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Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Queen's Nose

Author: Dick King-Smith
Illustrator: Jill Bennett
Publisher: Puffin Books, 1983

This is the most enjoyable chapter book I've read to my 5 and 7 year olds at bedtime so far. I read this to myself aged about ten, and recall moments of the BBC serialisation, but reading The Queen's Nose back to my children confirmed to me that this book has a real charm. It's well-paced, with chapters roughly ten pages long and some gripping cliff -hangers. Most notable is when protagonist, Harmony Parker, is cycling at speed toward a junction and doesn't see the sign. Gripping! My children kept asking all day, what might happen next. We looked forward to reading every chapter, a great accolade with children so young. 

The story starts by introducing school girl Harmony, whom we quickly learn is creative, thoughtful, and at odds with her family. Harmony imagines all the people around her as having animals personas, so her sister Melody, for example, is a self obsessed showy 
Siamese cat, she sees her mother as a fussy pecking Pouter Pigeon and her father as a busy performing Sea Lion. This proved a great plot device, with the children both trying to fathom which animals their teachers might be. Dick King-Smith packs his work full of rich description, particularly with regard to personalities, so inadvertently much improving my children's' vocabulary and desire to observe the world, and people around them. 

In the story, Harmony feels lonely, and yearns for a pet. She spends a lot of time alone, thinking, talking to her stuffed toys and the chickens in their coop in her garden. One day, bringing great excitement, her Uncle Ginger comes to stay ( she views him as a vivacious Grizzly Bear). Having built a mutual relationship, Ginger then has to return home, and on living Harmony, wraps her up a parting gift, a 50p piece that grants wishes once rubbed. So far, a sort of Alladin story, without the lantern. 

The build up to receiving the magic coin is suspense filled, with Harmony having to complete a treasure hunt, and then work out how to use the coin, followed by more complex  problem solving, that really carries the reader, such as how and when should Harmony spend her wishes. Harmony has seven wishes in total; although her wishes are continuously fulfilled, she learns many important lessons through making her decisions. She learns not to be rash, to prioritise those she loves, to be grateful for what she has, to see the good in people ( rather than all their negative qualities) and most importantly, she learns to keep dreaming, and believe and trust in others; fantastically humanistic messages in this hostile ideological age. 

When reading this book my children were really able to empathethise with how main character, Harmony, felt, as her dreams and wishes were well pitched and resembled  'real' children fairly universally. Harmony requests a pet rabbit, a bike, a watch and time off school. The adage 'be careful what you wish for' hungs in the air each time, as the wishes backfire to different extents due to Harmony's misguided management of the situation.

Harmony tries hard though, and diverts disaster by thinking of others, leading to a happy ending and the interesting question as to whether these events would have transpired anyway. With new confidence now, Harmony decides to give the coin away, tossing up on Wimbledon Common for the next person to find. My sons, Alf and Bert, loved this ending, wanting to immediately go searching for the coin. The only problem I found with the book, related to this, was that the coin described has been out of general circulation for some years, so unless we go hunting around in antique fairs, I don't expect we'll stumble on the 'real' coin any time soon. Though this might be a good thing. 
An inspiring, exciting read, ideal for reading to siblings as there were many talking points about the sibling relationship in the book discussed. I think we'll return to reading this again fondly in a few years, it was a big success. 

As with The Demon Headmaster The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross
 and The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy this leaves me to call the BBC to #BringBackTheQueensNose!

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