Dakota Of The White Flats – Philip Ridley (1995) – A Kid-Lit Review

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Philip Ridley is responsible for one of my all-time favourite children’s novels “Krindlekrax” (1991).  It is a book which reads aloud perfectly and was always a huge hit from my Primary School teaching days and was, I know, for a number of children I taught the book which turned them on to reading.

I have read another four of Ridley’s children’s books- “Mercedes Ice” (1989), “Meteorite Spoon” (1994), “Kasper In The Glitter” (1995) and “Scribbleboy” (1997) but only in “Kasper..” does the magic come close to Krindlekrax.  Ridley does not seem to have published any children’s novels since 2005 so I thought I’d go back and read one of his earlier novels I hadn’t experienced before.  “Dakota Of The White Flats” was republished with new illustrations by Chris Ridell by Viking and Puffin in 1995 but actually pre-dates “Krindlekrax” as it first saw light of day published by Collins in 1989 when it obviously did not set the world of children’s books alight.  I was glad to find out that it was earlier than “Krindlekrax” because you can see some of the elements which came together to make that book so marvellous here in a formative shape.

The plot is not quite as rich but some of the characters have the little identifying quirks which made them so memorable in “Krindlekrax”.  Ten year old Dakota Pink is no Ruskin Splinter but there is depth to her and a surprisingly prickly edge.  There’s a passive aggressiveness in her relationship with best friend Treacle that parents might want to highlight.  She looks after her Mum, permanently cocooned in her armchair since the failure of her marriage by cooking her dumplings and looks after the lodger (the most “Krindlekrax-ish character of the lot – Henry Twigg, with his “clicketty-clackitty-click-clock shoes”) by clearing the silverfish out of the bathroom.  The children become fascinated by the secret in mad-woman neighbour Medusa’s (think Absolutely Fabulous’ Patsy combined with Cruella De Vil) cabbage-strewn pram.

For me there are not the layers of depth of “Krindlekrax” with its themes of bullying, old age and death, loneliness, self-esteem and heroism although these children have their own quest.  It doesn’t have that same resonance of the traditional fairy-tale and myth nor the magical way that sound effects are used to build the story.  I did, however, very much enjoy the spirited Dakota’s challenge and the sense of accepted craziness which thinks nothing of a mother fed only on dumplings and an unresolved piece of magical transformation.  I still have a number of Ridley’s children’s books to read and I’m still hopeful of finding one to rival “Krindlekrax”.  “Mighty Fizz Chilla” (2002) which was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards sounds as if it has potential.  And then I have his adult work to consider.  There are three novels, the screenplay for the 1990 British film classic “The Krays” to his latest film work, as writer and director for 2010 British horror “Heartless”.  There’s a number of highly-acclaimed plays (available in two volumes from Methuen) for adults and also some for children.  Should I wish there’s also poetry , opera, photography, rock music and art to explore.  This man is a real all-rounder and an under-rated British talent.

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Dakota Of The White Flats is most readily available in the Viking hardback/Puffin paperback edition which was published by them in 1995

 

 

 

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My Top Re-Reads of 2015

I re-read 8 books in 2015.  My Top three I have read at least three times- they are books I keep coming back to, so deserve a mention in my round-up of the year.  Just click on the titles to be taken to the full reviews.

3. Krindlekrax – Philip Ridley (Red Fox 1991) (Read in September. Reviewed in October)krindlekrax2  One of my all time favourite children’s book and superb to read aloud.

2. The Crimson Petal And The White – Michel Faber  (Canongate 2002)(Read in March.  Reviewed in September)

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Set in Victorian times this book is a monumental achievement. Unflinching and often explicit with excellent characterisation.

  1. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak  (Black Swan 2007) (Read in January.  Reviewed in April)

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The more I read this book the more I love it.  Just don’t make me watch the film!

Krindlekrax- Philip Ridley (Red Fox 1991)- A Kid-Lit Review

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Earlier this week I was reminiscing on this blog with Cleopatra Loves Books  (see the 22 Letters post for the discussion) about the end of the afternoon story time at Primary School and how much these books meant to us.

When this book was published I was working as a Primary School teacher and there was nothing better for forging a relationship with the class and for turning them onto books than the carefully selected novel read in instalments. Nowadays, with the over-crowded curriculum I understand that this practice is much less common, which is tragic. My all-time favourite book for reading to the children was “Krindlekrax”.

We are taken to Lizard Street, a location which seems very real and yet dream-like. Ridley uses repetition so effectively to build up an almost hypnotic effect. This creates, as in many of the best children’s books, a kind of skewed reality. The superb cast of characters all have some identifying quirk and/or a catchphrase (“Oh Polly-Wolly-Doodle-All- The-Day”!) or sound effect which are used and built upon sublimely in the telling of this story.

It is the tale of Ruskin Splinter, the boy who wants to be the hero in the school play and tame the dragon and who is denied the chance because of his unheroic appearance in favour of Elvis Cave, who menaces the whole of Lizard Street with his football (Da-Boing!), breaking windows even at night whilst sleepwalking. Ruskin’s only friend is Corky, the school caretaker, an adorable character who regularly gets my eyes misting up. Ten years before there had been an incident on Lizard Street which had turned Corky’s hair white and given him a limp, caused cracks in the pavement and the bricks to go dark.

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Like the best traditional tales the plot is simple and yet runs very deep and you find yourself responding in the same subconscious, intuitive level as to the best and earliest stories. There’s issues on self-esteem and self-image, bullying, coping with death, separating fantasy from reality, being judged by appearances and the realisation that time existed and things happened before you were born; all dilemmas likely to be faced by the child reader and reaching some resolution here.

The use of sound is exceptional. The creaking pub sign “Eek!”, the drain cover “Ka-Clunk!”, the football “Da-Boing!” gets children anticipating and joining in. I had second language children with very little English who loved this book and begged to take it home. These sounds, together with the characters identifying phrases and gestures helps the story to build up and children experience the same chills as in those classic games “What’s The Time Mister Wolf?” and “In A Dark, Dark House.” Ridley doesn’t cop out with the climax, it’s every bit as scarey as the build up suggests.

Twenty-four years after its publication this book still reads extremely well. It is a relief to find a book directed at this age group that doesn’t rely on underpants, snot or pooh for its humour. I never read aloud a book (with the exception of Michael Rosen’s poetry) that was such a huge hit. Year 3 classes adored it and when on one occasion I taught a Year 5 class who I’d also had as Year 3, they were clear they wanted to be re-read this and enjoyed it as much (if not more) the second time. I hope these children are reading this to their children now.

“Krindlekrax” won The Smarties Prize in 1991 and WH Smith Mind-Boggling Book Award. The author has written a number of other children’s books which didn’t quite have the same magic for me (although I am very fond of “Kaspar In The Glitter”). Philip Ridley is one of those multi-talented in many fields individuals. He has written adult novels and plays, plays for children, poetry, screenplays, directed films and is a photographer, artist, songwriter, musician and has written an opera. He is an exceptional, under-rated British talent, and this book, which was for a number of children I taught “the book” that springboarded them into reading and could very well be his finest work.

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Krindlekrax was published in 1991 by Red Fox