It’s adventure time today as we take a look at the first two books in a new early middle grade series by ubiquitous wild man Bear Grylls. Bear Grylls Adventures is a new series for primary school readers featuring survival skills, a magic compass and everyday problems and we received copies of the first two titles in the series, The Blizzard Challenge and The Desert Challenge from Allen & Unwin for review. Here are the books and blurbs from Goodreads:
The first thrilling adventure in the brand-new collectible series for young readers from survival expert and Chief Scout BEAR GRYLLS.
Olly isn’t enjoying activity camp. Why should he bother building a shelter or foraging for food with his teammates – he’d rather be at home in the warm and dry, where the sofa and the video games are.But then Olly gets given a compass with a mysterious fifth direction. When he follows it, he’s magically transported to a high mountain range where he meets survival expert Bear Grylls. With his help, Olly must learn to survive in sub-zero temperatures, including what to do if the ice cracks when you’re crossing a frozen lake, or a blizzard sets in . . .But can his adventure with Bear Grylls change Olly’s mind about teamwork and perseverance? And who will Olly give the compass to next?
Sophie loves activity camp . . . but is terrified of insects. It’s so bad that she won’t go into the tent on her own, just in case something flies at her, or she steps on a creepie-crawlie. But when she’s given a compass by one of the other boys on the campsite, Sophie is magically transported to the desert on an adventure where they’re impossible to avoid!
With the help of survival expert Bear Grylls as her guide, she will learn how to withstand the extreme temperatures of the desert and how to spot mirages, encounter giant camel spiders, deadly scorpions and snakes . . . but will Sophie overcome her fear of insects back in the real world? And who will she give the compass to next?
I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about Bear Grylls except that he is an outdoorsy type whose real name probably isn’t Bear and appears, for all intents and purposes, to be one of those annoying people who is both talented and good-looking. Thankfully, that is all one needs to know in order to enjoy these fast-paced and well structured tales.
The two books (and one assumes, the rest of the twelve-book series) follow the same format and are set around a group of children at a wilderness adventure school holiday camp. Each book introduces the protagonist child and a few of their friends and highlights the protagonist’s particular personal growth issue that needs working on, before whooshing the child off, by means of a magical compass, to a survival-based adventure accompanied by none other than the Ursa Major himself. The child is then magically transported back to the moment they left their normal life and puts the lessons learnt in their survival trek to good use before passing the magical compass on to the next unwitting victim.
These books are cleverly produced and will certainly hit the mark with their target audience. They focus on problems that children working in groups are likely to have – Olly, protagonist of The Blizzard Challenge, tends to give up easily, while Sophie, protagonist of The Desert Challenge, has a mortal fear of insects that disrupts her enjoyment of outdoors activities. The fact that by the end of the series, readers will have been introduced to all of the kids at the camp is a brilliant idea because it means the books are linked and will have familiar characters in them, but don’t necessarily need to be read in order. The use of the magic compass injects a fun dose of fantasy into the tales and keeps them from being too dry (except for The Desert Challenge – geddit? Dry? Desert?) and also provides the protagonists the opportunity to learn from a real-life survival skills master in a way that doesn’t rely on basing things in reality.
The books are illustrated throughout in black and white and the font is big enough, and chapters short enough, not to be daunting to reluctant readers or those who struggle. The books would also be a great option for read-alouds to younger children who don’t have the ability to read chapter books themselves yet, but are interested in longer and more varied stories. It’s also encouraging to see that the characters in the books are of diverse cultural backgrounds and that this is reflected in the illustrations.
The only niggling problem I had with these books – and this is speaking from the viewpoint of one who has sat on the shelf of youth workers and teachers alike – is the fact that these children are swept off to the company of a strange man in a deserted place and forced to follow him around and spend the night with him. I realise that I might be being a bit hypersensitive here since it’s hinted at that these sections of the book may be dreams or magic or whatever, but I did get a little bit of the creep-factor while reading the first book, when the young lad has to build a snuggly little ice cave in which to spend the night tucked up with a grown man who he doesn’t know from Adam, without his parents’ knowledge or consent. In the first book, the child also has to disrobe quickly in front of Bear after falling into icy water. There’s also the slight weirdness of having a magic compass that brings him a new child every time. From an adult’s point of view, there’s something not-quite-right about it all.
I don’t mean to throw shade on Bear – I’m sure he’s a perfectly upstanding guy and has his Blue Card – but I would have thought that someone in the editing or planning process would have picked this up and suggested some very basic and unintrusive changes to the story that could retain the adventure and survival aspect of the story while teaching a hugely important survival skill of childhood: be extremely wary of any adult who wants to spend time on their own with an unrelated child without their parents’ knowledge. Surely the Scouts themselves would have Child Protection Policies that disallowed one on one adult to child sleep outs, so I just find it a bit strange that the stories came out in this form.
Putting that aside for the moment though, the books are otherwise sure to be a hit with young readers who love “real-life” stories but aren’t necessarily drawn to nonfiction.
Until next time,