Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, 1964.
Not everyone is aware that the creator of James Bond wrote a children’s book, although the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a children’s classic. However, the movie differs greatly from the original book, which doesn’t have anything to do with a toy-obsessed king who has forbidden children in his kingdom, and there is no Truly Scrumptious (sorry).
Commander Caractacus Pott, retired, is an explorer and inventor who lives in a little house in the countryside with his wife Mimsie and their children, a set of eight-year-old twins named Jeremy and Jemima. Some of the locals call Commander Pott, “Crackpott” because of his strange inventions, which never earn him very much money, but one of this inventions pays off when he sells the candy whistles he creates to Lord Skrumshus’s candy company.
With the money he earns, Pott decides to buy something that his family has wanted for awhile: their own car. But, they don’t want just any boring car like everyone else. They want something special. They find it when they spot a former racing car that’s due for the scrap heap. No one wants it because it would take a lot of time and money to fix. The Pott family falls in love with it immediately, and Jemima thinks it might even be magical because the license plate says “GEN 11”, which looks like “genii” (or “genie”). The garage man is relieved to find a buyer who appreciates the car’s history and potential and says that she’s sure to reward them for saving her from being scrap.
After Pott spends a great deal of time fixing up the car (which they name “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang” because of the sounds it makes) and adding some additional inventions of his own, he begins to suspect that both Jemima and the garage man are right: the car is magical and does want to repay them for saving her life. He starts to notice changes that the car makes to herself overnight, adding extra buttons and features that he knows he didn’t put there. He’s not sure what they’re for until the family gets stuck in traffic the first time they decide to take it out for a picnic. Messages on the car’s dashboard light up, telling Pott to pull some of the car’s mysterious levers. When he does, the car sprouts wings and flies over the other cars in front of them, over towns and beaches, and even over the English Channel!
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang takes the Pott family to a sandbar so they can have a private beach all to themselves. But, that’s only the beginning of their adventure! Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang can also turn into a hovercraft, and the family decides to take it on a special holiday to France. When they reach the coast of France, they find a cave and start to explore it. Someone has set up various devices inside to scare people away, but that only makes the Pott family more curious and determined to find out why.
It turns out that the cave is a hideout for a band of smugglers, and when the Pott family destroys it, they want revenge!
At the end of the book, there is a recipe for “Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Secret ‘Fooj'” (they mean ‘fudge’, Monsieur Bon-Bon is a character in the story).
Having known the movie version since I was a kid, I really prefer the movie to the book. With a magical car at their disposal, the more fairy-tale story about the castle and tyrannical kind seems more fitting than the story about smugglers. But, that being said, the book is still a lot of fun.