictures are all in grayscale and add a lot to the reading experience. Instead of a traditional chapter format the book is structured as Samuel’s memoir which means it has lots of short sections – I think this always helps books to feel like they’re zipping along when you read them.
Throughout the book the thing that kept coming to mind was how much I’d like to read this aloud to a group – I think it would work really well for this and will be passing my copy onto a friend who’s a teacher so that she can do just this. I don’t know if there are plans for another book featuring these characters but if there is one then I will definitely read it.
Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I is published by Walker Books in the UK from 3rd January 2013. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.