Blog tour: ‘Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me,’ by Bethany Walker, illustrated by Jack Noel.

I always on the look-out for highly-illustrated middle grade titles packed with laughs and that is exactly what you get from this brilliant story told through a series of letters from a son to his super-spy parents (whom he believes are sprout farming in Outer Castonga!)

The Plot:

10-year-old Freddy Spicer writes letters to his parents – who he believes are working at a Brussels-sprouts farm in Outer Castonga, with no internet or phone access.

In fact, Freddy’s parents are secret agents out of the country on a highly classified mission – but Freddy has NO IDEA!

Throw in:

  • Grandad’s X-Ray specs;
  • A laser blaster that accidentally destroys the shed;
  • A strange new neighbour flirting with grandad; and
  • Suspicious goings-on at school . . .

Book Boy’s Thoughts: I couldn’t believe how oblivious Freddy was to the fact that his parents were obviously super-spies. There were so many clues! It was so obvious! Only he could think that a ‘chopper’ referred to a sprout chopper not a helicopter. Or that the top secret gardening equipment in the shed was actually a military grade grenade!

Best moment: laughing at how oblivious Freddy was!

Most stupid mix-up: Freddy thinking a military grade grenade was a firework.

Best budget brand: Budget Boris’s Chocolate Flavour Drink.

Favourite sprout recipe: Sprouts fashioned into the shape of a chicken and called ‘mock chicken.’

Summarise this book in 5 words: spies, sprouts, turnips, mix-ups and letters!

‘My Love Letter to – erm, well, – Letters’ – by Bethany Walker

While there were very sensible, plot-based reasons why I wrote Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me in letter form, there is also a very basic reason: I love letters. As an ancient dinosaur who’d feel more at home carving these words out of stone or putting quill to parchment, I remember a time before social media, a time before emails – the time of letters!

Freddy Spicer, the main character in my book, is not a particularly willing letter writer. He is forced into writing letters due to circumstance (engineered entirely by me, of course). I couldn’t have Freddy sending emails, or anything else modern and speedy, because the problems and dangers in the story would have been too quickly identified and solved by the adults. I imagine very few children now have any reason to write letters – and this is such a shame. Even though Freddy’s letters are entirely made up, writing them reminded me of what joy writing a letter can bring: both to the writer and the recipient.  

Thinking back to my own childhood, so many key events were somehow related to letters, from the obligatory post-Christmas Thank You cards to the annual holiday postcards. I still remember the fear I experienced when, returning from my first French Exchange trip (aged 14), I was summoned by my Granny. I couldn’t for the life of me think what I was in trouble for but it turned out she wanted to compliment me on the letter I sent to her while I was away. This was praise indeed! And earlier in my life, towards the end of primary school, I remember the ‘correspondence’ I had with a boy from the next village – our brothers, at secondary school, acted as postmen, and our letters passed back and forth for months. Unfortunately, when we started secondary school together the following year, our fervent letter writing was not matched by our ability to make conversation and that was that!

Out of everyone, it was my mum who was the most avid of letter writers. Once I left home, barely a week went by without a letter, card or some kind of note from her, even as she also embraced texting and emails. Having lived abroad in the 1960s and 70s, writing letters was, for Mum, the best, most reliable and most personal way of keeping in touch with friends and family. Even when she hardly had anything to say, a note would still appear. It was unfortunate that her handwriting, like that of many teachers, was an incomprehensible scrawl. Thankfully, having spent much of my life deciphering it, not only did Mum imbue me with a love of letters, she also helped me develop the ability to read truly terrible handwriting. Thanks, Mum!

I used to love writing (and receiving) letters when I was younger. The choosing of your best notepaper and pens, the writing and illustrating, then the delicious anticipation of a response. Sending an email isn’t quite the same!

This title would be perfect for fans of laugh-out-loud moments, spoofs, and sprouts! 9+

Library Girl and Book Boy

*Many thanks to Scholastic for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*

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