When Robyn Opie was fifteen, her English teacher gave her an ‘A’ for every essay she wrote. One day, as he handed back her essay, he said, ‘You should be a writer’.
I was stunned. I hadn’t thought about being a writer. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about people writing books. I mean, I read plenty of books, all the time, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people wrote the books I loved. People, like me? I went home and began work on my ‘Nancy Drew’ mystery.
Robyn’s ‘Nancy Drew’ mystery was rejected for being ‘too similar’ but she has gone on to become the author of more than eighty books including her fast-paced Black Baron, which is part of Walker Books Lightning Strikes series.
Black Baron, Jake’s champion racing cockroach, hasn’t lost a race and Jake is on top of the world. But then his mum decides to clean up his bedroom and discovers Black Baron in a shoebox under Jake’s bed. Mum is aghast — how could Jake keep such a filthy pest? But Black Baron escapes and Jake’s Mum calls the pest exterminator and a humorous slapstick tale ensues. (Blurb courtesy of Walker Books Australia website)
Black Baron is for readers aged 8 to 12, but I must admit that this particular cockroach managed to get under my skin, and I know I’m not the only adult who has been charmed by his scuttling ways. The story is action packed and full of great humour.
The main character Jake is a normal boy who isn’t good at cleaning his bedroom and would rather spend time with his mates, which is why his mum ends up cleaning his room and finding Black Baron.
What Robyn likes most about her main character, Jake is that, to him, Black Baron isn’t an ordinary cockroach to be stomped on or exterminated. Jake has a friendship and bond with Black Baron.
He refers to himself as Black Baron’s manager, as well as Black Baron’s mate. He cares so much that Black Baron’s possible demise is devastating. He struggles with the guilt that Black Baron’s imminent death is his fault. He feels responsible for his champion and mate. His relationship with Black Baron is special.
Robyn says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing this book was falling in love with Black Baron.
Warming to a cockroach wasn’t easy for me either. Most of us have our prejudices against cockroaches. They’re not cute and cuddly. Jake taught me to care and respect Black Baron. Cockroaches are misunderstood. As Jake says, ‘Cockroaches get a bad rap.’
Robyn loves animals and says that they often feature in her stories. She also confesses to being a ‘greenie’ and this affinity for the environment comes through in a number of her works.
My latest manuscript has the environment as a theme and includes an ancient mystical symbol. You’ll have to wait to find out more. I’m hoping the environment and natural forces will become even more of a focus in my writing.
In my own way, Black Baron is a protest about hunting and killing animals. I don’t understand how people can hunt and kill animals for pleasure or profit.
Yes, a cockroach is an unlikely hero in a protest against hunting and killing animals. People will have to read the book to understand. I’ll get off my high horse now and leave you with one thought – Long live the champ!
Walker Books has prepared a page of classroom ideas and this sheet can also be downloaded from Robyn’s website: http://www.robynopie.com/dl/BlackBaronSheet.pdf