Thursday, October 22, 2009

Last Castaways by Harry Horse

The last castaways is the last adventure of Grandfather and Roo, written by the late Harry Horse in 2007 and first published in the US this year. Each of the adventures of Grandfather and Roo follows a definite pattern. They are written in the form of letters to an unnamed grandchild, "Dear Child". In each story, they set out on an adventure in high spirits and with great optimism, despite the opposition of Dear Child's mother, who thinks Grandfather is too old to go on adventures. A series of catastrophes and disasters strike, often caused by the cocky little dog Roo, and Grandfather finally despairs of survival, only to be rescued at the last minute.

In this story, Grandfather and Roo set out to make their fortunes on the Unsinkable, sailing in search of Cod. Unfortunately, various disasters ensue, Roo manages to scuttle the boat, and the two are lost and starving before being cast ashore on what appears to be a desert island....a slight misconception that is fortunately resolved in time for all concerned. Grandfather and Roo return home and decide to settle down forever....until next time!

Illustrated by the author, these are popular books in the UK and have plenty of humorous little asides and wacky adventures. However, they freak me out. I've read several of these little adventures and they never fail to strike me as depressing, morbid, and just plain weird. Grandfather's optimistic journeys always come to a point where he is writing letters to his "Dear Child" telling him or her that he will soon be dead. Each adventure is going to be his last, and Roo's consistent selfish and destructive behavior generally ceases to be funny after the first couple chapters. I have to admit, honestly, that I'm also influenced by seeing the animated short of The Last Polar Bears, with the particularly depressing part where Grandfather and Roo are in the snow, waiting to die. To me, these books aren't about adventure or humor at all; they're about trying to accept one's eventual aging and death. Oh, and if your kids are sensitive don't let them google the author because they're likely to come upon some particularly graphic accounts of the author's horrific death.

Verdict: This is just my feeling - this last adventure has won the Nestles Smarties award in the UK and apparently many kids think the stories are funny and enjoyable (although the one I purchased for my library has very low circulation). I'd rather recommend the Charlie Small series to kids looking for episodic adventure in a journal or letter format.

Oh, and this is not a newly formed opinion - click here to read my earlier blog entry on Last Gold Diggers (which was btw, written before I googled the author and came upon some particularly graphic accounts of the author's horrific death)

ISBN: 978-1561454396; Published April 2009 by Peachtree; Borrowed from the library


brookfield said...

What has the author's death got to do with reviewing this book??

This book has been in circulation for a long time and is printed in many different languages, a testimony to a good book that it's still going when many others are out of print. I googled it and see it was quote "Nominee, 2008-2009 Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award" and received a lot of very positive reviews.

I think that your review is biased as you allowing the circumstances of the author's death to influence you.

My kids loved it and loved the animated film. Maybe you just lack the ability to understand and appreciate the dry humor!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Hmmm. I read The Last Polar Bears aloud to the kids and, despite wanting very much to like it (it's a lovely looking little book), found it unnecessarily strange. It didn't make any sense to the kids, either. We must be missing something, brookfield -- or maybe the Grandfather and Roo books are just not everyone's liking.