Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Review: I Am Spartapuss by Robin Prince
Rome AD 36. The mighty Feline Empire rules the world. Spartapuss, a ginger cat is comfortable managing Rome’s finest Bath and Spa. But Fortune has other plans for him. He’s arrested and imprisoned by Catligula, the Emperor’s heir. Released into a school for gladiators, he must fight and win his freedom in the Arena - before his opponents make dog food of him.
If I had to name one story element that is most likely to persuade me not to read a children's book it is anthropomorphic animal characters. I don't why it is, but they just leave me cold. It was then with some disappointment that a while ago I opened a package from Mogzilla Books to find these two books - I Am Spartapuss and one of its sequels, Cleocatra's Kushion. In fact, I think I even shuddered at the though of reading them, and if it hadn't have been for my godson's younger brother they may have stayed in a pile gathering dust before eventually being donated to a local primary school. However, I was trying to think of books suitable for this 9 year old boy as a Christmas present and so thought I would give them a go.
And I was pleasantly surprised as they are actually very enjoyable and rather cleverly written. I Am Spartapuss is written in the form of Spartapuss' diary, and the story it tells is fast paced, full of action and also very funny. Robin Price has a knack at using puns, and everything from Roman emperors to Roman Gods to ancient Roman locations have been given the cat-treatment. And so we have Augustpuss and Catligula instead of Augustus and Caligula, Mewpita and Purrcury instead of Jupiter and Mercury. Just the sort of thing that 8-11 year old boys find very amusing, although I have to admit nowhere near as special as the clever wordplay I grew up loving in the names of the characters in Asterix books.
The wordplay does at times make these books quite challenging and less confident readers may struggle at times with the puns that fly thick and fast throughout almost every page. However, if children are studying the Ancient Roman period at school then they may find the books a little easier, and also very enjoyable as there is a large degree of historical 'fact' in the books, albeit with feline characters. Despite the name changes and the fact that these characters eat food suitable for cats, the parallels with the real history of this time period and its people are very easy to draw. However, in order to retain an element of realism this also means that some of the scenes in the story that focus on the violence and suffering that the gladiators in these times faced may be a little too intense for more immature readers, even though the blood and gore levels are kept to a bare minimum.
As I have already mentioned, these books really did surprise me, and I would guess that they are pretty unique; I certainly haven't come across anything quite like them before. I am pretty sure that my godson's brother will love them, as will many other readers of his age group.