Wendy Hue, illustrated y Zara Slattery,
When ten-year-old Tópé’s parents are killed in a road accident, his Uncle and Aunty come to Nigeria to take him back to England to live with them and their nine-year-old son Femi and baby daughter Happy. It’s tough having to choose what to take with him and what has to stay behind but his beloved football (soccer ball) is an essential, and at the last minute he manages to squeeze his special wooden boat into his baggage. It’s harder still having to adjust to a totally new life while grieving for his parents. As time goes by, though, he begins to settle into his new school. Being good at football helps, especially when he’s picked for the team in an inter-school championship, but it also causes friction, especially with Joe, who until Tópé’s arrival had been the star player.
As Tópé negotiates his new home, he begins to note similarities as well as differences with his earlier childhood in Nigeria, and the wooden boat is an important tangible link with his past. The story follows him as he makes friends, enjoys Femi’s birthday party, goes on a sleepover that turns into a big adventure, and beats off summer vacation boredom by putting together an act for a local “Star Youth Academy” show. In a sense this performance that draws the book to a satisfying conclusion is what really marks Tópé’s arrival – he’s made it through his first few months in England; he’s joined on stage by Femi and some good friends, including Joe; and they are playing the Nigerian dundun drums that belong to his uncle and whose sound links him to Nigeria and to his father and grandfather especially.
Wendy Hue has created an engaging story that will appeal particularly to boys, who will empathise with the different dynamics in the relationships portrayed; and Zara Slattery’s black-and-white illustrations add atmosphere. Tópé Arrives is also the perfect middle-grade read for any young person who finds themselves thrown into new surroundings, for whatever reason, especially though not exclusively anyone adjusting to life in the UK. Hue’s sensitive awareness of Tópé’s experience, for example, includes such details as his discomfort at having to wear a thick jacket for the English climate. As well as the realistically portrayed hurly burly of school, the adults depicted in the story are reassuring and kind. The reader also shares in some of Tópé’s quieter moments, and indeed Tópé Arrives also has the potential to be of comfort to a young reader mourning a loved one.
Tópé Arrives would make a welcome addition to any middle-grade book shelf, and we look forward to more writing from Wendy Hue in the future.