44 Tiny Secrets by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King

Cover art by Ashley King

I’ve read a couple of books recently which have been marketed as being funny which have left me wondering if I’ve had a sense of humour breakdown because I’ve struggled to see anything even vaguely amusing about them. Happily, that was certainly not the case with this read which is full of puns and other delightfully funny parts which left me smiling very broadly as I made my way through it.

Our story opens with the wonderful: ‘Betsy Bow-Linnet really wanted to kick something, just to make herself feel better,’ before going on to list possible targets including her grandfather who (most fortunately for him) is deemed to be ‘too alive’ to warrant such abuse. Her yearning to resort to violence is explained by her frustration at believing herself to be a terrible disappointment to her concert pianist parents as she does not appear to have inherited their musical prowess.

With the support of her much beloved grandfather, Betsy practises as hard as she can before playing in front of an audience comprising her family and invited guests where, inevitably, things do not go well and she is left wondering what else she can do to avoid further embarrassing herself or her parents.

At this point she receives a letter from a stranger: Gloria Sprightly, who promises Betsy great success if she follows Gloria’s secret method. Desperate to win her parents’ approval, and curious to see what the method entails, Betsy agrees only to find herself swept along by the deceit the method involves once she has commenced. Cue a near-disaster involving the secret method, coupled with much soul-searching by Betsy as to what she should do to rectify the situation. Will she come clean without further disappointing her parents?

All the way through this book, I found myself smiling, whether at some of the fabulous character names or the regular intervals at which Grandad’s elbows flap in response to his emotions. There are also some great visual jokes courtesy of illustrator Ashley King to complement the text such as the picture of the tops of Mr and Mrs Bow-Linnet’s heads, which is frequently Betsy’s view of her parents from upstairs. Rather than the black and white illustrations often presented, the glorious pictures within this read are enhanced throughout by the use of green which both brightens them and acts to draw the reader’s attention, ensuring that they are not ‘skipped over’ as some are as the reader hastens to read on.

Many children (and adults) will see themselves in this book. Betsy is desperate to be valued by her parents for being herself – not as a miniature version of them. It is all too easy for adults to not choose the best words when talking to, or about, their offspring so that they believe they are disappointments like Betsy does and I felt quite sad for her that that was the case here. As with many children, Betsy is blessed with a sympathetic grandparent who has the benefit of life experience and who clearly dotes on her and the relationship between the two of them is a thing of great love and joy for both.

This is such a cheering book – one which I will have great pleasure in adding to the shelf to share with my class and one which I suspect I will find hard to keep there once we are back to normal.

Enormous thanks go to Little Tiger for the copy they were kind enough to send me ahead of publication on 23rd July. 5 out of 5 stars.

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