"Clarty Jim McCloud" by Tom Achbold is a thoroughly enjoyable book. A good children's book is probably harder to produce than a good novel aimed at an adult market. The words have to be right in both cases, and the story has to reach out and pull in its readers. But the number of words is usually much smaller in a book aimed at children, especially younger children, placing a greater premium on getting the words that are used just right. And while covers sell books whatever the market, the look and feel is again very important when the target market is a young one (or their parents and grandparents), with the cover art and interior illustrations particularly critical in defining the feel of the book.
"Clarty Jim McCloud" is aimed at readers aged between five and seven years old. We tried it out, together with its a second book of Tom Archbold's, "Tappety Tam Fairley", on our six year old grandson. He's an above-average reader for his age, but wouldn't have needed to be to lap up both books. The covers are bright and cheerful, and most importantly, engaging: easily good enough to pull him away from the competing attractions of the game he was playing on an iPad. Once between the covers you find a nice balance of enjoyable line drawings by the author, interspersed engagingly with the story itself.
At the end of the day, while the cover and the pictures might draw a reader in, it is the words that will keep a reader turning the page, and returning to re-read in the future. Is this a book that will keep a young reader coming back for more? We think so. Clarty Jim lives in a jumbled house in a grimy town in the shadow of the ironworks. Every day before his granny goes to work at the ironworks she makes him awful sandwiches. So awful, in fact, that every day he feeds them to a hungry catfish on the way to school. But there comes a day when Jim leaves school and starts work at the ironworks. He no longer passes the river in which the catfish lives, and no longer feeds it his sandwiches each day. The hungry catfish responds by swimming upstream to the ironworks. What then happens forms the basis for a thoroughly enjoyable climax that carries with it a message that will be appreciated by its readers.