Go back to the Space Race with No.1 bestselling author David Walliams for a breathless cinematic adventure full of mystery, action, laughs and surprises – and a secret that could change the course of history.
America: The Early 1960s
On a dusty old farm in the mid-west, Ruth spends every night looking at the stars through her telescope, dreaming of a more exciting life.
But when a UFO crash-lands in the cornfield, she finds herself launched into a thrilling adventure – one that will take Ruth further than she could ever have imagined…
I must admit to being a bit of a literary snob when it comes to Walliams. My children’s bookshelves are lined with his books and my son in particular would devour every new story as soon as it was released… but until this week I have never personally entered into the World of Walliams. I am a huge fan of children’s literature but comedy would not usually be my first choice of genre.
However, I don’t expect David Walliams would be too concerned about this. He doesn’t write for me. What is evident from my first foray into his particular brand of fiction is that he knows his audience inside out and manages to connect with them on a level that most aspiring authors can only dream of.
“THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY … OUCH … ABOUT BEING POKED IN THE BOTTOM … OOOF!”
In a recent interview with Lorraine Kelly, Walliams shared his motivation for writing Space Boy – to encourage reluctant readers to read for pleasure.
For anyone who shares his passion, Space Boy is a masterclass in how to grab a child’s attention from the first page and hold it completely until the very end, leaving them only wishing they hadn’t read it quite so quickly.
Set in 1960s America, at the height of the Space Race, a UFO crashes into a field on the farm where space-loving Ruth, an orphan, lives with her wicked aunt. So begins a hilarious, high-speed romp across the mid-West as Ruth discovers Space Boy and then helps him avoid the clutches of Aunt Dorothy, the Sheriff, Major Majors and a host of faceless figures in radiation suits
The chase itself brings to mind a Benny Hill sketch (I could hear the music as I was reading) with Aunt Dorothy and the Sheriff in hot pursuit riding a cow and a bull respectively, while Ruth and Space Boy make their getaway on the backs of ostriches all whilst being hunted down by the faceless figures in helicopters.
“MY SPACEBUTT IS OVERHEATING!” yelled Space Boy. SIZZLE! SAZZLE! SUZZLE!
Walliams has created an exuberant cast of characters. You immediately identify with Ruth and Space Boy, willing them to overcome the numerous obstacles thrown in their path.
The adults in the story are either decidedly wicked or utterly incompetent. Speaking of which, the American President with his ‘deep tan and ridiculous ginger toupee’ seems vaguely familiar! Wicked and incompetent or not, every character is distinctive and hugely memorable. Adult incompetence provides multiple opportunities for our young heroes to solve the problems grown-ups can’t and rewrite their own stories; an empowering message for young readers.
Walliams employs a range of strategies to reach reluctant readers. The rapid pace of the story rips through the pages like a tornado, carrying readers along with it.
Adam Stower’s illustrations punctuate the text beautifully, bringing the visual story to life. The use of a comic-style or graphic novel approach for certain pages also breaks up the text into more manageable chunks. Children will make swift progress through the story adding to their sense of achievement at reading such a weighty book.
The story is described as a cinematic adventure and this is certainly true in its multisensory approach. Every sound in the story is described using onomatopoeia with words such as ‘sizzle’, ‘whizz’, ‘blast’, ‘kerunch’ and ‘kaboom’ among countless others giving an auditory aspect to the reader experience and mirroring the comic book feel.
“The meaning of life is … don’t be a dork!”
The use of typography adds an extra visual element and helps to break up the chunks of text with certain words given their own specific font and design, repeated every time the word appears.
Perhaps most importantly, Space Boy is laugh-out-loud funny; unsurprising given Walliams’ career as a comedy writer, but he pitches the humour perfectly for his audience (and manages to include a few chuckles in there for the parents too).
Impressively he achieves all of this without patronising his readers. He doesn’t shy away from difficult topics such as Ruth’s loss of her parents and unhappy home life with Aunt Dorothy. And he sets the story in the historical context of the Space Race with just enough information to delight space fans while intriguing those new to the theme.
I have to agree with Lorraine – this is ‘a cracking book!’ A thoroughly enjoyable read and it’s safe to say David Walliams now has one more fan to add to the millions of others all over the world.
With thanks to Ellie Curtis at HarperCollins Children’s for the advanced copy.