Wednesday 18 May 2011

Review: Casper Candlewacks in Death By Pigeon by Ivan Brett

Casper Candlewacks is the only boy with any sense in a village full of idiots. 
Most villages have an idiot but Casper's village is full of them. So being bright makes poor Casper something of an outsider. When famous magician the Great Tiramisu curses the village, Casper's father is blamed and sentenced to death by pigeon. It's up to Casper and his best friend to find the magician, reverse the curse and save the day.

A riotous tale that proves all you really need in life is a buggy that runs on washing-up liquid and a couple of boys to crash it.

I do not tend to read so-called comedy books for adults, as they invariably leave me cold. I remember reading a couple of Ben Elton's early books way back when I was younger, and simply did not find them funny. This is no reflection on Mr Elton; I have tried other 'funny' books since and most of them barely manage to prise a mediocre chuckle from my lips, let alone a belly splitting guffaw. I guess this is why I don't tend to read that many 'billed as comedy' books for kids either, despite my life long love of Roald Dahl, and the laughs his work continues to give me. However, I am not averse to giving books like this a try, and the early buzz about this book certainly caught my attention on Twitter, and I am so glad the generous people at HarperCollins sent me a copy. There have been some pretty fantastic books released so far in 2011, and this hilarious debut by Ivan Brett ranks right up there as one of my personal favourites. In fact, it should come with a health warning: if read at bedtime make sure plastic bed sheets are fitted as your child will laugh so much a little bit of wee may come out.

As the blurb says, our hero, Casper Candlewacks (just the first in a plethora of clever plays on words in this book), is the only boy with any sense living in a village full of idiots, that village being the wonderfully named Corne-on-the-Kobb. Such an obvious premise I am surprised it hasn't been used more often, and it is made all the better by the fact that none of the other inhabitants of said village realise just how stupid they are - the closest they get to this is their dislike for Casper, because he is different. And by different we mean he can do things like joined-up writing and knows his times tables. In Chapter One we see first hand some of the persecution young Casper faces on a daily basis, this time from his teacher, Mrs Snagg - a distinctly unpleasant lady that no child of average intelligence or above would enjoy having for lessons. In fact, she is so stupid that she can't even read - she sets Ivan a punishment essay about the soon-to-be-visiting magician, the Great Tiramisu, and he manages to submit a previously completed essay on Brazil in its place without her having the slightest clue. And Corne-on-the-Kobb is full of people like this.

You would be right in thinking that Casper's life is pretty miserable. He is bullied by both teachers and pupils at school, his mother suffers from some form of post-natal depression that has manifested itself in the form of an addiction to watching TV, his younger sibling Cuddles (Casper still hasn't worked out if it is a boy or a girl) has razor-sharp teeth and will gnaw on just about anything, and his father is left to do all of the household tasks, as well as the head chef at the village's only restaurant, The Boiled Sprout. Casper's only friend is a boy called Lamp, although he is possibly the most idiotic boy in the village full of idiots. Lamp is obsessed with inventing things, many of which are unmitigated disasters, although to tell you about some of them would ruin the laughs in store for you. For this same reason I am not going to reveal any more about the plot - suffice to say this is one of 2011s must read books for the 9+ age group. Girls will find it funny as well, although I have a feeling that the humour will have the greatest appeal to boys. 

To compare Ivan Brett with the great Roald Dahl would be incredibly premature, this being only his first book, although I am sure there will be a number of readers already drawing these parallels, especially in the way that both authors have littered their work with nasty secondary characters, whom readers just can't wait to see come to some kind of sticky end. However, on the basis of this story his future could be so bright a pair of shades just might be required pretty soon. Publishers please take note - we want more books like this. We've had many years of great books aimed at the teen market, surely it is now time for the Middle Grade audience to be spoiled as well?! 

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