Adam Stower, King Coo

David Fickling Books, 2017, ISBN 978-1-91200-60-5

We see King Coo on the cover, a tiny figure with a body-length beard and a crown, swinging from the trees, spear in hand. But the first character we meet is Ben, a timid schoolboy, victim of terrifying bullies. For most of the people in town the biggest concern is the dangerous sink-holes that have been appearing, causing chaos. For Ben it is to reach the end of term unscathed. Monty Grabbe is a formidable foe. Son of an unscrupulous mayor, and with monstrous and petrifying hench-people who like nothing better than to do his violent bidding, he foils Ben's attempts to avoid attention. As Ben flees he falls into one of the sink-holes. By the time he emerges into open air, he's in a forest. Now we meet King Coo. She - yes, she's a girl king - lives with her wombat Herbert in an amazing tree-house she built herself. It's equipped with slides, ropes and all sorts of fantastic inventions. Her catapults, levers, tricks and traps come in very handy when Monty and his sidekicks track Ben down and launch an attack. King Coo's ingenuity is more than a match for any enemy. Monty and his father are exposed and arrested. Ben and King Coo are going to have a great summer.

This is going to be highly popular, not just because of the extremely enjoyable plot and great cast of characters, both heroes and villains, but because of the exuberant illustrations on every page which bring the story to boisterous and joyous life. My only small cavil is the very first picture. In a book with a wonderfully resourceful female protagonist, what a shame that Ben's family is portrayed so stereotypically: dad sits reading his newspaper over breakfast while mum stands behind him, teapot in hand. That aside, Adam Stower's debut children's novel is very impressive and lots of fun. It surely merits a sequel.