Bruno Pockley has a talent. A prodigious talent. But he's only just discovering its worth... When Bruno is sniffed out by a specially trained Trumpenhund as having world-class phartling potential, it's as if all his dreams have come true. Finally, his talent is being recognized! Then he and his classmates are taken to the court of the Knights Trumplar in the Kingdom of Phartesia, where they'll learn to play the ancient Phartlehorn for a performance of epic proportions. Starry-eyed, the children are determined to prove themselves to the magnificent Duke of Phartesia and his beguiling daughter. However, things are not always as they appear - and when Bruno and his friend Grace stumble upon the sickening truth about the Knights Trumplar, the wind is quite literally taken out of their sails.
This is the first book in Under 14s Only Month that has a plot which relies heavily on a certain bodily function (the clue is in the title), but it certainly won't be the last. Sadly, I think there is an assumption amongst some parents, teachers and librarians that if a book is about farting (yes, be proud and say that F-word!) then it must be crude and unsuitable for kids. Unfortunately, this misguided and probably misinformed (don't judge a book by the F-word alone, at least read it before deciding whether it is inappropriate) will mean that it may not find its way into the hands of kids who will find it laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end.
I'm not at all ashamed to admit that even in adulthood I find a well timed or great sounding trump pretty damn hilarious, and so I guess there was always a good chance that I would find this book funny (I still find that scene in Blazing Saddles more than a little amusing). I think some people forget that the master himself, Roald Dahl, did not shy away from making good use of farts to add humour to his story in The BFG, and instead assume that children's literature is being dumbed down when bottom burps are mentioned in stories these days. Seriously? Can these adults not remember how funny it was when little Billy/Jimmy/add-name-as-appropriate accidentally let one rip in Miss (insert name)'s (insert subject) lesson at school? It's a fact of life that kids (both boys and girls, though girls are possibly less likely to admit it) find farts funny, and therefore are quite likely to gravitate towards reading a book that is clearly about this wonderful subject.
The Fabulous Phartlehorn is a delight to read, and author M.L. Peel (the M stands for Megan, by the way, before you go assuming that only a guy could write about these sort of things) takes her readers on a completely bonkers adventure, accompanied by a host of daft characters. It is not at all crude, but just very funny in a typically British kind of way. There is plenty here for younger readers, with the book read to them (complete with sound effects?) by a parent or older sibling (a perfect chance for families to read and laugh together), as well as having enough word play to keep older, more confident readers engaged.
Scattered throughout the book are a number of illustrations by the wonderful Hannah Shaw (long time readers of this blog may remember that she also illustrated another Book Zone favourite series - Ivan Brett's Casper Candlewacks books). As ever, there are just enough of Hannah's illustrations to add to the hilarity of the story without ever distracting from the flow of the story (one of my favourites appears on pg 127, as Strudel, daughter of the Duke of Phartesia, demonstrates the playing of the phartlehorn with a look of sublime concentration on her face).
I can't sign off without wondering out loud as to whether some of the inspiration for the story was the life of a very real Frenchman called Joseph Pujol aka Le Pétomane, whose story I first came across at the cinema, in the days when main features were preceded by a shorter film, in this case a short starring Leonard Rossiter as the eponymous bottom musician). Whatever the inspiration though, this book is well worth getting into the hands of an 8+ reader, reluctant or otherwise, but do be prepared to listen to constant giggling for the duration of the read.
My thanks go to Liz Scott and Walker Books for sending me a copy to read.