Books & Literature

Book Review: Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City, by Rob Biddulph

JUNIOR FICTION: Fizzing with magic, danger, friendship and art, this exciting, fun, middle-grade debut is from the bestselling creative genius behind #DrawWithRob.

A wonderful new adventure story full of fun, excitement, baddies and lots and lots of art.

What a wonderful world Rob Biddulph has introduced us to in Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City.

This is the story of Pernilla, a young girl in early secondary school who has been called Peanut by her family ever since she was born. Her father has disappeared. Presumably, he has left the family for greener pastures, but Peanut does not believe this. When her father left, she had to move to a different school: one that concentrated on science and maths, two subjects she hates with a passion. She misses her father greatly. He had encouraged her love of drawing and had always left small illustrated notes in her lunchbox each day.

One day, Peanut finds a secret apartment in a box her father had previously given to her and thus begins her adventures. She travels to a different world. It is full of art and colour but bad things happen and she must use all her ingenuity to save the day.

This story is new and unexpectedly full of creativity. The places Peanut visits are amusing and the text is full of life. The characters she meets, as she travels with her younger sister Little-Bit (a five-year-old genius with puzzles) and Rockwell, a friend from school, all have their own quirks: the superhero who always speaks with an exclamation mark, the colourful birds, Jonathon Higginbottom the alligator, and the dog who helps them along the way. The other not-so-kind characters add an element of foreboding. References to artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Andy Warhol, plus different genres of writing (comic strips, superhero, picture books), will keep the older child and adult amused as well.

Themes touched on are friendships, loneliness, family breakups, and fitting into a new school. There is adventure, magic, danger, a person who wants to take over the world, and lots and lots of art.

Rob Biddulph is an author and illustrator. He was the official World Book Day Illustrator for 2019, 2020 and 2021. Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City is his fiction debut although he has authored many picture books.

There are some negatives which stopped this book getting a review score of 5 out of 5. The font is very small and hard to read in low light. Yes, younger readers have better eyesight but it could have been a bit larger to make reading easier, especially if it is going to be read to children in the evening. Secondly, there are some pages where the writing is printed over a page of an almost black illustration. Sometimes the text has been changed to white to compensate, but often it has not, which made it doubly hard to read. Thirdly, even though the illustrations are amazing, it was a huge disappointment that they are not in colour. Biddulph is best known for his artwork and the details and humour are lost in the black and grey palette. Understandably, the cost would have been prohibitive, but the illustrations, if you look carefully, are very detailed and it is a shame to not see them in full colour. This is compensated in part, by Biddulph’s graphic descriptions. A change from colour to black and white as the storyline becomes darker would have given an added dimension.

With 79 chapters, split into five parts, this book would be suitable for a more accomplished reader, but would equally be a great bedtime book, read by an adult who would derive as much pleasure from it as the child.

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City is highly recommended for lovers of a great adventure story, particularly those who are also budding artists. It is the first exciting adventure book in what will become a series and, although there was a satisfactory ending, not everything has been resolved.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Pan MacMillan
Released: 14 September 2021
RRP: $16.99

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