Book review: The Adventures of Captain Bobo

With the help of his three young children, Rob Beale enjoys a story about a paddle steamer and her captain, both taking nostalgic inspiration from the Clyde.

When I was handed ‘Bananas’, the first in a projected series of children’s books under the collective title The Adventures of Captain Bobo, the first thing that drew my eye was the paddle steamer on the cover.

She bears an uncanny resemblance to a boat we all know very well!

Written by Richard Dikstra and Kay Hutchison, this 32-page book introduces Captain Bobo, his paddle steamer Red Gauntlet and her crew — First Officer Sheila, Chief Engineer Puffy Watt and his assistant Boing Boing, Able Seaman Bleep, Cabin Boy Billy and ship’s dog Salty.

In ‘Bananas’, a banana-loving elephant named Tufty is discovered to be missing, just as Captain Bobo brings Red Gauntlet into the harbour for the last time.

“Unfortunately,” says Sheila, “theres no demand for grand old paddle steamers like Red Gauntlet any more.

Over on the island, the Safari Park is preparing for its gala opening. But with Tufty, the main attraction, still missing, it is up to Captain Bobo to save the day. Red Gauntlet is back in demand and puts to sea!

In the opening pages we find Bobo and Sheila berthing Red Gauntlet at the harbour. Given that this is a children’s book, the landing is portrayed in surprising detail — but my children enjoyed repeating the telegraph’s call “ding ding!” Many of the scenes skilfully illustrated by Matt Rowe have a familiarity about them.

From the triple expansion engine to the LNER funnel colours and wooden gangways, it is clear that authors and illustrator know their subject and audience well — which is no surprise given that Kay’s father is Robin Hutchison, former Commodore of Caledonian MacBrayne’s Clyde fleet, whose nickname was ‘Captain Bobo.

From first page to last this tale kept my children and me thoroughly entertained, particularly the part when the enterprising young Cabin Boy Billy has a bright idea to help get Tufty on board the ship. The vibrant images had enough detail and variety to keep my toddler studying the page, whilst my two older boys of early reading age had fun following the text and trying to work out what was going to happen next.

My son Alfie was desperate to take the book into school, and his teacher read it to the whole class who loved it. She wrote on the schools digital noticeboard that we all really enjoyed the story, particularly the bit where the elephant was splashing the seagulls with water from his trunk! We also found it funny that elephants are scared of mice.

If you are looking for something for your child’s (or grandchild’s) Christmas stocking, ‘Bananas’ can be wholeheartedly recommended.

We can’t wait for the next instalment of The Adventures Captain Bobo which, intriguingly, is to be titled ‘On The Rocks’.

The Adventures of Captain Bobo: Book 1 ‘Bananas’

Published by Belle Media — RRP £7.99


Robin Hutchison, the real ‘Captain Bobo’ (left), signing copies of his book Top 10 Ships of the Clyde at a CRSC meeting in March 2014. Also pictured are John Whittle (centre) and Robin’s daughter Kay (right), co-author of the new series of Captain Bobo books