Review Blog

Jun 16 2010

Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale

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David Fickling Books, 2010.
(Ages 9+). I guess it's an indication of Updale's creative flair that she has managed to write an appealing and exciting mystery based entirely around the BCG vaccination!
Johnny Swanson's Dad died in the Great War, just before Johnny was born, and he and his Mum live frugally in the small village of Stambleton. Eleven year old Johnny is small for his age and responds to a newspaper advert promising him the secret to instant height. He duly sends off his one shilling postal order (money secretly 'borrowed' from his Mum) only to find he is the victim of a scam. However, Johnny soon realises he can make money in exactly the same way, by offering sham products to supposedly improve peoples' lives and raking in the proceeds.
Meanwhile an outbreak of TB scares everyone in the village and Johnny discovers that the kindly local GP wants the government to make the BCG vaccine, discovered in France, freely available in England too. However, the doctor is caught up in a murky underworld of scientific greed and jealousy and pays with his life when he is brutally murdered.
Johnny's Mum, who works as the Doctor's cleaner, is framed for the crime. Terrified his mother will be hanged, Johnny sets out to clear her name.
This is a tightly written, unusual story that will appeal equally to boys and girls. Updale is a superb storyteller and her plot is totally original. There is a lot in this story to make you think. Youngsters today are used to being consulted and listened to, so it will come as quite a shock to experience life as Johnny does, where children may be seen but are definitely not heard and are frequently sidelined, ridiculed and abused. If your readers enjoyed The London Eye Mystery, then recommend this for its similarly complex and involving plot. It would also make an excellent read aloud story for upper junior classes.
Claire Larson

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