Tag Archives: Humour

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose – Paul Collins

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Ford St Publishing

March 2017

ISBN 9781925272628

RRP $17.95

No doubt about it, Paul’s on a winner with this one!

Harry Kruize is an average sort of boy but has an over-abundance of woes and worries. In fact, his self-esteem could hardly be any lower nor his anxiety any less.

It’s not that he minds helping his mum out with the boarding house. After all, since his Dad went away it’s just been the two of them but so many other things are just wrong. Having to see Fitzy the school psychologist (to eliminate any residue issues over his dad’s defection), being constantly ridiculed by the gaggle of nasty girls known collectively as the Bees, having no friends at all, living in mortal dread of the biggest bully in the school, the BRICK, his mum acting all weirdo and secretive are all major problems in Harry’s teenage life. Worst of all, he so desperately wants a dog. More than anything, a dog would make him so much happier.

When Harry’s favourite teacher Mr Granger sets a whole term assignment to illustrate the power of words, Harry is unconvinced. Still he does write down his wishes and he keeps his HH (Harry Hobbit) diary to verbalise his thoughts.

Along comes a character Harry would never have dreamed existed. An old guy named Jack who looks like he stepped straight out of a painting of a bush swagman turns up and needs a place to stay – just for a bit – because he’s really the type who roams about. Suddenly Harry finds himself with a friend and more importantly a friend who knows and understands dogs. Harry’s engagement with Jack and his yarns about fantastic dogs he’s known become the highlight in his existence.

I have to tell you Paul I recognised that it was Henry from the get-go – I am my father’s daughter after all.  I just love this juxtaposition of a 21st century teenage boy’s angst and Henry Lawson’s bush philosophy.

As Harry hears more and more of Jack’s stories things begin to shift in his life. The snarled up threads of his normal days seem to untangle and begin to run more smoothly. By the time, Jack disappears ‘on the wallaby track’ again, Harry has solved the mystery of his Mum’s strangeness – and is about to have a new stepfather, gained the trust and growing friendship of the Brick, finished his sessions with Fitzy, faced down the Bees and most importantly of all has a champion dog of his own.

Henry Lawson was a man who saw the best in our collective Australian personality – the courage, the resilience, the laconic humour, the loyalty and more. He imbued his bush yarns with these qualities and I believe they still exist, exemplified in instances such as hundreds of ordinary people turning up with mops and buckets to help with floods  or those battling bushfires or putting our hands up to give a hand up to anyone who needs it and much more.  His spirit and his faith in his fellow Australians lingers, as it does for Harry, inspiring those same qualities so that we can all recognise in ourselves our best.

I would highly recommend this for your readers from around Year 6 and up – I foresee it being a novel that teachers would love to see as a class reading. Enjoyable and humorous it’s appeal will be for both boys and girls.

 

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Personal photos

PS

Before my aunt and cousin moved a few years ago from their place outside Mudgee – one of my great joys in visiting was knowing I was in the heart of Lawson country. Driving past the Budgee Budgee Inn where Henry wrote The Loaded Dog, visiting the site of his childhood home and Gulgong and generally soaking up his lingering presence were all fodder for my imagination.

Henry Lawson (17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922) was an Australian writer and poet. Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson, Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period, and is often called Australia’s “greatest writer”.

Although Henry was born at the Grenfell goldfields, he was raised, from the age of six months to 15 years, in a cottage 8 km north of Mudgee at Eurunderee (then known as ‘Pipeclay’), which was established after a gold find in 1863. He briefly attended the local Catholic school.

http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/arts/display/22377-henry-lawson

 

Peggy and Me – Miranda Hart

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peggy

Hachette Australia
ISBN:
 9781444769135

Publication date: 11 Oct 2016

Page count:

Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton

 

Many readers will be familiar with Miranda Hart’s work as a comedic actress; appearances in Absolutely Fabulous, Smack the Pony and of course, Call the Midwife and her own self-titled sitcom Miranda.

She had long been more a cat person than a dog person and relates some hilarious observations about dog owners. And then nine years ago Miranda met and fell in love with a tiny shih tzu/bichon frise cross puppy she named Peggy.  The two became inseperable and Miranda’s recount of her life shared with Peggy is both funny, poignant and wise.

Throughout the ups and downs, insecurities, sadness, elation and day-to-day life of their time together, Miranda noted that her best life lessons were in fact taught to her by Peggy.

In this delightful memoir, the reader is introduced to Peggy who always has her own take on the situation and is pleased to share it with us.

This is a laugh-out-loud read so just be aware that fellow commuters may look askance at your snorts as you follow the travails of Miranda and her best friend Peggy.

This would make a fabulous Christmas present for someone who appreciates both the joy of dog-owning and the virtues of humour as an antidote for drab and uninspiring daily grinds.

Artie and the Grime Wave – Written and illustrated by Richard Roxburgh

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artie

ISBN: 9781760292140

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Imprint: A & U Children

October 2016

RRP $16.99

Ok so Richard Roxburgh is a talented actor and director in both theatre and screen and of course the star of Rake. Now he’s added writing and illustrating to his portfolio in a very successful way. I mean to say, he’s good looking as well? Talk about take out a jackpot! Anyway, I digress so on with the review.

For your kids who love the rambunctious humour of the likes of Andy Griffith, Tristan Bancks, or Aaron Blabey and get the hysterical giggles over a few fart mentions this is perfect.

Artie and his friend Bumshoe are not the most popular kids in town. One is skinny, has lost his dad which has sent his mum into a deep depression and the other is a chubby one-of-many in a pretty ‘relaxed’ family.

When these two discover a Cave-of-Possibly-Stolen-Stuff they realise that the dodgy Mayor Grime is somehow involved with this gang of thugs. There have been so many thefts around town that everyone is on high alert yet no one wants to believe the two boys. Artie in particular is determined to rescue his lovely neighbour Gladys’ pet tortoise which has apparently been pet-napped with many other creatures.  But the two boys lack a serious amount of luck when it comes to finding a solution to the problem and end up in all sorts of trouble – including being almost eaten! An eccentric old lady who dabbles in high-tec inventions although continually coated in talc, a mum who rouses herself into tigress mode at exactly the right time and the stalwart support of good friends and neighbours saves the day.

Artie is no hulking hero but he stands up for what he believes and stands up to the bullies – and that’s an important message for any reader.

Any kid will love the part when one of the thugs has his bum bitten by the gang’s savage guard dog while enduring the world’s worst wedgie and will certainly love Aunty-boy’s invention the Fartex 120Y.

Highly recommended for readers who like to laugh out loud – from around 9 years old upwards.

Crazy Characters & Daft Deeds

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I’ve chosen to review these two books on the same post as to me they are similar in many ways all of which will appeal to their audience.  Both Colin Thompson and A.F. Harrold have a singular and individualised way of providing satirical humour for a pint-sized readership. They also both employ that  every engaging device of the author speaking directly to the reader when necessary.

Fizzlebert Stump and The Great Supermarket Showdown

fizz

Published: 01-09-2016

ISBN: 9781408869451

Imprint: Bloomsbury Childrens Series: Fizzlebert Stump

RRP: $12.99

I’ve not seen the previous titles in this series but any book called Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus (and Joined the Library) has got my vote already and ensures I will catch up with the earlier books.

Fizz lives in a circus – in fact, he was born and raised under the Big Top. His entire life and livelihood is suddenly turned upside down when the Ringmaster sells the circus without any warning. It is all most strange. The Ringmaster assures his folk that not much will change but change it does. Those without an ironclad contract drift away to find other employment including the animals, while those basically indentured to the circus remain – and find themselves little more than navvies in a tawdry supermarket managed by a very unpleasant owner.  When a book starts at Chapter 4 you know you are in for a completely unusual read and this is the case.

Fizz is the definite hero here as he digs deeper (especially at his library!) to find out why the Ringmaster just upped and sold the circus. He runs into old friends (from previous books) and triumphantly they resolve the whole debacle.

It is fun, it is wacky and will definitely be a hit with young readers who have a yen for humour.

Watch This Space 2: In the Pink

inthepink

Random House

ISBN 9781742756189

August 29, 2016

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $15.99

Previous readers of this blog will know of my attachment to Colin Thompson’s work.  I have been patiently waiting for the second instalment in the newest series which will no doubt prove every bit as popular as the well-worn Floods titles on my library shelves.

The Contrast family, sent into space by entrepreneur Radius Limpfast, in the most exciting reality TV show yet are bored out of their brains after a mere week in space. When they realise that they are trapped for five years things look grim but fortunately (?) their genius robot rRego knows what is needed. He hacks into the spaceship and re-directs the family to what they think will be Earth – except it’s not.

Weirdly the family ends up on a very Earth-like planet – well except for that thing about the planet seems to have turned pink and has a couple of extra moons – and a strange human-disguised lizard population.

As usual Colin’s play on words, and digs at popular culture are prevalent and highly amusing.

Your Floods devotees are very quickly going to take up this newest series and I predict you will need multiple copies to keep up with demand.

Q&A with Michael Wagner!!

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Hi Michael and welcome to Just So Stories!

  1. Let’s jump right in here and start with So Wrong! You mentioned that as reluctant readers as kids you and Wayne Bright, your illustrator, wanted to create a book that would entice children to read. Tell us about its inception and inspiration please.

So Wrong started with a bunch of scribbled ideas in my old journals. I’d noted down all sorts of weird and silly thoughts that weren’t quite convertible into books or even short stories. They were things like one-off cartoon ideas, satirical advertisements, parodies of picture books, etc. They couldn’t be turned into books, but I found them funny. As I wondered what to do with them, it occurred to me that they could be assembled into a book of random, misfit bits and pieces. And the one common thread through all of the ideas, it seemed to me, was their wrongness.

  1. So what did ‘switch’ you on to reading eventually?

When I was 19, would you believe, my girlfriend was (sorry this is going to sound so clichéd) a librarian. Like any good librarian, she suggested a novel to me (Monkey Grip), and to my surprise, I liked it. I didn’t realise books could be so modern and edgy and cool. That’s what started me reading as an adult and I’ve been fairly voracious ever since. The importance of librarians can’t be overstated – everyone should date one, at least once in their life.  J

{Well What can I say except to agree!!!}

  1. One of my favourite questions for authors (or illustrators!) is what does your work space look like? Do you have a stylishly elegant office or a quirky jumble-filled playspace or…? (photos are always delicious!)

Stylish? No. Elegant? OMG, that’s actually hilarious. Jumble-filled? We’re getting closer. Playspace? Yeah … yeah, that’s a nice way of putting it. I don’t have a mini putting green or one of those micro sandpits with a rake in it, but I do play there. It’s really just a boring office-like space – desk, computer, printer, bookshelves, inexpensive chair from Officeworks – but it’s a safe, cosy place for me to imaginatively play and to play loud music. One of my ideas of a dream job is one where you can work and listen to loud music at the same time. So I need big speakers.

Here’s a photo of the space with labels explaining a few things. Sorry it’s so uninspiring.

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  1. Your degree was in Media Studies – was it your intention to become a fabulously successful children’s writer then?

Not at all. After Media Studies, I worked as a radio broadcaster for the ABC for 10 years. I thought radio was my career. But I actually got bored with it and a few years after leaving the ABC, an old friend asked me if I’d like to try writing a couple of educational books of fiction for her new publishing company. I wrote the two books in a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon (they were only 500 and 800 words) –and they were both published. It all seemed so easy. If only I’d known that 16 years later I’d be writing a 1,000 word book and still be unhappy with it after 67 drafts.

  1. Can you tell us more about Billy Goat Books and its genesis?

Billy Goat Books is where I go when I want to create something for myself. It’s where I create a book without anticipating anyone’s reaction but my own. Sometimes you really need to write that way – with total freedom. And the two books I’ve created so far have sold well, so it’s working both creatively and financially. A rare combination. J

  1. What’s the downtime look like for you? What are the things that float your boat when you are not working?

I love sport and music and great TV and cinema (although I’ve lost faith in films a bit lately). And I also love to travel, so I need all the downtime I can get.

 

  1. What would you consider the highlight/s of your children’s writer career thus far?

The success of the Maxx Rumble books came early and really set me up as an author almost instantly. And I’m super proud of Pig Dude and So Wrong, because I made them myself (with the help of two incredible illustrators) and reading them provides two of the highlights of my school visits.

  1. This is a double whammy really – what’s coming up next for your kidlet fans and will there be a follow up to So Wrong?

So Wrong Two is already in development and it will continue to stumble all over that line of good taste. I’m not sure why, but humour seems most exciting when it’s right up against the ‘unacceptable’ edge, so that’s where we’re heading with the next book too. And there are two or maybe three picture books coming next year as well two, depending on current contract negotiations.

  1. Who are your personal favourites when it comes to authors – for adults and/or kids? And what are you reading at the moment?

For kids: Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings, Andy Griffiths, Dav Pilkey, Anthony Horowitz, Dr Seuss.

For adults: Fredrik Backman, Dave Eggers, Ian McEwan, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare.

And what I’m reading right now are: Old Records Never Die by Eric Spitznagel and The Naughtiest Girl in School by Enid Blyton.

  1. What would you like your epitaph to be?

He wasn’t so wrong after all.

 

Michael, thanks for giving up your time. So Wrong has been a huge hit with some very special boys I met at a Positive Learning Centre – it gave me great pleasure to be able to pass it on to them!

 

That’s so wonderful, Sue. I’m really thrilled to hear it. And thanks again for your wonderful review.

The Famishing Vanishing Mahoosive Mammoth – Hollie Hughes/Leigh Hodgkinson

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Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9781408862780

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Imprint: Bloomsbury Child

Pub Date: August 2016

RRP $14.99

This hilarious rhyming book is just pure good fun for little readers. The huge hairy mammoth has a ‘ridiculously large appetite’ and his great friend the Bug is beginning to despair of ever finding the snack that will finally satisfy him. Clever little Bug comes up with the perfect plan to solve the problem.

Vibrantly coloured illustrations with some wonderful use of different fonts and text placements make this a visual delight for a little human.

This is Hollie Hughes’ debut picture book and I foresee that we can look forward to more fun from this writer. Stay tuned for a review that features illustrator Leigh Hodgkinson in a book which she also wrote.

Highly recommended particularly as a read aloud for Preps upwards.

 

 

The Great Dragon Bake Off – Nicola O’Byrne

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Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9781408839560

Publisher :Bloomsbury

Imprint: Bloomsbury Child

Pub Date: August 2016

RRP $14.99

 

With the surfeit of cookery shows most children will have seen at least part of one if not actually The Great British Bake Off. And they may well also be familiar with Jamie Oliver.

Now they can meet Flamie Oliver who attends the Ferocious Dragon Academy. Flamie is invited to attend the academy because he is very FEROCIOUS and the academy is where all scary dragons go to hone their deadly skills. There is just one small problem. Flamie really doesn’t want to be ferocious nor practise deadly skills. His passion is pastry and all he really wants to do is cook.

In fact, he is so enthralled with perfecting his culinary art, that when finals arrive, he fails all his tests miserably. Miss Puffitup the Head is not at all pleased and sets Flamie an additional test to make up for his abysmal marks. He is to kidnap a princess and EAT her! Argghhhh!

Flamie has no problem with the kidnapping part but as for the eating – well, that’s clearly just not going to happen. For a start, he can’t even think what other ingredients would combine with princess flavour.

Together the kidnapped princess and Flamie arrive at a solution which has all the other dragons as well as Miss Puffitup dead impressed and Flamie has no need to fret about failing his Dastardly Dragon Skills Degree. He’s the new star pupil of Miss Puffitup’s Brillant Baking Academy!

This is a fun read for children as well as a great reminder that it’s ok to be different and that everyone has different talents and personalities.

Highly recommended for young readers from around 5 years up

Archie Green and the Alchemist’s Curse – D. D. Everest

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Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9780571307418

Publisher: Faber

Imprint: Faber Children Pb

Pub Date: August 2016

$14.99

 

Move over Harry, you have a rival for my affections! Somehow or other I missed the first book in this fabulous series (that will need to be redressed ASAP) but no matter, I was able to pick up the threads from the first well enough to thoroughly enjoy this volume.

And how could I possibly resist any magical story in which books and librarians feature so strongly? Well, that just wouldn’t happen at all!

Archie Greene found out he was from a magical family on his 12th birthday and since then he has been living with his aunt and uncle plus cousins in Oxford so that he can pursue his inherent apprenticeship working with magical books. Not only does he have a natural talent for the work which he is undertaking to learn but he has a rare gift. He is a book whisperer. He can hear and speak to books who often reveal secrets that others can have no hope of discovering.

When Archie’s younger cousin also embarks on his apprenticeship and steps up to receive his ‘fire mark’ from the mysterious Flame of Pharos which will denote his apprenticeship path, he and Archie as well as Bramble the older cousin surprisingly receive another mark. Two other apprentices also are branded in the same way. The five now carry the Golden Circle – the mark that has not been seen for 350 years and means that the children are the new ‘crop’ of original magic writers.  The whys and wherefores are the thread of the story and the plot untangles like a strange spell itself revealing hidden histories and uncovering truths.

D. D.Everest has provided readers with an alternate world which in every sense not only echoes the satisfaction we all had with HP books but at times eclipses this with highly original plot twists and characters.

I will be promoting this with vigour in my library just as soon as I can get hold of the first in the series. I predict that we may well need multiples as word spreads of the delights of this series.

Amazingly these are the author’s first forays into writing for children – check him out here.

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards. Make sure you stock up!

Mr Chicken Arriva a Roma – Leigh Hobbs

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ISBN: 9781925266771

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Imprint: A & U Children

 September 2016

$24.99

 

Ben venuto caro Signore Pollo! Mi sei mancato!

Everyone’s favourite fowl, renowned for his international travel, is back to give us true insight into another marvellous metropolis. Mr Chicken has graced both Paris and London and shown us all their special sights and highlights. Now it’s the turn of the Eternal City, Roma.

Of course with an Italian in residence (though he is Milanese!) this one has special resonance for us and we have been waiting patiently (no, that’s not true – we’ve been waiting impatiently!)

I’m totally envious as Italy has always been one of my dream destinations (and never likely to get there sadly), however I can at least enjoy it vicariously through Mr Chicken’s Roman holiday.  From the Vatican City (surprised that Mr Chicken didn’t make it the balcony with HH) to the Trevi Fountain our avian friend explores the city with his friend Federica aboard her trusty Vespa. Along the way he relishes not only the spectacular sights but the gastronomic delights – hmmmm, pasta galore, gelati (but no canoli – my favourite of all).

Apart from the obvious humour these books are such a super way to introduce young humans to other cities and cultures. My Preppies have had great fun the last couple of weeks after we shared the previous two and I asked them to predict the cover of the new book for their Book Week competition. It led to some serious discussion about what they already knew about Italy (pizza and pasta hahaha!) and some sharing of simple information books to help them picture Mr Chicken’s arrival.

There is no need to give this book the big hype – Leigh Hobbs’ work needs absolutely no ‘hard sell’. I know everyone will be rushing to get this into their collection – however, my most sincere ‘highly recommended’ comes with this review.

Divertiti con quasta storia!

mrchickenpreps

 

Friday Barnes #5 The Plot Thickens – R. A. Spratt

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9780857989932

August 1, 2016

Random House Australia Children’s

 

RRP $15.99

I have some readers who have been driving us mad in the library waiting and waiting on a new Friday Barnes fix – and here it is!

Friday’s at her best solving mysteries, uncovering truth, being a complete dork and antagonising people in this latest episode. Her on/off friendship with Ian Wainscott begins unravelling faster than Friday’s daggy cardigans when she catches his formerly incarcerated father out in a huge lie about wanting Ian to live with him. Ian is furious that Friday has humiliated him in front of everyone.

That sets the tone for the whole term with things going awry all round. Two new teachers, a rather bogus celebrity artist taking over the Art class and an unlikeable bumptious PE teacher seem set to make Friday’s life more difficult.

Ian’s retaliation for the public shaming is a series of pranks played against Friday which begin to make her school life quite intolerable to the point where she starts to contemplate leaving Highcrest Academy.

However, in the meantime there are problems to solve with mysterious graffiti appearing all over the school, perimeter fences being cut in the dead of night and a rogue vending machine catching hold of arms.

It seems that Friday is really up against it this term but always plucky and unable to curb her innate insatiable drive to find the answers to any given unexplained incident, she ploughs ahead and of course, a satisfactory resolution (and armistice with Ian) is the outcome.  This is one girl protagonist who really brings joy proving that you don’t have to be a popular fashionista to be a winner – smart, caring and unpretentious, Friday is a Mighty Girl in my opinion.

As always, highly recommended for readers from around 8 and up – I foresee multiple reservations for this one in our library!