Elaine Wickson, illustrated by Chris Judge
The second book in Queen Elaine’s Stan series sees Stan and his crew off for a school nature retreat at Whispering Woods where they will mentor a bunch of small-agers. To survive in the wild they’ll have to live on the hedge. The good news is that Freddie Danger – manly survivalist and snail wrangler - and Defective Flossie are along for the ride. The bad news is that so are Camford School’s arch-rivals, Larkfield Primary, who win at everything. Boo.
Once again, the grins start coming from the very first sentence with Fred’s explanation of the big bang: “In the beginning there was a load of nuffink, which suddenly exploded into dust and biscuits.” And we’re off into Stan’s world of graphs, mayhem and underwear-splitting laughs. The first full-on snorter arrives on page twelve with a diagram of Fred’s DNA that made me spray tea across the page, but there are plenty more to come.
This time we get to know the cast a little better. Stan’s friends, Jess, Liam and Idris, play bigger roles and are all huge fun, especially Liam whose desperation to be cool lands our crew in deep shenanigans. The new characters are fab too. Squaring up against Stan’s crew are The Dogs, led by the impossibly frosty and sneering Zac Cassidy. Think Draco Malfoy with great hair, shades and an extensive collection of trainers. With his taste for blackmail and super-dares, Zac is on a mission to trick our heroes into endless detentions for infinity and always seems one step ahead. Meanwhile, Fred has a new hero to emulate – Flint Danger, wilderness guy – and Flossie, no longer a pirate queen, is on the trail of the unicorn thief. As you can probably tell there’s a LOT going on, and I haven’t even mentioned Angus the snail or Jess’s real name. It’s all top-class, hilarious entertainment that any middle-grade reader – and their parents – will adore.
Again, there’s so much to enjoy and snort at here it’s difficult to know where to start. As per, Queen Elaine dishes up whip-smart dialogue, beautifully realised characters and lashings of laughs with side helpings of charm. Her characters are funny and silly, but never cruel. Larkfield teachers Rufus and Petra, for example, are hilarious luvvie, quinoa-munching, hipsters. You know the type. They’re played for laffs, yes, but Wickson adds touches that make you love them rather than simply lampooning a stereotype. Rufus’s snail knowledge, in particular, is genuinely fascinating.
It’s a testament to Queen Elaine’s writing skills to say I never thought I’d turn the pages of a children’s book hoping another factoid about snails might show up.
Even Zac has his moment of sort-of redemption, and with the lovely touches of blossoming friendships and the love between the older and younger kids, Action Stan has a heart that is warm but not gooey. Like one of Gran’s salted caramel brownies it’s baked to perfection.
With all that plus classic one liners (“I’ve got … baguette deficiency”), a recurring wee gag, truckloads of action, more space facts than you could shake a stick at as well as Wickson’s trademark graphs, cake-charts and side-bars – from the pen of the excellent Chris Judge - Action Stan is another proper treasure.
If Second Book Syndrome is really a thing then it's a syndrome Queen Elaine doesn't suffer. Frankly, I loved Planet Stan and this topped it. If the trajectory continues then Super Stan is going to be an absolute blinder. Hold my bookmark, I’m going in!
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Full disclosure: Once again thanks to OUP for their support and for providing review copies. They are my publisher, too, but that doesn't colour my opinion. They just publish really funny books, alright?