Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs And Me by Bethany Walker, illustrated by Jack Noel

Publication Date: 7 January 2021

I am delighted to welcome Bethany Walker to my blog today to discuss how she nearly became Bethany Bucket. It’s all down there, after my review…

The Blurb

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 …

The Review

Written entirely in letters, this laugh out loud comedy crime caper is the perfect lockdown escape guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Less Jonny English and more Mr Bean, Freddie somehow manages to save the day without even knowing he needed to.

Freddie’s ignorance in his letters to his parents about the strange goings on at the sprout farm is bliss for the reader, and becomes funnier and funnier as the story continues, and is equally matched by the incompetence of Operative A, and his unrequited love.

It is Freddie’s keen observation of the people around him that makes his letters so plausible with each innocent explanation he makes for the bizarre situations that trail in his wake from luminous grass after spilt drinks, to ripped Doc Martins in search of the toe camera, adding to our hapless hero’s hopelessness! The school escapades are easy to relate to, and children will empathise with the new boy struggling to fit in with his new class.

Jack Noel’s doodles throughout add authenticity to the letters, and another layer of humour to this cracking spy spoof that is definitely more Jonny English than James Bond.

Great for fans of:

  • Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Katie Abey
  • The Super Miraculous Journey Of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, illustrated by Rob Biddulph
  • Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault by Jackie Marchant, illustrated by Loretta Schauer

The Guest Post

Tell it to Mr Bucket by Bethany Walker

It’s fair to say that I have trouble coming to the point when I’m talking to someone. Often, I struggle to find the right words at the right time. There are so many anecdotes from throughout my life to illustrate this point:

  • when I was selling frozen food door to door and asked a man if his wife was a ‘fish face’.
  • the time in a job interview when asked about equal opportunities and I completely forgot the word ‘discrimination’. I sat there saying “I know it begins with D”. This was not my finest hour and, considering my train had already been delayed because it had hit a cow (yes, really), I was not surprised when I did not get offered the job.

I could go on but you get the idea.

This problem, combined with being fairly shy, has meant that writing for me was always a preferable form of communication over speaking – and one of the reasons why I became a writer. Writing gives me time to find words, mould them and use them with hopefully pin-point accuracy to be sometimes hilarious, sometimes devastating but mainly, at the very least, coherent.

My debut book, Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me is an epistolary novel, with most letters written by Freddy Spicer, its 10 year old protagonist. Freddy has no idea that his parents are secret agents and he spends the whole book writing to them about increasingly bizarre discoveries and events – but always misunderstanding them. In my mind, it was only by using letters that this would come across successfully. Any attempt to write Chocolate Milk in the 3rd person or a more traditional 1st person would have been painful to both write and read. What I didn’t appreciate, however, when I started down this letter-writing path, was quite how someone’s personality can shine through in what they write (or what they don’t write).

Through his letters, Freddy expresses his hopes and desires but some of the most poignant moments are actually in the bits he crosses out. When writing these parts, it was like Freddy was venting but, having written it down and reviewed it, he realised he didn’t quite need to say so much. Just the act of writing it down made the issue feel not quite so big. This reminded me of something I did when I was a classroom teacher (over 15 years ago):

I had a Year 4 class of 36 children. It was my second year of teaching and this was a huge challenge, not least because the class was one of those that just did not gel. Invariably, children would try to tell on their classmates for the least little infringements. There was permanent sniping and tattling, particularly after breaks and lunches, and it was driving me insane. Enter MR BUCKET.

Mr Bucket was a suggestion a colleague found on the internet. He was a bucket. With a face. And a note by him, reading ‘Tell it to Mr Bucket.’

If any child had a problem, they could write it down on a note and post it into Mr Bucket. I, then, could read the notes and deal with them accordingly. Sometimes this highlighted serious problems and gave me a great way of tracking issues but, most of the time, simply by writing down their grievances, the children felt like they’d vented, got it out of their systems and felt happier. Mr Bucket helped my class become much nicer to each other. I loved Mr Bucket and would quite happily have married him. There were two main stumbling blocks to this:

  • he was a bucket
  • the name Bethany Bucket would have been ridiculous.

Huge thanks to Bethany for that amazing guest post, and to Scholastic for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Do make sure you check out all of the other stops.

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