Tuesday 27 May 2014

Review: Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway

Pigsticks is the last in a noble line of explorers, and he’s decided it’s time for him to follow in his forepigs’ footsteps — with an assistant to do the heavy lifting, of course. When his help-wanted ad draws a motley crew of candidates, he chooses a hapless delivery hamster named Harold. As the unlikely duo set off from Tuptown with plenty of tea cakes in tow, Pigsticks is breathless with excitement (and Harold is struggling for breath under all the gear). But after a long trek through jungles, over deserts, and up a giant ice-topped mountain, the last crumb of cake is stolen by a herd of thieving goats, and their goal is nowhere in sight. Will they ever discover the Ends of the Earth? Could it be in the last place they’d ever think to look?

These days I very rarely review picture books. As a secondary school teacher my experience of them is very limited, and so I prefer to focus my efforts on books for older readers. However, I have long been a fan of Alex Milway's brilliant Mythical 9th Division books and so I just couldn't resist his latest offering.

This first book in what I hope will be a series sees Pigsticks (a pig) longing to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors by doing something great. He decides that he will travel to the Ends of of Earth, but being a rather upper class pig he decides that things like cooking and bag carrying are below him, and therefore he advertises for an assistant. Harold (a hamster) somehow manages to stumble into the role without ever applying, and soon the pair are off on their adventure through jungle, desert and mountains on their quest for the Ends of the Earth.

Yet again, Alex Milway has produced a story that is exciting, charming and, very importantly, very funny. Children will have no problem in spotting Pigsticks' flaws, and some may question the way he treats poor Harold, who is possibly the most tolerant and forbearing hamster in the world... ever! It is a relationship that brought to my mind that of Sherlock Holmes and Watson as his long-suffering companion. Pigsticks is the confident one with a 'who dares wins' outlook on their adventure, whilst Harold is the quiet, worrying type. 

Alex Milway's artwork is the perfect accompaniment to his story. The characters are all portrayed with fairly broad line work, making them stand out clearly from their backgrounds, and it is amazing just how much expression Milway manages to give the faces of his two main characters with this fairly simple style. The layout of the illustrations will also keep young readers on their toes: some pages have a traditional picture book layout with full spread images and little text, other pages are more like early readers, with far more text and smaller images, and some pages have layouts more commonly in the graphic novel format. This all adds to the overall reading experience, and I'm sure young readers will go back to this book again and again, even if just to pore over the illustrations.

Illustration by Alex Milway (
Pigsticks and Harold is not quite a picture book, nor is it strictly an early reader. It sort of falls between the two, and thus it is great as a book to be read by a parent to a young child and also great for an older child who is more confident with their reading but still craves lots of colour illustrations of their pages. There is enough in the book to challenge these more confident readers, as there are a handful of more difficult words (e.g. evasive manoeuvres), and these may also lead to questioning and dialogue between the reader and their parent.

Illustration by Alex Milway (

Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey is already available to buy, and my thanks go to the lovely people at Walker Books for sending me a copy.