I was very fortunate to win a set of the three Clifftoppers Adventures written by Fleur Hitchcock, in a Twitter giveaway, and thought I would take the opportunity to read them before placing them on the school library shelves.
What an absolute joy these books are, the epitome of pleasurable reads!
I can trace my own voracious reading habit back to my childhood “Blyton interregnum” (thank you Lucy Mangan for that magnificent description) and know how compelling child-centred adventures can be for an emerging reader. Fleur Hitchcock, a truly talented author, has created a series which serves up the delights of adult-free mystery solving in the beautiful British countryside. As I read these stories I could almost hear the cries of the seagulls and the rattling of the masts of the yachts in the harbour, smell the farmyard aromas and feel the sting of bonfire smoke in my eyes. They transported me back to carefree childhood summer holidays!
Each book is a self-contained adventure taking place while four cousins; brother and sister Ava and Josh, and only-children Aiden and Chloe get together at their grandparents’ farmhouse during the school holidays. Grandma Primrose and Grandpa Edward own Clifftopper Farm perched above Drake’s Bay, an idyllic getaway for their city-based grandchildren. Their farm dog Bella also plays a key role in the children’s adventures. The stories have a timeless feel to them and although the children are equipped with mobile phones, moorland and coastal locations seem to result in non-existent phone signals at key moments, which perfectly heightens the tension.
These books are just the right length for emerging independent readers to read for pleasure; the short, fast-paced chapters propel you through the story and provide a real sense of accomplishment as a young reader can complete one story in a relatively short time. Just make sure that you have the next one waiting for them on the bookshelf.
The Arrowhead Moor Adventure
Setting off on their first bike ride of the holiday, armed with a delicious picnic lunch (provided by Grandad, who refreshingly does all the cooking in this series) the children and Bella are almost run over by the impatient driver of a bright red sports car. Her aggressive manner immediately leads to suspicions in the children’s minds and when Aiden overhears her having a strange conversation with the owner of The Three Witches pub, followed by Chloe eavesdropping on a mysterious telephone conversation the children decide that the glamorous woman is up to no good.
Each of the four cousins has to call on reserves of determination and bravery as they pedal across moorland paths on the trail of jewel thieves and sheep rustlers, piecing together the clues to foil audacious crimes.
With short chapters, often ending on cliff-hangers, this is a book which provides an excellent introduction to the detective adventure genre and will have young readers avidly seeking out the next book in the series.
The Fire Bay Adventure
As the story opens the children have just arrived at the farmhouse on the day before the annual Drake’s Bay Fire Festival, at which a huge bonfire is ignited on the beach by villagers carrying flaming tar barrels on their heads. Josh, the youngest and most demanding of the cousins is rather put out to discover that his eldest cousin Ava may take part in the barrel running whilst he is firmly banned from doing so!
The story cleverly combines ancient and modern smuggling plots, with a long-forgotten secret passage which has become part of the local lore making a surprise appearance, a spate of suspicious fires breaking out and dodgy deals in electronic goods being transacted at the harbour. Again the four tenacious children, aided by Bella and a terrified homeless cat, piece together the clues, give chase to the villains and show the bravery and teamwork required to bring the smugglers to justice.
The Thorn Island Adventure
This is my favourite of the series so far, partly down to the addition of a map at the front of the book – I do love to pore over a map!
Published during lockdown, this adventure will allow young readers to vicariously enjoy a thrilling coastal getaway, even if they have spent the summer holiday firmly rooted at home. With echoes of Swallows and Amazons, the eldest of the cousins, Ava, demonstrates her prowess as a sailor in this adventure as the four children try to track down a stolen fishing boat but find themselves investigating a kidnapping.
Whilst scanning the bay and the little offshore Thorn Island in search of the missing fishing craft both Chloe and Josh spot a mysterious face in a tower window. They manage to persuade Ava and Aiden that there may be a link to the newspaper reports of a child abducted from super-rich parents in London. Their daring rescue mission will have readers breathlessly following the twists and turns required to outrun a ruthless gang on land and on sea!
I do hope that there will be further additions to the Clifftoppers series as these are books which I can imagine 8-11 year olds devouring more quickly than Josh can demolish a plate of Grandad’s scones!