The Jolly Regina by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Jen Hill
Synopsis: This new series features the blandest sisters who ever embarked on a rollicking, swashbuckling, and entirely unintentional adventure
In the spirit of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters will captivate middle-grade readers looking for humor, hijinks, and a swashbuckling good time. Meet Jaundice and Kale Bland, two sisters who avoid excitement at any cost. Together, they patiently await the return of their parents, who left on an errand years ago and have never returned.
One day, the Bland sisters are kidnapped by an all-female band of pirates. They’re unwillingly swept into a high-seas romp that might just lead to solving the mystery of what happened to their parents. With whimsical illustrations and Roald Dahl–esque wit, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is the visually stunning, laugh-out-loud funny start to a new series for readers who are looking for an anything-but-bland adventure.
-Spoiler free review-
I found this book whilst doing research for a school project, and since I want to write a story about an all-female pirate crew, I thought I’d give this a read!
Obviously it is a children’s book, so it isn’t exactly the kind of thing I want to write, but I thought the characters and general atmosphere were so fun and engaging. This book absolutely plays on stereotypes. This is quite a key part of children’s literature, because they can identify well-known character tropes. The pirates in this were perhaps not as well-developed as I’m used to, but well enough to be fairly enjoyable. They were indeed fierce, and didn’t play by the rules. Their voices were also fantastic; lots of ‘arr’s’ and ‘matey’s’.
But whilst the stereotypes were fun, they did get a bit much. The character names were pretty lame if you ask me. If I were a 12-year-old* reading this, I would honestly feel patronised. It’s one thing to play on pirate stereotypes to make an easy read, but the names were almost painfully unoriginal. I couldn’t tell whether they were the character’s legitimate names, or just a nickname given to them after a particular incident/ because of one of their traits. (See: Fatima. How original, giving the ‘fat character’ the name ‘Fatima’. I can’t even pretend that this was just the name the author went for, regardless of whether the character was fat or not, because I’m pretty sure Fatima is a name from South Asian cultures (correct me if I’m wrong).)
The writing style felt right for the age range it is targeted to, it was easy to read, but not too easy. I absolutely loved the format of the definitions; it was a great way to teach children some new, interesting words. The dictionary feature didn’t feel forced, as it matched the two main characters very well.
Speaking of the two main characters, they were a little too bland for my liking. I understand that they go from ordinary to extraordinary, and this makes the adventures more relatable for the readers, but I would struggle to find any child who would relate to these characters. I’m nearly an adult, and I don’t enjoy plain oatmeal. The hyperbolic blandness of Jaundice and Kale almost felt like it was trying to be funny, but it wasn’t. Perhaps an experienced adult might find the premature worldliness to be amusing, but I didn’t, and I’m not sure an 8-year-old would either.
But once these boring characters got into their adventures, it became much more engaging. There was a promise of further adventures, so I imagine that Jaundice and Kale will slowly get pulled into a much more exciting lifestyle.
Oh! And the illustrations! In short: absolutely lovely. I wish more books had illustrations, even if they were just little things at the start of chapters. This book had both detailed illustrations of the characters and cute little drawings for the definitions at the start of every chapter. They gave the book so much character; I really enjoyed them!
Overall, this was a fun and enjoyable read, but I think if it were much longer I would have become very bored. I could stick out the parts I didn’t like partly because the storyline was genuinely interesting, but partly because the chapters were so short.
*I have seen people claim this book is for 8-12 years, and others say it is for 7-9 years. After a bit of digging, I found a blog post by the author that says it is indeed 8-12, so that clears that up. I’m not sure if I find 7-9 to be a more appropriate age range though.