Gwendoline’s Travels: Book 1
A while ago, I was very kindly sent ‘Passports to Peril’ by Terry Ray Hall to review (apologies to the author and publisher for the delay in posting!).
A children’s book written in rhyme, ‘Passports to Peril’ is a charming and lovely story that follows Gwendoline and her group of friends as they travel to Europe and embark on a fun-filled French adventure. Encountering a variety of situations and circumstances that require the group to use teamwork, skills, and quick-thinking, it’s a great, gentle introduction to new ideas and foreign foods and cultures for young children. The book explores such themes and ideas as friendship, working together to reach a common goal, trust, travel, learning and new knowledge, bravery and courage, and new foods.
Some of the situations the group encounter they automatically rise to and overcome with little difficulty – in one instance triumphing over a fear of heights to save a kitten stuck in a tree. In others, they must work together to find solutions to problems or issues – such as gaining access to the ferry, being spotted by the staff, and hiding in the costume cupboard. Each of their actions leads to further chaos or adventure, and there are several particularly warm and funny moments within the story. I particularly liked it when one of the group – Jake – found himself acting as a waiter in the ship’s dining areas, and accidentally poured custard on to a seasoned trout and served it to a passenger. Marlon ordering snails at a French restaurant was also amusing, as were the various pictures Gwendoline hands out to her friends at the beginning of the story with the tickets as passports.
The book is a nice size, and boasts a good pace and gentle story that is designed to appeal to a variety of ages, and to encourage young readers to learn, and want to learn. It teaches that knowledge comes through exploration, and that trying new things can be fun. The story itself is written in verses, built using rhyming couplets, and so it is a relaxed, easy book to read. It’s an ideal book to read along with a child – and offers the opportunity for parents reading along to pause at particular topics for discussion or more in-depth exploration (certain words, for example, or landmarks.) There is a short glossary of (the 6) French words included in the story at the end of the book with explanations of each one.
Due to the rhyming scheme, there were one or two places in the story where I felt that the sentence order was slightly uncomfortable, largely due to uneven sentence lengths or use of punctuation, but not in any way that would distract a child from reading, from the adventure, or from the story.
The illustrations (I assume drawn by the author) are – like the story – gentle and naïve glimpses into the group’s adventures. Artistically accurate, creative, and appropriate, the colourful sketch-style illustrations build on the text of the book and offer young readers additional insight and exploration of the book. For example, children might like to try to identify each group member, or learn about France or French culture from the illustrations.
The book ends with a challenge/puzzle (‘can you guess where the group are heading next?’), and leads neatly into any follow-up books that would see readers explore, and experience, a different area of Europe. It also, subtly, encourages children to think about their own adventures and the sorts of things they might explore themselves. Overall, it’s a fantastic book for young children and families. A soft, flexible paperback with a glossy cover, it is durable, hard-wearing, and lightweight. Thoroughly recommended.