The Parent Agency by David Baddiel; illustrated by Jim Field
Harper, May 2015.
Today it’s part two of debut-children’s-novels-from-British-comedians-who were-famous-before-I-left-Britain-in-1997 week! Today’s author, David Baddiel, is best remembered by me for the History Today sketches that he did with Rob Newman. As with Julian Clary (Monday’s author), Mr. Baddiel has since gone on to many more things.
Barry Bennett keeps a list of why his parents are inadequate: they’re poor, boring, tired all the time, won’t let him do what he wants to do, and seem to like his younger twin sisters more than him. After an argument with his Dad about his imminent tenth birthday party, Barry is transported to an alternative world, where the kids are in charge and they get to choose their parents.
The story is structured so that over the course of five days, Barry gets to try a set of parents that are the opposite of each one of his parents’ failings: the fabulously wealthy Rader-Wellorffs, the famous Vlassorina pair, the fitness fanatical Fwahms!, the lackadiasical Cools, and the Bustles who act like they prefer him to their twin daughters. Each segment is amusingly broad, and the quest structure keeps things moving along nicely. Of course this is a tale of the grass being greener on the other side, and readers won’t be surprised by Barry’s final decision.
The slapsticky, often potty, occasionally questionable, humor will appeal to elementary grade readers, and Jim Field’s cartoony illustrations fit perfectly with this tone. However, many of the jokes are really pitched to adults, and British ones to boot – few kids (or Americans) are going to get that Jamie Gherkiner is a play on Jamie Oliver. Additionally, some of the word play is a bit strained: Countries in the alternative reality include United Kid Dom and Boysnia Herzogeweeny.
Barry is a typically self-centered nearly ten-year-old, and many kids will be able to relate to his frustrations with his parents. However at times he can be a bit selfish and, occasionally, rather mean. Of course, this is part of his ‘journey’ as he grows to realize that loving parents don’t necessarily have all the superficial trappings he might want, nor will they give in to his every whim. The ending is entirely expected but satisfying nonetheless, even if it is a little corny and very unlikely.
Thanks to Harper and Edelweiss for the eARC.