I like a laugh, so when I was asked by Scholastic if I would review the shortlist for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards I jumped at the chance! I’ve also enlisted the help of some young readers I happened to find at a loose end…
The picture book category
These were great fun, mixing the unexpected with the ridiculous in equal measure. However, my standout favourite was Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise. In this book, the first person narrator adopts a super-villain tone littered with fantastic mock-cliche similes: “the terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere. But I cut through it like a knife” and my personal favourite: “my eyes glitter like sardines.” Brilliant!
The 6-8 category
I found these harder work with a tendency to litter each page with a bewildering array of font and graphic changes mixing cartoon, handwriting, and zany whackiness. It felt a bit like reading late-1990s MTV rendered on the page and some of them gave me a headache! There was an element of style-over-content here too, with shallow laughs aplenty but nothing like the deep enjoyment of the picture books. The exception was The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom which presented an entertaining mash-up of modern stereotypes and pirate-genre narrative hooks.
The 9-13 category
This was much more up my street as a secondary teacher! There was still a tendency to throw a few zany font changes into the pages of these books, but these stories were genuine narratives and there were laughs aplenty. However, David Baddiel’s The Parent Agency stood out head-and-shoulders from the field, using humour to pose some genuine questions about the nature of family and the relationship of children to their parents. It’s the same essential idea that was Hollywood-ised in Freaky Friday but here presented without so much of the saccharine sentimentality. Baddiel’s dry tone and willingness to actually provoke thought made his novel a cut above the rest, and my favourite from the whole competition.