Names can give such a wonderful insight into characters. Think about the name Jeremiah Obadiah Jackenory Jones. A boy with such a impressive name must be a determined type of fellow don’t you agree? Jeremiah is on a quest. Nothing will deter him. His grandmother has just baked some jam tarts with crisp pastry edges and strawberry jam all dark and delicious from the baking. While the tarts are cooling on the kitchen windowsill they are stolen. Grandma “was the cleverest and bravest lady of her age for many miles around. She could add up numbers faster than a blink, climb trees like a squirrel and flight wolves and crocodiles with her bare hands and a handbag, when she had to. But her strength was mostly in her arms; she wasn’t good at walking and she couldn’t really run at all.” Thus the task of tracking down the no good robber falls to young Jeremiah and so he sets off through the woods his boot crunching on the dry leaves.
Along the way Jeremiah meets three bears, five gorillas, a frog prince, a wolf, a dinosaur, a Mad Hatter and a crocodile with a clock in it. Some of these characters are helpful while others have their own motives. Jeremiah must be brave and astute if he is to sort out this mystery.
Every year for the last twenty years I have read Jeremiah in the Dark woods by Janet and Allan Ahlberg to classes of young readers. This book is perfect to read aloud. I adore doing all the character voices along with hearing children identify the fairy tale references and often solving the mystery before Jeremiah does so himself. My most favourite scene is when Jeremiah meets the crocodile. He is a laconic figure intent on luring Jeremiah to come closer. “Come and sit beside me here and we will discuss the matter. But Jeremiah did no such thing; he knew all about crocodiles.”
The other very special character is the dinosaur – he is a loyal friend to Jeremiah and he plays a vital part in solving the crime. Being a book by the Ahlbergs the illustrations are filled with warm details. A good example of this is the front cover but you might also take a look at the scene where Jeremiah sits beside the river cooling his feet. You can see his boots, socks, peaches from a nearby tree and two little hedgehogs holding hands and wearing their best hats!! The hedgehogs are not mentioned at all in the text and nor is the little mouse hiding in the rushes at the side of the river!
Read this book with a special friend and a plate of warm jam tarts. This is quite simply a delicious story. Then look for other books by the Ahlbergs along with Jam by Margaret Mahy.