Max and Peregrine are volunteering at an old people’s home, when strange things start to happen: one resident is walking on the ceiling; one is riding their wheelchair through walls; and Reggie says his marmalade is haunted (although no one listens). Can Max and his friends work out what’s happening to protect his family and the local community? Things aren’t looking good – the Marmalade Ghost is turning into a gloopy Godzilla, Max falls out with his (joint) best friend, and then, just when it can’t get any worse, someone kidnaps Max’s cat, Frankenstein… will they meet a sticky end?
Time to ‘Protect and Do Good Stuff!’
Why funny is serious business
I grew up in a large, raucous family – just the sort you wouldn’t want to find yourself living next door to, unless you lived in a bunker. With lead doors. Several miles away.
My mother’s side is franco-hispano-scottish catholic and when my aunts weren’t running after small children in shops to cuddle them, they argued: for them it was instead of Pilates. On the male side, my big brother was, well, big and I had even bigger cousins … and a couple of colossal uncles who’d been in proper wars.
This left me in a bit of a pickle but, on balance, it was good training. When you are physically and mentally outgunned from an early age you have to develop strategies and the one for me was humour.
It worked a treat on those gruff males in the family who appreciated a good laugh but, like a lot of military types, they could only tell a joke if they memorised it first, then spluttered all over the punch line.
It charmed my aunties, mum and my granny, especially – who had false teeth I always secretly hoped would fly out of her mouth when she threw her hands in the air and fell about.
It didn’t work quite so well on teachers and other figures of authority who were in the business of making me a more thoughtful and intelligent person, not a clown. In fact, for years, making jokes was the most common criticism directed at me. At boarding school between the ages of 7 and 17 if anything bad happened to me it was commonly held to be ‘all my own fault’ … because ‘I never took anything seriously.’
This stung, I have to admit because, on the contrary, I took things very seriously indeed. Making light of it took the edge off.
When reading Fantastic Mr Fox and PG Wodehouse I knew, without being really aware of it at the time, that humour is a weapon and a very effective one at that for children.
But funny books, like funny people are still somewhat frowned upon in the publishing industry, as if, like me in 1978, they are a bit lightweight. Apart from the Lollies, there are very few funny book awards out there. And this is a shame. Humour not only shields, it elevates, it comforts and it shines a strong light sometimes on behaviour that is reprehensible or wrong-headed. To laugh at something you fear is often the best way to get over the dread.
Max in Monster Max uses humour to keep his spirits up, but he also uses it to turn the tables on adversaries, to play for time and sometimes just to pass the time.
And I think the children’s market could sustain many more fun and funny books. We talk about diversity a lot in publishing but this only tends to go as far as the big issues. Perhaps we could have more diversity in humour: one of the things I like figuring out when I travel is what makes the locals laugh – and it’s always subtlety different, requiring a few days recalibration on my part. Then I feel more at home.
I’m sure it would enhance the spirit of the children’s market, sell more books and – most importantly – make children happy.
Funny is serious business.
Thank you, Robin Bennett and Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
When Robin grew up he thought he wanted to be a cavalry officer until everyone else realised that putting him in charge of a tank was a very bad idea. He then became an assistant gravedigger in London. After that he had a career frantically starting business- es (everything from dog-sitting to cigars, tuition to translation)… until finally settling down to write improbable stories to keep his children from killing each other on long car journeys.