None of us can deny that there’s a hype around David Walliams at the moment. Working in a bookstore, I saw first-hand just how many copies of The Midnight Gang, his most recent book, flew off the shelves over Christmas. My friend told me yesterday that, during his internship at Harper Collins last year, he was surprised to learn that David Walliams was their highest grossing children’s author. This surprise, I think, is echoed by everyone who doesn’t have children younger than 13, who has never seen somebody do one of those weird sniff-snort laughs that erupt from your throat – that only a truly funny book can make you do – whilst reading a Walliams book.
The other thing my friend was surprised about was my staunch belief that these books are not ghost-written, they’re just too good. Do you remember when it was announced that Zoella’s book had become the fastest-selling children’s book ever? And then two hours later, the ghost writer was named and Zoella was publicly shamed, causing a media furore? I think they would have found Walliams’s ghost-writer by now, as he’s won a Children’s Book of the Year award not once, not twice, but three times. And this is beside the point, but if you were a ghost-writer, and somebody else’s book – that you wrote – won many prestigious prizes, you would probably then go and write your own book under your own name, no?
ANYWAY. How did I come to pick up a David Walliams book, I hear you ask? The answer is simple – World Book Day. I’ll admit that I’ve rather lost my faith in World Book Day over the years. Perhaps I simply dismiss it, as I already love books. Perhaps I simply hadn’t come into contact with it enough whilst I was working fashion retail and the care industry. More likely, I was disheartened by the sheer number of frantic parents who ran into our store the day before World Book Day asking for ‘any book about pirates/ninjas/ballerinas/horses’ (delete as appropriate). Teacher’s aren’t stupid – you may as well have dressed your kid in a sandwich board saying ‘I hate reading’. It disappointed me, sure. But as soon as the World Book Day £1 tokens were released, children came flooding in to buy books, and my opinion thawed a little. On the first day that the World Book Day £1 books were released (designed to be free to children with the £1 token), we had three separate parents come in especially, because their children had ‘begged them’ to go out and ‘buy the new David Walliams’ book for them. At 100 pages long, it’s hardly a ‘book’, but the idea that a 9-year-old girl would be so desperate for a new story from Walliams that she’d convince her dad to drive to an out-of-town retail park, on his lunch hour to buy it for her, really got me wondering what all the hype was about. So much so, that I bought a copy of Blob, Walliams’s World Book day book, later that day.
Do I need to add that I absolutely loved it?
A boy called Bob meets a blob-fish called Blob.
That’s really all you need to know. That, and the fact that it’s hilariously good.
After starting Blob, I was hooked. The next day, I visited a different bookshop and purchased The Boy in The Dress and Demon Dentist (today I intend to buy Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny). The books are reminiscent of Roald Dahl, and not just because half of them are illustrated by Quentin Blake, the illustrator that most of us associate with Dahl. There is a clear, strong narrator, who converses with the reader in the way that Lemony Snicket might do. There are also moments where you can clearly hear Walliams’s voice in the narrative – a part that sticks out to me is from The Boy in The Dress where the narrator can’t remember the word for a striker in football and asks the reader to pause whilst he looks it up. There’s also a passing reference to Little Britain, but I don’t think a 9-year-old these days would necessarily get that joke – it seems like self-indulgence on Walliams’s part, and I love him all the more for it. It also goes without saying that they’re funny. Really, really, stomach-hurting-ly funny.
But what’s perhaps most important, is the celebration of difference within these books. Blob is about a boy who is teased for being ugly, and how he finds a way to stand-up to his bullies, whilst imparting the wisdom he’s learnt along to others. It’s heart-warming. Whereas, The Boy in The Dress fights difference in the bravest way possible, by challenging stereotypes in a big, bold way. Dennis, the main character likes football… and Vogue magazine. And why the hell shouldn’t he? Perhaps the ending to this book won’t surprise you, but what will surprise you are the characters, and how Walliams deftly manipulates them to show you that not everything is as it seems, and perhaps you should give more people the benefit of the doubt more often.
If you’re after one anecdote that sums up the Walliams hype – I had a parent/child come into my bookshop yesterday and ask me to recommend a children’s author that writes ‘like David Walliams’. This girl, who was probably around 13 years old, had read every David Walliams book, but wouldn’t/couldn’t read anything else. Now, I read the 9-12 and Young Adult sections avidly, there’s not much I haven’t read.And, I’ll be honest with you, reader, I was at a loss. There’s truly nobody out there, in the 9-12 genre, at the moment, who writes like him, or who can hold a candle to him.
TLDR: these books are ace, buy one. Or ten.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow! J