Tigers on the Beach, by Doug MacLeod

‘Ah, but I know the funniest joke in the world. Anyone who hears you tell it will fall in love with you. But maybe you should avoid jokes so early in a relationship. You might tell the wrong one.’
‘But telling jokes is all I can do. Tell me the best one in the world.’
‘It’s very powerful. I will tell you when you are old enough not to misuse it the seductive power of the joke.’

Adam and his Grandpa have lots of things in common – not least their sense of humour. Adam loves to tell jokes, and he loves the ones Grandpa shares with him. But when Grandpa dies suddenly Adam is left wondering about the untold joke Grandpa promised to tell him one day. As he struggles with the loss of his grandfather, he is also confronted by other problems, including his parents’ troubled marriage, his pesky little brother, and accidental displays of public nudity. Te biggest problem of all is his new girlfriend Samantha, and trying to figure out how relationships work.

Tigers on the Beach is both funny and poignant, cracking along through the highs and lows of teenage Adam’s world, populated by larger than life characters often in ridiculous situations. In one scene, Adam discovers he is infested with his brother’s beetle collection and his attempts to remove them result in him mooning a cafe full of diners. Other scenes are tough, including Adam and his family’s attempts to come to terms with losing Grandpa. Macleod’s deft touch means that the whole is an uplifting, smile-inducing read.

Tigers on the Beach

Tigers on the Beach, by Doug MacLeod
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9780143568520

Available from good bookstores or online.

Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod & Craig Smith

Heather was a little girl…
…who always fell in the water.
She didn’t mean to do it.
She didn’t enjoy it.
But she fell in the water nearly every day,
especially when she was wearing her good clothes.

Poor Heather hates the water – and is sure the water hates her, because it always makes her fall in. Her parents are so worried for her safety that they make her wear water wings all the time. But when her parents take her for swimming lessons Heather discovers that walking into the water can feel nice – and soon she realises that the water makes her fall in because it wants to be with her. She decides that if she learns to swim the water might stop making her fall in. Soon she is a champion swimmer.

Heather Fell in the Water is a gently humorous picture book story about learning to swim, and about conquering fear. Inspired by the true story of author Doug MacLeod’s little sister Heather who hated water yet seemed to always fall in, the tale is gently educational about the pleasures of learning to swim, but is also just plain fun.

Illustrations, by the amazing Craig Smith, populate the pages with comic watercolour images filled with (not surprisingly) water, but also warm and wacky characters and lots of movement and detail. On the spread where Heather decides to make a bargain with the water, a watery face floats on the surface of the pool.

A wonderful offering for the summer swimming-lesson season, Heather Fell in the Water is a delight.

Heather Fell in the Water

Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742376486

Available from good bookstores and online.

Sister Madge's Book of Nuns, by Doug MacLeod & Craig Smith

Convents are religious places
Peaceful and sublime
Full of nuns with solemn faces
Praying all the time.
Through the arches dark and lofty
Meek as they can be
All the nuns are treading softly –
All except for me.

So begins Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns a book of irreverent verse which has delighted young readers since its first edition in 1986. Sister Madge Mappin and her fellow sisters from the Convent of Our Lady of Immense Proportions are now back in a new hardcover picture book edition, ready to be discovered by a new generation of readers.

The rollicking poems are silly, irreverent and naughty – but they are laugh out loud funny, cleverly crafted by the talented Doug MacLeod, and brought to life in the illustrations of Craig Smith. As well as Sister Madge, there is Sister Stephanie, a diminutive nun who gets her own back on a store manager who teases her for her shortness, Sister Christabel who adds laughter to the convent with a whoopee cushion and Sister Isobel who innocently (or not) feeds the children to the animals on a zoo visit.

Suitable for primary aged readers right through to adults, it is wonderful  to see this old favourite back in print.

Sister Madge's Book of Nuns

Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns, by Doug MacLeod & Craig Smith
This edition Working Title Press, 2012
ISBN 9781921504433

This book is avaialble in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Night Before Mother's Day, by Doug MacLeod & Judy Horaceck

This laugh out loud little offering shows how one mum – who is, in a way, a part of every mum – lies sleepless through the night before Mother’s Day, enumerating the ‘delights’ the day will hold.

‘Twas the Night

before Mother’s Day,

Mum lay awake,

The sense of excitement

Was too much to take.

She knew that tomorrow

Would bring her such joys

As gifts from her daughter

And two darling boys.

This laugh out loud little offering shows how one mum – who is, in a way, a part of every mum – lies sleepless through the night before Mother’s Day, enumerating the ‘delights’ the day will hold. First there will be home made gifts and flowers pulled (with roots intact) from the garden. Then there will be breakfast, made with love, but not easily digested. As Mum tosses and turns she frets about these and the other joys the day ahead holds – before thinking, finally, of her own mum who will understand, having been there herself.

In small format hardcover, with cartoon illustrations, mothers will nod in agreement with the humour of the book, making it an ideal Mother’s Day gift, especially from one mother to another. Of course, in spite of the illustrated format this one is aimed at adults rather than children – with little ones unlikely to appreciate the wry humour, although older children and teens may well get it and join in the laughter.

As for this mother – she loved it!

The Night Before Mother's Day

The Night Before Mother’s Day, by Doug MacLeod & Judy Horacek

Allen & Unwin, 2012

ISBN 9781742379401

This book is available from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

The Shiny Guys, by Doug MacLeod

A dark look at mental disorders and the journeys on which their victims can be forced to travel. Though there is a liberal sprinkling of humour, this is a confronting look at how fantasy and reality can merge, and the mental health system.

The inmates of Ward 44 come in all shapes and sizes. Some are old, some are young, but we are united in one respect. Our brains don’t work. Or rather, they do work, just not in a way society finds acceptable. We have mental problems, some more serious than others.

Colin Lapsley is fifteen years old, and trapped in Ward 44, a psychiatric ward. Colin doesn’t think he’s crazy, but he does know that he’s visited by the shiny guys, strange shapes that flitter on the edge of his vision. He’s pretty sure that the new girl in the ward, Anthea, can see them too. His other friend in the ward, Mango, can’t see the shiny guys, but he is tormented by bad dreams, and has an attachment disorder – a compulsive need to hold on to people.

When the shiny guys start to show themselves to Colin more fully, he realises they want him to face up to the terrible things he did. It was his fault, he’s sure, that his little sister disappeared, and now it’s up to him to fix things, under the direction of the shiny guys. But as the  shiny guys get more insistent, Colin wonders if he’s going to be able to put everything right for himself and his family, as well as for Anthea and Mango.

The Shiny Guys is a dark look at mental disorders and the journeys on which their victims can be forced to travel. Though there is a liberal sprinkling of humour, this is a confronting look at how fantasy and reality can merge, and the mental health system. With the story set in 1985, MacLeod is careful to reassure readers that modern psychiatric wards are different than Ward 44, which is reassuring, yet the issues and illnesses faced by the characters are still very relevant. It’s also important to note that although some of the treatment methods used in the book (including electric shock therapy) are questionable, the staff of the ward are generally portrayed sympathetically as people doing the best they can with limited resources.

MacLeod is best known for his comedic offerings but, although The Shiny Guys has very serious subject matter, it is not a huge shift from his usual cleverness. In fact it is the use of humour which makes the story so palatable.

Recommended for teen and adult readers.

The Shiny Guys

The Shiny Guys, by Doug MacLeod
Penguin, 2012
ISBN 978014356530

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Mozzie and Midgie, by Doug MacLeod & Sandy Okalyi

Mozzie and Midgie lived with their family
on the shore of a Queensland tropical island.
The two little spoonbills were happy, until
one day they met a boastful parrot.

Mozzie and Midgie, brother and sister lived happily with their family until a parrot arrived, screeching just how beautiful she was, and how very plain they were. The two spoonbills believed what they were told, that they were not beautiful, were not special, and they set out to make themselves beautiful, like the parrot. They try several ways of being beautiful, wearing costumes of leaves and crabs and even octopus ink. Although their costumes add colour, they do not, Mozzie and Midgie decide, make them beautiful. With the help of their family they discover just what makes spoonbills beautiful, what makes them special. Illustrations are very stylized, using block colours with black outlines.

As children, most of us think we are beautiful and special because our families ensure that we are told so, that we believe so. But there are always others who would build their own sense of being beautiful by comparing themselves favourably with others. So it is here. It is not enough for the parrot to be beautiful, she has to make himself more so by telling Mozzie and Midgie that they are less so. It’s so easy to listen to voices that would diminish us. Fortunately, Mozzie and Midgie’s family are there to remind the young spoonbills what it is that makes them special. There is a gentle message about all animals having a purpose and beauty. The illustrations are striking and gently humorous. They are also downright gorgeous! Recommended for 4-7 year olds.

Mozzie and Midgie

Mozzie and Midgie, Doug MacLeod & Sandy Okalyi
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781921504310

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher, by Doug MacLeod

‘You must think it strange that I’m digging up my grandfather.’
‘Not at all. I’m sure many young men dig up their grandfathers.’
‘It’s what he wanted.’
‘No doubt. You feel a great injustice has been done.’
I am surprised that he knows the innermost workings of my mind. ‘I do indeed.’
‘And you are here to make things right.’
I stop digging and look at him. ‘How do you know?’

It is 1828 and sixteen year old Thomas Timewell is digging up his grandfather’s body. For Thomas, this apparent crime is motivated only by the desire to see justice done. His grandfather’s dying wish was for his body to be donated to science, but Thomas’ mother has instead had him buried.

In the cemetery Thomas meets Plenitude, a body-snatcher, who steals corpses from their graves and sells them to hospitals in the dead of night. Plenitude drags Thomas into a series of dangerous adventures, digging up bodies and narrowly avoiding being killed themselves. At first reluctant, Thomas finds himself becoming an increasingly willing participant – and along the way finds love, and some surprising connections with Plenitude.

The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher is an absurdist historical novel starring schoolboy Thomas, his laudanum-crazed mother and a host of other amusing, crazy and frightening characters. With a serious side, too, it explores the conflicts that can occur when trying to do the right thing.

Likely to appeal to teens with an edgy sense of humour, this is an excellent read.

The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher

The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, by Doug MacLeod
Penguin, 2010
ISBN 9780143203919

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

My Extraordinary Life & Death, by Doug MacLeod

Where do you buy children at bargain prices?
How do you survive a father who buries you in the garden whenever you misbehave?
And whom do you contact when your wife starts to shrink?

None of these questions is answered in My Extraordinary Life and Death, but then what can you expect from a book purportedly written by someone who is dead? Comedian and author Doug Macleod presents a surreal diary, using old woodcut pictures from the Project Guttenburg website.

Originally written as series of blogposts when MacLeod was asked to be a guest blogger, the book is laugh out loud funny, with different matchings of text and illustration likely to appeal to different readers. It can be read quickly in one sitting or dipped into over repeated readings.

Lots of fun.

My Extraordinary Life and Death

My Extraordinary Life and Death, by Doug MacLeod
Ford Street, 2009

Leon Stumble's Book of Stupid Fairytales, by Doug MacLeod

Come back when you’ve written more fairytales. But I’m warning you, they’d better be very stupid. I have the reputation of the Honeybump Publishing Company to consider. I can’t risk publishing a book that isn’t stupid. I’ll look ridiculous.

Leon Stumble is a frustrated children’s writer. Every book he has written has been rejected for being too boring. But his girlfriend Cassie has a suggestion which could change all that: she tells him to rewrite well-known fairytales with a silly twist. Soon, Leon has written five new fairytales – including Jack and the Branstalk about a vegetarian Jack who cures the giant’s constipation and Puss in Blots who diagnoses the King’s unhappiness by reading ink blots. When Leon and Cassie, who has some pretty special abilities herself, take the manuscript to Una Spooner, the publisher who has rejected all of Leon’s earlier efforts, she decides the stories are so stupid they will probably sell.

Leon Stumble’s Book of Stupid Fairytales is a hilarious offering which will appeal to kids aged 9 to 12 for its pure silliness. There are ten of Leon’s stupid tales and, of course, the interspersed story of Leon’s quest for publication, and Cassie’s quest to win Leon’s hand. Every spread has at least one illustration, with the talented Craig Smith bringing the stories to life with laugh aloud interpretations.

Lots of fun.

Leon Stumbles Book of Stupid Fairytales, by Doug MacLeod, illustrated by Craig Smith
Working Title Press, 2005