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Mr Majeika and the School Book Week - Humphrey Carpenter

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: Humphrey Carpenter / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / Reading Level: Ages 4-8 / 96 Pages / Book is published 2004-02-26 by Puffin

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      30.05.2011 18:54
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      A good read for kids but not the best in the series

      'Mr Majeika' is a character I can remember from my own childhood, when he featured in a fun television series. The character was created by Humphrey Carpenter in the 1980s and he continued to write stories in the children's book series for another twenty years, until he passed away in 2005.

      I've recently introduced my eight year old son to the Mr Majeika series and the stories have really captured his imagination and held his interest. The series centres around Mr Majeika who is a retired wizard, now working as a teacher to Class Three at St Barty's School. Although Mr Majeika tries his hardest not to use magic any more, somehow he always ends up having to use the odd spell or two, usually with disastrous consequences for himself or the children in the class!

      This particular book, the School Book Week, was originally published in 1992 (and has been republished many times) so this is one of the middle books in the series. We've read them totally out of order and can't say that it has caused any difficulties or confusion. It certainly hasn't spoilt the enjoyment for either myself or my son.

      This book was different to all of the others that we've read so far as it isn't a single story split into standard chapters as all of the rest have been. This book is actually a collection of three entirely standalone short stories, each featuring Mr Majeika and Class Three. The 'School Book Week' of the title is actually the middle story of the three included here (Story Time) with the others being 'Fight the Flab' and 'Hello, Europe.'

      'Fight the Flab' introduces a new gym teacher to the school, who isn't quite what she seems. She seems intent on improving the fitness of both the children and the teachers at St Barty's but is there an ulterior motive? Of course there is! For anybody who has read any of the others in the series, it is fairly easy to spot exactly who the gym teacher is from the story. The line drawings that accompany the stories also give the 'secret' away quite early on. That doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the story though although I do think the ending and the way in which Mr Majeika deals with the imposter is pretty rushed.

      'Story Time' is quite a fun little read, featuring a rather patronising children's author who comes to talk to the school. Thanks to a spell that goes wrong, school children end up becoming characters in the book and the real characters end up escaping from the pages! This is quite a fun idea and I think it could quite easily have been extended into a complete book in its own right, especially as the Majeika books are fairly short and simple anyway. As with the other stories here, the ending seemed a little rushed and resolved all too quickly.

      The final story is 'Hello, Europe' where the class (along with Mr Majeika) go on a school trip to Paris. Here naughty schoolboy, Hamish Bigmore, keeps causing trouble and needs rescuing by Majeika as a result of his own naughty behaviour. Again, this story is fairly simple and pretty predictable with an ending that is also a little rushed.

      Personally, I'm not convinced that the Mr Majeika stories work as successfully in this short story format. The plot and storylines are very simple anyway but I don't think there is enough space allowed for each of the three separate stories to build up to a funny episode and then get resolved, as we know they will inevitably be. The stories just end up getting slightly rushed and the endings seem as though they are lacking a little of the usual Majeika magic. They just didn't seem as engaging to me, when I was reading them aloud to my son at bedtime. He, however, seemed to enjoy this collection just as much as he has the others in the series.

      The other issue that I found was the length of the stories was just a little too long to be a suitable bedtime story length. There wasn't any logical space within the short stories to come to a halt either, so I ended up having to read each story to its ending, even though it seemed a longer read. I much prefer having shorter chapters, even if this means that I read two in one sitting, at least that gives the reader a little more flexibility. If this was being read by a child, I think they might also have the same problem in that the stories are just a little too long to be read comfortably in one sitting (unless the child is a fairly avid reader) but don't offer any opportunity to stop midway without interrupting the flow of the story. Some children, however, might prefer having this broken up into three separate stories rather than being one longer story.

      In terms of reading ability, this should be appropriate for any confident reader from around six years old upwards. The language and the style of writing is generally fairly simple although a child might need a bit of assistance with the 'Hello, Europe' story in particular. As that story is set in France, there are a few French words used which could cause a few problems. The French policemen are referred to as 'gendarmes' for example. There is even a bit of 'upsidedownese' used in the story too - which is apparently used by Australian wizards!

      In all, this is a fun and imaginative read although I wasn't particularly keen on the short story format as I don't think this gave enough space for the stories to be properly developed. For that reason, this isn't my favourite from the series as a whole but it is still a good choice to encourage young boys (and girls) to read for pleasure.
      This particular book can be picked up in paperbook for under £5 from Amazon but the entire series of 14 books can currently be purchased from the Book People for just £12.99. That is a great price and a much more economical way of getting hold of this book and enjoying some of the much better books from the series too.

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