Book Review: The Unbelievable Biscuit Factory by James Harris
The Unbelievable Biscuit Factory is the debut novel by James Harris, a mentor and workshop leader for Writers’ Block North East. The book won a Northern Writers’ Award for a children’s novel, and reading it I could certainly see why.
This novel is extremely funny. It’s funny in a way which manages to be very silly and very clever at the same time. Aimed at a middle grade readership, it follows the adventures of eleven-year-old Haddie, who lives in Normalton. The most important thing about Normalton is that it’s an absolutely normal place where nothing exciting ever happens. Everyone who lives there is convinced of this fact. The town is overshadowed by the Biscuit Factory which, according to the cover, is ‘100% definitely not a super-secret science lab filled with orange fluffy monsters’. However, it can legally call itself a biscuit factory because it has manufactured one biscuit.
On this particular day in Normalton, Haddie meets her friends for band practice at the Community Centre. Suddenly, the centre is attacked by the aforementioned fluffy orange monsters, or ‘Bumblefluffs’. The Bumblefluffs’ great skill is stating the obvious, very loudly. So what follows is a situation in which they cause chaos, bellowing things like “I AM SITTING ON THIS MAN”, while the man being sat on insists that everything is all right and perfectly normal.
But Haddie knows everything is far from all right. When her beloved electric guitar, El Jirafa Tremendo, goes missing, she embarks on a trip to the Biscuit Factory to retrieve it. There, she discovers that the super-secret science lab is a threat to the very fabric of the universe itself, and if she doesn’t do something soon, the world will go ‘kablooey’.
There is something very British and almost Monty Python-esque about the humour in this book. There are so many wonderful details. The streets of Normalton are patrolled by ‘Happybuses’, which retrieve the citizens from harm while making them sing a song about how ‘all right’ everything is. Haddie’s band don’t really know how to play their instruments, so Haddie invents her own chords, such as ‘F minus’. And Haddie is assisted in her world-saving quest by Man Man, a superhero with all the powers and abilities of a man (he’s actually a rabbit).
One of my favourite aspects of this novel is how metafictional it is. This is a book that never lets the reader forget that it’s a book. Chapters are introduced with extracts from ‘Biccypedia’, which gives the reader important background information about Normalton and the Biscuit Factory, among other things. About a third of the way through the book, Biccypedia goes offline because a Bumblefluff is sitting on the keyboard. The reader is also given ‘Notifications’ in which the author comments on the story (“Chapter Seven is pretty good”).
This would be a fantastic book to read aloud with children. There are so many silly noises, and funny words, and asides. There are also some great jokes for adults which never feel out of place.
This is a novel which all ages will find funny. I’m looking forward to seeing what James Harris writes next.
Jenna Warren runs Book Corner, an independent bookshop in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, which she established in 2014. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Teesside University, and has had short stories published by Writers Online and English Heritage. She loves writing about music and the theatre, and she hasrecently completed her first novel.’
James Harris is a writer, filmmaker, performer, pole-vaulter, wizard and exaggerator based in Middlesbrough. He is a mentor and workshop leader for Writers’ Block North East, a Teesside creative writing and development service. The Unbelievable Biscuit Factory is his first novel, winner of the Northern Writers’ Children’s Novel Award. He’s made short films, sketches and animations for the BBC and Channel 4, and he sometimes performs live comedy with his friends.
Buy The Unbelievable Biscuit Factory at: https://bookcornershop.co.uk/product/9781444955590/
Competition: The Unbelievable Biscuit Competition (for 7-12 year olds)
Like books? Like biscuits? If you answered ‘yes’, then this competition is for you! To celebrate the release of ‘The Unbelievable Biscuit Factory’ by James Harris, we’re inviting you to design your own Biscuit Superhero!
Is your superhero made of biscuits? Do they have any biscuit-based superpowers? Jenna at Book Corner would love to know!
Either send in a drawing or write a description of your superhero for the chance to win a signed copy of the book (and some biscuits). Three winners will be chosen by James Harris and Book Corner.
Just drop your entry into Book Corner or post it through the door at 24 Milton Street, Saltburn. Don’t forget to ask a parent/guardian to include their phone number, so Jenna can contact the winners!
Closing date 24th April.
Do you have a story, something to say or an idea for what we should cover on The Tees Online? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.