If you don’t already believe in magic, Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts will make you wish you did.
A modern-day fairy story, complete with a wicked witch, enchanted golden keys, a cruel step-mother, talking animals, an abandoned baby and plenty of excitement, laughter, and yes, sparkling magic throughout, this first book in a new detective series for young readers is a delight.
At the heart of the story is Emily Vole, a determined young girl who inherits a mysterious shop from Miss Ottoline String, a fairy god-mother type character in more ways than one. Having put up with a life of drudgery long enough, Emily seizes the opportunity to escape from her mean (though ultimately not entirely loveless) step-mother. This might have been straight forward had it not been for Harpella, a witch with a penchant for neon-orange platform shoes, who is desperate to get her hands on some mysterious keys which come to life in Emily’s hands. Spells are cast and bunnies abound, high speed chases are run and a story unfolds of fairies whose wings have been clipped and stored away for their own safety.
Gardner’s writing is so satisfying to read; she plays with words in such a natural way that you read some of her sentences and immediately want to read them again, just to feel them roll around on your tongue (this is one of the reasons why I’d recommend this as a family read-aloud: Parents – don’t miss out on this by letting your child read Operation Bunny to only to themselves!). Catchphrases and linguistic jokes make the writing funny, comforting and refreshing. We have officially adopted “Buddleia and Bindwind!” as our new family phrase to exclaim in frustration when things are going wrong.
Whilst language lovers will enjoy Gardner’s trip-off-the-tongue, witty writing, book lovers will appreciate the perhaps autobiographical elements from Gardner in this tale; Emily does not learn to read or write until much later than most children (Gardner herself learned to read only in her teens), but from the start she loves books. “Every night, she sat on her ironing-board bed, holding the garden torch and staring open-mouthed at all the pictures. She couldn’t read the words but there was enough to look at for Emily’s imagination to fill in the gaps.”
David Roberts’ illustrations in Operation Bunny an extra layer of delight to this book. His black and white illustrations every couple of pages are quirky, and his versions of the cast of Operation Bunny are lovable without being sugary-sweet, capturing the chaos and dark shadows in this book equally well.
Sally Gardner does magic exceptionally well (do read her I, Coriander for older readers if you haven’t already done so, or her Magical Children series for younger kids). This book, too, is sprinkled with sparkle and charm, whilst its modern references (credit cards and hedge fund managers make an appearance) help the story feel fresh, and invite the flight of fancy that Emily and her cat Fidget could be living right now in a town nearby. The rich cast of engaging, exciting characters are multi-dimensional (although social workers are not portrayed in the best of lights) and believable, with interesting pasts and, in the case of Emily Vole, an undoubtedly exciting future; I’m delighted to say that the second in the series, Three Pickled Herrings, will be out on 7 February 2013, with a third volume planned for summer next year.
Having enjoyed Operation Bunny so much I “helped” the girls discover a magical set of mini golden keys which somehow materialised on our house.
Just between you and me, I got a lovely set of key charms from this Etsy seller, and then painted them gold (with enamel paint, so that it adhered well).
The keys “opened” a desk inside which they found everything they needed to make fairy wings, not for themselves, but for real fairies who have had their wings taken from them. Supplies included…
The girls used the watercolour paints to colour the skeleton leaves.
Once the paint was dry, dabs of glue and shakings of glitter were added.
The wings were joined to each other by glueing them between a small, folded over piece of felt, and then ribbon was threaded through the folded-over felt so that the wings could easily be attached to the fairies who needed them.
I would have quite liked to put on a pair myself!
But instead the girls scoured the house for possible fairy candidates who needed new wings.
Once all the fairies were ready to fly, we danced the afternoon away!
Oh this was so much fun!
Whilst making the fairy wings we listened to:
Other activities (these all make sense once you’ve read the book) which might be fun to get up to alongside reading Operation Bunny include:
If you liked the sound of Operation Bunny, do come back tomorrow when I’ve got a special giveaway – three copies signed by both author and illustrator are up for grabs!
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Operation Bunny from Orion Books. I was under no obligation to review the book and I received no money for this post.