I intended to review Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway when it was first published in 2014. Even though I ordered copies for my library and it is constantly checked out, the second and third books in the series, Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thief and Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure sat on my desk awaiting my attention. Happily, on this morning after setting our clocks back, I am taking this extra hour in the day to give these marvelous books the attention they are due.
Like all great beginning readers and bridge chapter books, odd couples make for great stories. Pigsticks and Harold are more Jeeves and Wooster than Frog and Toad, swapping emotional dilemmas for slapstick laughs. And, like all good beginning and bridge chapter books, Milway's have magnificent illustrations, many of which have the feel of a graphic novel with notations, explanations and names popping up in little boxes here and there. While Pigsticks and Harold are always at the center of each story, MIlway populates Tuptown with a large cast of curious creatures, including Bobbins the Angry Mouse and Pirate George, a hippo in a jaunty skull and crossbones jersey.
In the first book, Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey, we meet Pigsticks, the last in a noble line of pigs. Pigsticks sits in his study, "reading about his forepigs" and their great accomplishments and makes a momentous decision: he is going to travel to the ends of the earth.
Although he conducts many, many interviews, Pigsticks cannot find the perfect assistant and decides to be his own assistant. That is, until Harold the hamster arrives with a package that was mistakenly delivered to him. The package holds all the things that Pigsticks will need to carry with him on his journey and, lo and behold, that sturdy little hamster is carrying the whole thing on his shoulders without much effort! However, it does take some convincing on Pigstick's part to convince Harold to join him, especially when Harold says that he has a tea party to go to the next day. Pigstick wins Harold over with the promise of three Battenburg cakes. That "spongy center, the checkered pattern, the lovely almondy outside," are too much for Harold to resist. The Battenburg cake features in each story and, as a huge fan of the BBC reality competition show The Great British Bake Off and all the delightfully different bakes they make, I had to include a picture of this unique cake here. . .
In Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thief, the Butterfly Ball is approaching and, as a prize for the winner of the Spirit of Tuptown prize, Harold has sculpted a statue that, short of his famous Battenburg cake, is the best thing he has ever made. But then the statue is stolen!
Pigsticks, although he has never actually solved a crime, insists that he is a first-class detective who will solve the crime! The crime scene is scoured, motives are uncovered, forensic gear is donned and, finally, as a sting is set up, and disguises and danger ensue. In the end, an oversight and misunderstanding are revealed and the Butterfly Ball begins.
In Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure, the mean and wicked Sir Percival Pig, distant relative of Pigsticks who, when they were at school together, was a copier of homework and cheater on Sports Day, appears in Tuptown with a shocking announcement. Waving around a suspicious deed, Sir Percival insists that he is the heir of Tuptown, which he intends to bulldoze completely so that he can, "build a gold-plated mansion . . . IN THE SHAPE OF MY HEAD!"
Pigsticks convinces Percival to give him until noon the next day to come up with the money to buy him off. Of course, no one in Tuptown has this kind of money so Pigsticks decides to find buried treasure, using the map belonging to his ancestor, Pigbeard. Of course, a big part of the adventure, as always, is the preparation. Gear is packed, gear is donned, a ship is secured. Passing up the jet propelled speed boat that drives itself offered by Otterly, Pigsticks makes his choice, as seen above. The pair quickly find themselves shipwreck and pursued by an enormous, almighty albatross named Alan. Harold saves the day, tossing a Battenburg cake in the opposite direction, Alan following and contentedly gobbling it up. The treasure is unburied, but WHAT IS IT? Convinced that Pirate Pigbeard would never fail him, Pigsticks hurries back to Tuptown with the treasure and, at the last moment a marvelous hidden surprise is uncovered and a secret on the back of the treasure map is revealed, saving the town from Sir Percival. Unfortunately, Pigsticks decides to use the newfound treasure to build himself a new house . . . gold-plated and in the shape of his head!
Alex Milway's books are a joy to read, his illustrations a treat to pore over. Milway, who happens to be a baker himself, has said that he believes all books should have illustrations and I heartily agree with that.
More books by Alex Milway:
The Mythical 9
Source: Review Copies