Friday, November 20, 2009

Review of Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell

Riddell, Chris. Ottoline Goes to School. Harper, c2008.

Poor Mr. Munroe. His status in Ottoline's life is rather unique - and rather unclear to outsiders. In fact, most folks can't quite tell what manner of creature he is, and so when he accompanies Ottoline to boarding school (the Alice B. Smith School for the Differently Gifted), he is labeled a dog and sent to stay in the east wing with the other assorted pets and companions (all of whom are at least as eccentric as Mr. Munroe).

This isn't Mr. Munroe's only dilemma. He is also suffering pangs of jealousy and sadness brought about by Ottoline's new friendship with Cecily Forbes-Lawrence III, a girl with rich but often absent parents (not unlike Ottoline herself, but they react to their similar situations rather differently). It is Cecily's attendance at the Alice B. Smith School that prompts Ottoline to enroll as well - and it's a good thing Mr. Munroe goes along, because he helps solve the mystery of a marauding ghost at the school.

I do love Mr. Munroe. He's not supposed to be the star of this book (it's not called Mr. Munroe Goes to School, after all), but his appearance is so odd (he's pretty much all long hair and feet, with a couple of large eyeballs peering through the mop that Ottoline loves to brush for him), his origins so mysterious ("Norway"), and his personality such a lovely blend of moroseness, optimism, and loyalty that he altogether steals the show as far as I'm concerned. Oh, Ottoline is a trooper, with her penchant for wearing different shoes on the same feet and absolutely making the best of her strange life living alone (well, except for Mr. Munroe and a bunch of helpers) in an apartment while her parents travel the world collecting stuff. But that Mr. Munroe...

Light on text and and liberally sprinkled with Riddell's intricate and piquant drawings, this airy, funny book will work well with readers ready for their first chapter books and as a one-on-one read-aloud. And here's a secret - my 15-year-old daughter is simply mad about the Ottoline books, so I know this one spans a great many grade levels. Cheerful, weird, and sweet. Recommended for ages 7 to, er, 15.

Here's a video of Chris Riddell drawing Mr. Munroe...

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