Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl

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Illus. by Lauren O'Hara. Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781406384406. hbk.
(Ages 6-8). Recommended. Themes: Hotels, Girls, Villains, Friendship, Trust. Madame Badobedah is a rather enchanting story told by Mabel who lives in a bed and breakfast called "The Mermaid Hotel". The hotel, which is managed by her parents, is next to the beach. Mable is an only child who enjoys interacting with the guests as they come and go. She calls herself an adventurer and spends many hours barefoot exploring her surroundings but turns into a spy when the newest guest arrives. The mysterious Madame Badobedah (rhymes with oooh la la), who is very gruff and unfriendly, has a mountain of very peculiar luggage and many pets. Mabel decides she must be a super villain and sets about studying her subject to uncover all her secrets. Mabel shows how observant she is as she reports what she knows about the adults around her and everything her new subject tells her during her visits with the Madame.
The story uncovers the facts about the Madame slowly, drawing more and more out with each small visit Mabel makes to this strange yet intriguing person. This makes the story enjoyable and keeps the reader interested. A friendship develops between Mabel and the very lonely Irena through play and pretending games and the reader is given a lovely insight into the special relationship that can exist between the young and the very old. Perhaps Dahl making connections to when her grandfather used her as the inspiration for his book the BFG.
Parents and teachers could use this story to discuss the dangers of judging people from first impressions and the wide variety of friendships that work between many different people. The illustrations are quite charming and whimsical and compliment the story very well. However, I am not sure who this book is aimed at; it would be a great first novel for younger children but is presented as rather a long picture book format. Read over three sittings using the three parts as a natural break is probably the best way to introduce this story to the younger children.
Gabrielle Anderson