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Victor the Volcano

Jerram ErdosMany childrens’ books convert inanimate objects into characters. Thomas the Tank Engine is the one that springs to my mind first, along with Bob and his mechanical mates from the building site. But Dougal Jerram is breaking new ground, in this household at least, by casting a volcano as the star of his new book.

The story follows Victor, a frustrated inactive cone from the Italian island of Vulcano (where else?) as he follows his Uncle Etna’s advice to consult other volcanoes round the world about how he too can become properly explosive. He heads off to Mexico first, to speak with Pedro Popocatepetl, followed by a tour that takes in Kimmy Kilimanjaro, Emily Erebus in the South Pole, Freddy Fuji, and finally Iceland Izzy on the mid-Atlantic ridge. The itinerary basically serves to pass Victor onto the next stopping point, and uses the encounters to showcase the variety of environments in which significant peaks are found.

The volcanoes all speak in rhyming verse and the jolly, childlike paint and pastel sketches add to the building picture of worldwide volcanicity. However a couple of the visits are to summits that, although well-known, are hardly currently qualified to advise Victor about the joy of magma. Jerram does acknowledge that Kilimanjaro is currently so iced up that her lava flows might struggle to escape, but the scientific saddo in me did wonder – why didn’t he just choose another currently active volcano? (I had to check: the highest peak of Kilimanjaro is Kibo, which last erupted 200 years ago). Clearly activity comes and activity goes, but Kilimanjaro seems pretty out of practice in the art of lava-creation. A stop at Hawaii, to Kilauea perhaps, would have meant that any further searches by interested children and their parents would be rewarded with clips of steaming lava. Fuji, similarly, last erupted in 1708, but Freddy Fuji earns his place with a violent earthquake and so makes up in seismicity what he lacks in effusions.

As the audience for which this book is intended is a lot younger (and less cynical) than I am, I passed it to my son Finn. At 10, increasingly self-aware and having just finished reading the latest Rick Riordan novel and The Hunger Games, he was keen that I stressed that this book wouldn’t be his normal choice of reading matter. But he likes a bit of geology, and was happy to offer his opinions. Here is what he said about Victor Volcano.

“I like this as it’s a story with facts in so will help children to learn. The personification (his word, honest) is a clever way to bring geology alive for children. I’d say that this book is going to be good for age 4-7. Younger children will like listening to it, and older ones will enjoy learning about volcanoes as they read it themselves.”

And then, to remind me of just how old I am, he came out with this clincher: “I really like the expression on Victor’s face when he’s about to blow up at the end. He’s been made to look constipated!” 

Reviewed by Judi and Finn Barrett.

VICTOR THEVOLCANO by DOUGAL JERRAM, Illustrated by David Erdos. Rudling House Publishing Ltd 2015.  18pp, sbk.  ISBN 978-0-9928689-3-2 W: www.rudlinghouse,com; Retail Price: £6.99.