I grew up on Shirley Hughes’ picture books - Dogger, Alfie, and her illustrations for My Naughty Little Sister (I was a naughty little sister, so this series was particularly appealing to me). So, when I heard that she had written her first novel for older children (for 9-12s) I was eager to give it a go. With hindsight though, perhaps this particular author should stick to picture books.
Hero on a Bicycle is set in Italy during the second world war. The country is occupied by German forces, but the allies are on the horizon, and during the course of the story the allies invade, weakening the German hold with a little help from Italian rebels. Paolo yearns for a bit of action to interrupt his monotonous life, and that is exactly what he gets when his British mother is forced to harbor an escaped prisoner. How will their problems resolve themselves? Are they going to get caught?
It’s a fairly typical sort of war-based adventure story, but is sadly lacking in sophistication. The writing is a bit stilted and really quite desperately in need of a lot less ‘tell’ and lot more ‘show’. I found myself rushing through it as quickly as possible simply so I could get to the end, be able to say I’d read it, and thus move on to something more gripping. Because that’s what was missing: grip - that edge-of-your-seat, oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening sort of scenario. And, I think, this is especially important when it comes to young children and their reading. It’s why books like Skulduggery Pleasant and writers like David Walliams are such a massive success.
On the flip side, my mum also read Hero, and she likened the style to Enid Blyton, an author who I have never actually read. Enid Blyton is still one of the most sought-after authors in the children’s department. Given my lack of experience with her writing I am not really in a place to comment, but I imagine her style is quite old fashioned, and this is perhaps why my mum has drawn this particular analysis. Given Blyton’s continuing popularity this, in turn, suggests maybe there are plenty of children out there who will enjoy reading Shirley Hughes’ new offering.
Never read Enid Blyton? Why on earth not? you may ask. Well, actually it’s because my mum doesn’t like her, so as a child I was discouraged rather than encouraged to read her books. Perhaps it’s time to remedy that and find out for myself what she’s really like. I think I’ll pass on any more novels by Shirley Hughes though and avoid another disappointing afternoon of reading.