Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car

I watched the movieChitty Chitty Bang Bang as a child and have vaguely fun and yet confusing memories of it. To this day I still find some of the tunes from the movie jumping into my head at random. Years later I was told that the original book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by Ian Fleming...yes, the same Ian Fleming who was the creator of James Bond. Naturally my curiosity was aroused. From a very high level, it's not surprising to see both James Bond and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang as being creations of the same author. Both feature some crazy high-tech gadgets and exciting adventures dealing with spies or thugs across multiple countries. Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang is just written for children while James Bond was written for adults.

I read Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang along with my 9 year old daughter. I haven't seen the movie in many years. She watched it a few months ago. As we started reading, it was quickly apparent some of the differences between the movie and the novel. Strangely enough, after the movie was released and widely enjoyed, they decided to make a "novelization" of the movie version of the story...which goes to show the large amount of differences present. They couldn't simply push film-goers towards the original novel...they actually wrote a new novel based on the film. Strange fun indeed.

As to the original book of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, it starts off introducing us to Caractacus Pott and his family. Caractacus is an inventor who loves to invent but doesn't always find much financial success as a result. His wife and two children are very supportive and they enjoy his quirks and fun almost as much as he does. As in the movie, Caractacus invents the "Toot Sweet" and sells it to a candy shop. He has more success in the book, however, and with the money he earns, the family decides to buy a car. They find Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang in a scrapyard and immediately all four of them fall in love with it. Pott takes it home and spends hours/days in his workshop fixing it up.

I loved the narrative style of the book. It was written to be read aloud or at least for the reader to be very cognizant of the narrator's voice. The narrator speaks to the reader, adds additional commentary outside the scope of the main plot and asks questions about the reader's knowledge or thoughts on a particular point. As I read the book aloud to my daughter, I tried to be sure to add the inflections of the narrator as I read to try and draw her in to answering the questions or commenting on the points the narrator made. In reading the book I pictured the narrator as an extension of Ian Fleming and the style existing to put for the feeling of Fleming reading the story to his own children.

As the plot continues, the family finds out more about the very special and magical qualities of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Not only does the car possess special transformative properties (changing into a boat or a plane) but it also seems to have a true mind of its own. It seems to think and feel. And it certainly seems to recognize and love its new family.

The family head off on what should be a simple and fun family picnic at the beach. But after traffic jams, bad turns, rising tides and bad weather, they find themselves lost and on the verge of new trouble as the family stumbles into a gangster hideout. I loved the sense of adventure mixed with the nervous anxiety of wondering just what might happen next. I love the reckless and whimsical attitude of the father as he disregards the danger when forced to choose between making a safe choice or making the right choice...the "good" choice.

As the adventure continues, the children find themselves in the thick of it. And in true "children's literature" style, they do whatever they can to solve the problems on their own and be the heroes of the story. At the same time, the book is titled "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang" so it's only natural that the car should also share in the heroics (with the aid of his adult drivers).

The edition I read had some cute, whimsical illustrations. I'm told that the original publication (and early reprints) had tons of absolutely wonderful illustrations. I certainly can't discount the fun pictures in the version I read, but I am interested in finding some of the original illustrations, just for enjoyment sake. My daughter loved keeping an eye out for the pictures and made sure I paused and gave her time to study the images intently when they showed up.

All in all this is a simple story and a quick read, which is what should be expected from a children's book. In some ways it's a little dated since some of the concepts and technology are obsolete or incredibly improved in our modern day. Still, it is a very clever and fun story with a lot of ingenuity and imagination. The plot is fresh and fun and definitely enjoyable to younger readers and to adults willing to step back into simpler memories. The thugs and gangsters are definite caricatures and as such it's hard to have any real fear for the safety of the family. Though to a child, just the idea of a gangster or criminal poses enough danger to give the proper degree of tension.

The story is absolutely charming. The narrative writing style is very fun and lovable. The characters are great fun and the lessons learned are entertaining. Overall this is a great heartfelt story that is worth reading with kids and reading again as an adult. Even if you've seen the movie, this book is different enough that you should find plenty of new entertainment. And if you haven't seen the movie, that's another avenue to explore after reading the book. Either way, there's plenty of opportunity for good clean family fun.

4 out of 5 stars

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logankstewart said...

Holy Moley. I had no idea Ian Fleming was behind this. Huh. That makes things rather interesting.

Like you, I still find tunes from the movie randomly popping into my head from time to time, too. Crazy how certain things wedge down deep.

Brian Miller said...

it is pretty cool that its written by fleming of bond fame....dont know that i ever read this...will have to check it out...

hey and if you are serious on the joe hill bk i will def take it...

Okie said...

@logan/brian - yeah, it's crazy to think of Fleming as a children's author. Kind of fun though.

@brian - sadly I just barely (literally this morning) recycled the Joe Hill...sorry. Guess I should've waited another day to see if I heard back from you.