BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me (available here)
Author: Bethany Walker
Illustrator: Jack Noel
Publication Date: January 2021
Most Suitable for: Years 4-5
Review by: Jacqueline Harris
Freddy Spicer is at home while his parents, international sprout farmers, are away in Outer Costanga (which is so far away Freddy can’t even find it on a map). Freddy is with his grandfather and at a new school where he has trouble making friends and is also secretly in love with Samira. A strange lady has moved in next door and captivated Grandpa; it looks like a wedding is on the cards. Freddy has also accidentally blown up the shed with a blast gun he thinks his parents left for his birthday. All he really wants to do is go to Blast Yourself Bonkers and hopefully gain friends; but his parents have not returned in time.
This story is told in the form of letters, from Freddy and his parents and also some of the other characters. What the reader knows, but Freddy remains clueless about, is that his parents are not actually sprout farmers but secret agents on the tail of the mastermind criminal Dr Alpha Bett. This is the joke of the book, that Freddy never realises what is going on and yet somehow manages to save the day by accident.
I generally do not find books for children particularly funny, though I can see why children like them. This is one of the exceptions because it is very cleverly written; I laughed my way through this book, because the reader can see what is going to happen and Freddy remains engagingly unaware.
The book is delightfully doodled and illustrated by Jack Noel in much the same way as Freddy would have done and this adds to the joy of the letters and postcards he sends.
I am hoping this book gets into the Lollies awards as it really deserves that accolade, a real laugh-out-loud sort of book by a debut author.
with Bethany Walker, author of Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me
1. Tell me about your journey to being a published author
I’ve always loved writing, anything from postcards to history essays, but I never imagined becoming a writer. After studying History at university, I became a teacher and then worked in museum education, so I worked with children for a long time. I think that touring children around the museum on a nearly-daily basis, opening up special secret doors or showing them an Egyptian sarcophagus, helped me hone my story-telling skills, albeit verbally. When I left the museum, suddenly all these ideas for stories (largely picture books) started coming to me and I decided to pursue them, starting with doing a children’s writing course.
I did the Writing for Children course at City Lit with Lou Kuenzler, which was brilliant. After a child-focused hiatus, I started sending my manuscripts around and I was signed up by the wonderful Jo Williamson (of Antony Harwood Ltd.). I had a picture book contract after about 6 months and most of the following year was spent trying to write something for older children, which developed into Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me – and here we are! It has been exciting and incredible and I still can’t quite believe it. But, while the whole things feels to have happened really fast, I first did the writing course in 2015 so, in reality, it’s taken a fair amount of time.
2. Can you describe Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me in five words or less
Letters + sprouts + gadgets + spies = hilarity (Is it cheating to include pluses and equals?)
3. Who is your favourite character in the book?
I will always have a soft spot for sweet, naive Freddy (and I fear that his is the voice in my head) but my favourite character is Harry Covair, the world’s tallest, hairiest, most muscly, coffee-drinking ten-year old. I also just love his name.
4. Your book has been described as ‘sprout-tastic storytelling’. Are sprouts your favourite vegetable?
I like all vegetables* now, although I don’t stay awake at night trying to decide which is my favourite (but it’s probably not sprouts – sorry sprouts). When I was a kid, I was notoriously fussy, much to my parents’ despair and embarrassment. I used to swallow peas like pills: individual, whole and each with an entire gulp of water. I was that child – the one friends’ parents would dread coming round to play, in case they were asked the terrifying question: ‘Can Bethany stay for tea?’
When coming up with the cover story for Freddy’s spy parents in the book, I tried to think back to me as a child and what would have been the most horrendous job I could imagine my parents doing. Sprout farming was the answer!
*I still detest cucumbers. I don’t understand how they can basically be made of water and have such little taste yet they leave their flavour behind and ruin salads and sandwiches. I shall never be able to enjoy an afternoon tea of cucumber sandwiches at the palace with the Queen – what a shame!
5. Do you ever make yourself laugh when you’re writing?
Will you judge me if I say yes? There might have been the odd chuckle/snigger/guffaw as I wrote Chocolate Milk. I hope what mainly comes across is how much fun I was having in writing it! It might be a vain hope but I really hope all my books are this much fun to write!
6. What is your favourite funny book?
I have been on a steady diet of MG funny books recently and there are so many great ones. My favourite of 2020 was Knight Sir Louis by The Brothers McLeod. I don’t remember reading many laugh-out-loud books when I was little but I did have a penchant for Garfield comic books and developed a serious Ben Elton habit as a teenager.
7. What are you writing now?
My first picture book is out in July 2021, so that’s another excitement for this year. As for other projects – I hope to have more news on that soon. Watch this space!
Many thanks to the publishers for sending us a review copy and to Bethany for the guest post.
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