Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City by Rob Biddulph

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2021.

My son and I have long been fans of Rob Biddulph’s picture books so I was really excited to learn that he had written a middle grade book and delighted to get my hands on an advance copy.

Peanut Jones is not happy. Her dad is missing. He mysteriously disappeared a year ago and, while her mom has come to believe that he’s abandoned his family, Peanut is not buying it. For him to vanish is completely out of character and Peanut suspects foul play. To make matters worse, Peanut has had to move schools and now attends St Hubert’s School for the Seriously Scientific and Terminally Mathematic. It’s a far cry from Melody High where Peanut had flourished and been encouraged in all her artistic endeavours.

When Peanut finds a bright yellow pencil, everything changes. She discovers that it’s a magic pencil; whatever she draws becomes real. She draws a door and it opens to another world called Chroma. Chroma is the source of all artistic creativity. Yet it’s under threat and has become full of dangerous enemies. And so begins an exciting adventure as Peanut searches this perilous world for clues to her dad’s whereabouts. She is joined on her quest by her study buddy Rockwell, Little Bit (her genius five-year-old sister) and Doodle the dog.

As you’d imagine, the book is packed with fabulous illustrations. I loved seeing the Illustrated City and all the characters in it brought so vividly to life. As we’ve come to expect from Rob’s illustrations, there are lots of hidden details in the pictures. There are also Easter eggs (or clues to the plot) that you notice when you look back through the illustrations after you’ve finished the book (a portrait of Queen Victoria in Peanut’s dad’s art studio, the number 72 on the train engine post-it…) I also enjoyed spotting references to Rob’s other creations (the Penguin Blue postcard in Peanut’s bedroom) and the whale from his record breaking draw-along on Peanut’s desk.

Throughout Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City there are lots of wonderful references to art history, both in the names of places and in plot details, as well as in the illustrations themselves. There are twelve different districts to the city, each with its own distinct artistic style ranging from the chaotic Strip where everyone’s conversations are displayed in speech bubbles, to Vincent Fields which is full of cornfields, sunflowers and haystacks. Then there’s the Cute Quarter which is very reminiscent of the Japanese Kawaii aesthetic, and the Light District which is like stepping into a painting by Monet.

The book is also rich in STEM details and I loved how Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City demonstrates that creative thinking is not just confined to art.

Another of the book’s themes is friendship. It was great watching the relationship develop between Peanut and Rockwell – two fully realised characters who I’m in love with for very different reasons.

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City is the first book in a trilogy and we’re left on a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Peanut and her friends!

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me this book to review.

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