Tag Archives: Morris Gleitzman

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

After

I was going to ask Morris Gleitzman why he decided to write a fourth book about Felix, and especially one set between the second and third books. I didn’t have to, however, since he explains why in the back of After. Apparently Felix himself felt he wasn’t quite done, yet. And since we already knew he survived to become an old man, that’s not a spoiler.

After is set just before the end of WWII, but because the people living through that period didn’t know about that, it’s not as if it makes their lives easier. Felix is not having a good time at all, when circumstances change to his living hidden in the barn.

He is 13 now, but still as wonderfully naïve, and just as kind and good natured, as he was at six. Not wanting to give too much away, it’s hard to talk about this book. Felix meets and loses several people important to him. He himself becomes important to others, and he does his bit for the anti-war effort.

Felix is constantly hoping for some parental figure to love him. It doesn’t matter so much who, as long as there is someone. Starvation and the cold make life almost impossible, and there are other events which go a long way to explaining Felix as an old man.

But it’s the humour which matters the most. That, and kindness. It’s odd that you can have so much humour in what is such a bleak story. You – almost – know that the book will have to end well in some way, but it is impossible to guess how.

I don’t know about Felix, but I could read more. Felix the teenager. Felix the adult. He’s a lovely person and we feel better for getting to know him.

Pizza Cake

You have to love Morris Gleitzman! There is something so nice and kind in all that he writes. You feel good. You can even hope that it’s not all going to go horribly wrong. Life is Pizza Cake.

Pizza Cake is a collection of ten funny stories, and oh, how I wish Morris’s unusual perception of teachers could be true! (Or maybe not? You never know.) There is the memory of a grandfather who was brave. The pain of having a funny name.

I didn’t quite get the dad’s diary story, but that was probably just me. Complaining is very me. Was, anyway. Could your sister’s boyfriend be a vampire? And when is funny food actually quite nice?

The importance of paperclips must never be underestimated. Life is always unfair, and writing stories is good.

You’ll enjoy every single one of these tales. I did. The book could have been a lot longer.

Pizza Cake

(I wanted a normal cover image, but found none, so picked this off Morris’s website. My book is red, not blue. But this will do.)

One Dog and his Boy

I’ve been gorging on sweet dog stories for a while. Or so it seems. Hot on the tails of Oliver and ‘his’ Barclay in Too Small to Fail we meet Hal and Fleck in Eva Ibbotson’s last book. Both boys have dreadful parents, rich and with no clue as to what their sons really need. And it’s not more of the latest toys, nor is it to spend time with housekeepers.

They need their dogs. The dogs they have fallen hopelessly in love with. Dogs that are equally potty about their boys.

But the adults rule, especially when they have too much money. Hal’s parents strike me more as charicatures. In fact, the whole book is more of a story story, but it’s one of the best. I’m not sure when it’s set. It’s sort of a mix of now and then and never.

There isn’t just the one dog, either. Fleck has friends at the Easy Pets Dog Agency, and they too need a happy end. And let’s face it, even if Hal’s parents could learn to see sense, they would never take on five dogs of varying sizes.

Eva Ibbotson, One Dog and his Boy

Unlike Oliver, Hal quickly realises that his parents really have gone too far when they rent a dog for him for the weekend, and then return it, believing he will soon tire of Fleck. So he takes action, but only after thinking things through carefully.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there are several nice girls who all love dogs, and there are some very nice and sensible adults. And because this is an Eva Ibbotson story things sort themselves out. It took me a while to work out how she was going to do it, and when it happened it was even lovelier than expected.

After a book like this I could even half want a dog.

(Irresistible doggie pictures by Sharon Rentta.)

Too Small to Fail

Why did I ever stop reading Morris Gleitzman? I read some of his books when Son was the right age, and when he moved on, I moved on. But you just don’t move on from Morris and his books. His latest one, Too Small to Fail, is as wonderful as I wanted it to be.

Morris Gleitzman, Too Small to Fail

The cover is intriguing. Small boy. As is to be expected. Small dog. That too is normal. Pile of money. Less so. Camel. No.

But it works.

The first sentence is ‘Oliver wanted more,’ and that’s enough to make you take notice. Olivers tend to want more. But the thing is, this Oliver has a problem, which is that his parents are too rich. And the wanting more, isn’t Oliver being greedy. He feels there must be more to life than luxury and banking. (His parents are bankers.)

More could be a nice little dog, like the one in the pet shop window, for instance. Oliver would very much like a nice little dog. The little dog wants Oliver quite a lot too.

And then someone buys the dog, and the dog – and possibly Oliver too – is in danger.

This is a good and easy way to understand investment banking. Oliver sort of understands, and the reader will have a decent grasp of it at the end of the book. There isn’t only a dog in need of help. There are 16 camels in dire straits. There is an angry ex-housekeeper and there is an angry and sad orphaned girl.

To save the dog he loves and to make sure the camels are all right, Oliver needs to do some investment banking of his own. His parents continue being busy making more money, until…

Well, let’s just say it’s exciting, and it’s hard to work out how it will work out. I hope there really are little boys like Oliver. We need them more than ever now.

A Kathryn Ross event

Kathryn Ross chaired an event this morning, and it set me thinking about what I’d written on the rather good event she chaired earlier in the week. Now, which one was it? Oh yes, it was the Southern hemisphere one, on my Aussie day, with Morris Gleitzman and Jason Wallace. The one Mal Peet was sad to have missed. And the reason I couldn’t recall what I’d written was that I hadn’t. At all.

Jason Wallace

I assumed Morris to be here for his umpteenth EIBF appearance, but it turned out to be his first. I’m fairly certain it was Jason’s first, as Out of Shadows is his first book. And here he was, paired with old-timer Gleitzman, whose new book Too Small to Fail is yet another laugh-and-cry story about a young child who tries to do his best in an awkward situation.

Jason Wallace, Out of Shadows

They started off by each reading a piece, with Jason in the nice boots choosing the snake story from somewhere at the beginning of Out of Shadows. He did a passable Zimbabwean accent, or so I’d like to believe, anyway.

Morris read the early chapter with Oliver standing outside the pet shop loving the doggie in the window. It quickly goes from sweet and traditional to potentially dangerous but also funny, because this is Morris Gleitzman, after all. He was probably rather tired, as he’d just arrived from Australia, but you wouldn’t have known.

Both authors like introducing difficult situations for their characters to solve, or for the readers to solve. They go for characters who do what you yourself wouldn’t do. Jason is an optimist who wanted to find out why Ivan was quite so horrible, and Kathryn suggested that perhaps we can sort of like him, simply because he is so awful.

When asked if they like their characters, Morris said it’s like with your children. There is a reason you don’t strangle them, even if you sometimes feel like it. Characters and children can be disappointing and surprising, but it’d be hard to live with the characters for the length of the book if you don’t like them.

Jason found he ‘enjoyed not liking Ivan’ very much, and that it made the writing work. And no one sees themselves as totally bad or evil. He believes in writing about what you know, whereas Morris subscribes to the idea that you should write about what you feel.

Someone asked if Morris felt bad about the end of Then, and he admitted it was the hardest thing to write, ever, and he had had to force himself. Morris then asked if they thought it was the wrong end, but was told that Then needed to end this way.

Morris Gleitzman

The eight-year-old Morris was a daydreaming wannabe dentist who wrote in secret, until the day someone in the football changing rooms found a story of his and was still reading it ten minutes later. That’s when he realised that if he could ‘keep kids in bag rooms’ his writing might be OK.

A question as to why adult characters come across as a lot weaker than child characters was explained by describing parents as ‘collateral damage’ in children’s fiction. There wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, and the books need to be written from the point of view of the child, seeing adults as the child sees them.

Which makes a lot of sense. The same goes for the child being a smaller person, while their feelings are not smaller.

We didn’t want this event to end. Kathryn could have gone on and on, and so could most of us. Except perhaps for Morris who really might have been ready for bed.