I finally managed to steal this from my 9-year-old. You see, she sleeps with one eye open, so there was no chance she’d share a book like this until she’s finished it. Now, she doesn’t do this with just any old book. It has to be quirky, challenging and, in her terms, ‘un-put-a-down-able’. It helps if the subject matter leads to a bit of a session on Google afterwards. ‘What’s Morse Code, Dad? Never mind, Mr Google told me!’ Kid’s eh?
My daughter has never heard of Rhys Darby, or Flight of the Conchords, but she knows a good book when it arrives in the post.
Written in the same book-style as the Treehouse books, with a handwritten font and plenty of ‘random’ sketches, Mr Darby brings us a slice of his awkward, Kiwi humour and out-of-this-world absurdity, served between two slices of mystery-comedy.
It’s aimed at kids aged 8-15 yrs. Darby assumes the clothes of 12-year-old Buttons McGinty, and pens his top secret scribbles in his nutty notebooks, as he and his mates dive into a universe unlike any they’ve known. Our hero has been shipped off to Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors (R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M), which is apparently a boarding school located on a remote island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Sounds like that island in Famous Five books, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. Add to that his parents have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Plus, there’s bogus baddies and a weird kind of yeti on the prowl.
Apart from the obvious ‘dad’ jokes and random acts of hilarity, my daughter loved problem solving the Morse Codes that Buttons (who was partially ‘modelled’ on Darby’s audio producer) tries to crack in order to figure out the clues necessary to solve the crimes. And that was the best bit, frankly. The immersion and engagement. The main reason why I couldn’t sneak the book away – until the notes in the margins had all been rubbed out. Apparently, this is only volume one. So that means more to come. Someone in my household has already added the next volume to Santa’s list.
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty – Book 1
by Rhys Darby
Published by Scholastic NZ