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A riotously imaginative feast of fantastical adventure with lashings of larger-than-life characters and curious goings-on. Following the amusingly absurd loss of Peter’s parents (kidnapped by pirates, then eaten by tigers), “the Overseers of Children decided the lad was too young to live in the hut on Evil Island without them”, and so he’s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in their shop on the Peculiar Hill. From Peter’s arrival here, it’s perfectly clear that Peculiar Hill is as peculiar in nature as it is in name. “You’ll need a hat here when the bogeys start flying around,” says the Station Master. “Otherwise your head’ll get covered in fizz”. But no one is in a hurry to explain what bogeys and fizz are, or what ‘unge’, ‘glop’ and ‘heeble-greebs’ are either for that matter. And then there’s Peter’s introduction to the very essence of “strangeness” and the nearby Vale of Strange, a place that, according to his uncle, a number of tourists have vanished into and never returned. Soon enough, Peter discovers the unnerving secrets of this place, and then finds himself embroiled in an exuberant, quirky quest. This book’s whimsical, jaunty language and characterisation make it marvellous for reading aloud. In fact, as you read the dialogue, it’s easy to hear and see the characters in action, replete with tone of voice and physical quirks. Brilliantly bonkers, this perfectly peculiar page-turner comes heartily recommended for fans of Mr Gum and Philip Ardagh. Joanne Owen
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