Saturday, 10 June 2017

Book Review: 'Cogheart' by Peter Bunzl

I must admit that I was skeptical about reading 'Cogheart' in the way that I'm skeptical about most popular things. That attitude probably comes from the regular confusion I feel when I hear the music that gets into the charts - how can so many people be so wrong?

However, I laid aside my misgivings, trusted the scores of teachers (on Twitter) who actually bother to read children's books and picked up a copy of Peter Bunzl's debut effort.

With its oh-so-en-vogue strong female lead (Lily will be held up as a role-model for my three girls) this rip-roaring adventure travels through a steam-powered, alternative-history Victorian landscape which is largely signified by the plethora of airships and steam-powered vehicles. Oh and the automatons.

And it's the book's wonderful 'mechanicals' and 'mechanimals' who steal the show. They are clockwork machines, robots essentially, who have been created largely to perform menial tasks - cook, butler, chauffeur and so on. Malkin, a mechanical fox and one of the book's most integral characters, is a little different - he was created as a companion. 

As a teacher I'm always on the look-out for books with the potential to provoke discussion and exploration of contemporary issues. In 'Cogheart' it's the relationship between humans and mechanicals that provides the most scope for developing empathy in children. The book provides a safe space to discuss why people use difference as an excuse for hatred. The fact that the book portrays the automatons to display more feelings than some of the human characters leaves the reader thinkingthat the machines really should be treated equally - children would enjoy debating this issue, and without belittling issues such as slavery, racism, sexism and so on, they could easily be introduced to the arguments and ideas behind the need for equality.

Without spoiling the story too much there are also multiple opportunities to explore moral dilemmas as the characters have to make decisions where neither option is particularly inviting.

Key stage 2 children will love the pacy action and the danger at every turn but you might want to be careful who you recommend it to - it deals a lot with death of family members. All in all, 'Cogheart' is a brilliant story of good triumphing over the considerably stronger evil of some truly fearsome criminals and is a portrait painted especially for children of how greed and desire corrupts. Definitely worth a read - I'm glad I followed the crowd!

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