The editor probably wouldn’t allow it, but I was tempted to jot down all fifty chapter titles in sequence and leave it at that. You’d have picked up the narrative, the characters, the author’s voice, the inventive comedy, the references to Super-heroes and so on. You’d also probably have guessed that The Astounding Broccoli Boy would make a great read-aloud with a class or as family reading. Except, listeners might be so keen to find out what happened next that, at 390 pages, you’d have to deal with a fair amount of frustration – or cheating – between readings.
So, here are just half-a-dozen titles to give the flavour:
Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Hippo and a Freezer?
Attack of the Killer Kittens
The Wagon Wheel of Doom (that’s as in biscuit)
KEEP. AWAY. FROM. MY. PENGUINS. (that’s as in birds)
Holy Teleportation, Rory. You’ve Taken Us to China!
Will These be the Last Three Seconds of Rory Rooney’s Life? Read on …
They can’t be the last three seconds, since Rory Rooney is the superhero of this tale; until the last few pages, that is. Like every superhero, he’s got a nemesis, in this case Big Grim Komissky, a.k.a. Tommy-Lee, a.k.a. Karol (but don’t call him that). Big Grim is the Under-16 British Kick-Boxing Champion and at Handsworth High, on a daily basis, he dumps Rory (who’s on the puny side) into wheelie-bins, eats his sandwiches, and throws his bag (followed by his body) off the back of the bus. Rory counters by dipping into a book entitled, Don’t be Scared, Be Prepared, which is helpful on topics like ‘How to catch, skin and cook rabbits’ but less specific about coping with the likes of Grim. Rory’s dad bought the book for Mum because she’s scared the UK will starve as a cat ‘lu (‘Killer Kittens’ in popular parlance) rampages through the land; and though we don’t know this until late in the game, it’s Killer Kittens which causes Rory and Grim to end up in the same hospital ward. Both have inexplicably turned bright green; more of a broccoli shade than, say, spinach.
So begins an improbable friendship. No space now to plot the plot, but it involves numerous super-heroes and their nemeses, from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Batman, the Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and Co; friendly penguins; adventures on top of a crane on top of the Shard; Dr Brightside, Professor Umbridge and Nurse Rock; sleep-walking; Koko Kwok, the cleverest kid in her year (who is also broccoli green); the Prime Minister and his lost mobile phone; escaping gorillas and RSPCA Roger; and much, much more.
It all careers along at frenetic speed, told with ingenuity and wit and laugh-out-loud high spirits in a very distinctive voice. Though it’s quite an adult voice in its playfulness and linguistic agility, young readers and listeners will love it because it’s so funny once you get it – on the inside of the humour, on the wavelength. And that, for any young reader, is such an eye-opening encounter. As you race through the story, you feel that only Frank Cottrell Boyce could have told it the way it’s told. To fall in love with this kind of unique telling is surely one of the great discoveries of young reading.