Miranda Hart (text), Kate Hindley (illus.), The Girl With the Lost Smile, Hodder Children’s Books/Hachette Australia, 10 Oct 2017, 288pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781444941371
Among her friends Chloe is the funny one – the one who makes everybody laugh. On the way to school each day she takes delight in making those around her smile with the power of her own magic smile. So when she loses her smile, it shakes her sense of who she is. With the help of two unusual new friends, Godfrey, a size and shape-changing man/whale/eagle, and Hoppy (aka Holly), a bird-fairy, she goes on a spectacular adventure to try and find her smile again. Along the way she discovers that the magic land she created in her imagination is real, and that it is under threat from terrible shadow bandits who appeared around the same time her smile disappeared.
This lively, incredibly imaginative story is written by well-known British actress Miranda Hart, of the BBC sitcom Miranda. The characters are vividly drawn, from Chloe herself to her wonderful grandmother and flip-flop wearing royalty. Chloe makes a great hero – she is active, brave, inventive, imaginative and takes initiative, but she faces many understandable doubts that children will relate to.
The Girl With the Lost Smile is full of lively black and white pictures, including single and double images and the odd creature moving around the border of the page. It is a very long read, but there is a lot to keep readers engaged, so it would be a great book to read to a whole class over a term.
The Girl with the Lost Smile is one of those magical children’s books that works on many levels. Aside from being a rip-roaring adventure, it offers wonderful ideas such as walruses playing trumpets, trees growing beach balls, cloud bouncing as a form of travel and a sand castle that’s so big it’s a palace. It also glories in and encourages the power of imagination – Chloe needs to use this power again and again to put things to right, and the story itself is full of exciting original ideas and imagery as Chloe explores Magic Land, Sand Land and Snuffledom (a land inhabited by baby animals). The book also tackles the issue of parental separation and how this impacts on children. Finally, it is a story of growth as Chloe comes to understand why her smile was lost. But there is no false sentimentality in her journey – regaining her smile doesn’t come easily but there is a great deal of optimism and humour in the story.
As it turns out, there are good reasons for Chloe to lose her smile. Her home life is terrible as her parents are fighting frequently and are clearly unhappy, leading to her initially wondering if she is the cause of things. Things are so bad between them they forget her birthday. At school, her friends get upset with her and snub her. There are also several terribly embarrassing incidents at school. It is no wonder that the usual ways Chloe cheers herself up don’t work. She has to learn some deeper lessons, finding her courage, hope and love, before she can save Magic Land and resolve the problems in her life. Through imagination, creativity and bravery Chloe not only finds her smile, but uncovers other aspects of her powers.
Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol