Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Story of Matthew Buzzington, by Andy Stanton: published by Barrington Stoke

And this week, a children's book!

I read this book with my grandson, Oskar, just after we’d finished Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionnaire, by the same author – and we both agreed that although we enjoyed the Mr Gum book, we much preferred this one. The story is really powerful: it’s great fun and has a strong narrative drive too - we read it in one day, even though there was sunshine and a swimming pool and lots of other nice holiday things we could have been doing instead. It has a lot of important things to say – about bullying, friendship, trust, individuality – but the messages aren't laid on with a trowel; they just emerge naturally from what happens.

The hero, Matthew Buzzington, is quite certain that he can turn into a fly. He keeps the faith, even though  he’s never actually managed to do it. At the beginning of the book he is living happily in the country with his parents and his little sister, who never says anything except ‘Elephant’. But then his father gets a new job and to Matthew’s horror, all of a sudden they have to move to the city.

At his new school, he is greeted by the school bully, Pineapple Johnson, the school bully, who is very big and very scary. Pineapple tells Matthew that if he can do something special, then he will leave him alone: if not, he will make his life a misery. This is exactly the time when Matthew’s superpower needs to come through for him – but yet again, try as he might to turn into a fly, it simply doesn’t happen. Pineapple does what he promised: he makes Matthew’s life a misery.

Then one day things come to a head. Pineapple sends round a note about Matthew. When it reaches him, and the teacher catches him, Matthew has had enough; he tells on Pineapple, and as a result, both are told to go and see the Head at the end of school.

But the Head forgets about them, and before they realise what’s happened, Matthew and Pineapple find that they have been locked in the school. And then things get even trickier...

The finale is brilliant – exciting and very satisfying. When they’re put to the test, Matthew and Pineapple both show their true colours – and so does someone else, someone entirely unexpected. This is a really, really good ending, which leaves you with a sense of delighted surprise that everything can have turned out so well.

The book is beautifully produced, with easy-to-read print which is well-spaced, and helpful, funny illustrations from Ross Coolins. And there’s a bonus at the end; a set of stickers which reproduce bits of the pictures. Oskar really enjoyed these, talking about which bit in the story each one came from and thinking carefully where to place them on a piece of card - they helped him to consider his thoughts about the book.

This is a very special book. Laugh-out-loud funny, absolutely gripping on the surface, with a lot to think about underneath. 

PS Another book that had Oskar and I chortling very merrily indeed was Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Quest for the Magic Porcupine, by John Dougherty. I reviewed it here.


  1. A great recommendation. I do value hearing from people who know a bit about books but who have also "witnessed" how a book works with children. Humour is so hard to get right, and although a writer may offer a wacky persona at public events, it doesn't always follow that their books work when read "alone." Thanks.

  2. Yes - it's very interesting reading books with Oskar. Often the things he thinks are funny/enjoys are not the things you'd expect!

  3. I'll have to get this book, Sue! For one thing, my daughters love Andy Stanton's writing (as do I). For another, my youngest's teacher - Miss Johnson - is going to have a baby, and my daughter's suggestion is that she should call the baby Pineapple...

  4. Perfect! I think they'll love this. Be interesting to know how they think it compares to Mr Gum. I prefer this, but I'm just a grown-up!