(Note: This review also discusses Betsey's Birthday Surprise – ISBN: 9781782951889)
Magic Betsey and Betsey’s Birthday Surprise are two of five separate short story collections featuring Betsey Biggalow, from UK Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman. Betsey is a lovable little girl who lives in Barbados with her mum, grandma Liz, brother Desmond and sister Sherena, while her dad studies abroad to be a doctor. There are different stories in each book detailing Betsey’s experiences and adventures such as putting on a magic show for all the family in Magic Betsey and being tricked into thinking her family had forgotten her special day in Betsey’s Birthday Surprise.
Betsey was originally introduced to young readers in the mid 1990s and these re-released stories have been subtly updated for a new generation. For example, Betsey emails and Skypes with dad when he is away and there is casual mention of mobile phones and tablet devices that place these stories very much in the present day. Betsey and her family are all likable, familiar characters, and her adventures are very relatable and realistic. There hasbeen much recent discussion about the dearth of ethnically diverse characters in children’s books so it a pleasure to see a strong female protagonist from Barbardos used so effectively.
With clear, expressive illustrations by Jamie Smith, these warm and funny stories are ideal for building confidence and fluency in emergent readers, while also being a good choice for story time or shared reading.