Reviewed by Deb Banasko
Like every parent in the UK right now, the novelty of home schooling and playing teacher has well and truly worn off. I am willing, no desperate for any new ideas that can unite the teaching of my two oldest children; providing work to satisfy an 8 year old girl and 5 year old boy at the same time is an effort. I have tended to follow the schools work provision, but when the offer of a new book to review came up it seemed like an excellent idea for a project on which to base some writing and art activities. And if that didn’t go to plan, then it’s actually nice to just sit down and read a book with your kids and pretend that this lock-down isn’t happening! We are a family who visit our local library weekly so these past few weeks have been a test as I have read the same books over and over to my 5 and 2 year old boys!
The only time I read to my eldest child nowadays is at bedtime, where we usually cover a chapter or two of a David Walliams or a Roald Dahl book… then she pops off to bed to read some Harry Potter by herself. It has actually been nice to cuddle up on the sofa during the day and read a book that we can all enjoy (once the two year old is having a snooze), as well as trying something from a new author; we do tend to get our favourites and stick with them.
Now this book is aimed at 7-12 year old’s, but I felt that my 5 year old son would also be able to listen in with his sister as I could explain the story as we went along if need be.
The hard-backed front cover is predominantly greys and purples, which is perfect as it doesn’t dictate or stereotype who the intended reader should be, so it is attractive to both girls and boys. It perhaps isn’t the most striking colour choice, but there is something about the illustration of the wizard that does draw me in. Let’s be honest with a bonkers title like this, you have to take a look!
Whilst this is a book for older children who don’t require illustrations, I do like that the front couple of pages have pictures of the main characters to help kick-start the readers imagination. My kids love looking at the characters before they read so this is always a welcome feature in a book for us. It actually gets them quite excited!
The story centres around 12 year old Minty Taylor, who stumbles upon a coin that transports her into the world of Mug The Wumph, a Wizard who can create magic when he dances. Minty learns that the evil Wizard Grimacant may be responsible for the disappearance of several children from two local schools, including her best friends, and she must help Mug the Wumph to track them down and defeat Grimacant. It is a tale of magic spells, weird creatures and good versus evil.
This is absolutely a book aimed at both boys and girls. The female lead character is brave, loyal and pretty smart for a 12 year old; the kind of character that children love. Mug the Wumph comes to trust and rely on Minty, and again I think children of the target age range will love the idea of a tough 12 year old who doesn’t conform to a female stereotype and helps to save the day. The characters of Cupro Blue (the cat), and the Concur bird are really welcome additions and make the story that bit “different”.
What struck me most about this book is the level of description and language used. It is not a quick read, as you do need to pour carefully over it as your imagination gets to work so that you can see what Rowley sees. This isn’t a negative, it just takes a couple of chapters to adjust to her style. It is along the lines of a Harry Potter, where the description is key to telling the tale correctly enabling you to see the magical world she describes. However the similarities end there; this is a unique story in it’s own right.
I did have to explain some of the words to my children, but tried to get the balance right as doing this too much can interrupt the flow of the story. They still managed to understand what was going on, as Rowley seems to explain ideas in such great detail that children can appreciate what is happening even if not every word is fully understood. On several occasions Rowley cleverly manages to reiterate a key idea or concept to ensure that the reader has fully grasped what is happening (I noticed this when she was explaining how Mug the Wumph met Cupro Blue, for example). She has an ability to take the reader along with her, and thus caters for a wide age range.
Many years ago I completed a PGCE in secondary education and I was told by an amazing teacher never to dumb down my language when teaching, as it’s important that we open children’s minds up to wide and varied vocabulary. The trick apparently is to back up any difficult vocabulary with an explanation or simpler word in order to make sure that everyone keeps up. I have never forgotten that. Reading this book really cast my mind back to that conversation and reflects the advice, as it really does challenge the reader and introduce so many lovely descriptive ideas without crossing the line into “waffle”. Every detail felt relevant.
The story was extremely fast paced which is fantastic, I really loved reading this to the kids. The action started just a few pages in, and didn’t stop. There were continuous “reveals” and new spells or creatures as you are transported to another world. I loved the magic and wizardry; there was so much action rather than one dramatic build up.
It would have perhaps been more exciting to have a dramatic grand reveal to the identity of Grimacant’s female accomplice. Instead it is hinted at early on by Minty, and I think more suspense would have been welcome.
Interestingly there were still unanswered questions regarding a character named Griselda who was discussed frequently but we never met, and (spoiler alert) the ending allowed scope for at least a couple more books in this series. I would not hesitate to buy them, and would genuinely love to read more about Minty and her Dancing Wizard friend to my children.
My 5 year old loved this story and managed to draw some lovely pictures and wrote me a fantastic description of Mug the Wumph. However this was more a book for my 8 year old, and she was so invested in the story that we managed to come up with some fantastic writing opportunities.We discussed what would happen next for the three principal characters and chose one to write a chapter about. My daughter also decided to write about why Grimacant became evil and more about his back-story, and we all had a chat about alternate endings. Naturally both children wrote a book review to be like Mummy!
There are lots of new words for my daughter to “steal” from this book for her own writing, and she even commented on some of the descriptions and words that she fancied using (she wrote some down actually).
We thoroughly enjoyed this book and had a real adventure reading it together! It led to some gorgeous conversations about magical lands and wizards, and gave a real much needed boost of energy to our week.
If you have children who love magic and adventure, buy this book! I would award Mug The Wumph The Dancing Wizard 5 stars out of 5, and we all look forward to book 2!
Rating: 5/5 stars
RRP: £17.99 hardcover
This book is currently available on Amazon for £14.38 here.