‘It’s really imaginative, Mum, you should read it!’ my son said to me describing ‘the LEGEND of KEVIN’, by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. ‘Great’ I replied, ‘what else struck you about the book?’ The answer was not one I ever though my 8 year old would ever say: ‘I really liked the structure of the book, the way the chapters made sense.‘ Wow, what a mature observation, I thought to myself. I appreciate well formed architecture, but why had it inspired such passion in a child? In fact, there was a lot to like about the book actually, especially if you like biscuits, improbable ponies, adventure and a dash of silliness!
A Child’s perspective – the LEGEND of KEVIN – Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
I love this book because it has sad parts and loads of happy parts – it’s a real emotional rollercoaster! The chapters make sense with where they are split – each chapter is like a mini story in itself. One important thing for me is imagination; it made me think of writing a really imaginative book with amazing pictures and lots of descriptive words for myself. Someday. I’ve started writing one already, about werewolves!
My favourite part was when Kevin and Max saved everyone, and I liked the guinea pigs too, they were funny!by L (aged 8)
When you think about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised; children from the ages of 6-9 are taught in schools about sentence structure, story structure (at the very least a beginning, middle and end), as a part of their english lessons. Additionally, children need structure themselves, and by this age they are starting to become aware of their routines, and how it falls into natural break points, relating routine and structure to results. Whilst I was intrigued by the observation from my 8 year old, the recognition of structure shouldn’t have been the shock; rather, that he appreciated the mechanics going on behind the scenes in creating chapter-sized chunks so much it had the impact of him noticing it to the degree that he wanted to emulate it himself.
Having read the book, I can appreciate what he is noting: the story begins with introductions, moves quickly into the ‘inciting incident’ (as screen-writers call it), the adventure begins and then satisfactorily ends. The characters are briefly introduced with simple and relevant back stories. In truth, aside from these snippets (such as Daisy ‘going through a phase’ wanting to be known as Elvira) they are relatively 2-dimensional but perfectly sufficient for children to visualise them. The pictures dotted through the book on most pages break up the text rather than advance the story in a comic type fashion and are simple accessible illustrations to support the story.
The smatterings of jokes (a non waterproof lifeboat which dissolves upon contact with the floodwater is a stretch however, but its nicely silly enough for children to understand) didn’t quite make me titter, but are in keeping with the slightly fantastical storyline about a fat pony with wings who gets washed away from his nest by a big storm and gets lost in the big city but finds friendship and purpose. Parents will, however, enjoy the subtle references to things they as children probably (I want to say enjoy but…) endured as children – camping food labelled ‘brown stuff with bits in’ for example and the retro biscuits so beloved by Kevin – as well as the adult phrasing of sentences – “going through a phase,” and “it was an absolute disgrace” (describing bad behaviour!). In short, it is textbook story structure and pleasingly so.
I confess, whilst LEGEND of KEVIN is a pleasant enough read, I was struggling to see why my son was so inspired to begin writing his short stories after reading the book. On the face of it, he’s not into ponies, mermaids, biscuits etc, although our copy does have the very tactile silver edging to the pages. So, could it be that the actual structure itself, being so much a standard structure of a novel, cleverly weaving in guinea-pig tit-bits, dropping early relevant information you pick up later in the book, and the chapters which actually have an internal structure like a short story in each ‘chunk’, was in itself the example to inspire? Having now read a number of children’s literature, I am forced to conclude that yes, surprisingly its very conformity to a set structure probably is a great re-enforcement of the structure they would be teaching in school. I’d imagine, because it is sufficient length for it to be read in one sitting by a child yet longer than a short story, it’s structure is more obvious than with other classic structured books which might be read and studied in schools.
So what happened next you might ask? Taking inspiration for structure from Kevin, and the basic storyline from a hot favourite game app, L produced, over a number of weeks, his own little book. Pages torn out from note books and then sellotaped together once he’d written that chapter, easily removable if re-writes were needed or extra information added. I could see he had it all planned in his head as to what piece of action was going to happen in each chapter, and that some information had to be dropped in earlier in the tale to be used later in the story. Whilst the chapters were in reality sometimes only 5 sentences each, they all had an illustration at an appropriate juncture – map or diagram, or character. A more critical reviewer would have pointed out that his characters were a little on the shallow side, but having read Kevin, he has used the basic same techniques that Phillip Reeve has and only described what is really necessary to move the story on with minimal fleshing out of the characters back stories. The story had a beginning, middle and end, and each chapter covered an essential chunk in the plot. The loving parent in me is terribly proud of his attempts to use adjectives and adverbs to help spice up the story, even if the spelling was atrocious and handwriting barely legible in his desire to put pen to paper with the words in his head. It ain’t perfect, but by heck, the elements are all there!
Bite Sized Review
|Story||Fun adventure of a flying fat pony getting lost and finding his way in the word, and a boy desperate for a pet getting more than he bargained for when disaster strikes.|
|Characters||Recognisable yet amusing stereotypes|
|Language||Good mix of short sentences with longer descriptive ones, great for learning a wide vocabulary of adjectives/adverbs and teaching well punctuated longer sentences.|
|Jokes||Not quite laugh out loud but enough to smile at.|
|Illustrations||Simple and effectively illustrate what’s described in the text, more designed to break the text up for younger readers|
|Creative Inspiration||Surprisingly, it inspired here, however, I’m not absolutely persuaded that a non creative writing keen child would be so motivated.|
|Invites Critical Analysis||The mix of a fantastical element into a real world disaster has prompted questions about what would happen in a flood IRL. That the structure re-enforced what is being taught in schools about creative writing was a winner.|
|Invites creative problem solving||Within the tale the characters tackle challenges in an imaginative, humourous manner. I’ll definitely be packing the pepper next time there is a flood and high risk of naughty sea-monkeys along with a life-time supply of motivational custard creams!|