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In theediscerning's sypathetic - and slow-moving - campaign to op many of the books no-one has bothered with before, he has here found a little treasure. Of course he is not of the target age-group for the book, but he enjoyed it, and even on his plot summary the soon-to-be-Mrs theediscerning was interested. Aquila won the 1997 Whitbread kiddies' Book Prize, and was subsequently televised by the BBC. Both are understandable, but perhaps less so it how the special FX necessary were done on children's tele budgets, and how they managed to pan it out into 13 episodes... Tom Baxter and Geoff Reynolds are the obligatory loveable rogues, doing a bunk on a school trip to the Peaks. And of course they stumble into a hidden cave, and of course they find something, or in this case some things, extraordinary. The first is the skeleton of a Roman soldier, the second turns out to be a superbly child-friendly flying machine, of obviously alien technology. Luckily the human remains help deflect the fact that they found something much more interesting - flying machines aren't for the use of adults in books ever, are they? Also to their aid is that they are exceedingly brave, and/or stupid, and soon manage to pilot the craft, and find the invisibility button. But, as they don't happen to live in a quarry in the Peaks, but somewhere else in the East Midlands (yay!) they have the first problem, that of getting the thing home. Hiding it when they do is easy, for Tom's Mum (he's from a token one-parent family) is agoraphobic, and so housebound. So in the garage it goes. But there are many more buttons to press, and at the half-way mark the problem of refuelling comes along... I won't go into al the plot details, for it is a rather slim volume anyway, and rattles along at a rollicking pace throughout. This even includes the pages when the difficulty for the children is in working out how to use the voic
e controls - the heads-up display on this vessel are in Latin, left over from the Centurion who used it last... The main danger facing the heroes is the school staff who have been suspicious ever since the school trip. Chief amongst these is the rather nasty deputy headmistress, Miss Taylor. When Tom and Geoff start perking up in class, and asking the history teacher how WWI pilots navigated without modern instruments, things come to a head. Miss Taylor can find all this out as she seems to do nothing but network among her colleagues and griping over these two youngsters. There is also the problem next door, namely old Mrs Phillips, who unfortunately gets all on the wrong end of things. First, she thinks she recognises the craft as a UFO, then bumps her head on the invisible thing hovering over her, and when one of the weapon buttons gets tested... This brings theediscerning on to the problems with the book, but worry not for they are minor. Tom and Geoff have far too much morality for modern-age children, and spend too much time in the first half of the book worrying their baby consciences over the harm their new laser-firing flyer could do to people... It also struck theediscerning oddly that one of the teachers, who gets to spread his knowledge of Latin to feed a new interest, has a GCSE. That makes him 31 at most, (OK, he might be an adult learner else), but he's written up as so much older. The two boys are well-drawn characters, Tom the slightly more reserved one, who does the thinking (such as it is), while Geoff is semi-literate through being dyslexic - and having school staff like Miss Taylor to ignore him most of the time. However, the whole book seems slanted against girls reading it, as the only females are dreaded adults. Even Mrs Baxter can't be trusted, as she soon gets to be out-and-about, all phobias forgotten. When the end of the book comes there suddenly comes the rush of findin
g-yourself messages, where the fact they have learnt to learn about Aquila means they have learnt to learn full stop, about school subjects, and themselves. One could say this is all a bit pat, and quickly bolted on, but as has been said everything in this book is quick, not just the flying machine. To clear up my own loose ends quickly, Aquila is the Latin for eagle, hence the title. And as for the TV series, there were two, and the second is completely new adventures, totally different to the book's happenings. This only means that if your little one has a four-year memory for her/his TV, they might find the book a bit of a let-down. But anyone coming fresh to the saga should really be pleased. It will grip the desired audiences, 8-13 year olds at a guess, and Tom and Geoff will soon be heroes to people who wish for a flying machine of their own. Possibly, even the adults who pick it up. (Aquila is on two audio cassettes, the BBC one by Brian Cant, the Penguin's own Neil Morrissey. A big library might even have the large print version. Very friendly these publishers, when they have a hit on their hands...)
Winner of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award 1997 / While skiving off from school, Tom and Geoff make an amazing discovery--a strange vehicle that has lain hidden for centuries. It turns out to be a fantastic flying machine that can travel incredible distances and take them wherever they wish.