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!
Reviewed by Stephen Connor
Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me is about Freddy Spicer, who is missing his mum and dad. They have gone away to do some important business in the world of sprout farming, all the way to Outer Castonga, where there is no wi-fi and irregular postal service. At home, Freddy’s life is interrupted by a series of unusual events: the new nosy neighbour, Mrs Allbright, who appears out of nowhere to take an interest in Freddy’s grandad; the vans that park outside his house all day, every day; the various gadgets found lying around the house.
Of course, lots of these clues are key features of a spy thriller – which it is, only poor old Freddy is too naïve to realise what is really going on, instead simply believing what he is told. As readers, we learn about his mishaps and misunderstandings through the heartfelt letters he writes to his parents, who are off trying to capture Dr Alpha Bett, a self-proclaimed evil mastermind. There is correspondence from them too, which help us to understand what they are really doing – and it’s not sprout farming. Newspaper articles pop up, postcards too, and there is also the odd secret bit of communication between a union of fairly inept spies.
It all adds up to a humorous tale of a boy simply not realising what is happening around him, and all the while the reader does. We are in on the joke, which is a nice place to be. Jack Noel’s brilliant doodle-type illustrations may suggest that this is a logical next step from diary-based reads in lower Key Stage 2, and it is, really, but there are lots of gaps to fill on the reader’s part, which brings about a good degree of challenge too. I could easily see some of my year 5 and 6 children chuckling away at Freddy’s innocence as he blows up various parts of his house with what he thinks is a toy.
This book does not encourage us to think deeply or to ponder, or wonder about things, but instead is genuinely funny and offers pure escapism. Sometimes, that is just what we need.
When not reading, I will be running, or walking around the Lake District.