Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Operation Eiffel Tower by Elen Caldecott

Operation Eiffel Tower is a modern day, family drama. The story and characters are all believable and as a reader you very quickly get drawn in and involved in the family that is at the heart of this story and the events that unfold. 
In the first chapter we are introduced to the family, who live in a seaside town, where, Jack (the main character) helps out at the crazy golf course. The story opens as Jack hits his golf ball triumphantly into the final 18th hole, right between the feet of the Statue of Liberty, whilst his older sister Lauren sits nearby, engrossed in Teen Thing magazine. Caldecott's style in this opening chapter lulls you into thinking that this might be a likeable, lightly amusing tale of a family with little money to spare. However,  the final sentence though suggests otherwise 
“Her shift was officially over. She smiled and waved at Jack and Ruby. Now they could all go home. Jack felt his heart sink.”
We soon learn that the children's parents argue. Sometimes it's so bad that Ruby gets afraid and goes to sleep in Jack's bed. In fact it becomes so bad that Dad moves out. Then, the four children fear that Dad will never come home and so they launch Operation Eiffel Tower - a surefire plan to get their parents back together...
Jack's email correspondence with Paul and the concluding events in the story make some interesting points about conflict and reconciliation.
The story itself is beautifully told. Caldecott really does use her style of language to create mood and emotion. As a reader, through the writing you can at one minute be relaxed and enjoy the gentle and often touching scenes between brother and sister, next you are jolted into a sudden foreboding much in the same way as a film watcher anticipates events through the music. For example, in chapter 10 Caldecott creates a light, fun-loving atmosphere, in her description of Jack.
'Jack Froze. He was stiller than a moon rock. He was more frozen than a moon rock in a fridge-freezer. He was more silent than a sulking moon rock in a fridge-freezer.'

Next, when the children return home, the use of the short sentence - 'Then Jack stopped' - creates a sudden and abrupt change in mood. At this point, and throughout the whole book, Caldecott uses style of language to echo Jack's emotions. This makes the book ideal for using in years 5 and 6 not only for guided/independent reading but also as a model for children's own writing when looking at varying sentence length for effect.

This book is just so brilliantly observed. Each of the children react slightly differently to the crisis in their parents' marriage. Jack, the central character, is old enough to fully understand the implications for the family and he is in denial. He wants his parents to stay together at all costs and he'd do anything to make that happen. Ruby, on the other hand,  is much younger and still jealous at being supplanted by Billy as the baby of the family. So her idea to raise cash for the trip to Paris is simply to sell Billy to a prospective adopting couple. Again, the characterisation throughout the book lends itself to whole class and/or group discussions. As a read, the book is accessible and a relatively easy read but this is what makes it the ideal text to use when discussing more complex issues such as author's use of language, themes and characterisation.
It is easy to read and it is funny at times and desperately sad at others: a real roller coaster for the emotions. Eventually though, despite a change of plan, the book arrives at what is probably the best ending possible;a note of realistic hope for everyone.
The cover of the book includes a booksellers caption ' perfect for Jacqueline Wilson fans'. Whilst I do not disagree with this, there is a chance that children who are not Jacqueline Wilson fans (and many boys aren't because the protagonists of most of her stories are female) might be put off. This book will appeal to a wider range of readers, boys and girls alike, as the protagonist is male; the drama is fast paced and there are references to the army as well as themes that many contemporary children will be able to relate to.

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4088-0573-2

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