Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mr Stink by David Walliams illustrated by Quentin Blake

Last weekend David Walliams visited Sydney and I went along to hear him and so did 1200+ others!
Books by David Walliams are so popular in our school library (they never stay on the shelf) which is something that I do understand because they are funny and easy to read and have bright inviting covers and yet it also puzzles me.  How did the children 'discover' his books?  Why single out this author and not one of the hundreds of others? Who told everyone these books were so good?

The publicity and publishing machine have certainly 'pulled out all stops' for David Walliams.  His web site is bright, inviting and slick.  Using highly talented illustrations such as Quentin Blake and Tony Ross was a master stroke.  Coming to Australia to promote his new book, Bad Dad, David was on a whirl wind tour - 3 days in Australia followed by 2 days in New Zealand.

It would be too easy to dismiss works by David Walliams as just light reading but books like Mr Stink are so much more.  This is a story which demonstrates the magic of kindness and compassion, along with the importance of listening and love.

Chloe lives on the outside of her family.  Her sister is the star, her mother is preoccupied with her political ambition and community status and her father is distant and sad.  Chloe's mother wants to be elected to the government.  She writes her manifesto. Here are some of the contents :

(4)  The wearing of leggings to be outlawed in public areas, as they are 'extremely common.'
(5)  The national anthem to be played in the town square every hour on the hour.
(10) Mobile telephone devices to have only classical music ringtones from now on ...
(15) The local library to stock only the works of Beatrix Potter.
(20) All homeless people ... are to be banned from our streets.

It is this final 'rule' that pushes Chloe into action.  After days of personal struggle she has finally found the courage to talk to 'Mr Stink' - an old man, who does smell and who sits with his dog on a park bench in her town.  She is now desperately worried for his safety so she offers him a  place in the shed at the bottom of her garden.  In her mind she imagines all the possible reasons why this gentle and well mannered man has become homeless but even though she gathers lots of clues the truth is long way from any thing she could have imagined.

Clearly there are lessons for her fanatical mum, we need to discover what has happened to dad including the mystery of a burnt out guitar found in the shed and Chloe and Annabelle need to have heart to heart talk about life in this family.  At the end of the book Mr Stink is still Mr Stink but perhaps opening his heart to Chloe about his tragic past life might mean he can begin to heal just as he has helped this family to heal.  I certainly hope so.

Here are a few facts about David Walliams :

  • His name is really David Williams - he changed it when he found another actor had the same name
  • His first book was The Boy in the Dress in 2008
  • He has written 12 novels and several picture books
  • Six of his novels have been adapted as television movies
  • David has an acting part in each of these movies
  • Many of his books are available as audio editions with David reading his own work
  • You can listen to audio samples of his book here
  • Teachers can download ideas packs here
  • David has swum across the English Channel to raise money for a charity
  • This song celebrates his swim
David Walliams at City Recital Hall

There were some excellent procedural things in place for the Sydney event with all those eager readers.  Every one was given a little show bag with stickers, a poster, post card, bookmark and of all things a balloon.  David Walliams handled this so well.  He gave the kids a quick minute to make their noises and then expected (and achieved) a quiet audience.  Towards the end the compare Julia Zemiro asked for questions.  Usually these questions make me cringe but David Walliams had a brilliant idea.  He had ten signed book packs.  He offered these to the children who asked the 'best questions' and YES the questions were really good.  Two of the best were - what is your favourite aeroplane.  David talked about the time he flew in a real spitfire living scenes from his book Grandpa's great Escape.  His whole face lit up when he talked about the excitement of this experience which was like driving a sports car in the sky.  The second question I liked was about the character Raj.  The child asked when will will Raj have his own book and this received a huge clap from the audience.  David may need to seriously consider this idea.

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