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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

Style: Good

Attitude: Unobjectionable → Positive

In Brief: Quirky and heartwarming story about a making the best of every opportunity when all you’ve got is a flying car.

Cover of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Publisher: Macmillan

Published in: 2011

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Contemporary

Genres:  AdventureFantasyHumorous


Characters:

  • Dad, an optimist with a knack for working with his hands
  • Mum, cheerfully channelling Dad’s more creative tendencies
  • Lucy, a teenage emo with a surprising array of talents she's acquired behind the closed door of her bedroom ("A lot of my Facebook friends are bilingual Egyptian meteorologists")
  • Jem a youngster with a preference for the computer-controlled but a sense of loyalty to the car he helped his Dad to rebuild
  • and Little Harry who’s only a baby but who is surprisingly perspicacious

Synopsis:

The Tooting family restore a classic camper van with a view to travelling abroad, only to discover that it has wings and a mind of its own. They take it to Paris, enthralling the romantic French and finding the original headlights. They land near Cairo, feeding pancakes to the gourmet Egyptians and finding the original wheels. They accept an offer of hospitality which is not what it seems. And the children go to Madagascar, finding the final part of the original car — its bodywork – while their parents are touring north Africa in an armoured Aston Martin.

Notes:

There’s something of a market in classic sequels. William Horwood produced the excellent Tales of the Willows sequel series; there are several Treasure Island follow-ons; Return to the Hundred Acre Wood came out a couple of years ago; and there are others. Frank Cottrell Boyce has taken Ian Fleming’s magnificent, iconic flying car and given it a 21st-century makeover with a 21st-century family. A spirit of adventure and optimism drives the whole story forward from the father for whom every adversity is a cause of celebration for the opportunity it brings, down to little Harry who’s excited by everything he sees and is usually worth listening to.

Without its being in any way overdone, the sense of family is strong and central throughout this story. Jem might be a typical youngster, unimpressed by old-world entertainment, and Lucy might be a morbidly-obsessed teenage girl who spends all her time in her room, but both of them show talent, ingenuity and courage in their determination to keep things together. Nor are their parents ciphers; good-natured and bickering quietly over who's going to drive and where to go next, the whole family's a joy to see in action.

There's much witty and sometimes quite subtle humour. The explanation for the Bucklewing scrapyard is a sort of nod to the Horrible Histories book series. The amusing turn-around of teen-girl privacy into unexpected linguistic and other talents is a laugh especially when Lucy encounters her exact opposite number on Madagascar: Flora, daughter a local fisherman who suffers from seasickness.

It is an adventure, but the danger level never rises too high. There is a car-obsessed thief with a lethal managerie but the children and Chitty get the better of them. The family is arrested by the Paris gendarmerie when they unwittingly land on the Eiffel Tower but Mr Tooting passes it off as a grand romantic gesture for his wife (“I wanted her to wake up with Paris all around her”) and the French – police and public alike — are charmed. Mr & Mrs Tooting are tricked into riding around in a car which belonged to an ex-spy with plenty of enemies, but they become quite adept at car chases and are reunited with their children in a set-piece which may or may not have been an hommage to Ian Fleming’s other famous creation.

As they visit one place after another, they find pieces of the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Indeed, the car seems to have a mind of her own, refusing to move until the pieces have been found. At the end, the entire car has been replaced, with the interesting but unspoken ontological question of whether it is in fact the same car.

Enjoyable from beginning to end, this book takes a very slightly not-quite-ordinary family around the world in an extraordinary car with humour and grace. There’s a final chapter, too, which gives promise of a sequel which I will certainly be looking out for.

Themes:

  • If you replace all the pieces of something, do you still have the original object?
  • If you had a flying car, where would you go?

Saturday 18th August 2012