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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Morris the Laureate

This week children’s author Morris Gleitzman was announced as the new Australian Children’s Laureate for 2018-1019 by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance. Join Lyndon Riggall as he shares his delight with their choice of appointment.

Gleitzman knows how to hook his readers. I believe my first novel of his, Water Wings, was purchased at about the age of ten, and I couldn’t resist the guinea pig on the front cover, floating with inflatable armbands. From there, who could go past such titles as Misery Guts, Bumface and Adults Only? His collaborations with Paul Jennings brought together two titans of Australian literature in a series of projects as frightening as they were inspired in their strangeness. When I was at school, having a copy of Wicked! or Deadly was compulsory—and not because it was on any teacher’s list of recommended reading, but instead because it was dark, exciting, and felt somehow forbidden. I still have a library copy of Once I had to replace because it slid from my pillow and onto a lamp while I was eating dinner. For those unfamiliar, on the melted plastic cover is the image of a pile of burning books, and on my own copy the last five pages similarly exhibit the brown tinge of a novel that nearly joined them.

I share my love of Morris Gleitzman with my mum. After my initial introduction to Doug the guardian angel, Mum and I would listen to Gleitzman audiobooks on long car trips. Our favourite is still Two Weeks with the Queen. Although the novel was published the year I was born, I believe strongly (and in some ways, sadly) that it still holds up beautifully thirty years on.

Gleitzman’s greatest gift as a writer seems to be that he can capture the naivety of an authentic child’s voice without resorting to inaction. His characters make delicious assumptions about the world around them, concoct theories and test hypotheses. In the words of Miss Frizzle, they “Take chance, make mistakes and get messy.” Whether it’s landmines in Boy Overboard, Nazis in Once, or cane toads in Toad Rage, he deftly handles harsh truths with an innocence and humour that is the true heart of a child. As a young boy reading Gleitzman, it struck me that you could stuff up and still be a hero.

Gleitzman talks on his own website about his new appointment, and his quest to understand what it means to “go into bat” for Australian children’s literature. “Do you mean” he asked ACLA chair Ron Gorman, “roam the land engaging young readers in a celebration of stories and all the precious things they get from them while at the same time encouraging adults to think more deeply and perceptively about the transformative qualities of good stories for young people and if possible read a few of them aloud?”
“Yes,” said Ron.

Gletizman could hardly refuse. After all, by my estimation he’s been doing exactly that for thirty years already.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Gleitzman’s new appointment. Which of his books is your favourite?

Lyndon Riggal

Editor's note: Two Weeks with the Queen certainly has a treasured place in my heart. I have always envied Morris' creativity when it comes to titles - they are so clever, pertinent and memorable!


  1. I'm with you Lyndon, 'Two Weeks with the Queen' is still my favourite too, though I think 'The Other Facts of Life' is a close second among his earlier titles. Of course there is no going past the Felix and Zelda novels, from 'Once' through to 'Maybe'- I wonder how many more he can produce? It is an amazing canon he has created, he will be a great Children's Laureate and I look forward to watching his progress.

  2. An excellent overview of the range and talents of this famous, much loved author. A well deserved award that will give Morris Gleitzman another platform to enthuse, publicize and motivate generations of readers (that is if there are any readers not familiar with his work!).