Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sam Llewellyn

Little Darlings
by Sam Llewellyn
Recommended Age: 13+

For the first chapter or two, this book threatens to be merely a hilarious knock-off of the Nurse Matilda/Nanny MacPhee stories. It introduces us to three children – Daisy, Cassian, and Primrose – who are being raised by a succession of nannies. A long succession of nannies, that is; for their combination of culinary mischief, technological cunning, and insight into nanny psychology has enabled the Darling children to drive away one nanny after another. The way they do this brings to mind the saying, “Whom gods destroy, they first drive mad.” You’ll know what I mean when you read the story.

The latest nanny has fled for dear life just when Papa and Mrs. Darling are preparing to dine out. In looking for a last-minute replacement, Papa Darling learns that his family has been “blacklisted” by the local network of nannies. Desperate, he turns to an “unaffiliated” nanny service. So it happens that he entrusts his precious brood to a nanny who is actually a burglar in disguise. And at this point, the story veers off the trail of the expected Nurse Matilda retread.

“Nanny Pete” doesn’t realize, until he drives his swag bag back to the hideout on board the good ship Kleptomanic, that he has stolen the Darling children as well. Before long, the Darlings have joined the gang of nanny-burglars and are helping them in a race against a rival gang of builder-burglars, who specialize in bulldozing the homes of rich people, looting the rubble, and then charging a king’s ransom to do a crummy job of rebuilding.

The object of the race? The pieces of a teddy bear that once belonged to a spoiled, royal brat, who is now...well, let’s leave a few things to find out for yourself. This story is a fun kind of silly, poking mercilessly at the kind of parents who let nannies raise their children, as well as the nannies themselves, builders, chefs, engineers, and royalty. It shows us three dangerously naughty children and a shipload of burglars who all have hearts of gold, and it has a bit of cockeyed romance. And it comes to a climax of spectacular oddness, which is better experienced than described.

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