Does anyone actually remember aniseed balls? Do they even still sell them? They seem to be one of those things that have fallen out of fashion since I was a kid. I can’t really remember whether I liked them or not, though I vaguely remember that they have something in the middle a bit like one of those silver balls you put on cakes.
Anyway, I only ask, because aniseed balls play a key part in Follow That Bus! by Pat Hutchins. I chose this as the next installment of Bookworm, because the illustrations are by Laurence Hutchins, who also drew those in Flossie Teacake’s Fur Coat.
Follow That Bus! Is a great adventure story for kids. It has bank robbers, mistaken identity, kidnapping, baddies in (bad) disguise, a car/tractor chase, a hilarious policeman and a pack of dogs. And aniseed balls. The story takes place on a school trip to the farm, when the class unwittingly becomes embroiled in a bank robbery, which of course, they eventually foil to become the heroes of the day.
It’s genuinely funny. There are some great characters amongst the children – particularly the determined Avril and the fanciful Jessica, who will make kids chuckle as well as working well to move the story along. The best character by far is the bumbling community policeman – I can vividly remember reading this part to my younger sister when she was probably 6 and I was 12, and us both being doubled up with laughter.
And of course, one of the best things about the book are the great illustrations by Laurence Hutchins (Pat’s husband). The front cover alone is enough to make you pick up the book, but the black and white pictures are full of humour and energy and have an almost comic book feel to them, matching the story perfectly.
So, about the aniseed balls. Without giving it all away, they are important in catching the bad guys. So I did find myself having to attempt to hazily describe them when I read the book with my son (“they’re sweets” is apparently not a satisfactory answer). But where aniseed balls do seem to have largely disappeared, Follow That Bus! remains in print, 41 years after it was first written in 1977. This is probably because (aniseed excepted) there is very little in the story to suggest the era. It reads pretty much like a book that was written recently. Even the drawings hold up. Pat and Laurence Hutchins produced two other books which I believe feature the same class on different adventures: The Mona Lisa mystery and The Curse of the Egyptian Mummy. Much like aniseed balls, I can’t honestly remember if I liked these ones or not… But I do have very fond memories of Follow That Bus!