Alexander McCall Smith, and Kate Hindley (illustrator), Max Champion and the Great Race Car Robbery, Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing, July 2018, 144 pp., RRP $19.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781408886137
Max shares a tiny house with his mother and grandfather; there’s no hot running water, and money is tight. But Max and Molly and Gus are happy and glad to have each other. They know that having a happy family is more important than all the money in the world. When Max discovers that his grandfather Gus had been a successful inventor of cars, until his business was stolen by the aptly named Mr Grabber, he sets out to right this wrong.
Like McCall Smith’s books for adults, particularly The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, this book celebrates family, decency and above all, kindness. McCall Smith always offers hope in his novels. Even in the face of the cheating Mr Grabber and his equally dishonest son, Max and his family never resort to such behaviour themselves.
McCall Smith is a master of his craft, and has managed to cram a lot of action into 136 pages. I feel young children will get a giggle out of his use of aptronyms. The story has a smooth and clear flow, with a conclusion that shows that even the meanest cheats can be redeemed. There is a timelessness to this little book. It could be anywhere, in any decade, with no references to modern technologies or current events, which I’m sure is an intentional device by the author to make this story almost fable-like.
Max’s grandfather, Gus, has a Book of Ideas (which is stolen by Mr Grabber). It could be a fun classroom activity for students to create their own Book of Ideas – it might be as simple as a list, or more complex, depending on the Year group involved.
Kate Hindley’s humorous illustrations break up the text, making this chapter book less daunting for a young reader. The physical book is beautifully tactile; hard covered with a dust jacket, making it a lovely gift, and a perfect addition to a primary school library.
Reviewed by Gabrielle Meares