Nick Garlick, Aunt Severe and the Toy Thieves

Andersen, 2013. ISBN 978-1-84939-541-0

Daniel’s explorer parents are off to publicise a book about their latest trip, so he is going to stay with Great Aunt Emily. Only the person who meets him off the train is Aunt Severe. Really they are one and the same person, but Aunt Severe is his name for her when she is grumpy and cantankerous, as she certainly is right now. She accuses him of laziness, because he has not grown much since they last met, and feeds him cold spaghetti with custard, and soggy sprouts with mustard ice cream. Aunt Severe’s fiancé, the Colonel, has disappeared and she is furious. Determined to discover what’s going on, Daniel finds several strange creatures in the Colonel’s house, two clumsy ostriches with enormously long necks, three monkeys who constantly crash into things, a pink crocodile he takes to be a toy until it speaks to him, and a very talkative penguin. Between them, they tell Daniel that the Colonel, who had rescued them all from a zoo, has been kidnapped. From their description of the kidnappers he realises they are the international toy thieves pictured on a wanted poster he saw when he as at the police station with his aunt. The animals’ botched rescue attempt has left the Colonel at the mercy of the criminals, and only a fraction of his normal size. It is clear that the thieves are after an ancient doll on display in the National Gallery. Daniel, the animals and Aunt Severe set off to London to find him, but she gets trapped in a mysterious castle. Their attempt to track down the Colonel has a long way to go.

Garlick’s sequel to Aunt Severe and the Dragons will delight his fans, and be equally enjoyable to children who have yet to encounter Daniel and his remarkable aunt. The quirky humour, zany characters (the loquacious penguin is wonderful) and madcap adventures, plus Nick Maland’s imaginative illustrations, will appeal to confident readers of seven to ten. This would also be a good book to read aloud to younger and less able readers.