Book Review: Snot Chocolate, by Morris Gleitzman

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_snot_chocolateSeriously, who could resist a book called Snot Chocolate? Certainly not me or other Morris Gleitzman fans. Each story is told with just the right amount of humour to convey the overall theme of the book, which is a collection of nine short stories focussing on kids handling a significant moment in their lives.

The range of characters include a medieval peasant suddenly made the king, a lawyer’s daughter trying to help her mother, an overly zealous bacterial wiper, a sibling helping to deal with a troll, a diary-writing dog, a girl giving away hot chips and a boy who meets his demolition fairy.

The kids featured in the stories are every day kids who are just like the nice ones in your school or who live in your neighbourhood: caring, smart, and learning about themselves and the world, and how to deal with a variety of social and personal problems. I love how Gleitzman gives each one a chance to shine, allowing them work out and face their problems with courage and kindness. At the end of each story, each character has grown and developed, giving readers encouragement to be able to do the same.

Entertaining and thought provoking at the same time, every story is well paced and expertly written, with authentic character voices and engaging plots. A short story anthology is a great way to encourage reluctant readers, as they can approach one story at a time if they wish, or can equally plough their way through all of them.

Whether the tween-ager in your life is an avid Gleitzman fan or they haven’t yet read any of his books, Snot Chocolate would make a wonderful summer read.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Snot Chocolate
by Morris Gleitzman
Penguin Random House, 2016
ISBN 9780143309222

Book Review: Toad Delight, by Morris Gleitzman

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_toad_delightToad Delight is the latest adventure in Gleitzman’s series of tales starring Limpy the Cane Toad. Yes, you read that correctly… the Cane Toad. Can a cane toad really be an heroic main character you ask? Do kids really want to read a story about a cane toad? Yes, and yes! Especially when the story is written by one of Australia’s most popular and successful children’s author who knows how to tell an entertaining and engaging story.

Limpy lives in a swamp with his mum, dad, little sister Charm, and cousin Goliath, and he spends his days trying to solve a great mystery – why humans hate cane toads so much that they aim for them on the highways, leaving Limpy busy loyally collecting his squished rellies: ‘Limpy peered more closely at Aunty Sasha in case she was a bit less squashed and a bit less dead than she looked. But Aunty Sasha, who’d loved a chat when she was alive, wasn’t moving a wart or making a sound. Her chatting days, Limpy saw sadly, were behind her. Along with her mouth, which was squished into her own bottom.’

This problem has been Limpy’s mission for a while and it has sent him on several adventures. In Toad Delight, Limpy sets out to rescue a love-sick Goliath (whose girlfriend is an… ‘interesting’ love interest), who has been ‘chosen’ to star in a TV show. When Limpy catches up to the TV crew and sees the crowds gathering to watch the cane toad show he is thrilled – finally humans are becoming cane toad fans! But then he discovers what the show is really about and he has to get Goliath out of there fast.

Written for readers who enjoy a joke or two (or three) Toad Delight draws you into Limpy’s world with plenty of crazy situations and funny characters. Witty dialog abounds with conversations with ants, mosquitoes, goannas, and the venerable Ancient Abigail.
Gleitzman is a master at capturing the personalities and voices of his characters, and in this case, this is done so convincingly that you forget that the book wasn’t, in fact, written by a cane toad. Limpy is a thoughtful, considerate and resourceful cane toad whose desire to help his family subtly delivers an environmental message wrapped within a very funny story.

A junior novel for late primary or early intermediate aged readers, Toad Delight will have them lol-ing and cracking up all over the place. It may also spark an interest in cane toads.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Toad Delight
by Morris Gleitzman
Puffin Books
ISBN: 9780143309239

AWF15: Morris Gleitzman, chaired by himself

Introducing himself, he says he loves surprises. He is happy to say his characters often catch him by surprise. He tries never to find himself trudging down a narrow path with them.

His first question to himself in this morris gleitzmanunchaired session, points out that his career has gotten seemingly more serious as he has gone along. His early novels are very comedic, and the themes are light. His later books have a comedic surface, but over the last 10 years ago have a more serious tinge. He wanted to explore, through stories, and for many reasons, children in wartime.

His series of four books, which will soon be five, probably as many as seven, grew around the concept of friendship being the way in which children can really express their own freedom. Sometimes, it is the only way. Friendship, Gleitzman thinks, allows children to learn who they are, and how they want to express this. He chose war as the delivery mechanism as he wanted to express the place of story in history. Because we can’t be there, there is no way of capturing the 100% objective truth. He made the point that history is happening now.

In the book releasing in August – Now – Gleitzman took the opportunity to investigate the power of Felix’s own history. The biggest problem, as a child after a war, was to understand that though the war is over, this doesn’t mean that everything is now okay. Across Europe, it was a civilisation in ruins, with a lot of people in severe emotional pain. Meanwhile, our hero Felix hopes that his early childhood would be re-discovered, and has to find a way in this book, to reconnect with his optimism.

Gleitzman noted that it is sometimes when people are surrounded by the worst people are capable of, that they do the best they are capable of. When Michael Morpurgo asked Gleitzman to write the play for War Horse, Gleitzman ‘s interest was piqued by the question: what happened to the horses soldiers took over there and experienced the war with, that couldn’t be brought home, and couldn’t be sold?

After Gleitzman initially struggled to identify with the character of a volunteering soldier, he realised that for people in that period of history, their circumstances were very different. A lot of people didn’t have any other opportunity to see the rest of the world – only the privileged and wealthy got out to explore. It just wasn’t the done thing. Gleitzman said that a whole generation took the opportunity as one to travel, and as a bonus, kick the “Bad Guys” butts, and this was a potent mix. Following this, if you had your horse with you at war, and you survived, but the army wouldn’t send it home, how would you feel? What would you try to do? That was where ‘Loyal Creatures’ (the resulting play and book) came from, for Gleitzman. His a few y

The first audience question was about the effect of technology on this generation of children, to which Gleitzman pointed out that every generation has challenges that cause anxiety: some kids have war, other kids have technological abilities that bring opportunities, and simultaneously narrow down their ideas. But he hasn’t seen any change in what people really want over all of this. All of our hopes, our fears, our capacity for love, are timeless. Stories have the responsibility to always have these things present and to make the reading, the viewing and the sharing of them a model.

Gleitzman says stories are as popular with young people as they always have been. Young people are still moved by them, thrilled by them and excited by them. There are always some that don’t have as much room as you would hope for stories. Stories are everywhere, they are not just a piece of literature. They are the stuff of how we connect, and the guts of how we think. It is important that young people understand that stories are not always told for the best of all possible reasons: Nazis understood the power of story all too well.

Gleitzman is a natural raconteur, and he had the audience eating from the palm of his hands. It was a wonderful session to have attended.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster