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I have recently introduced my eight year old son to the 'Mr Majeika' series of stories, remembering them fondly from my own childhood. Mr Majeika was actually created back in 1984 but Humphrey Carpenter continued writing the popular series for many years, until sadly passing away in 2005. For anybody that missed out on Humphrey Carpenter's fun series of children's books (not to mention the fantastic 1980's television series) Mr Majeika is a failed wizard who has turned his hand to teaching! There is always some adventures to be had wherever Mr Majeika and Class Three end up, usually involving some well-meant spell that has gone wrong.
'Mr Majeika On The Internet' is one of the last books in the series, originally published in 2001. This adventure brings the accident prone wizard-turned-teacher bang up to date with computers and the internet. Mr Majeika is not quite as excited as the children in Class Three are when they learn that they are getting a new class computer. As a wizard, he's used to magic spells not surfing the net! Unfortunately, the class and their unusual teacher get fairly well acquainted with the internet - as they end up getting trapped inside their computer and have to wander through various weird and wonderful sites trying to find their way back to their classroom at St Barts!
All of my son's favourite characters are here, including the twins and feisty Jody. Spiteful Hamish Bigmore is still stirring up trouble for his teacher and characters and, lurking in the background, is Wilhemina Warlock - a naughty witch. There are also some new characters here, linked to the internet, including the computer mouse who gets turned into a real mouse by Majeika!
The story was enjoyed by my eight year old son, which is the main priority, although I personally felt that this was one of the weaker stories in the series as a whole. For some reason, the story makes lots of references to another classic children's story 'Gulliver's Travels' which is not a book that I've ever read. Mr Majeika and the children end up visiting different lands and coming across various characters (called internet sites for the purposes of this story) which are also featured in Gulliver's Travels. I was a little confused by this, as an adult reader, and didn't really see the connection, although I'm sure it would have made things clearer for me if I had read Jonathon Swift's classic work beforehand.
Just like Gulliver's Travels, this story attempts to satirise aspects of everyday life, with references to a breed of horses who work non-stop as well as a land where everybody buys things with a constant supply of credit. I could appreciate the author's message here but I think the satire was a little too subtle (and the ideas too abstract) to really be appreciated by the target audience of children from around seven to ten year olds. My eight year old did enjoy the story on its simplest level (as an adventure story about kids stuck inside a computer) but struggled with some of the concepts. I did, for instance, have to explain to him what 'credit' means.
All of Class Three's adventures are bought to life by the addition of fun line drawings which help to break up the text a little. The chapters are a good length for either independent reading or as a bedtime story. I tend to read this aloud at bedtime and we always end up reading two chapters at a time, although that is mainly because we are both curious as to what is going to happen next!
As a book for children to read themselves, it is fairly straightforward in general in terms of the language used and a confident reader of around seven or upwards should be able to enjoy the basic story without too many difficulties. There are a couple of very unusual words that I did struggle with, most memorably the 'Houyhnhnms' which are, so I understand, taken from 'Gulliver's Kingdom.' As that isn't a book I'm familiar with, I had no idea how to pronounce that word when reading this aloud to my son and I should imagine most eight year olds would face similar difficulties. (A quick Google leads me to believe that this is pronounced 'whine-ems' or 'whinny-ems' and is supposed to relate to the noises made by the animals. So now I know!)
Having shared and enjoyed several stories from the Majeika series so far, I must admit that this has been my least favourite to date. Whilst it is interesting to see Mr Majeika brought into the Twenty-First Century, I think the stories work best where there is more magic and less technology. I also didn't really appreciate the constant references to Gulliver's Travels and I don't think that children would fully understand the connection and the points raised either. The book would perhaps have worked better if there had been more references to genuine websites that children would be able to relate to themselves, although the danger of that is that it would date the book which would be a shame for such a timeless children's series.
This paperback can currently be purchased from Amazon for £3.99 or, for much better value, the entire set of 14 paperbacks can be picked up from the Book People for just £12.99! I would certainly recommend investing in the whole series rather than this specific story at that price, particularly as this is not one of the best, in my opinion.