020 8567 3112 hello@westlondonkids.com

What happens when you feel stressed? Maybe you start sweating, or your heart beats faster.

When Charlie McGuffin gets stressed, something a little bit different happens: he turns into an animal!

We were recently invited to review local Ealing based author Sam Copeland’s debut novel, Charlie Changes into a Chicken recently and it was exciting to get the glossy new book through the post. I know you should never judge a book by it’s cover but it really is a most enticing cover, shiny and gold with fun bubble fonts (love how the ‘C’ for Chicken is a chickens head, so clever!) and a fab illustration of young Charlie.

This the first book in a series about a schoolboy who can change into animals – all sorts of animals – a pigeon, snake and even a rhino. It’s packed full of laughs and surprises, the characters are likable and very easy to visualise, always one of the main signs of a good book to me. It isn’t just a fluffy read though, there’s a more serious message though when we discover that Charlie’s tendency to turn into an animal is linked to times when he is feeling anxious and/ or stressed. This is a highly important theme for children to be exposed to and is a lead into vital conversations about mental health, particularly important for boys (and some girls) who often struggle to verbalise their emotions.

The illustrations in this book are just brilliant. They really add to the story, rather than distracting from it as can be so often the case (e.g. The Treehouse series) The illustrations, by Sarah Horne, enhance the imagination rather than taking it over and you can just visualise them as a cartoon series of their own one day! There are just the right amount. I hate it when there are too many illustrations in a novel for older children but it’s nice to have a few as that helps the children engage with the book and breaks up the chapter a bit if it’s a long one.

Charlie Changes into a Chicken book cover
Shiny, glittery cover of Charlie Changes into a Chicken (looks even better in ‘real life’

My 8 year-old son is a very capable but rather reluctant reader; at least when it comes to novels. He will quite happily sit in bed with his Match annual or an atlas! It was lovely to not have to have to nag my son into reading this and he was happy to read it each night with me. Even though my children are now 8 and 10 I do like to try and have some reading time with them each day if we can. We have negotiated alternative chapters reading sessions. A clever move on his part, but I don’t mind at all, precious moments and all that. I think it’s good for them to listen to adults reading out loud even if they are strong readers and reading with expression is a learning point for him still (it’s a bit monotone at times!) so it’s a good opportunity to practise that.

Charlie Changes into a Chicken is a fabulous book for practising with expression. There’s a good mix of shock, fear, laughs, nasty characters, stern teachers and more to get working on those character voices and narrator expressiveness. The part when Charlie gets turned into a snake and ends up having to swim up a toilet had my son in stitches. We also both learnt a few things, including the fact that the scientific name for a snake is a ‘danger noodle.’

In terms of level, I would say it’s good for 7 to 10 year olds, although younger children would certainly enjoy it if read to them. I’m certainly going to give to my 10 year old daughter to read next. The vocabulary was really pitched well for my son. Not so many difficult words that it started to affect the flow of the prose. Most chapters included a few words that he either had to pause to work out how to pronounce or ask me the meaning of – and that’s perfect as far as I’m concerned.

Copeland’s style has been compared to the writing of Roald Dahl (which I can see a bit, but less over-the-top), David Walliams (hmm, I can see this a bit in terms of humour but not massively in terms of style, Copeland writes far more eloquently and seems to understand children better!) My boy enjoys the Tom Gates series, but I’ve never felt they actually help develop his reading.

I also found the Treehouse book series that my son adores very annoying, with far too many pictures and silly made-up words as well as eminently unlikeable characters (just me?) So it has been fantastic to find a book that we agree on and I look forward to reading more in the series. Basically Copeland writes in a way that relates to children at their level without patronising them and stretches them without overwhelming or detracting from the enjoyment of the story. I loved the footnotes – very grown up in style and my son enjoyed reading the witty snippets at the bottom of some of the pages (not overdone).

In fact, we are off to Waterstones in Ealing tomorrow afternoon (Saturday 14th September). Sam Copeland will there signing copies of his follow up book – Charlie Turns into a T-Rex. Happy to purchase it this time (our review copy was gifted) – it’ll be money well spent! I look forward to finding out what other creatures Charlie will morph into; aside from the cover-mentioned T-Rex! A highly recommended read, it is published by Penguin Books and is available from most large bookstores, including Amazon, Waterstones and WH Smith.

Other essential info

Just under 250 pages
Penguin books (Puffin)

This was the first in our series of top book recommendations for West London Kids. More to follow – lets get these children reading more! If you have a suggestion for a good children’s book, please feel free to share in our Facebook community group: www.facebook.com/groups/westlondonkids

Charline Turns into a T-Rex book cover