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Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
@stevewh16944270
12:00 AM 17th June 2024
arts

Children’s Book Review: Edward Pureheart And The Forever Children By Jennifer Munro

 
In a market surfeited with children’s books of good intention but variable quality, it is liberating to find a genuinely affecting story, sincerely told and with sufficient animation to hold a young reader’s attention throughout. And in Jennifer Munro’s Edward Pureheart - a carousel horse with fabulous livery and a hopeful disposition – we find a microcosmic universe of laughter, misfortune and effortless warmth, but most of all love.

Edward’s journey begins in a Texan fairground, where, like Pinocchio, he is lovingly carved by a master carpenter to become the showpiece of the Lone Star carousel. Taking his name from Jim Broadbent’s little son, who dies in an accident, Edward is the bearer of a concealed wooden heart which serves to actuate an emotional connection, especially with children, that becomes his overwhelming raison d’etre. Striving to find a lasting emotional bond with a ‘forever child’, Edward’s adventures take him across the US, from barn to bedroom, to disused workshop. The characters he meets along the way, are, by turns, cheerful (Benny), picaresque (Skinny Steve), and feckless but loving (Whiskers and Dolly). But the host of children who, in their innocence, intuit Edward’s thoughts and communicate with him, eventually succumb to experience and adulthood, and thereby compromise the ‘heart’ which is a precondition of shared love.

That Edward’s odyssey spans more than a century gives latitude to explore a world in flux: the dramatis personae fall away like the frames of a newsreel, and it is Jennifer Munro’s great gift to yield, by subtle insinuation, a sustained image of a nation in temporal motion whose vagaries do not compromise the moral core of her narrative. And if the story is in some sense fabular, its central philosophical underpinnings never waver: here, we find acceptance, warmth and a shared sense of purpose, whose foregrounding, in character, mitigates the omnipresence of venality, greed and ignorance... as it should.

And the greatest lesson that Edward learns, as the narrative eventually transports him across the Atlantic to a London of the present, and the home of the little girl, Kate, is one he discovers at the very beginning:

‘I didn’t know then that you can seldom go back to the happy places and experience the same joys as before. People and places change, life moves forward in a fairly straight line.'

If the story is characterised by an odd hybrid of Anglo-American cultural tokens – several of the main ‘actors’ have regional English surnames, and the linguistic registers are, on the whole, of this side of the water – then disbelief suspension is rendered more elastic in the knowledge that the book is aimed at children. That it also glows with kindness and warmth, and ensures that the most marginal amongst us are often the most susceptible to the heart’s blandishments, is a credit to the writer’s – who lends her narrative voice to the primary characters – perspicacity and humility.

A word for the illustrator, Pieter van Tonder, whose compendium of colourful caricatures accompany the text, and open a beguiling window on a fitting children’s story for our times.


Edward Pureheart and the Forever Children, by Jennifer Munro and Illustrated by Pieter van Tonder is published by Edward PHP Ltd. (2024)