Reviewed by Angela Marie
The assignment – Review a children’s book. Where to start?
Step One : Locate someone with a great sense of humour and an appreciation of artwork, and a voracious appetite for reading. And ensure that this person fits the target audience.
Enter Rocco, a lover of the novels of Roald Dahl, and a most-willing reader. And about to turn 7.
Angela Marie: Rocco, have you read any other books by Leigh Hobbs?
Rocco: Well, I’ve read HORRIBLE HARRIET. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed them both. ( Our conversation sounds promising.)
AM: Let’s talk about the FREAKS ON THE LOOSE book.
R: The FREAKS ON THE LOOSE book has two books inside it. The books are 4F for Freaks and Freaks Ahoy.
AM: Rocco, can you tell me some things about the plot?
R: There was a brand new teacher at the school and her name was Miss Corker. She was about to teach a brand-new class. That class was called 4F. The headmaster introduced the children one-by -one, every single one of them. There was Louisa the Teaser, Not-So-Nice Nora and Baby Doll Delia, Tony and Alphonse as they are almost identical twins, Scary Mary, Terrible Tough Timmy. These are all freaks just so you know. (Rocco then rattled off half a dozen names of other freaks. A testament to the author’s capacity to hit the mark.)
AM: Do any of the characters remind you of someone that you know?
R: They do.
AM: In what way?
R: Like on the trailer of Monster Family.
AM: Did you enjoy the book?
R: I enjoyed it a lot.
R: Because all those freaks actually were a bit funny. About the two teachers, it didn’t really have a good ending because it didn’t tell me how the freaks defeated Miss Corker at the ending.
AM: That’s an interesting observation. What would you have put?
R: I would have put all those freaks saying, “Miss Corker, Miss Corker, you were Miss Schnorkel.”
AM: Will you talk to me about the illustrations?
R: They were actually very good. The illustrations matched the words very well.
AM: What about the style of the illustrations?
R: They were actually very good too. They were like cartoons and some were like animation pictures.
( At this point there were additional comments from our five year old pre-readers who were looking on: “The shoes are also really cool.”
“This bus is cool too.” ” And I like the pirate on the book.” Definitely thumbs up.)
AM: What I’m also interested to know about this book is, do you recommend it?
R: Yes. The only bit I don’t like is about the teachers dressing up. Teachers or students shouldn’t do it.
AM: What do you think a freak is?
R: Like a bully at school but meaner.
AM: Who do you think would enjoy reading this?
R: I think it’s a good book for bullies, but I think they also need a book that can teach them to be better people.
AM: Did you learn anything from this book?
R: Never try to become too grumpy or you might become a freak too. (Wisdom out of the mouth of babes.)
Rocco paid a strong compliment to FREAKS ON THE LOOSE by recommending it to his good friend, another keen young reader.
For this reviewer, the topics were highly relatable. At the core was a teacher’s desperation to engage her pupils, and an understanding that, just maybe, the Teacher’s Handbook couldn’t supply all the answers. There was the ever-looming presence of PTSD and the avoidance of contact with difficult children. Humour out of darkness.
As educators know, an effective children’s book, no matter the content, can always be approached from various angles. FREAKS ON THE LOOSE, timely warnings and all, is a fun-filled scream of a book, and another feather in the cap of Leigh Hobbs. Yet, let’s go beyond this and acknowledge the social and emotional possibilities that could be investigated by the inherent subtle threads. This book has the capacity to be a powerful springboard for investigating that we are not manufactured in the image of each other. We are all different and that’s okay. We need dialogue, tolerance and understanding. We need resilience. There may be abilities we haven’t explored or realised, or recognised in others. I see a wealth of lesson plans. But enough of the educator. Have fun. Be brave!! Turn the pages!
The multi-talented and multi-award winning Leigh Hobbs was the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016 and 2017. He is a prolific author and illustrator and has had works adapted for television and stage. He is read far and wide, indeed being a best-selling author at the Louvre Bookshop in Paris.
FREAKS ON THE LOOSE
By Leigh Hobbs
Allen & Unwin