Scholastic Introducing… BETHANY WALKER

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Scholastic Introducing… Bethany Walker, author of Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me.

“Scholastic Introducing” is a series of interviews with authors set to publish their debut books for children or young people in 2021. In this Q&A we introduce Bethany Walker, the author of the hilarious new children’s book CHOCOLATE MILK, X-RAY SPECS & ME.

1. Tell us about Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me

The thing chocolate milk-loving Freddy Spicer wants most in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD is to go to the ‘Blast Yourself Bonkers’ laser game for his tenth birthday. He’d also quite like his parents to return from Outer Castonga, where he believes they are working as sprout farmers. But mainly so they can take him to ‘Blast Yourself Bonkers’! Instead, Freddy is being looked after by his skin-flint Grandad and he is struggling to make friends at his new school (thanks largely to the sprout-based diet he is fed by Grandad). What Freddy doesn’t know, however, is that his parents are actually secret agents, working to stop the world’s greatest criminal mastermind, Dr Alpha Bett.

Through letters to his parents, Freddy writes about everything: the bully Jordan Fishwick, his attempts to write an article for the school magazine, weird discoveries in the shed and – sprouts. Oh, so many sprouts! When a whirlwind romance leads to wedding preparations for Grandad and the glamorous new neighbour, Mrs Allbright, Freddy tries his best to be their special wedding helper but everything is not quite as it seems. Freddy’s letters suggest darkness and danger creeping up on him – danger not just for Freddy but for the whole world – though Freddy remains blissfully oblivious to every clue and warning.

Will Freddy ever get to ‘Blast Yourself Bonkers’? Will he ever realise what is really going on? And, most importantly, what will he do with all those leftover sprouts?

2. Why did you decide to write the book as letters?

1) Letters are amazing! In the past, letters were the only real way to communicate over long distances and those letters that have survived from history are records of human achievement, discoveries, voices and much more. Some letters even changed the course of history! Letters, particularly hand-written ones with each crease and smudge, are so much more personal than email. Freddy’s letters give us an immediate insight into his character – we know exactly what he wants and how he feels. And letters are the perfect way for the reader to know what Freddy understands about his situation and, importantly, what he doesn’t understand.

2) I needed a form of communication that could be slightly unreliable. Letters take time to wend their way through the post and, with Freddy’s letters, some of them don’t make it to his parents at all. If Freddy’s parents had received all the letters, they would have known something was dreadfully wrong at home and would have rushed back. No one wants parents to come to the rescue in stories! As it is, Freddy is left having to solve the problems as he sees them – which is where the fun of the book lies!

3. What’s your favourite funny book and why?

I don’t remember reading ‘laugh-out-loud’ funny books as a child – they tended to be more ‘mildly amusing’. Nowadays, children are spoiled for choice for funny books. My favourite has to be the Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton. They are modern-day classics – so unlike anything I’d ever read! I also love the Dragonsitter series by Josh Lacey, which helped inspire this book with its unusual format.

4. What is your earliest memory of reading?

I wish I could remember the name of the book but my first book memory is of a picture book that had a little teddy bear on a ribbon and I could put the bear into all of the different pages, tucked into pockets, hidden in cupboards, snuggled in bed. To me, that was magical!

5. What do you want young readers to take away from this book?

I hope that children immerse themselves in Freddy’s world. I mainly want children just to enjoy my book and for them to want to read more and more – and maybe for them to be encouraged to read other materials too. Reading doesn’t have to just mean books! If children can learn anything from Freddy, hopefully it can be that they are far less gullible than him. It is ok to question things and not believe everything you are told!

6. What are your favourite children’s book releases in 2020?

My stand-out favourite children’s book from 2020 has been Knight Sir Louis and the Dreadful Damsel by the Brothers McLeod (Guppy Books). It is funny and silly in all of the right ways. I, too, would like a sword named Dave.

7. Any tips for aspiring writers?

All writers say it but that means it must be true: read lots – as much and as varied as possible. Find a writing group. Not only will you improve your own writing skills, you will meet people who also love writing. Through the workshops I did, I’ve made good friends and now we’re our own little support network for bouncing around ideas and giving feedback. And watch Paddington 2 – it is a masterclass in story building.
Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs & Me!

Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs & Me by Bethany Walker and illustrated by Jack Noel is published in January 2021.

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