Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar

Frankie Fish cover

 “You took too long getting ready for bed, so you only get that one chapter tonight,” I said to Mr 7 and Mr 9. It was the ultimate threat.  

“Noooo!!! Read more, read more!”

“Ohhhh, okay, just one more chapter.” I was too easily swayed, but I really wanted to read one more chapter too. The boys loved Frankie Fish right from the beginning and so did I.

Frankie Fish is a prankster, and after a prank goes wrong at school, he is forced to spend the school holidays with his grandparents – his grandmother and grumpy old fart grandfather, Alfie Fish. Frankie and Alfie don’t see eye to eye and Frankie quickly becomes bored. Before long, an experiment of Alfie’s goes awry, and Frankie and Alfie head off on a journey through space and time to save Frankie’s family.

Along the way the Fish men meet familiar faces from the past, and there’s a hook hand, a forbidden shed and even a villain to boo and hiss at. We also see a relationship blossom between a crusty old man and his cheeky grandson.

Many of the chapters in Frankie Fish end on cliffhangers leaving Mr 7 and Mr 9 to speculate as to Frankie’s fate as they fell asleep each night, desperate to know what happened next. Would they save Frankie’s family? Would they be trapped in another time? Would Frankie’s face become a bad knock-off of a Picasso?

With five chapters left, we headed to the coast for the Canberra Day long weekend with every other Canberran. The kids shared a bedroom and I read a chapter of Frankie Fish to them on our arrival. Miss 11 listened in and the next morning decided to read it too. She refused to leave the house until she had read up to our bookmark. When she finally did, we gathered around to finish the book, Miss 11 and Mr 9 on the edge of their seats, while Mr 7 read over my shoulder, bouncing up and down with each plot twist until the satisfying conclusion.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase was full of laughs from the get-go, with some delights sprinkled through for the adults too. In the first chapter, I chuckled at a 90s reference that went right over the boys’ heads but they didn’t miss the Doctor Who references, as we’re a family of geeks counting the weeks until the new series comes out (FIVE WEEKS!).

Helliar’s writing style is a masterclass in the use of simile and given that many of his readers would be learning about metaphors and similes at school, he shows how much they can add to the colour and humour of a story when done well. One in particular amused me so much I kept quoting it to the kids., “her red hair flowed down her back like a waterless hairy waterfall.”

“Mum! Did you see, there’s a number one on the spine. That means there’s going to be more! Do you think the author is writing it now?” Mr 9 squealed. I was very glad to read that Frankie Fish is set to be a series. I love it when I find a book that appeals to all three of my kids and this one certainly did. We had such a fun time reading the book and can’t wait for the next instalment.

Post book activity – Prank-o-rama (aka “Let’s Prank Dad!”)

After reading Frankie Fish, Mr 7 asked me if I had ever played any pranks as a kid. Why, yes I did.

I once dressed my little brother in my clothes with an ash blonde wig to pose as my friend. He climbed over our side gate and knocked on the front door. When our Nana answered, he asked if he could come in and play with Holly. Nana fell for it hook, line and sinker! She later said, “I couldn’t get over what a strange looking little girl she was.”

When I was older, I phoned my Dad from another room, convinced him I was a client wanting to arrange a meeting. If I hadn’t told him the truth later that night, he was going on a four hour car trip the following week to meet the staff at my fictional winery.

In my first year of high school, I told my best friends, on April Fool’s Day, that we were moving from Perth to Sydney. They were rather upset. This one backfired a few months later when another member of our group told us she was moving to Melbourne. We didn’t believe her, we made her swear on a stack of lunchbox lids that she was telling the truth. She was! She moved to Melbourne, boohoo!

After sharing my fond memories of pranking, I did what any good parent would do and said, “Let’s prank Dad!”

The easiest option would be to tamper with his breakfast cereal, a hidden plastic spider, or a generous sprinkling of salt, perhaps? We could log into Netflix, delete his bookmarked shows and replace them with Fuller House, but I’m not a monster!

Dad is not easily fooled. He is logical, cynical and observant. Not like me, as after reading the book, we went to the beach where I sat on the water’s edge with my feet buried in the sand. Mr 9 convinced me my own toe was a seashell and I reached to pick it up. In the words of Bugs Bunny, “what an ultra-maroon.”

We were having churros with strawberries, melted chocolate and ice cream for dessert. Yummy. What could we do to the dessert? Pepper on the churros, yeahhhhh. So we served up everyone’s dessert and sat and waited…Dad tucked into the ice cream first, swirling the melted chocolate around his plate and started to dip in the churros and gobble them up. Four small churros on the plate…three…two…any minute now…one.


My own, non peppery, churros

My own, non peppery, churros

“So, what did you think?”

"It was alright.”

He didn’t notice. He didn’t notice that one of his churros was covered in black pepper! After all our anticipation, our prank was a total fail. Now we’re going to have to wait a long time to prank him again. He’s onto us now.

Have you played a prank on someone? Was it successful? Please let me know in the comments.