Children’s book of the week: Opie Jones Talks to Animals

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In our weekly spot where we recommend books for younger readers, a comedic delight in the form of Opie Jones Talks To Animals.

One of the areas that’s been heavily cut back on as newspapers and magazines trim their budgets in current times is reviews of books for young readers. As such, it’s getting trickier and trickier for authors of books for children and younger readers to get their work noticed. This weekly spot on the site is our attempt to do something about that. If you see a book you like here, please do spread the word. And who knows? We may see some of these stories on the big screen in the future.

Margot von Catton wants you to know she hates books that start with quotations. So much so, she’s quoted on the first page. That sets the tone for a whip smart middle grade romp which mixes the perspectives of all sorts of animals with the very human action. Margot, much to her disgust, is actually second-fiddle to our immensely likeable heroine, Opie Jones.

Opie is 10, smart, capable and very, very sensible. She likes how sensible and practical she is – especially compared to her gloriously over-the-top actor parents. The problem with being shy and sensible is that other people can rather take advantage: especially the blissfully ignorant and richly charismatic Jackson Sato, whose homework she inevitably finds herself doing alongside her own. But as she vies for Jackson’s attention with his lifelong best friend, snooty Cillian, she’s got another problem on her hands. She’s kind of a superhero, and there’s something of a supervillain in town…

We’re told a lot of books are ‘laugh out loud’ funny, only to smirk occasionally; this one made me actually cackle more than once. If your funny bone is a mixture of gleeful slapstick and sly observational humour, yours might well also be properly tickled by this. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given Nat Luurtsema’s comedy background, but we all know making tweens laugh is a tricky business. So I tested it on my 10yo, and got rewarded with a proper chuckle.

You could just enjoy it as a barrel of laughs, and that would be enough. But since most comedy is, at heart, a serious business, there’s a vein of commentary underneath that’s worth talking about. It’s there in the Trumpian manchild villain. It’s there in the brief asides: Opie’s Indonesian dad Harvey, unable to get producers to pin down an actual place in Asia for his character to be from, gives the amorous doctor (of course) a vague accent that careens from China to India. It’s there in Jackson’s beauty, which lets him skate through life letting other people worry for him.

Packed with brilliantly cartoonish illustrations from Fay Austin, Opie Jones Talks to Animals is a quick, clever read that is already set for a sequel (with obvious adaptation potential). And if nothing else, you won’t be able to resist wondering what it would be like to persuade a flock of pigeons to do your bidding; bird-brained doesn’t even cover it.

Author: Nat Luurstema
Illustrator: Fay Austin
Reading age: 8+
Publisher: Egmont
Release date: Out now
Purchase / more info

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