Wednesday 24 July 2019

The World’s Worst Teachers

The World’s Worst Teachers by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross (HarperCollins) PB RRP $18.00 ISBN 978 0008363994

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is an impressive book, if only because it is super-heavy (over 330 pages), with every page illustrated in full colour and swamped with repetitive and exaggerated words and often with footnotes.

Warning! Ten Terrifying Tales within’ it reads on the cover of David Walliams’ latest book of short stories for readers aged 8 to 12 years. The cover also reads ‘from the Number One bestselling author’ but whether this is true, or a falsehood invented by the very inventive author, is difficult to discern. There have been comparisons with Roald Dahl, but the jury is out on that statement.

Other than the size, the other first impression of this book is that the publisher has spent a small fortune on producing it -- from the gold embossing on the cover and onto the book design. Every page has words and phrases in different sized font, with some pages to be read vertically instead of horizontally.

In keeping with the humorous tone of the stories, the world’s worst teachers have names like Mr Pent, Miss Spick, Miss Seethe and Miss Conceit. Except for Mrs Lovey-Dovey, all women are Miss, which is interesting. It would seem the author has a prejudice against spinster teachers. (It would be interesting to know of his student days and his teachers…)

Walliams employs wildly, super-exaggerated humour in relating the stories, each one of which is about a thoroughly dislikeable teacher who in the end gets his or her comeuppance. In Mr and Mrs Lovey-Dovey, for instance, the couple at the start of the story are singletons teaching at the same school, and of course they fall in love. As he often does, Walliams invents words, in this case ‘puketastic’ and ‘wondermental’ (love) to describe the romance from the students’ point of view. In the course of the story, Mr and Mrs are swept far out to sea, but after the children rejoice, there’s a twist at the end of the tale.

‘In the world of horrible teachers, one in particular (stands) out for her wickedness’; this is the elderly school librarian Miss Spick who instils fear into the hearts of all the pupils at Spottingdon School. She uses her mobility scooter to ride up and down the aisles of the school library, sending pupils flying. And too, she is by far the worst librarian ever, imposing fines left, right and centre.

In keeping with the totally over-the-top prose, the illustrations are eye-catching with cartoonish teachers appearing to be wicked, frantic, fearsome, punitive and ugly. Here, on just one page, from the story ‘Miss Seethe’s Detention Rampage’, are words which are variously enclosed in speech balloons or labels: “OH, YES I CAN!” thundered the deputy head. “OH, NO YOU CAN’T!” chimed in the whole school. “OH, YES I CAN!” “OH, NO YOU CAN’T!” “OH, YES I CAN!” ‘EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM, YOU ARE ALL IN DETENTION.” ‘DETENTION RAMPAGE!’

In between all the highlighted and often repetitive words there are stories: they are full of action but are probably too long for the reluctant reader. Having said that, as most children are subversive, they are probably going to enjoy the subversive tone of the book. But whether teachers will be happy to put the book on library shelves remains to be seen.

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