‘Alfie hated going to the dentist. As a result the boy’s teeth were almost all yellow. The ones that weren’t yellow were brown.’
Darkness had come to the town. Strange things were happening in the dead of night. Children would put a tooth under their pillow for the tooth fairy, but in the morning they would wake up to find… a dead slug; a live spider; hundreds of earwigs creeping and crawling beneath their pillow.
Evil was at work. But who or what was behind it…?
What I thought:
I went into this book not knowing anything about it or about Walliams as a children’s writer apart from the fact that he is very popular. I’m a fan of Walliam’s writing on TV and watched the BBC film of ‘The Boy in the Dress’ over Christmas one year, I’m aware that a lot of the stuff that David Walliams has done that I’ve seen is aimed at adults and is full of adult humour which was clearly not going to be in the book. But he’s a funny man, and I was looking forward to seeing how that comes across in a children’s book and it’s his 6th book which means he’s earned his spurs. As I’ve heard him say in interviews kids will tell you if its rubbish, he might have got the first books because of his TV work but he got his 2nd and the rest because kids continue to love his stories and keep buying them.
This book was just fun. Mostly, because there were some difficult subjects involved which I’ll talk about later. But on the whole I couldn’t stop myself smiling as I read it, I laughed out loud a couple of times but mostly smirked at it or made an audible ‘HA’ before returning to silence (something that got me couple of weird looks on the train, which I think continued because they then noticed what I was reading).
The humour felt very him but also very Lemony Snickett (more on that in a bit). I would love to hear the audiobook narrated by David Walliams so I could hear how he emphasises the different words. Some of my favourite parts were from the pictures and the way some of the words almost literally danced across the page, when they were falling down the mine the words themselves fell down the page. This playing with language and words gave the story an innate sense of fun. It gives a sense to children that books don’t have to be sensible, that you can just have fun with it. A lot of children say they don’t read books because there are too many words or because they just don’t enjoy staring at pages upon pages of straight lines – they just don’t find it fun. (NB: I was never one of those kids, I was a noisy child but would always shut up if you put a book in my hands). These books are fun, the way the words are written are as important as the words themselves. When someone is shouting the words are louder and maybe in bold, and vice versa, if someone is whispering the words are smaller.
For me a lot of how it was written reminded me of Lemony Snickett’s books ‘An Unfortunate Series of Events’. This is because of how he has fun and plays with language but also because a lot of the humour is played quite deadpan. Just like how Snickett would often say (x here means…) or (the correct translation of what Sunny said is …), Walliams would often have a footnote notating every made up word (of which there was one every couple of pages). Again this gives the idea that you can just make up a word and that language is fun. For me where it felt most similar was where the book explained how dark the cave was by having two pages of a block of black print. It felt like reading a page about déjà vu the page after I’d just read a page about déjà vu. (Still one of the funniest and cleverest bits of writing I’ve ever read)
At no point does the book talk down to the reader, in fact the intelligence of the reader is often credited (‘you of course know that…’ etc). There are times as an adult reading a kids book that it feels way too simplistic (after all it is a book aimed at people no older than 11/12) but this one didn’t. I think that’s the sign of a good book, it shouldn’t matter what the targeted audience is, if it is well done it is possible to enjoy it even when you are outside of that audience. It’s like how they had to print adult covers of the Harry Potter books so it was ‘ok’ to read in public. It didn’t matter that this book was primarily aimed at kids, it was able to bring joy to others too. And this book does it, it talks to the parents who are reading it to their kids, to Brownie leaders, to anyone who picks it up. As long as you aware that the language might be younger and that there are fart jokes (which frankly never stops being funny society just trains us out of outwardly reacting) then it doesn’t matter how old you are.
Apart from humour (and plot) the other thing this book does very well is normalising things that have previously only been seen in ‘issue’ books. For example Tracy Beaker and all of Jacqueline Wilson’s books are great but you know going into them that it is about an ‘issue’. The fact that Tracy lives in a care home isn’t a problem but it can’t help but be a big deal because it’s the subject of the book, and whilst that’s not a bad thing this book is able to deal with it without it being a main plot. The fact that Alfie is forced to go to the dentist by his social worker moves the plot along but the fact that the social worker is there at all is more a side plot. The fact that his dad is in a wheelchair is once again just a fact of life and it isn’t dwelt on because it’s just normal.
His dad isn’t in a wheelchair, and the social worker isn’t there, for purely plot reasons. They just are. And by not drawing attention to it it not only gives representation to the children who are in similar situations but it doesn’t make it seem like a big deal. It’s not the be all and end all of their life, if just happens to be part of it. The fact that some of Alfie’s teeth had fallen out because he refused to brush them is much more important to the story.
Why I read it:
On my Brownie residential and from speaking to the Brownies I made the girls each tell me their favourite book and I promised I would read it. This is one of those books, and a lot of girls suggest David Walliams’ books for me.
Currently I’m massively behind on reading the books they told me to but I’m hoping to pick up a lot more on my next trip to the library so I can talk to them about it when Brownies starts up again in September.
I really enjoyed reading this, it didn’t take too long but at 421 pages it’s easy to see how this is a long children’s story. But the story is interrupted with brilliant pictures and the different sizes of fonts to emphasis certain words. The story was fast paced and funny and all the characters felt like real kids. Just as real and as complex as adults, just a bit smaller with fewer words in their vocabulary.
I’m really glad my Brownies suggested it and I’m looking forward to reading other books on their list.
Would I recommend? Yes. if you don’t mind reading kid’s books then this is one I would definitely suggest. it’s great fun and the time I spent reading it was pure enjoyment.
Life’s been a bit hectic and I still haven’t put my books away from YALC. They’re in nice piles against my desk. But even though life has been busy, and maybe because life has been busy, you should leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Go on, reward me for finding time to talk/write about my favourite subject 😀
P.S The next book is ‘An Isolated Incident’ by Emily Maguire