Stuart Horten - ten years old and small for his age - moves to the dreary town of Beeton, far away from all his friends. And then he meets his new next-door neighbours, the unbearable Kingley triplets, and things get even worse.
But in Beeton begins the strangest adventure of Stuart’s life as he is swept up in quest to find his great-uncle’s lost workshop – a workshop stuffed with trickery and magic. There are clues to follow and puzzles to solve, but what starts as fun ends up as danger, and Stuart begins to realize that he can’t finish the task by himself . . .
I have recently been suffering from that which all book bloggers fear - blogger burnout. This has meant that at times I have struggled to concentrate on reading for any length of time, especially YA and kids books, and so have been reading more adult books recently (obviously not helpful for someone who writes a blog that focuses on books for young people. And then I was sent Small Change For Stuart by the generous people at Random House, and I was miraculously healed and I read it in a single sitting - I just couldn't put it down. It is also very heartening to see that my love for this book is shared by others as at the weekend I spotted that it had made the longlist for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.
Small Change For Stuart is a delightfully quirky and entertaining read, that is perfect for the 7+ age group, and I think it will be loved equally by both boys and girls. Stuart's lot is not a happy one: he is very small for his age and his surname of Horten leads to all kinds of hilarity for his peers when coupled with his first initial, and to make things even worse his mother has a new job in a hospital in another town and so the family have moved house to Beeton, the town where his father was born. However, this move leads to an incredible adventure for Stuart, as he embarks on an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of his great uncle many years before. Uncle Tony was a magician, and it would appear that before disappearing he left a series of clues that soon have young Stuart believing that magic just might be very real.
I really don't want to say much more about the plot of this book - it would be great if every reader could dive into it with as little knowledge about it as I had, for this will bring the greatest reading pleasure. The story is chock-full of colourful characters, some of whom would fit perfectly in a Roald Dahl story, and as each new character appears in the story they very quickly seem fully developed, such is the quality of the author's writing. It is also a very funny book, although the humour is not as subversive as that in Dahl's stories, it is simply very quirky and will have you grinning from ear to ear as you read it. Stuart is a character that many children (and adults) will be able to identify with, especially if, like me, they are below average in stature.
This is the perfect book for bedtime, either for a confident reader on their own, or for a parent to read to a child, and I am smiling again about the story just writing this review. This is now one of my favourite reads of 2011 and I can't recommend it enough. At £10.99 some may feel it is a little expensive for a book for a child but it is published in a lovely hardcover edition and in my opinion is worth every penny. Thank you Lissa Evans for curing me of my dreaded blogger burnout!