Have you ever felt like a failure? Most people have. Even the most successful people on the planet have experienced setbacks and disasters on their way to victory. Fantastic Failures by Luke Reynolds is a book for kids about some of those people and how, with the help of supportive friends, teachers or parents, they were able to turn things around and eventually come out on top.
Fantastic Failures is a great concept for a book, but the execution leaves a little something to be desired. I felt that it got a bit preachy in parts and that the stories would have more impact if they were allowed to speak for themselves instead of the author spelling out the moral each time. Also, most of the chapters begin with a made up story about the person in question having an easy life with no difficulties and lots of cupcakes, followed by the author saying, basically, "just kidding, really it was like this..." then telling the real story. Repeated chapter after chapter, this joke got old.
Reynolds has also been oddly selective in the parts of the subjects' lives he has chosen to talk about. There is a chapter on Ellen Degeneres, which talks about how she decided to become a comedian after writing her first comedy bit while working through her feelings following the death of a close friend in a car accident. It goes on to say that she has gone on to have a successful career with her own daily show despite some "rough patches", completely glossing over her coming out and being the first openly lesbian actress to play a lesbian on a television show. The chapter on Vincent Van Gogh makes much of the uplifting message about never giving up in Vincent's last letter to his brother, but does not mention that he committed suicide. I realise that suicide is a difficult topic to discuss, especially with children, but leaving it out of Van Gogh's story feels dishonest.
The book covers people from around the world in a range of different fields, including J.K. Rowling, Rosa Parks, Steven Spielberg, Nelson Mandela and Katherine Johnson. There are also some lesser known inspirational "failures". For example, Shamayim "Mama Shu" Harris, who, after the death of her young son, began a project to restore her poverty-stricken neighbourhood, and Marita Cheng, the Australian founder of Robogals, a group created to educate and inspire girls to study engineering. Fantastic Failures is a book with a lofty goal, that of teaching young people that failure is not only acceptable but necessary on the road to success. The book does not entirely succeed in this goal, but that's okay. It is an interesting read nonetheless and would be suitable for children aged around 8-11.
Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Beyond Words Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.