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Ian Hills , 'The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy'

Icon Books, 2005: ISBN 1 84046 564 6; £5.99. Author website: http://www.toxictoad.co.uk

Alien penguins, thought-powered spacecraft and some doddery members of Green Peas race through this children's book to stop an evil fast food empire. Marcellus Guzzle, despot of the toadburger chain, and his henchmen will murder anyone who gets in his way.

While his dreams of ecological disasters and unlimited financial profits seem to be coming true, an unlikely adversary appears on the scene. Eddy Tumble is just a fat 14-year-old who loves fast food until he dies at the dinner-table and is then brought back to life. He is joined by his pet hamster Snuffle and the bully of the school playground Thump. All three are given special powers in order to defeat Gut Bucket Holdings. And that is just the beginning of the book. This is the kind of story where giving away the end would spoil the plot. If you enjoyed the conspiracy comedy Stark by Ben Elton, you will like this book too. The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy is a funny satire that will please adults as much as children with its imaginative characters. Every attempt to expose Marcellus Guzzle and Gut Bucket Holdings is thwarted by one of his migraine-inducing brain waves. Eddy is not the only one with supernatural powers. Ian Hills takes us into Harry Potter-esque territory with imaginative magical special effects and a classic battle between good and evil. However, even the goodies are far from flawless.

Topically the book deals with the issue of the obesity in young people. The sinister toad burgers that the children eat contain ribbit juice, which is extremely addictive, unless the children exercise. Naturally the profiteering tycoon discourages exercise of any kind and pays an Oxford graduate to back him up. The toads are cruelly maltreated before being turned into snacks in burger bars and takeaway meals. And there is a plan to kill off the fish supply so that natural, healthy food will be wiped out.

Hapless coppers, journalists and activists are all falling by the wayside. Cliffhangers tease the readers: as soon as one character gets into trouble, we switch to another. There is a sense that time is running out as the protagonists act with increasing urgency.

Ian Hills has worked with Ben and Jerry's as well as organic products as a food marketer and is obviously passionate about the subject. This surreal, wacky adventure is his first published story but another is in the pipeline. The author has even asked children to post ideas for the next book on his website.

Topics: Food | Green