“ Illustrator: Arthur Robbins / Paperback: 25 pages / Publisher: Walker Books Ltd / Published: 2 Oct 2000 „
When Maurice's mother admonishes him for trying to take the last chocolate biscuit instead of offering it to everyone else, he does exactly as he is told. For the next six weeks he carries the last chocolate biscuit around in his pocket and offers it to everyone he meets until eventually he meets a space monster. The space monster isn't interested in eating the chocolate biscuit though; he is interested in eating Maurice. But the space monster's mother tells her son to remember his manners and offer the tasty human being to everyone else first. Find out what happens to Maurice as he is carried around in the space monster's pocket for six weeks and discover what happens to the last chocolate biscuit.
This is an off-the-wall, amusing story which shows how the words we use are capable of being misconstrued and how ridiculous it can sometimes be if we take things too literally. When Maurice's mother picks him up on his bad manners and asks him to offer the biscuit to "everyone else" first, she means of course that he should offer it to the other members of his family who are seated around the dining table. She doesn't expect him to offer it to the postman, the cat, a window cleaner, a dinner lady, a bus driver or to go round the world offering it to kings and presidents. But that is what Maurice does.
There is no explanation as to how this little boy manages to travel around the globe on his own or how he goes into space and meets a space monster. He just does! So if you prefer your children to read books that reflect real life, this will definitely not be for you, or if your children find illogical books difficult to get their heads round. Some children need definite answers as to how and why things happen and if this is not spelled out in the plot, they can find the story difficult to relate to. However, if you want something wacky, this will certainly appeal. It's a great book for developing the imagination and will be loved by children who are willing to open their minds to the unpredictable.
The cartoon style pictures by Arthur Robins are very colourful, particularly the space monster's family in their multi-coloured dungarees, which give the book a delightful, surreal quality without being scary at all. The facial expressions of the characters depicted are wonderfully expressive. Some look annoyed to be offered the chocolate biscuit, some look bemused and others look wary. I particularly love the random inclusion of the stone lion which (not surprisingly) doesn't want the biscuit. Of all the characters that Maurice could offer the chocolate biscuit to, why a stone lion? It's the author's attention to quirky detail that makes this story so funny.
If the book seems a bit zany from the start, it becomes even more so when the space monster becomes involved. The space monster does as his mum has asked and offers the human to everyone he meets. This means Maurice comes into contact with some very bizarre creatures which not only look weird but also have very strange names. We meet a 'brottleswat', a 'cattapurch', a 'pamplemoy' and a 'stork-rauncher' to name but a few. I am sure that not everyone will agree with the use of made-up words in a children's book. Many parents will feel that it is challenging enough for children to learn to read real words without introducing ones that the author has invented. However, I am a fan of books with made-up words as I feel they actually help children to learn English.
I feel that this style of writing will probably appeal to those who like Dr Seuss books. In my view, even made-up words require children to manipulate sounds and recognise word patterns and sometimes it is the more ridiculous-sounding words that can be the most fun to read out loud, holding a child's attention and making the story more engaging. Whether words are real or invented, they make children aware of the expressive potential of language, which can only be a good thing.
Observant children will be able to have fun translating the words used by the space people into English. There are clues in the pictures and also in the sound of the word. For example, 'cattapurch' is clearly a space version of 'cat'. It might not be so apparent what a 'dillyco' is or a 'cybernetic expositor' though. I suppose it could be quite frustrating to some children if they really don't understand what the author is talking about and although I think a few made-up words add to the mood of the book, I do think perhaps the author has gone a bit over the top with them here. Even I find it somewhat confusing! Unless your child is a fairly competent reader, some of the made-up words are rather difficult to sound out.
This book will no doubt appeal to children who find space a fascinating subject and those who like books about imaginary creatures. It may inspire children to create and draw space monsters of their own, inspired by the likes of the 'cumber-catcher' , 'petrified gork' and others seen in this book. They can have fun making up names for them too, a great way of experimenting with words and appreciating the comic power of language.
In terms of a plot, not a lot happens but it's a rather tongue-in-cheek exploration of our obsession with good manners. I love the bit where Maurice's mother remarks - "It's nice to see a space monster with such lovely manners." (She doesn't bat an eyelid about seeing a multi-coloured space monster in her garden - it is just his good manners that she notices!) If you have issues surrounding your child's table manners, this might be a good book to address the subject in a relaxed way. This book could also provide scope for discussions about why good manners are so important to us and looking at how etiquette, manners and customs vary between different cultures and societies.
The story about what actually happens to the chocolate biscuit has sufficient yuck factor to make most children sit up and take notice. When reading this book to a child, it might be worth pausing before you get to the end and inviting him/her to imagine what sort of state a chocolate biscuit might be in if had been carried around in someone's pocket for 6 weeks. Getting children to try and predict an outcome can encourage them to keep listening/reading to see if they are correct. If you wanted to incorporate some elementary science, you could use this book as a starting point for discussion and even experiments into how food decays over time.
However, despite the potential to inspire some educational activities, I believe that this book is essentially full of fun and trying to interpret any serious message from it is rather beside the point. It is definitely a bit different and I would recommend it for children aged about 5 to 8 for a light-hearted, witty choice for story time.
The Last Chocolate Biscuit is available used from sellers at Amazon for a mere £0.01, which means you will have plenty of pennies left to go and buy a packet of chocolate digestives. What better way to enjoy this book?