Review Blog

Jun 15 2009

Highway robbery by Kate Thompson

cover image

Bodley Head, 2008. ISBN 9780370329574
(Age 6-12) Highly recommended. Winning a Bistro Books Judges Special Recognition Award as an exceptional stand-alone novel for emerging readers is an indication of the quality of this memorable book. When a tall man in a flowing cloak asks a young beggar boy to look after his magnificent black mare in return for a golden guinea, he is determined to do the job properly even though there are many temptations around him. He is hungry and ragged and allows two young girls to pet the horse in exchange for some bread. Toothless, a shifty looking character, wants to buy her, and he is sorely tempted to take the money. After soldiers accost him and he discovers that the mare belongs to Dick Turpin and is the legendary Black Bess, things begin to get very difficult for him. Should he trap and betray his hero?
Told in eighteenth century language by the street urchin, who speaks directly to the reader, this is an engrossing tale with an unexpected twist at the end. The reader is kept in suspense as the boy tries to make the right decision in the face of great danger. There are also many poignant moments as the boy relates his poverty and longing for affection. Illustrated by Jonny Duddle, the black ink pictures, which are featured on almost every double page, add to the charm of the book. Black Bess is drawn as a magnificent creature, and the beggar boy is wide-eyed and appealing. There is a chilling double page illustration of soldiers galloping along, sabres flashing and a fascinating four-panel depiction of the boy's escape from the Captain.
What a gorgeous production this book is. The cover is black velvet with gold embossed print and has a wonderful coloured image of a highwayman riding a superb black horse. A splendid book to read aloud, for the newly independent reader to linger over and read again and again, or just for people like me who like beautiful books, this is a treasure to keep.
Pat Pledger

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