Absolute Zero

by Helen Cresswell

Cover image

Series: Bagthorpe Saga #2
Publisher: Hodder
Copyright: 1978
Printing: 1998
ISBN: 0-340-71652-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 206

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the second book of the Bagthorpe children's series by Helen Cresswell. While you don't have to read Ordinary Jack first as the background is re-explained, you'll miss various references to the events of the previous book.

This is one of my favorites of the Bagthorpe series. Uncle Parker wins a cruise to the Caribbean by entering a contest, setting off jealousy and a spate of insane competition-entering by the entire Bagthorpe clan. Some inspired Bagthorpe catastrophes ensue, from dinner planning via tin-shaking to some surprising contest wins, culminating in Zero the dog's brilliant shot at stardom in TV commercials and a frantic ending.

This is the book where Daisy, the four-year-old cousin of the Bagthorpe children, really comes into her own as a frightening destructive force. She had some role in Ordinary Jack, but in Absolute Zero she enters her phase of Reconciling the Seemingly Disparate. That leads to some of the funniest catastrophes in the series.

One of the things I like best about the Bagthorpe books is that the family is neither full of happy supportiveness nor full of abuse and negativity. The kids snipe at each other occasionally, mostly ignore each other, and rally around each other against any attack from the outside. The father screams a lot and is relentlessly sarcastic; the mother is practical but occasionally ineffective and distracted. Cresswell finds humor by exaggerating normal human behavior patterns until they break and throwing on beautifully timed coincidences, avoiding both the sickly-sweet feeling of some children's books and the over-the-top nastiness of others. It's very nicely done.

As always, humor is hard to describe and recommend, since it's so individual. I love Cresswell's dead-pan style and factual situation recaps after ridiculous disasters. Whether you will or not, I'm not sure, but this was among my favorite books as a child even after dozens of re-readings and it has held up remarkably well re-reading it as an adult. If you liked Ordinary Jack at all, definitely try this one.

Followed by Bagthorpes Unlimited.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-04-08

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21