A new book out on October 27th, Laugh Your Head Off, is a compilation of stories by many of Australia’s funniest authors for children. We asked them to tell us what made them laugh when they were about 10 years old. Here’s what they said.
How to be Topp: A guide to Sukcess for tiny pupils, including all there is to kno about SPACE by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle was my gold standard of funny. The books are narrated by Nigel Molesworth, a self-appointed (but completely unreliable) authority on everything, especially how to be a ‘topp’ student. I loved the contrast between his self-assured tone and his nonsensical advice and rambling digressions. And his original—largely phonetic—approach to spelling is a delight. It is subversive, chaotic and very very funny.
I loved Berenstain Bears but we also spent a lot of time playing practical jokes when we were kids. Harmless, of course, but they were so funny. I remember one time, with my twin Jamie and David Stretch from down the road, and we got some tomato sauce and strawberry jam and put it over our arms and faces. We then set up camp on the side of the road, piled our bikes on top of us and pretended we were dead. I know, hilarious. This poor woman stopped and ran to us screaming, ‘Oh My GOOOOOOOOOOOOD!’ She scared the hell out of us, so we got on our bikes and rode off as fast as we could, almost wetting ourselves laughing. I hope she laughed, too. We did dumb stuff like that all the time – and pretended to be Evel Knievel.
I was totally tickled by Betsy Byars’ The Eighteenth Emergency. I loved the catastrophising anti-hero Mouse Fawley and the irrepressible sense of humour that leads him to label everything — including, fatefully, a picture of a Neanderthal man with the caption Marv Hammerman, the name of the school bully. The sense of impending doom as Mouse anticipates Marv Hammerman’s revenge is simultaneously side-splitting and scary. That there is a touch of poignancy underlying the hilarity made it all the more compelling. Plus, the cover illustration of my edition was by a certain Mr Quentin Blake … How perfect.
I remember dad reading me Mort by Terry Pratchett, which I loved as a marriage of humour and fantasy. I was also probably still reading and rereading all of Roald Dahl – proof that one can be dark and funny and still appeal to kids. Or even ESPECIALLY appeal to kids, the twisted little monsters!
George’s Marvellous Medicine. I loved the wickedness of the horrible grandmother, especially because my grandmother was just gorgeous and typically caring, affectionate and loving. I loved rooting for George as he tries to punish and kill off his grandmother. It was like the ultimate revenge story with a totally messed up psychological twist. As a kid, that was some subversive and messy stuff Dahl served up and I happily lapped it up!
I loved Coles funny picture book. A collection of pictures, puzzles, optical illusions, riddles, stories, jokes and much more. Constantly surprising, full of both written and visual humour, every page was an adventure.
The book that made me laugh when I was eight was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I also loved watching funny cartoons, and my favourite show was ‘The Goodies’, which I thought was hysterically funny. My favourite episode was the one where the giant kitten destroys London. I also remember laughing and laughing when my brother and his friends tied their bikes and skateboards together in a long line with bits of rope, and zoomed off over a jump they’d built, and there was a huge crash and they all fell off. Happy days.
Unreal by Paul Jennings was my favourite book when I was ten years old. My grandmother would take us to Dymocks on George St in Sydney and we would spend a couple of hours in there reading and playing ‘Read it. Haven’t read it’. She bought a copy of Unreal for me and my cousin, Nicholas, to share. We would each take custody of it for a school term and then hand it over in the holidays. It was a treasured item. The stories were so funny and dark and unexpected. He was the first Australian author to make me laugh and squirm the way Roald Dahl did. I LOVED ‘Without a Shirt’, ‘Lucky Lips’, ‘Cow Dung Custard’, ‘Smart Icecream’ and ‘Skeleton on the Dunny’. My love of these stories inspired me to create the My Life series starring Tom Weekly.
I was obsessed by Charles Schultz’s Peanuts books when I was in primary school. I think my first crush was Charlie Brown because he was gentle and very sarcastic. However, I most identified with Linus because he sucked his thumb and a blanket. Something that I did way past when I should have. The whole gang would get into mischief, but they had the brilliant Snoopy on hand to save the day. I have continued to love dogs with a passion ever since.