The Animals of Madame Malone’s Music Hall by Laura Wood is an uplifting love letter to the power of community told with humour and warmth. Callie is hoping to spend a whimsical summer on the beach with her Gran; just like every other summer when her parents have to work. However, this year is shaping up to be a bit of a letdown. Callie is stuck inside rehearsing a play she doesn’t want to be in, with the Golden Oldies Drama Society (or G.O.D.S). So, instead of hunting for fossils and eating ice cream, Callie finds herself unwillingly playing Cinderella.
Finally, the pressure and stage fright become too much and Callie takes a break behind the velvet curtains. As she explores the strange world backstage, she finds herself in an even stranger world of talking, performing animals. In this alternate theatre world, Madame Malone (a talking fox with attributes similar to her gran) regales Callie with the story of Stinky Malone. Callie quickly begins to understand that sometimes it is the most selfless acts which can bring the most joy into our lives. The question is, has she learnt this with enough time to return home and save the theatre?
Wood has written an absolute gem of a story here. The narrative is complex enough to hold readers’ interest across the primary age range; the characters are well developed with interesting complexities to pull apart. There will be at least one character which readers will connect with, or relate to, in some way (I’m sure we all know someone a bit like Gary the prickly hedgehog!). I do feel this would be best suited for LKS2 as most will be able to read the text independently. Although it would be a lovely addition as a class read in KS1 or as a fun, relaxed, independent read in UKS2.
As a teaching resource, I think The Animals of Madame Malone’s Music Hall would be great as a guided reading text because there is just so much to discuss around the moral dilemmas raised and structural choices Wood has made. There are interesting shifts in tense as the story-within-a-story of Stinky Malone is retold, making it reminiscent of The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, as Callie launches into her own retelling of Stinky Malone’s tale. In UKS2, this could be used as a launchpad for looking at more complex embedded narratives looked at in primary including Hamlet and Harry Potter.
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