Continuing the theme of disability in children’s books from my blog a couple of days ago, I thought I’d chase it up with an article on another work of fiction which recently caught my eye. ‘The Taylor TurboChaser’ is a great read from comedian and actor, David Baddiel. Like David Walliams’, ‘BAD DAD’, Baddiel places a disabled character right slap bang in the middle of the action. It is a further example that mainstream literature is finally beginning to find a genuine space for disabled protagonists. Just as importantly, it’s a story that any young petrolhead will find unputdownable!
‘Road trip’ meets ‘Pimp my ride’ meets ‘Wacky races’
It seems rather an eclectic mix, but Baddiel pulls it off in his latest book published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2019. Amy Taylor is mad about cars, especially fast ones and with an estranged Dad, Peter, who works in Formula 1, it is hardly surprising that she fancies herself as a bit of a racing driver! However, Amy’s dreams have been dealt a cruel blow. For, as the result of a tragic car crash, she now uses a wheelchair.
The details of the accident are drip fed to the reader throughout the book. It becomes apparent that Amy’s family was involved in some sort of head on collision with another car whilst her Dad was driving. It is this twist of fate which means that Amy can no longer use her legs. It is also this accident which seems to have driven the family apart. With Amy’s father unable to come to terms with the incident or confront the fact that his daughter is now disabled, the relationship between him and Amy’s mother, Suzi, has disintegrated. Peter has moved to Scotland to continue his work building alarmingly rapid supercars as well as to escape the guilt and self-blame of which Amy’s physical impairment is a constant reminder. Meanwhile, Amy and her rather irritating teenage brother, Jack are looked after by Suzi.
The car’s the star!
These are challenging emotions to address in any story, but Baddiel tackles them well as the narrative unfolds. He gives these issues just enough attention, without letting them overwhelm. The real focus, after all, is the adventure in which Amy, her friends (and her car!) find themselves. It struck me that, in both Baddiel’s and Walliams’ tales, one of the central characters is actually a motor vehicle. In Walliam’s ‘BAD DAD’, it is Queenie, the Mini Cooper banger racing car that takes a decent share of the limelight. As for Baddiel, his story involves a far less conventional four-wheeled friend, ‘The Taylor TurboChaser’, piloted by the gifted racer herself, Amy.
“But how does a paraplegic little girl drive a racing car?!” I hear you cry. Simple. She gets her new electric wheelchair pimped out by her mad inventor-crazed pal, Rahul! Rahul who has created everything from an automatic toothbrush to an umbrella with a sunroof (don’t ask) sets about tricking out Amy’s wheelchair with more surprises than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Taylor TurboChaser can turn into a tent; a boat; shapeshift into a motorbike; it can even run on cow dung! With a carbon footprint smaller than a compost-powered eco-farm and more gizmos than the entire gang of Wacky Racers it is a contraption of which even Inspector Gadget would be proud!
An incredible journey
What better vehicle to take on a road trip to Scotland to find Amy’s father? Peter is none too pleased when he hears that Amy has turned her state-of-the-art wheelchair into the Mean Machine, but Amy sets out to show her father just how amazing Rahul’s modifications really are. I mean, it has fish tanks for windows for goodness sake! Amy is also pushed by another motive to track down her distant Dad: to prove to him that she has talent, the skill and the courage of any track champion, to show Peter that she can drive.
One night, Amy begins the incredible journey in her fantastic wondermobile. Accompanied by friends Rahul and the whimsical Janet, not-to-mention her grumbling know-it-all-brother, Jack, they set off on their quest. Of course, they do not escape unnoticed and soon they find a van full of bemused parents in hot pursuit, not-to-mention a couple of incompetent members of the constabulary.
With mishaps and close shaves aplenty, they wend and weave their way up North despite all odds. At last, they track down the reclusive Peter at his supercar workshop facility. Emotions run high between little Amy and her Dad; emotions which can only be played out on the circuit, culminating in a final breathtaking dual between father and daughter. Finally, Peter is forced to confront his own past and Amy proves herself, winning his heart and his respect.
‘The Taylor TurboChaser’ is a great story about a girl who dreams of racing and believes that anything is possible. It is also yet another example that characters who happen to have disabilities can occupy a central role in any story. Long may this trend continue.