Radio Boy by Christian O’Connell, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Another celebrity pens a children’s book (sigh). Luckily for all of us though, it’s really rather good.

Radio Boy tells the story of wannabe DJ Spike Hughes, dejected and downcast after being sacked from his slot on hospital radio, and then not chosen by his Head Teacher to broadcast on the new school radio show. His Dad provides him with the impetus to set up a secret radio show from his garden shed, and Spike is soon broadcasting with his voice disguised, under the name of Radio Boy. But before long, his success goes to his head, and Spike is calling rival warfare on the evil Head Teacher from his radio studio, and broadcasting all sorts of trouble.

The book is told in the first person. Spike desperately wants to be a radio DJ, and so his voice, even when written down, needs to be sparkling, witty and appealing – as much as an eleven year old boy’s can be. Luckily for Christian O’Connell, this part of the book does work – even if at times it feels overly-laboured to an adult reader. Spike not only reels off a host of sniggersome anecdotes, but he also lays his emotions bare in an easy-to-read style.

The other characters are fun and believable, especially Spike’s two best friends. Artie is into vintage music (this made me feel old) played on vinyl, and Holly excels at producing and is the brains behind much of the hard graft in securing equipment and setting it up. Spike’s parents are great secondary characters in their own way – not always united in their parenting!

If anything the evilness of the Headmaster is slightly overstated and stereotypical, but works as a plot device, so it’s easy to go along with it. In fact, it’s the plot that drives the story more than anything, providing the pace and proving to be particularly page-turning. There’s a race against time for people to discover who Radio Boy really is, and the book pulls the reader towards the end.

There’s also an undercurrent of what it means to be popular in school, and the responsibility that goes with being famous, as well as a clear message about having a lack of self-confidence. Spike fits into the realm of other boy protagonists for this age range who need a boost so that they don’t feel like such a loser – Wimpy Kid, The World of Norm, Timmy Failure, Middle School – but this is all part of his appeal.

Spike’s Dad and close friends believe in him and encourage him not to ditch his dreams, and finally he does start to believe in himself. (And possibly goes too far the other way)

Watch out for the Rob Biddulph illustrations throughout, particularly Spike’s sister mid-yell. They not only add a fun element to the book, dominating some pages, but also give character and setting.

With so much readily available technology for children, the essence of the book remains true to life – such things as clandestine streaming radio stations are possible. And mixed with a good brand of childish humour, this is sure to be a chart hit. Aimed at age 9+ years. You can buy a copy here.