Harry’s Mad

Our rating: ***½

Harry, an English boy, inherits a pet parrot from his American great-uncle. He quickly discovers that Madison (Mad for short) the parrot has been taught to carry on conversations by his great-uncle, who was a linguistic professor. Mad soon becomes one of the family, but when he gets kidnapped by a burglar, Mad must find a way to get back home.

This is your basic talking-animal-gets-kidnapped-and-has-to-return-home book, but it has two things going for it to set it apart. First, Dick King-Smith is a master of animal books and British humor (or should I say humour?), so Harry’s Mad is just plain fun in that regard. Second, the storyline of an American parrot being adopted by a British family has all sorts of fun with the differences between the two cultures. So while you won’t find anything too profound here, Harry’s Mad should do the trick of delighting young and old alike.

Peter Duck

Our rating: ****

The Swallows and Amazons, along with Captain Flint (the Amazons’ Uncle Jim) are preparing for a holiday in a small schooner, the Wild Cat. When they hire Peter Duck as an extra sailor, things begin to happen. The notorious Black Jake and his ship Viper begin following their every move. Why? Peter Duck was witness to a treasure burial many years ago and word has gotten to Black Jake. Captain Flint thinks a go at treasure would be a good vacation, so off they sail into an adventure.

Peter Duck is meant to be a story made up by the Swallows and Amazons during a winter holiday. However, this is never explained, so the book could be as real as you want it to be. Here we have a rollicking good time hunting for treasure, fighting pirates, and sailing on the open sea. I thought the story dragged a little at the beginning, but once Arthur Ransome hit his stride, I was carried along and reading at a furious rate. Guaranteed to make you wish you were sailing!