Casper Candlewacks and his geeky sidekick Lamp (yes, really) are the only intelligent people in a country village peopled by bullies and idiots. We are firmly in Roald Dahl territory here, where sadistic stereotypes exist to make life hellish for resourceful children.
Casper's home life leaves much to be desired - his family consists of his exhausted father, who is the chef at the village's really rather awful restaurant, his useless TV-addict mother and a baby of indeterminate gender and unparalleled hideousness. At school he is bullied by his teacher and his classmates - only Lamp doggedly clings to him, eager to demonstrate his embarrassing inventions.
You'd think things couldn't get much worse, but of course they do - Casper manages to anger a volatile Italian magician who promptly curses the whole village. Of course, it falls to Casper and Lamp to save the day - which they do using Lamp's latest creation - a buggy that runs on soap bubbles - more than a little luck and the inside information that the Italian magician is highly allergic to coriander. This is the kind of book where if it says something makes a character's head explode, that is precisely what happens.
What redeems this book from often-imitated cliche is the liveliness of its writing, which is genuinely original and funny. Children will love the random craziness of Ivan Brett's metaphors ("children were rolling around like terrified sausage rolls", for example). My review copy wasn't illustrated throughout, but the few pages that were suggest that the pictures will add a further level of wackiness and break down any lingering resistance to the printed word in its target audience (probably boys aged around six to nine, though there's much for girls to enjoy, too).
So, if your little one has worked their way through Hiccup Haddock Horrendous and Mr Gum and is clamouring for more of the same, this will fit the bill nicely. I hope it's one of a lengthy series.