When Andy Griffiths was teaching high school students in Mildura in the late 1980s, he was struck by how different their experience of reading was from his own. In his youth, books were omnipresent, and were wild, fun places to be—an escape from the adult word of logic.
In my experience as a child I loved being a little bit scared and I loved a good story. There are very few kids that can resist the lure of both of those.
ANDY GRIFFITHS, AUTHOR
But many of the kids at his school had never had a good experience with a book. Books were for nerds, they told him, and to be avoided at all costs.
‘I wanted to turn my class around,’ he tells Sunday Extra.
‘I started writing down silly little stories, provocative stories, about bums growing arms and legs and running away. And they laughed … “This is cool, sir! Can I write a story like that?” I said, “Yeah! And I’ll photocopy them and we’ll put them in a book in the library and look, you’ve just become authors.”
‘They had this sudden organic connection to words and stories and got the idea that you’re actually entertaining an audience.’
A quarter of a century later, Griffiths is one of Australia’s best-known children’s authors, having sold more than five million copies of his books around the world. The stories about bums growing arms and legs turned into a three-part series with increasingly silly titles—The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Zombie Bums from Uranus, and Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict—and even an animated TV series.
Missed this welcome bit of news while I was away in North Norfolk for a few days – well done Michael Rosen and Scholastic…
Following the closure of the Roald Dahl funny books prize last month, there’s now a new funny books award on the block – the Laugh Out Loud book prize. It’s a set of awards launched by the publisher Scholastic that recognises the funniest children’s books on the market. The best part? The ultimate winner will be chosen by you!
The prize, also known as the “Lollies”, will be made up of three categories: the Best Laugh Out Loud book for 6–8s, Best Laugh Out Loud book for 9–13s and Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book. Publishers will submit their favourite funny books to a panel of judges, with poet and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen (who started the Roald Dahl prize) at the head of the panel. The shortlist will be announced in March and that’s when you can vote for your favourite laugh-out-loud read, through the “Lollies” website.
Liz Pichon’s top 10 funny books with pictures
Rosen says the new prize “will be like a great big signpost saying ‘this way laughs’”, so if you want a say in the silliest reads, this is the perfect chance to get involved.
You can follow the latest updates through the hashtag #lollies, and Scholastic will also organise a series of events in schools across the country, bringing the funniest books to a classroom near you.
Philip Ardagh interviewed for the Guardian by members of the Imagine children’s festival “ideas cloud”:
Literature did wonders for my early vocabulary By the age of five, I was writing couplets that featured the word “alas”. I suppose I had a way of speaking that was not always suitable for my age. It made me stand out at school – and not in a good way.
School can be hell I was bullied from the age of seven, and I had to share a classroom with the main bully, my nemesis, for the next nine years. I was made fun of, stabbed with pencils in the back. It was all pretty unpleasant, and made me very anxious, very scared. I didn’t talk about it to anyone, I didn’t ask for help; I just thought that this was what life was. I coped by reading; books were a window to another world.
Highly recommended Guardian Review profile:
There is a simple test to see whether a child will like reading Lemony Snicket books, says the man who wrote them over tea at a Dublin hotel: “If there was a small child here who said, ‘Can I have one of those cookies?’, I might say, ‘One of those cookies is poisoned. We have no idea which one.’” And, adds Daniel Handler, who wrote the bestselling, 13-volume series A Series of Unfortunate Events, under the pen name Lemony Snicket, “there’s the sort of child who is alarmed by that and the sort of child who delights in it.”
So the latter would enjoy the bittersweet adventures of the tragically orphaned Baudelaire twins and their travails with venal uncle Count Olaf and his unpleasant henchpersons? “That’s right,” laughs Handler, joined by his wife, graphic artist Lisa Brown, who is sketching on a nearby sofa. “People say, ‘How old does a child need to be to appreciate Lemony Snicket?’ And I say, ‘It’s not how old, it’s the arrival of irony.’”
Before he leaves, I ask Handler to sign a copy of the third Lemony Snicket book, The Wide Window, for my daughter, who liked that volume most of all. “To Juliet, a future orphan. DH (allegedly LS)”, he writes. Bloody cheek, I think, as I read the inscription on the flight back to London. I still haven’t given her the signed copy. My daughter likes irony, but I don’t think she – or I – are quite ready for that sentiment.
It was announced last week that Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom [by William Sutcliffe] has been chosen for this year’s Young City Reads as part of Brighton Festival.
The idea is that one book by one author is chosen for children across the city to creatively engage with, at home and at school, and the project launches officially on March 5 (World Book Day) at Jubilee library.
Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom is the first book that William has written for younger children (eight years and up), and the first of a series, the second of which is soon to be published.
The central character in the offbeat adventure is a girl called Hannah, whose life is dull until Armitage Shank’s Impossible Circus comes to town.
William has written five novels for adults, including the international bestseller Are You Experienced?, while his first novel for young adults, The Wall, published in 2013, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize.
“I think the eight to 12 age group are the least well-served when it comes to finding something to read, and hopefully this will fill that gap.”
William began writing Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom shortly after the birth of his third child, so didn’t have huge amounts of time to dedicate to it. The first draft was written without too much scrutiny, but then the re-write was more rigorous, he says.
“I have no idea where the story comes from, I think it had been knocking around for a while; sometimes you have an intangible sense of how you want the story to feel.
“The story and characters revealed themselves to me as I wrote.
William explains that he approaches writing projects differently depending on what they are. Because Circus Of Thieves And The Raffle Of Doom is a humorous children’s book he was able to take a more freeform approach, rather than outlining a structure and sticking to it strictly.
“I have spent most of my adult life writing, and in order to keep the process alive for yourself as a writer you can do different things,” says William.
“I do enjoy taking a different approach each time.”
The book is definitely on the border between the real and the surreal, and the characters are brought to life with illustrations by David Tazzyman.
William and David will be in Brighton for a special Young City Reads event on May 20.
William now lives in Edinburgh, with his wife, novelist Maggie O’Farrell, and their three children aged 10, 5 and 2.
Two very different books from the same author, both published this year, one by Andersen Press, the other by Hot Key.
Seven Second Delay – described as “a blood pumping thrill ride” by one Amazon reviewer – and as a “Tense dystopian thriller” by School Librarian – has a striking, predominantly matt black cover design.
Boys Don’t Knit, as the very different cover evokes, is a diary format comedy. (There is already a sequel)
This series by Caryl Hart & Alex T. Smith looks great fun.
The illustrations are superb and the writing is made for reading-aloud, a fact I can vouch for, as I’ve just enjoyed reading the first couple of chapters aloud to myself in an empty house.
Foxy Tales: 03: The Great Jail Break is publishing 5 Mar 2015.
Mal Peet’s first novel for adults gets a ‘rave review’ in The Guardian
Not many novels about novelists are as acute or as entertaining as this: a genuinely funny comedy that takes the piss – out of Devon, the writer’s lot, the whole fantasy genre – with a Pratchettian mix of gusto and warmth. The latter quality is particularly helpful in the literary satire, which skewers the tropes of an entire genre while managing to keep the phantastic storyline going as a valid part of the plot.
Peet’s prose also boasts a Pratchettian vigour and invention, most obviously in the exotic “gremes” and “porlocs” of the Realm but also in the diurnal comedy of the real world. This may be Mal Peet’s first book for grownups, but it is an assured, even virtuoso, performance fully deserving that most prestigious of accolades – a rave review in the Guardian.
Jeremy Strong has just published his 100th book:
The author of My Dad’s Got an Alligator and The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog explains why author and script-writer Spike Milligan is to blame for everything silly in his books!
As a child one of the books I kept dipping into was the Faber Book of Nonsense. It was full of delightfully silly stuff by the likes of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Evidently my interest in humour began at an early age. In the 1950s, when I was aged aged six-10 or so, my family didn’t have a television so we listened to the radio a lot. My parents loved the funny programmes and one of them – The Goon Show – really caught my imagination.
It was so ridiculously silly. The man who wrote The Goon Show was Spike Milligan and when I was a bit older I discovered he wrote for children. Silly Verse for Kids, and Badjelly the Witch were two such books and in them I found that same, very silly, utterly crazy humour, so if you read one of my books and find yourself thinking “that is SO stupid!”, you can blame Spike Milligan. He was a comic genius who used not just words but sound effects too and often accompanied his poems with daft drawings, as in A Book of Milliganimals. He pushed away any barriers surrounding humour and made almost anything possible.
Lorna Bradbury observes the absence of humour in the newly-announced Carnegie shortlist:
This year’s CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist, notable for a clutch of gritty stories of bullying, abuse and child kidnapping, seems worlds away from the carefree outdoor adventures of Arthur Ransome, the prize’s first winner in 1936.
It is a trend that has marked the prize in recent years, as it has characterised a strand in children’s publishing too. Take Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, which won both the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway awards two years ago and featured a boy dealing with his mother’s terminal cancer, or last year’s Maggot Moon, Sally Gardner’s stark parable about totalitarianism (and dyslexia), both of them remarkable, singular reads, but undeniably a touch weighty in their content.
It’s fair to say that this year’s shortlist doesn’t have much for fans of David Walliams, say, or Andy Stanton. There aren’t many jokes.