Kidlit Review: Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

Operation BunnyFrom GoodReads: Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport.

Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life.

It is up to Emily to reopen the shop, and recall the fairies to duty. Together they must embark on their first mystery and do battle with their great fairy-snatching enemy, Harpella.

This book feels so British to me. It might be the sense of humor or the terrible adoptive parents. Whatever the reason this book is hilarious. I would call it a fairy-lite book. There are witches, magic, a talking cat, and fairies but the story doesn’t delve much into fairy lore or the fairy world as you see in a lot of fantasy. I think it makes a good entree into fairy stories for kids who are just trying out fantasy. Yet the humor and mystery of the story will interest kids who aren’t really fantasy fans.

When the Dashwood’s can’t have children of their own they decide to adopt Emily, but she turns out not to be the sunny, bright child Daisy Dashwood really wanted. A few years later the Dashwoods manage to have triplets who are what Daisy wanted. Emily is relegated to living in the laundry room (her bed is the ironing board) and is forced to do all the housework. One day, while Daisy is out with the triplets, the next door neighbor stops by with her talking cat and realizes Emily has no education. Using her magic, because Ms. String is actually a fairy, she helps Emily finish her chores and begins teaching her. In an unfortunate twist, Ms. String is killed after Emily awakens some magical keys and Emily must go on the run from a witch looking to kill all the fairies left in the world.

Emily is a quirky kid, but not particularly extraordinary which I think makes her more relatable, especially to the middle/upper elementary age group that the book feels geared toward (they aren’t yet in the throes of adolescence where no one gets them). Despite her situation with “parents” who use her as the hired help and a total lack of an education she manages to not be a sad sack. This adds to her charm and appeal. She is also fairly clever, coming up with plans when things seem most dire.

The humor is by turns dark and ridiculous. Emily at one point decides to use her adoptive “mother” as bait for catching the evil witch Harpella. Harpella is rather evil, but when angry she turns people into brightly colored bunny rabbits, hence the pink bunnies all over the book. Kids in that fourth/fifth grade range will find the darkness titillating as well as funny, laughing at things they probably shouldn’t laugh at. They are at that age when they are beginning to understand humor that works on several levels, but they still love a good silly joke like the bunnies.

Operation Bunny reads like the first in a series as there are several plot lines that go under developed and unresolved (why was Emily left in a hatbox in Stansted?), but I didn’t find it detracted from the overall story. The writing is fairly straight forward which makes the book good for elementary kids or low middle school readers. The series will keep them coming back to the library. I would give this book to kids who like mysteries, fairies, or the humor of Roald Dahl. Pair it with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire for quirky characters and mysteries.