Children's Book Review written by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com
Regular readers of The Book Chook will know how vital I believe it is to provide young readers with books that are suitable in readability without dumbing down. Victor's Challenge, written by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Kim Gamble, and published by Walker Books (2009) is what I would describe as a junior novel. It's perfect for primary school-aged kids who want a shorter chapter book that's not as daunting as a middle grade chapter book, but will grab and hold their interest.
I was intrigued from the opening paragraph:
"I don't believe in princes!" Valerian's father declared, staring hard at Prince Victor. "What do you make of that, eh?"
It's tricky when the father of the girl you want to marry doesn't believe in you, right? When Valerian's father then goes on to stipulate challenges for Victor to complete, it seems our hero has no hope of success.
I loved Valerian AND Victor, both strong characters in their own way, even though Victor believes himself to be stupid. I also loved the humour in the story. Some of it is provided by the adults - like Victor's mother, the Queen, who when told Victor is to face a human-hating dragon as his first challenge, simply says, "Go on then, off you go." No helicopter parenting with this woman! There's also just the right amount of description to make vivid word pictures for the reader.
The story is bursting with fascinating creatures - like White Unicorn Owls and Very Large and Ferocious Orange Bats who sound a lot like archetypal Aussies. And Victor himself isn't a typical hero, all square jaw and muscle. He tends to blunder into solutions, or to bring them about because of his kind heart. It's so much more fun to read about heroes like Victor. His is a special kind of cleverness, and he becomes more confident and sure of himself as the story progresses.
Kim Gamble's occasional illustrations add both charm and meaning to the story. The sketches are an aid to comprehension, while sharing Gamble's vision of the characters developed by Freeman. My favourite is the fire dragon, but kids will love the humour of Professor Borage and the bats too.
Victor's Challenge is the second in the series which began with Victor's Quest, but it definitely stands alone.
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