From the top of his telephone pole, Blaggard the crow (who believes in the occult) watches a mysterious man push a parcel through the fence of 7 Pudding Founders Lane – the address of one Mr. Brassroyd and his delightful bull terrier, Mrs. Mumbly (who wouldn’t mind some tasty bacon rind, crispy black-pudding, and fat-soaked fried bread, thank you very much). Follow the story of these three delightful characters as they uncover the mystery of what’s in the box, learn all about dragons, fight against big corporation, and race to keep Brassroyd Environmental in business.
A children’s book at its heart, Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest by Bryan Pentelow is about a dragon, a dog, and a crow who work together in a charming and endearing way. It’s a story, ultimately, about friendship, nature, connection, and the importance of teamwork (with a bit of sizzling bacon and crispy fried bread thrown in for good measure). It’s part-mystery, part-underdog story filled with delightful characters you will remember for a very long time, for Pentelow does an amazing job at creating strong, distinct, well-written personalities from the offset. How I’d dearly love to visit 7 Pudding Founders Lane, or pop off to the Furnace Raddlers Arms for a pint o’ mild.
It’s well-written too, peppered throughout with Pentelow’s beguiling humour, a gentle, plodding narrative, and a verbosity that is just right – not too much so as to overwhelm younger readers, but just enough to keep the older ones smiling as they read. Speaking of younger readers, Pentelow does have a tendency to use some quite old-fashioned terminology – the dog “ran a yard of pink tongue” around her lips, they sit by the “range”, and the dragon is “somnolent”, for example. For me, the old style words add to the charm but a child (who is reading alone, at least) may experience some difficulties with these phrases. Pentelow does make a token gesture at bringing at least units of measurement into the modern age (‘yard’ being the exception) as he talked about the 150mm trunk of the plant, and then quips about it being six inches in his own language.
His narrative is beautiful and his descriptions are engaging, even if he does throw an oddball in occasionally (“the sort of magazines which Gupter Patel kept on the top shelf of his newsagents” – pornography and racial stereotyping all thrown into one sentence!) although these peculiarities are few and far between. On the whole, it’s a book that will drag you along with the tale whilst floating you on a bed of beautiful words, and take you off to a Northern scrap yard that you’ll be reluctant to leave. Although pipped as a children’s story, Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest really is a delight at any age. A sweet and charming book that’s quick to read – both for its length and for the sheer delight of reading late, late, late into the night – this is surely one to get, whether you’ve got kids or not.