Fergus Crane by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
When Fergus Crane first appeared it seemed like a real game changer and firmly established the Stewart-Riddell ethos of beautiful illustrated books for older children, which they had, of course acknowledged with the advent of the Edge Chronicles a few years before. Fergus is aimed at a younger audience yet it still has a beautiful map, a portrait of every character and the kind of illustrations that enhance a story and bring it to life. The original hardback was a thing of solid beauty that was a great treasure to recommend to a young boy in much the same way as Ottoline & Goth Girl is for today's audience of girls (though with many a brother leaning over their shoulder, I hope.)
Fergus is a complex book with many threads of story to keep track of, and as such I think it is a great read aloud book for parents to experience with their children. It has an accessible central plot. The boy and his poor mother are struggling to get by, since Mr Crane disappeared on one of his many explorations years before. Fergus attends a school in the harbour with other honest waifs and strays. His humdrum life is brightened by the nocturnal appearance of a flying box at his bedroom window every night. When the message inside tells him he is in great danger, the story bursts into action with a flying mechanical horse, nefarious pirates (not very well disguised), volcanoes, danger, some unexpected penguins, treasure, a ship-wrecked sailor and adventures that Indiana Jones would have liked to read as a young boy.
So many loose ends get happily tied up that the world seems a better place for having this book in it. But Wait! There is more! Corby Flood and Hugo Pepper deliver more tales set in the archipelagos of the Far-Flung Islands.
If you seek more piratical derring-do track down the Kate Greenaway Award-winning Pirate Diary, or throw yourself in at the deep end of the Edge Chronicles series with Doombringer...