In this first book of a middle grade series by C. L. Bennett, an old woman meets a young reporter in a tea room in an English fishing port and relates the story of the large and colorful Bugglepuff family.
Bennett uses a story-within-a-story framework for her tale. During a chance meeting, the elderly woman discovers that the journalist is in need of a good story, and so she offers the tale of Captain Bugglepuff, a crab fisherman, his wife, Delirious, and their four children.
One day, Delirious receives a letter informing her that a great aunt who has passed away left them a mill house and a good portion of land. Feeling as if they’ve won the lottery, the family packs up their belongings and sets out in their rickety truck to their new home.
Upon their arrival, a funny, stammering man hands Mrs. Bugglepuff the official papers. She begins to sign them, pauses, and then, in her excitement, decides to finish signing them all without further reading. Clever readers will reason that this impetuous act foretells trouble.
Each family member’s passions and quirks are wonderfully original and humorously detailed. And because the family is exceedingly poor, their perpetual zest for life and penchant for adventure makes them particularly appealing.
The tale suffers from a few flaws, however. Although the story-within-a-story technique is compelling, readers will likely wonder who the elderly woman is and how she is able to describe the story in such detail. Is she perhaps a Bugglepuff? There needs to be a purpose for her presence, even if it’s only hinted at here and revealed in a later book. And while the author certainly has a gift for word imagery, sometimes the plot takes a back seat to description and the story lags.
Nonetheless, Bennett’s writing is lovely and rich and she’s done a terrific job of creating fresh, memorable characters. And it all ends with a big cliff-hanger that will have young readers eager to read book two!
Also available in ebook.