David Walliams books are hugely popular with children at the moment. The Dahlesque escapades fly off the shelves like the books in that scene in Matilda. A much funnier comedian, and to my mind, writer, is David Baddiel.
His The Person Controller is a pitch-perfect escapade aimed to hardwire into the enjoyment circuits of children aged 7-12. It’s fun, it’s sassy, it has peril and there is, of course, a central message (be yourself). It does all this whilst tapping into a child’s love of the video game.
Nerdy twins Fred and Ellie, love computer games. They’re happy but aware that they’re a little different to everybody else. When their overweight dad sits on Ellie’s beloved X-Box controller (in a hilarious and ewww-making scene) she needs to find herself a new one. For Ellie, the loss of her controller is a huge deal. When she and Fred are attacked by the school bullies, things seem to be at rock bottom, with little prospect for escape. But, after a bizarre online interaction, a new controller appears.
Curiosity peaked, Ellie and Fred set about trying to work out how to use this mysterious gift to make their lives brighter. At first appears to be entirely useless. Until Ellie realises that with it, she can control Fred like he’s a video game avatar. The device (literary and literal) allows Baddiel to tap into all the popular computer game franchises for his inspiration. Mario? Check!, FIFA? Check!, Minecraft? Check!. The story is great fun. There are repeat run-ins with the bullies and the realisation that life isn’t always about obtaining the perfect score.
Baddiel pitches the humour just right for his audience, and there are some good running jokes for perceptive readers or parents who are reading the book aloud, and the book is great fun to read aloud.
There are a few things to be aware of though. It’s not at all overt, but the book has an atheist leaning. This didn’t particularly bother me, but if you are bringing up your children to believe in a god, then you may face a couple of awkward questions. I reiterate it’s not overt and possibly your children won’t notice. I mention it only because often religion doesn’t come up in children’s books. Belief or non-belief is simply not mentioned. Here the twins and their parents are non-believers.
The central premise of the story revolves around an online interaction with a stranger. Now, there is nothing sinister in the book and Baddiel does mention the dangers of being online, but nevertheless, the children do get a really cool artefact from somebody they don’t know, whilst surfing the internet. It’s something to be aware of, I think.
Finally, Fred and Ellie’s parents are perhaps a little too useless. I guess it’s Baddiel’s way of getting rid of the parents so that interesting stuff can happen. At least, I suppose he didn’t kill them! My kids just thought they were funny, and probably didn’t even notice that they are somewhat overblown caricatures.
Despite those couple of reservations, The Person Controller is a really fun book, with lots of cliffhangers to keep children reading.
Surrey Library Link