Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Ian Fleming I have a father who's a car nut. It's probably nicer to phrase that "automobile affictionado" - but you get the idea. At first I tried to tell myself that dad's hobby was a lot more casual - but then I'd have to assume that everyone's parents get into arguments about washing engine parts in the kitchen sink and having a two car garage that's permanently one car because something without wheels is permanently parked in one half of it. (They're still married and happy, btw.) This also means that I know what it's like to spend a Saturday (in 90 degree weather) in a junkyard looking for an old gearshift, and that I knew from an early age the difference between a phillips and a flathead when handing tools to my dad. Still can't change my own oil - but that's mostly because I really don't want to. Dad actually did teach me the why's of that.Anyway. This all leads up to the fact that I adored the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and when Scholastic printed up the book that was its origin I was there to buy and read it. (Afterwards it ended up with all the other books I didn't reread often enough - in my mother's classroom, where other kids read it to death - which is a good fate, really - even though I did sneak back and save some of my old books from disintegration.). So my star rating on this is mainly from nostalgia and what I remember about my reasons for liking the story.Reread timing completely due to an ebook sale on Amazon that was low enough to have me say "oh why not." It's the illustrated version here (it was $2, which was too low to resist).Interesting fact - it took me decades to realize that the author was the same guy who wrote the James Bond books. This was the days before google, back in the 70s. At best you could check if there was more in the school library or if the Scholastic catalog had any other books by the author. Unless you went around questioning adults after that, you were out of luck.) Other fun bit, wikipedia (check links below for photos):"Fleming, better known as the creator of James Bond, took his inspiration for the subject from a series of aero-engined racing cars called "Chitty Bang Bang", built by Count Louis Zborowski in the early 1920s at Higham Park. Fleming had known Higham Park as a guest of its later owner, Walter Wigham, chairman of Robert Fleming & Co."See also: Zborowski and the Chitty Bang Bangs"The wealthy son of a Polish Count and an American mother, Louis Zboroswki lived at Higham Place a large country house near Canterbury where with his engineer Captain Clive Gallop he built three aero-engined cars, all called Chitty Bang Bang and a fourth monster the Higham Special, later known as Babs - the car in which Parry Thomas died at Pendine Sands in 1927 during his final land speed record attempt."What Would Bond, James Bond, Drive?"Chitty I was later owned by Denis and Adrian Conan Doyle" - sons of Arthur Conan Doyle. And thus we have the story tied to both James Bond and Sherlock Homes, randomly.So I love Chitty Chitty. This is in no small part because she's a sentient being, and because she can fly. Oops, spoiler. The car that an do magical things/has cool gadgets is probably the same reason I also liked Speed Racer (1950s era anime), and then grew up to love the cars/gadgets in James Bond. It's still fun to drive a strange car that's not mine and look at unfamiliar buttons and dials and wonder what each one is for.So about the book. If you've seen the movie you only have some idea what to expect, because it's not much like the movie. [wikipedia: book, movie] Oh there are bits here and there that you'll recognize. The book has gangsters (Joe the Monster and gang) and lots of guns and explosives and a kidnapping of the two children. (More on how scary that really is in a bit.)The Child Catcher from the filmHowever the movie has The Child Catcher (it has its own wikipedia page!), the idea and visuals of which I've still not gotten over, and I was fairly old when I saw it. I sort of think the book would give you nightmares only if something like Columbo or the A Team episodes scare you - and my examples are old on purpose, because like them the story doesn't seem set in the modern world (a lot of the 70s and 80s tv always felt that way, actually). The book's set in England and France of the 1960s and it seems eons away from our present day, and thus not scary in comparison. Now the film's Child Catcher is something I could still conceivably have nightmares about. Because you sort of get the feeling he takes the children away to be eaten. No he doesn't and that's not in the film, but a younger me felt this could possibly happen (especially after he cages up the children; heavy Hansel and Gretal's witch vibe there) - ugh, he is a Creepy Thing. It's partly the actor's ability to move in such a way - he had a wonderful/horrible way of jumping and creeping and moving - now that I know he was a dancer this makes a lot of sense. Anyway, as an adult I can see he did an amazing job with the part. And I'm still creeped out.What explains the creepiness of the Child Catcher? The screen play was written by Roald Dahl (via wikpedia info). I feel like this information makes the entire universe fall into place. (Whether you understand that depends on how much Dahl you've read!) Well, it explains this movie mystery/weirdness anyway.The Child Catcher on Entertainment Weekly's 50 Most Vile Movie Villians:THE CHILD CATCHERRobert Helpmann (wikipedia, actor playing Child Catcher)Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)Kids, this is why you should never take sweets from strangers. The child catcher (played with an odd, leaping gracefulness by ballet dancer Robert Helpmann) is a grotesque-looking fellow with a Cyrano-size nose who takes a perverse glee in sniffing out and capturing hidden children in Vulgaria, a fairy-tale land where kids are verboten. That candy vendor disguise shouldn't have fooled anybody, but it works on Dick Van Dyke's tots, as the child catcher hauls them away screaming in a scene guaranteed to give young viewers nightmares. —Gary SusmanSo, back to the book.Humorously, this is indeed a book that will allow your children to learn the names of various explosives (and old fashioned slang, like "soap" once meaning gelignite) and burglars' tools (like a "jemmy") - but honestly it's the same sort of information you'd learn from many James Bond films, not to mention evening tv dramas (NCIS, CSI, etc.). Except for this slang you'd need to watch some old gangster movies for this sort of jargon.For some reason Chitty's name is always capitalized - as in the entire name is in all caps. Never did understand that.The main problem with the book's action? The dire peril doesn't seem perilous. The children are so non-phased by kidnapping that they sleep during part of it, because they are completely sure that their parents will be along soon to rescue them. And Flemming is in on the joke, because every time he notes that there is danger - often right before a chapter ends - you don't have any fear that anything horrible will happen, because it never does. No one is hurt or deeply scared or even frightened much. This makes for a fairly tame read and thus it's going to bore children anywhere near 9-12. Unless they really really love flying cars. That idea alone still made it fun to read. And to remember how much I daydreamed about how cool that would be. Note: You can REALLY tell that this is an adult daydream of Flemming's because one of the adventures is an escape from a really really long traffic jam on the way to the beach. What adult wouldn't want a flying car to escape traffic?!But OMG I had completely forgotten that there's a recipe for fudge in the book (96% in, after the candy store part). Now I love the book dearly. Yes, I am easy, I can be bought into even deeper nostalgia with a recipe involving chocolate.Some quotes to give you an idea of the writing and content:12% in after Commander Pott comes up with the money to buy a car, they go car shopping. And in one very unlikely place:"...From the way the garage man had behaved, they thought there must be some splendid treasure of a car under the tarpaulin. But what did they see? A wreck - that's all. Just the remains, rusty and broken and bent, of a very long, low, four-seater, open motor-car without a hood and with the green paint peeling off in strips."Well, there she is," said the garage man sadly. She once knew every racing-track in Europe. In the old days there wasn't a famous driver in Britain who hadn't driven her at one time or another. She's still wearing England's racing green, as you can see - that was from early in the thirties. She's a twelve-cylinder, eight-litre, supercharged Paragon Panther. They only made one of them and then the firm went broke. This is the only one in the world. Doesn't look like much, does she? I'm afraid she's due for the scrap-heap. Can't afford to go on giving her living space. They're coming to tow her away next week, as a matter of fact - take her to the dump, pick her up in a big grab and drop her between one of those giant hydraulic presses. One crunch and it just squashes them into a sort of metal biscuit. Then she'll go to a smelting works to be melted down just for the raw metal. Seems a shame, doesn't it? You can almost see from her eyes - those big Marchal racing headlights - that she knows what's in store for her. But there it is. You can see the shape she's in, and it would need hundreds of pounds to get her on the road again - even supposing there was someone nowadays who could afford her."...The children looked at Mimsie, and Mimsie looked back and them, and do you know what? They didn't just dolefully shake their heads at each other. They all had the same look in their eyes. The look said, "This must once have been the most beautiful car in the world. If the engine's more or less all right and if we all set to and scrubbed and painted and mended and polished, do you suppose we could put her back as she used to be? It wouldn't be like having just one of those black beetles that the factories turn out in hundreds and thousands and that all look alike. We'd have a real jewel of a car, something to love and cherish and look after as if it was one of the family!" ...And do you know? There were almost tears of happiness in the garage man's eyes as he shook them all by the hand. As they climbed into their taxi to go off home, he said seriously, "Commander Pott, Mrs. Pott, Master Pott, and Miss Pott, you will never regret buying that car. She's going to give you the time of your lives. You've saved her from the scrap-heap, and I'll eat my hat - if I had a hat to eat - if she doesn't repay you for what you've done today." He was still waving happily after them when they drove out of sight."After the rebuild (which is mostly "off screen"), 20% in:"And Commander Caractacus Pott said mysteriously, "Well, that's good. But I'm warning you. There's something odd about this car. I've put all I know into her, every invention and improvement I could think of, and quite a lot of the thousand pounds we got from the Skrumshus people, but there's more to it than that. She's got some ideas of her own.""How do you mean?" they all chorused."Well," said Commander Pott carefully, "I can't exactly say, but sometimes, in the morning when I came back to get to work again, I'd find that certain modifications, certain changes, had, so to speak, taken place all by themselves during the night, when I wasn't there. Certain - what shall I say? - rather revolutionary and extraordinary adaptations. I can't say more than that, and I haven't really got to the bottom of it all, but I suspect that this motor-car has thought out, all by herself, certain improvements, certain very extraordinary mechanical devices, just as if she had a mind of her own, just as if she was grateful to us for saving her life, so to speak, and wanted to repay all the loving care we've given her. And there's another thing. You see all those rows and rows of knobs and buttons and levers and little lights on the dashboard? Well, to tell you the truth, I just haven't been able to discover what they're all for. I know the obvious ones of course, but there are some of those gadgets that seem to be secret gadgets. We'll find out what they're for in time, I suppose, but for now I'll admit that there are quite a lot of them that have got me really puzzled. She just won't let me find out." "84% in, kidnapped children have breakfast (to give you an idea of the trauma they're suffering and thus how scary the story is at this point):"A French breakfast is very different from an English one. To begin with, French bread, instead of being in loaves, comes in long, thin shapes about the length and width of a policeman's truncheon, and it's mostly crust, but very delicious crust. The big slab of French butter tasted much more like farm butter than most of the stuff we get in England, and the strawberry jam was very syrupy, like all French jams, but full of big, fat strawberries. The coffee with milk, which the French call cafe au lait, was, if you happen to like coffee, better than the wishy-washy stuff you often get in England. So after a bit of rather cautious experimenting, Jeremy and Jemima set to with a will, and in between mouthfuls whispered their thoughts and fears about Joe the Monster's plans."