“Casper is the only non-idiot in Corne-on-the-Kobb, and that’s why he’s interesting”. Ivan Brett has taken the idea of the village idiot and turned it on its head. Poor Casper lives in a village of idiots, and as the only sensible lad around whenever there is a mystery to be solved it’s down to him to save the day. With titles like Casper Candlewacks and The Claws of Crime, and Attack of the Brainiacs! (both published in 2012) these books have all the elements that make up a fun children’s romp – silly situations, funny names, stupid inventions, food fights, surreal humour, quirky villains and a child hero who always prevails. While marketed as suitable for both genders, I can’t help feeling that the target market is reluctant reader boys, who will almost certainly enjoy the daftness of Casper’s capers.
Setting the tone, the scratchy black and white line illustrations by Hannah Shaw add to the levity of these books, effectively echoing Brett’s humorous gross-out descriptions. Shaw’s illustrations are scattered liberally throughout and are full of tiny details that help to draw the reader in (each book’s map of Corne-on-the-Kobb is exemplary). This is an ideal author/illustrator pairing, reminiscent of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, and as a result these books will appeal to fans of Dahl’s, although I doubt they will linger as long in the memory.
As an adult reader I found the humour a little too try hard, with every pun, description and turn of phrase exploited for comedy, often sacrificing originality as a consequence. However that said, I’m sure many children will find the unexpected silliness of these slightly old fashioned tales (there is no internet or mobile phones in this village) laugh out loud funny.