I seem to have focussed on adventure stories recently, and so it’s time for a bit more variety. I read Charlie Changes into a Chicken, the first in a new series by Sam Copeland, a couple of months ago and always meant to blog about it, but for some reason I just didn’t find the time. However, I kept it on my blogging pile as I enjoyed it so much, and so today seems like the perfect time to introduce the story to the blog.

Charlie is a boy with a secret – he can change into animals of all shapes and sizes. The problem is, though, that it only seems to happen when he is worried about things, and life right at the minute – with a brother in hospital, worried parents and the school bully on his case – is one big worry-fest. Charlie thus turns to his 3 best friends to help him find a way to deal with the problem…

Charlie hit the bottom of the hill faster than a cheetah running for an ice cream van on the hottest day of the year.

The first thing that hit me about the book is that Sam Copeland has a fab, intimate writing style, which draws you in rapidly during the opening pages. While I agree with other reviewers that there’s a touch of Dahl about his work, there is no doubt that his writing is unique and I think this story has been quite cleverly-crafted. Firstly, the humour has been written with both children and adults in mind, so while there is plenty of toilet humour, there is also a subtle, dry thread that will make adults smile. I particularly like this because I think it makes sharing the book more enjoyable for both parties: there is no doubt that kids love to hear adults laugh just as much as we love to hear them. Secondly, while on the face of it this is a split-your-sides-laughing kind of story, the humour has effectively been used as a mechanism for addressing childhood anxiety with the lightest of touches: a tricky issue to deal with at the best of times. As parents and carers, we all know that children can talk non-stop about a whole range of bizarre and wonderful things. However, they are not always so forthcoming about issues that worry them, and while this book clearly isn’t in itself an authority on the subject, it gently introduces the benefits of mindfulness and happiness and, of course, the power of friendship.

Q: Nathaniella Warglefloom, sixty-seven, from Banjax-on-Thames asks: ‘I noticed that a previous questioner, “Bethany”, was only 2 years old. That can’t be right. Are you just making all these people up? Are the questions even real?

There are plenty of other things that I also love about the book: the inclusive characters, Sarah Horne’s superb illustrations which mirror the quirkiness of the storyline perfectly, the readers questions section, the superb footnotes and Charlie’s friend Flora, who reminds me a little of Hermione Grainger. The book has also taught me lots of new things: firstly, I now know that, apparently, the scientific name for a snake is a ‘danger noodle’; secondly, I also know that spiders do not have 8 bums, even though Sam wants us to spread the rumour far and wide; and finally, while I am a long-time dog person I now know that I need 2 cats in my life so that I can name them Chairman Meow and The Great Catsby.

In sum, this is a super-hilarious read with a deftly-handled, underlying message. The story is around 245 pages – so longer than the usual length for illustrated fiction stories – split into 13 chapters and is aimed at children aged around 7 – 9, albeit it could definitely be shared with a younger audience. The second in the series, Charlie Turns into a T Rex, is out in August and there’s a sneak preview of the opening pages at the back of this book. Finally, and most importantly, Sam – if you ever find yourself reading this review, hopefully I have convinced you that I am a valued reader and not a pinhead…

Charlie Changes into a Chicken:

Author: Sam Copeland
Illustrator: Sarah Horne
Publisher: Penguin (Puffin)
ISBN: 9780241346211

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