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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
But Jasper Came Instead
by Christine Nostlinger
Age Range: 9-11
Ewald, Billie, Mum and Dad have agreed to take in Tom from England to stay with them in Vienna. The plan is that Tom will teach Ewald some English and improve his German, but when Tom breaks his leg, his brother Jasper comes instead! Jasper has some strange and unusual habits, like carrying his collection of stones around and stealing a bizarre array of food from the kitchen, leaving Mum and Dad baffled. Will Jasper ever become part of the family and will they learn to love his funny ways?
A quick and easy read, this book has a huge heart and is written with a great amount of sympathy, as well as a good eye for the comic. Characters such as Mum, Dad and Billie are brilliants caricatures of annoying parents and an irritating older sister, which should raise a few chuckles. Jasper’s complexities are slowly brought out as he goes from being a surly teenage boy to being very nice but somewhat troubled. Christine Nostlinger writes this really well, cleverly revealing more about Jasper as more of his background is alluded to, so the reader experiences Jasper from the same probably quite sceptical point of view as the family. Then the sucker punch of his home life is mentioned, showing that you shouldn’t judge someone until you know all the facts.
Nostlinger’s tone is very readable. Ewald, the narrator is really likeable and chats to the readers, making the book seem conversational, and Nostlinger writes convincingly about a teenage boy. Although it’s a short book and nothing seemed hard to read, it does deal with teenage characters and some of the more awkward aspects of family relationships such as divorce and strained parent/child relations, so the material may challenge some children rather than the level of the writing. Finally, the characters definitely behave as teenagers. There’s a reference to a sex and alcohol filled school trip that is very mild and only in passing but might seem a little adult for some children, the younger end of the age range.
Abby Phillips (2013)