When Roald Dahl died in 1990, he left a library-full of laughter: 17 hilariously cheeky novels for children, short story collections, film scripts, plays, and poems. But for a decade and a half after his death, kiddles wanting something phizz-whizzing to read while eating swatchscollop were left wanting. Then, in 2006, Mr Gum happened and all was whoopsy-splunkers in the world again.
For the uninitiated, Mr Gum is a ghastly, orange-bearded old Englishman who detests children, laughter, fun, and corn on the cob, but who (there’s no logic to follow here, folks) has a very tidy garden.
You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum! was the first book in the Dahl-esque series (of nine) by British writer Andy Stanton. It’s set in the fictitious town of Lamonic Bibber, and Gum’s arch nemesis is a nine-year-old girl called Polly (her real name is too long to recite – a trope Stanton repeats often in the book for comedic effect – and to the delight of his young fans when he gives author talks.)
It’s so side-splittingly funny, Literati chose You’re a Bad Man for Club Sage in August, 2017. “In fact,” said Literati’s CEO Jessica Ewing, “we wanted this book so badly that we had to ship it directly from the UK.”
Books that are laugh-out-loud hilarious can offer an important doorway into reading for many children.
Gum’s creation story is as enticing as the books themselves. The revolting character emerged fully formed one cold Christmas Eve from Stanton’s fertile imagination. Inspired by The Simpsons and anarchic 1980s British TV comedy series The Young Ones, he spent eight hours attempting to write a quick children’s story to read to his young cousins as a Christmas present. The next day, he said, they only half-listened as he narrated his opus, so the draft went into a box and Stanton promptly forgot about it. Re-discovering it two years later – and after toying with it a bit – he ended up with an agent and publisher.
Books that are laugh-out-loud hilarious can offer an important doorway into reading for many children. A testament to Stanton’s surreal and irreverent imagination was watching my six-year-old (a keen member of Club Sage) devour You’re a Bad Man in under a week, then move onto others in the series, in the same way I used to devour Roald Dahl, savoring every cheeky morsel.
You’re a Bad Man! is utterly bonkers but there’s something wonderful about a book that seems to eschew boundaries when it comes to the surreal. Just when you think the story couldn’t get any dafter, an angry fairy appears, whacking the revolting Gum on the head with a frying pan when his garden gets too messy. That’s where Stanton’s real talent lies: he manages to inhabit the cheeky, innocent mind of the very people he’s writing for – children – and it’s ingenious.
The book (whose illustrations by David Tazzyman, incidentally, even echo Dahl’s collaborator Quentin Blake) won the Red House Children’s Book Award, two Blue Peter Book Awards, and the inaugural Roald Dahl Funny Prize. In just five years, Stanton’s Gum series ratcheted up sales in excess of a million copies in the UK alone, and has now been translated into 29 languages.
While the unruly world Stanton has created certainly has echoes of Dahl, as the UK’s Guardian newspaper wrote, his is “much more than a mishmash of other writers’ styles and universes. In Mr Gum and Lamonic Bibber, Stanton has created an original world of his own.”
If you’re new to the club, use code MRGUM to receive a free copy of You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! when you join Literati.
The Young Literati say…
“I recommend this book for ages 5 through 100; for people who love very descriptive, weird things.”
— Skylar, age 8