This Week’s Word Is “Cosmic.”
I’ve shared a lot of good books with my children in recent months, such as The Land of Roar and The High Rise Mystery, but of all the children’s books I’ve read to my children, over many years, very few have been as much fun as The Alfie Fleet series by Martin Howard.
The books, backed up by Chris Mould’s excellent illustrations, are a sort of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for children. They’re funny, surreal, inventive works of pure imagination and, if that wasn’t enough, they have an engaging, diverse set of characters and strong themes of fairness and thinking of others.
What Is the Alfie Fleet Series?
So far, it’s a series of only 2 books; The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet and the Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe. I sincerely hope the series grows into a long-running one, as the books are hilariously funny and good for the soul. My children are starting to get to the ages where bedtime stories become a thing of the past but I would happily keep buying and reading these books, long after I have nobody to read them to because they’re great feel-good reads that give everybody a good belly laugh.
In the opening story, down on his luck, Alfie is looking for a job so that he can raise enough money to buy his mum a foot spa. Alfie’s mum works incredibly hard in a horrible job, earning just enough to put food on the table, but little else. Alfie wants to give something to lift his mum’s spirits, something to soothe her permanently aching feet. He ends up answering a job advert, which is how he discovers the Unusual Cartography Club and its sole remaining member, Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvement. (It should be pointed out that the books don’t have much toilet humor in them but when they do it’s executed brilliantly).
The Unusual Cartography Club is about to have its debts to the local council foreclosed, potentially destroying an amazing place. In the basement of the Club’s building is a stone circle; one that can lead to anywhere in the galaxy. Realizing that whilst he may not get paid, he must not let the professor and his stone circle be bulldozed, Alfie decides to help save the building and the club. There then follow and interplanetary yomp, filled with dragons, heroic knights, vainglorious elves, and a girl called Derek.
Through a series of improbable escapades, needless to say, Derek, Alfie, and the Professor manage to save the Cartography Club and even get Alfie’s mum her foot spa. The book is a complete tale, but with a portal to an infinite repository of planets to draw on, book two was inevitable.
As book 2 opens, Alfie’s scheme to bring the Unusual Cartography Club up to date and into the world’s consciousness by converting it to a travel agency. Sadly, some unwelcome guests arrive to derail his beautifully laid plans. In this second installment, things start to become a little deeper, with the introduction of destiny and cosmic design, whilst still maintaining the first novel’s themes of honesty and friendship. Martin Howard has big plans for Alfie going forward, and I can’t wait to see what happens to him next.
Why Read the Alfie Fleet Series?
These books are out and out good fun without ever dumbing down for cheap laughs. Well, there is the odd Bowell-Mouvement gag, but even they have more class than much of the competition. There is a running joke in the books that the Professor always calls Alfie, “Rupert.” It shouldn’t be possible for this to remain funny over 600 pages and two books, but Martin Howard manages it, sending me and my son into fits of giggles on more than one occasion.
The books’ characters are wonderful. Silly, but also very human. Very silly but many of them embody the best of what humanity should be. The villains are dastardly and ever-entertaining too.
The most interesting thing that Howard’s multi-planet device gives him is the opportunity to create a swathe of fascinating and frankly bonkers worlds. Worlds filled with quirky geography, fantastic beasts, and crazy religions. Howard has taken his theme and run with it. Each new locale is a riot of the imagination (very much reminding me of my first ever GeekDad review, The Wonder) and, particularly in book 2, we can see just how the large the scope of Alfie’s universe might become. It’s wonderful and breathtaking.
It’s a testament to how good these books are, that whilst we were reading book 2, my son, picked up our copy of The Cosmic Atlas and started reading it, because he wanted to keep reading about Alfie but also didn’t want me to miss out. I’m 100% sure if you grabbed a copy of The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet, you’ll be as hooked as we were. If every book was as fun and engaging as the Alfie Fleet series getting children to read would be a whole lot easier.
If you enjoyed this review, you can check out my other Word Wednesday posts, here.
Disclosure: I received a copy of the first book in the Alfie Fleet series in order to write this review.