Why has Ben had an invitation to visit a museum he’s never even heard of?
It doesn’t open often, doesn’t even seem to want visitors.
And why are two unpleasant people plotting to get their hands on it?
There is so much delight in with Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children about the intriguing Gee Museum, one of those overstuffed with display cases of long-dead animals reconstructed with taxidermy and trays of bugs skewered with pins.
But this one is also touched by a little magic. And Ben soon gets caught up in trying to save the museum when he realises he can hear some of the exhibits speaking.
Ben, along with the very old lady who runs the museum, and some of the stuffed creatures, form an unlikely band of friends. They take on the developers who have evil plans for the museum, unleashing a strange, uncontrollable magic.
Ben also discovers a connection to his father and unearths that there might be more to the museum’s story and some very personal reasons to want to fight to save it.
This is Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children. She is, of course, the brilliant author of such classic and award-winning picture books as ‘Pumpkin Soup’ and ‘Tatty Ratty’, which have been shared and loved by so many children (and adults reading them).
One of the biggest delights of this book is that it has been illustrated by Helen, which brings the strangeness and peculiarly fascinating museum atmospherically to life.
From Flummery the owl to the detailed observations of the scientific devices, it is a little like pouring over a museum display case itself.
As someone who confesses to a fascination for pouring over museum collections (and may have taken their children too many times in the perfect excuse that the visit is really for them), this is a book I think lots of parents are going to love to read with their children.
From the little fables, to the bees and the chapter headings – ‘Spite and Malice in the Fish Room’ being my favourite (when did writers start to use chapter headings less? I love chapter headings), it is a pure delight.
And as I live near Oxford, where Helen is based, it is particularly pleasing to know that some of our local museums have inspired the story and that some of the drawings come from those collections I have visited possibly too often and know far too well.
But then who hasn’t visited the witch in the bottle at the Pitt Rivers museum a hundred times and made up stories about it? It is so pleasing to think that someone has finally written one.
It is the perfect feelgood story, made for sharing.
Nicki Thornton - one of my Best of 2017