Mary Ann Wood’s debut book The Pricklebottoms is comprised of four short (and I mean short!) stories centred on a family of five anthropomorphic hedgehogs, parents with three children, living in a forest community made up of a variety of traditional woodland creatures. A classic, well-established setting for a children’s tale.
In the different stories, her three young protagonists overcome different scenarios which could be encountered by younger children: fear of the unknown; awkward family situations; dealing with bullies; and losing something special. In narrating these mini-adventures, Wood has cleverly drawn from her personal experiences of family life, making both the familial interactions between her characters and their reactions to the various scenarios she puts them through realistic and believable – you could easily imagine younger children reacting in a similar way.
That said, because the stories are so short, the reader only gets quick glimpses into the characters and is unable to establish much empathy with them. Indeed, though published together the stories themselves appear to be intended as ‘standalone’ accounts – there is virtually no character or plot development between them.
Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, I’m not convinced that in this case the format of the book does its content justice. The longest story stretches to 4 pages of large-print text (with a computer-graphics-esque picture at both beginning and end) making me question overall what age group the book is intended for?
On the one hand, the stories just seem too short not to be a picture book, and the lack of character or plot development suggests it is aimed at younger readers; on the other hand however, the text-heavy format would deter this same audience, so part of me is unsure even of where this book would actually belong on a family bookshelf.
I also found that the stories themselves got weaker as I read through the collection – whilst the first seems fairly well structured and thought through, the latter two verge on rambling in places and are far less polished.
In summary then, whilst The Pricklebottoms raises some thought-provoking moral issues in a manner that would be relatable for younger audiences, it falls short of the mark as it seems both undeveloped (in terms of characters, narrative and consistency), and missing a clear target audience – appearing in the guise of stories targeted towards younger children in a format aimed at slightly older audiences who would expect more from a book.