Ian Fleming’s strong-minded auto takes a new road trip, and if its passengers are largely just along for the ride, it’s still a grand outing.
Powering the decrepit camper van that Mr. Tooting is restoring with a massive engine that he finds in the branches of a tree turns out to be like “putting the heart of a Tyrannosaurus rex into a hamster.” When he, his wife and their children, Lucy, Jeremy (Jem) and little Harry, climb aboard to take a spin, they find themselves not only roaring down back roads at terrifying speeds but soaring off over the Channel. Chitty, it soon becomes clear, has an agenda: It seems that its headlights have been repurposed atop the Eiffel Tower, its wheels are buried near the Sphinx and its body has somehow washed ashore in Madagascar. Along the way, Cottrell Boyce folds in winking references to the 1964 original and its author (including a certain heavily armed Aston Martin DB5 that James Bond fans will recognize). He also trots in strangely familiar would-be carnappers Tiny Jack and his unctuous but deadly Nanny, along with the odd giant squid or horde of poisonous spiders to keep the Tooting children on their toes. The book ends with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang back together, poised for further outings. Berger depicts the Tootings as a biracial family but otherwise adds to the tale’s antique flavor with frequent, retro ink-and-wash drawings.
The old racer’s still good for another lap—and maybe more. (afterword). (Fantasy. 10-12)