Curriculum Vital

Say you don't like this book and your nose will grow: Pinocchio, by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo turned 70 last year, a birthday shared by the cartoon version of his latest delightful read, Pinocchio. The original Pinocchio was created more than 50 years earlier in Italy by Carlo Collodi. The trouble is that in both the original story and the Disney version we don't get Pinocchio's side of the story. That's where Morpurgo comes in.

"Here it is, the true story, the whole story with nothing left out, of all the pickles I got myself into and out of."

Well, that last part is a bit generous of little Pinocchio. As Morpurgo's fun and lively first-person narrative makes clear, Pinocchio's pickles are many, but the solutions tend to be a mixture of blind luck and faithful family members. Bringing these adventures vividly to life are the illustrations of Emma Chichester Clark. Together, they tell a story that will make children laugh and adults despair.

The laughter and despair will be for the same reason: Pinocchio is the most idiotic hero in the history of children's literature. Not only that, he's also lazy, greedy, gullible and occasionally cruel. More of anti-hero then, really. By the 200th page and about the 20th disastrous decision of our wooden narrator I was almost rooting for the pusillanimous Pinocchio to fall prey to any of the mishaps he willingly walks into. Still, all in the name of educating children to the harsh realities of life: "No money, no honey"; "Money doesn't grow on trees"; "Take your medicine," and so on.

Throughout the misadventures, though, one smiles and forgives as much as the Good Fairy because Morpurgo equips Pinocchio with a sardonic sense of humour and an impressive vocabulary: "Ahead of me, barring my way, was a huge, burly policeman... He grabbed me by the nose. Can you imagine? The indignity of it!"

The mishaps range from cruel cats to fiendish fisherman. By the halfway stage the pattern of good behaviour-temptation-tempted-trapped has become set, so much so that by the end Pinocchio himself declares, "I promise I'll finish the story soon - I know it's gone on a bit." 'That's no lie,' the adult might say. 'No, keep going!' replies the child.

By Ross (rgrainger@educationumbrella.com)


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Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, by David Almond