“Holy guacamole with a side order of Yikes!”
How can three young supergeeks fight off an army of eight-legged, data-hungry machines?
With incredible timing this book hit the top of my TBR stack in the week that Ofcom announced that over a quarter of young children now use a smart speaker in their home. Tom McLaughin’s laugh out loud “Accidental” books are already hugely popular with children, and this latest title is hugely entertaining with a useful reminder about online safety issues.
Tyler Fitz has recently moved to Happyville, a suspiciously upbeat town where “cute” rules. In the school social structure of Alphas, Wannabes, Perfectos, Nerds & Teachers, she has teamed up with two fellow geeks; Dylan and Ashley. They spend most of their free time hanging out in their clubhouse, a silver caravan parked in Tyler’s back garden, where they discuss maths problems and watching Antiques Goldmine!
As they watch their favourite TV programme they are constantly interrupted by advertisements for Nova the smart speaker that “no-one should be without.” Ashley admits that she already owns seven of them – purely for research purposes as she tries to exploit their AI potential and even as they sit in the clubhouse a drone delivers one that Tyler‘s father has ordered.
Both Tyler and Dylan are very sceptical about the smart speakers both expressing their views that a computer should not know more about you than you know yourself. When it becomes apparent that the smart speakers know substantial amounts of their personal information, obviously mined from other sources, both Dylan and Tyler decide to investigate. Ashley, in the meantime, has become brainwashed!
This highly illustrated chapter book zips along at a great pace with plenty of comic set pieces and smart dialogue to entertain children of 7 years and above. Newly confident readers will find it a joy to read alone, but it would also make an interesting class read in conjunction with online safety lessons in the Primary School Computing curriculum. It is a hilarious cautionary tale about the risks of over-sharing personal information and failing to read the Terms & Conditions when using any social media. I will be reading it aloud in my school library this week to tie in with Safer Internet Day. The image of eight-legged smart speakers scuttling about like robot spiders spying on an entire town’s inhabitants and controlling their actions is a great metaphor for the surveillance age.
I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Publishing for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.