Monster Max and the Marmalade Ghost

Authored by Robin Bennett
Illustrated by Tom Tinn-Disbury
Published by Firefly

Tagged , , ,

The second book in Robin Bennett and Tom Tinn-Disbury’s ‘Monster Max’ series Monster Max and the Marmalade Ghost can easily be a stand-alone read that will entice lower KS2 readers. Max, the boy who can turn into a monster by burping, and return to being a boy with a sneeze, has another mystery to solve as strange, slightly spooky things are happening at the local old people’s day centre. Chapter three informs us that ‘Fanghorn, leader of the Red Eye wolves’ is behind the trouble, as he sets up a trap to try lure Max’s mother, the princess of Krit, back to her birthplace, but it is up to Max and his friends to work together to save the day and put a stop to Fanghorn’s plans.

The setting is refreshingly unusual as the mystery takes place at an old people’s day centre. While children’s books often discuss the relationship between old and young, normally in the form of the grandparent/grandchild relationship, rarely do characters head to an old people’s centre thinking ‘there’s bound to be something they could do with all those old people about.’ With things that go bump, well in the day, and strange happenings, adult readers might begin to think they have stumbled on a new representation of old people reminiscent of the bestselling Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. The story is mixed in its construction of the elderly; one of the characters, Reg, is given depth as an ex-professional cricketer who travelled the world and ‘is full of stories’. However, some of the humour feels a little old school: Dottie Dempsey loses her false teeth down the toilet; the centre itself is named ‘Toot Balden’ and the boys only meet Reg initially because he has absentmindedly locked himself out. That said, although resident Sydney’s comments about marmalade are seen as comic and slightly random, they do turn out to be key in terms of solving the mystery and as such the story instructs readers to listen more carefully and empathetically to the old. In addition, during the grand finale, it is old Reg who plays an integral part in beating the marmalade ghost back indoors with his cricket bat.

The elderly group at the day centre might teeter on the edge of stereotypes at times but they also form a diverse and cohesive community which is crucial to see in children’s literature. In terms of the positive representation of other characters it is Max’s mother rather than his father who was Krit (Max’s home country) royalty, and Max and his friend Peregrine, are joined by Svenka who is on her holiday from India. There’s much to be praised here and yet readers might also be guided by critical questions that in all honesty apply to much children’s literature. For example, the familiar two boy, one girl formula, and that Svenka’s first lines see her playing a fairly clichéd role: ‘Thanks to you boths …I was very worried when the pipes went crazy mad – no money for plumbers…always no money…’ She sighed, then smiled. ‘But we have biscuits – boys always love biscuits – especially hero boys!’ In addition to Svenka’s domesticity as she serves the boys, readers may also ask why her grammatical speech falters despite her seemingly excellent grasp of English vocabulary? Svenka turns out to be an important addition to the team (she is given Peregrine’s invention glue-firing gun even though she constantly misses her ghostly targets) and yet, I really hope she is developed more powerfully and thoughtfully in any books that come later in the series.

This novel is bound to be popular. The comedic illustrations reassure readers that there is unlikely to be any sleep-interrupting peril, the boy can transform from human to monster (and back again) through bodily functions, and the Wight turns out to be actually something of a good thing once you only get to know him better. With a house full of rooms and bathrooms to explore, a furiously defeated ‘Fanghorn’ left hungry for revenge, and Svenka and Peregrine ripe for development, then this series (with a few important edits) could go on for a very long time.

Loading component ...