Tamara Macfarlane (text) & Michael Fowkes (illustrations)
(Hodder Children’s Books)

When Esme arrives at Mackinley Castle, ready to spend the summer with her uncle while her parents travel through Russia looking for new circus acts, she is met not only by her boisterous cousins but a whole menagerie of animals too. It is all very exciting, but also a little bit overwhelming and with cousin Cosmo being particularly mean, Esme misses home. But thankfully her pet donkey, Donk, is delivered and all seems a little better. Until Cosmo decides to play a nasty trick on Esme, and the greedy animals get into the food store, leaving it empty. There is no money to buy more until her uncle returns, so what can Esme do to remedy the situation? Organise a circus show, of course!

This is a lovely story which taps into many of the themes that many little girls will enjoy: adventure, dance and gymnastics skills, lots of animals and a little bit of naughtiness too! It has many of the elements of many classic adventure stories for children: the children seem left to their own devices a lot of the time and the story is full of eccentric characters and situations. There is something deliciously wacky and outrageous about this story, which I really enjoyed.
Esme is a great heroine; she is spontaneous, resourceful and independent, but she is not without her insecurities either and this will make her amiable for young readers and their parents (the book is well-suited to being a read-aloud too).
The author, owner of independent children’s bookshop Tales on Moon Lane, knows her market well and has managed to write a story that fills quite a gap. Parents of 5 to 8 year-old girls (me included) are often in despair at the quality of writing for this age group . Girls gets drawn into endless series of formula-written books which can be pretty dire. But there are also little readers who do not look for glitter and fairies in their stories and Amazing Esme responds to both these issues with great success.

The design of the book is absolutely superb, and the circus theme is carried through beautifully. Michael Fowkes’ illustrations are in tune with the tone of the story, conveying the sense of wackiness and slight wilderness of the children, and yet also conveying the magical side of the story. The colour scheme used for the front and back covers is girly enough to attract the targeted audience without the saccharine sweetness of many of the other books aimed at this age-range.  The scrapbook and Esme’s Activity Book at the end are a lovely touch and all the activities can also be downloaded from the dedicated website.

Amazing Esme is a very enjoyable and refreshing story, and young readers will love it. It is definitely one to look out for for Christmas presents. The second book in the series will be out in May 2012.

All illustrations © Michael Fowkes

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of “Amazing Esme”.