When we heard that Candlewick was releasing a sequel to Ian Fleming’s world-renowned children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, ReadTheSpirit turned for help to Fleming scholar Benjamin Pratt and asked him to review this attempt to extend the Fleming legacy for a new generation. Then, Pratt wisely turned for help to a reader who knows even more about kids’ perspectives on books …
A Girl & Her Grandfather Review
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again
By BENJAMIN PRATT and MADDIE
Ian Fleming, the author who wrote the 007 tales, created the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for his son, Casper, when he was quite young. Fleming recorded the story years later while recovering from his first heart attack in 1961. The ever-popular story of Caractacus Pott’s family and their flying car was published in 1964. Recently, the Fleming family commissioned Frank Cottrell Boyce to write the sequel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again.
I reread the original along with Boyce’s sequel with the intent of writing a comparative review of the books. But, in the midst of my preparation, I noted that only adults had commented on this new novel, so far. That seemed off point, so I asked my 12-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, a rising 7th grader, to read the books and discuss them with me. The following exchange shows my lines in bold face and Maddie in plain text.
Maddie, thank you for joining me in this conversation. I know you read many books and have always been a good student. You told me earlier that you are currently re-reading The Help and that certainly is considered an adult book. What do you think of The Help?
Maddie: I like it and I like seeing how it was in the 1950s and ’60s. I can see how times and laws have changed in such a short amount of time. It is remarkable.
Yes, it is remarkable! I grew up in that era and I am amazed and grateful how far we have come as a people. What are some of the other books you have read?
Maddie: I have read The Twilight Series, The Hunger Games, The Lightning Thief series and most of the Harry Potter books plus some other adult books like The Glass Castle.
You’re well read! I am impressed. I chose the right person to discuss the Chitty Chitty tales. Tell me what you experienced reading these books.
Maddie: For some reason, I had trouble getting into both books. Once I got into the original story I started to like it—it has mystery, suspense and it is well written. It took me even longer to get into Flies Again, but it reminded me of the Baudelaire children in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both stories remind me of how each one of the children was good at a different thing as they tried to escape from someone who was trying to kill them. I really liked how the car had a mind of her own—it just happened to go where the family also wanted to go. I liked both books.
So, Maddie, what do you think your resistance was to getting into these books?
Maddie: These books just didn’t captivate me to begin with. This new book especially drags at the beginning. In both stories, once the car was taking over I began to get quite interested.
So, once you pushed yourself beyond the slow start, the story kicked into gear just like the car did. I, too, had much more difficulty getting into Flies Again—it was a long time until I began to recognize the rebuilding of Chitty Chitty. Did you notice that the first book is dedicated to Count Louis Zborowski?
Maddie: Yes, and in Flies Again his name was on all the parts—the engine, the headlamps, the wheels—as the car was reconstructing itself. Yes, I noticed that. It was imaginative. It gave the story a good foundation.
There are some details in Flies Again that young people may not recognize. One is the Aston Martin, a car driven by 007.
Maddie: I looked up the Aston Martin DB5, but I didn’t know that it was a James Bond car. Now that you tell me that I understand more about the story. When the parents are driving the Aston Martin they are always getting fired at as if they were James Bond. Are there other connections I might have missed?
People who love the James Bond movies will recognize the scene when a tarantula crawls across someone’s body. And the scene with the colossal squid? James Bond fans will think of Dr. No. The Bond movies always are full of clever inventions and gadgets; and Flies Again has some scenes that are quite, ahhh—
Maddie: Inventive! Like stealing the Sphinx and living on and steering a Giant Island—I did not see that coming. Or Tiny Jack being actually big or the Lego Helicopter and the Lego Bombs. Once you get into it, it captures your imagination. A kid could read this and imagine himself in a world with flying Lego cars. It was a fun book that—with the hard times of today—can be an escape for a lot of young readers. It helps us imagine another world where anything is possible.
That’s helpful to hear, because my greatest criticism of Flies Again was the almost overwhelming array of gadgets and gimmicks. I prefer the simpler plot of the original Chitty Chitty. You’re telling me that you enjoy all the clever twists and turns in Flies Again. Am I hearing you correctly? You’re recommending both books?
Maddie: Yes, I recommend both books but for different reasons. Flies Again is very inventive. It is just out there—sometimes outrageous and far-fetched. But Fleming’s first book? Chitty Chitty followed more of a mystery story line—it had a better plot.
In Flies Again, I think the most interesting quote is, “One day you will come to appreciate the romance, the glamour, the fineness of things that have outlived the moment.”
Maddie: Yes, you may not appreciate it now but in the future you will understand how special certain things are—like the beauty of the old car as it is recreated.
Or like having the opportunity to discuss books with your grandfather.
Maddie: Oh, that is one of the special moments I won’t outlive. Thank you for asking me.
Catch Up on All Things Bond … James Bond
We recommend Dr. Benjamin Pratt’s Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass. In addition to his long career as a pastoral counselor, Pratt is a literary scholar who has studied the work of Ian Fleming—and uncovered Fleming’s own plan to explore what Fleming himself called seven even deadlier sins in his spy novels. For those who know Fleming’s complete body of work, that was not a far-fetched leap in his literary career. Fleming actually published a 1962 collection of essays by top British writers that he called The Seven Deadly Sins. Pratt’s book has been enjoyed by small groups in several countries around the world (including New Zealand and Panama); and his book has been used in discussion groups among U.S. troops, led by a small group of Army chaplains who found the book helpful in preventing depression. It’s a pefect choice for an autumn discussion series and Bible study in your congregation—drawing extensively on the New Testament book of … what else? James.