The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson

Cover art by Pete Williamson

With the number of children’s books on the market ever increasing, it has become harder and harder to choose which ones to read; when books are the first in a series, the decision needs to be made whether to stick with that series or move on to something else. I only read the first Skeleton Keys book a few weeks ago but when I was offered the opportunity by Little Tiger to read and review this jumped at the chance, using it as a good excuse to bump book two to the top of my TBR pile . Not that anyone will need an excuse to read these books because they are an utter delight.

For anyone who – unlike me – doesn’t worry about trying to read stories in the correct order, knowledge of books one and two is not essential but it will enhance your pleasure a little by having read them. As before, our narrator is Skeleton Keys who, as I’ve stated here previously, is – unsurprisingly – a skeleton. A skeleton whose fingers are keys which enable him to magically open doors into a variety of different places or – as in this book – times.

Introducing himself to us at the start of the book, Keys tells us about a young boy called Kasper who has created for himself an imaginary friend (IF), as many children do. Naming her Wordy Gerdy, Kasper gifts his IF the power to rewrite events – quite literally – with the pen that she wields. Having concluded his preamble, in the middle of a storm, Keys knocks on the boy’s door explaining that he has been summoned by Kasper’s unimagining his IF. By doing this, Kasper has brought Gerdy to life and allowed her to play havoc with the rest of his family with the result that he is the only one left intact.

Realising that Gerdy is a ghost writer, Keys summons his trusty assistant Daisy, an unimaginary friend with a back-to-front head and bad attitude with whom readers of the first stories will be familiar. Working together, Daisy and Keys manage to separate Gerdy from her pen in order to throw it through a door that the skeleton has opened using his Key to Time, allowing everything within the house to return to normal. Unfortunately though, the door has been left open and Gerdy passes through enabling her to find her writing weapon which she uses with great effect to both remove Keys’s keys and erase his memory of ever having had them.

At this point, Daisy springs into action pushing Keys through the doorway and explaining to him that they need to track down the ghost writer to restore Keys to his usual self and to prevent Gerdy causing further mayhem. Recognising that they have travelled back through time to when Keys was originally imagined and then unimagined, he explains to Daisy the potential danger of meeting his own past while they seek out Gerdy. Will the two of them be able to avoid crossing Keys’s past and succeed in returning the skeleton’s keys to enable them to travel back to their own time? And what part does the impossibly filthy Gap-Tooth Jack have to play in all of this?

My goodness me, this series just gets better and better with every story. My reading time has been drastically reduced by my return to full-time teaching this week and I have had to split this over the past couple of evenings rather than devouring it in one sitting. After starting it two nights ago, I spent much of yesterday at school looking forward to finishing it last night with this being my reward to myself for what has felt like a very long week.

As with any series that I have read and enjoyed, as I’ve progressed through the books I’ve anticipated certain aspects of the writing and in Guy Bass’s case it is his wonderful use of language. I absolutely adore Keys’s exclamations of ‘Dogs ‘n’ Cats’ or ‘Crumcrinkles’, the created vocabulary such as ‘dallywanglers’ and ‘fantabulant’ and the unpleasant nicknames Daisy coins for Gap-tooth Jack. For a great many children – especially those who are perhaps less confident readers – devices such as this often act as an enormous hook to encourage them to stick with what they know and love, which here is no bad thing. While in some popular series of books, this could lead to additional reads in the brand becoming formulaic that is certainly not the case here, where the story is brilliantly fresh and original.

Although she plays second fiddle to Keys, my very favourite character is Daisy. She is deliciously horrible – both to Keys and to everyone else – with the sort of brooding malevolence that makes you wonder just how far she is prepared to go. Her rudeness and general unpleasantness could be over the top but her behaviour is balanced perfectly towards the end of the book, when she shows she is not beyond redemption by a surprising act of kindness.

Special mention must be made of Pete Williamson’s sublime artwork without which the book simply wouldn’t be the wonderful read that it is. As they have before, Pete and Guy talk to their readers at the end of the read about the dynamic between them which allows each to perfectly mirror the other’s ideas in the beautiful cover artwork and throughout the story itself.

Having loaned out the first in this series – The Unimaginary Friend – this week to one of my new class, I am delighted to be taking this in to share and am confident that all three reads will prove popular this year. As I did with books one and two, I found myself smiling throughout the story and laughed out loud at several points as I read on. I cannot recommend these books highly enough – for anyone of Year 4 age and above with a sense of humour, especially a dark one, these are brilliant fun to read alone or to share. Huge thanks to the fantabulant Little Tiger Press for my advance copy ahead of publication on October 1st and a very well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars.

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