Funny money on teacher for Dahl prize

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Debut novel about disastrous school shortlisted for top children's book award

A teacher's first book, Ribblestrop - about a roofless school with the motto Life is Dangerous - has been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

Andy Mulligan, who was born in south London and teaches in the Philippines, has already received rave reviews for his novel, described by The Independent as a "hilarious and morally questionable tale about a disastrous school".

But he will be up against long-established children's authors, as well as fellow first-timer David Walliams, star of TV's Little Britain, for the pound;2,500 prize founded last year by former children's laureate Michael Rosen to recognise books that make children laugh.

Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books, won the inaugural Roald Dahl prize last year.

This year, he was on the judging panel along with comedian Bill Bailey, Roald Dahl's widow Liccy Dahl, Michael Rosen and authors Louise Rennison and Mini Grey.

Mr Stanton said: "We all made shortlists, then pooled them a couple of weeks before we met up. Then we met and argued until it got bloody. It was really fun.

"Winning the prize was a great boost, especially something with Dahl's name attached - even after all these years, he is the yardstick we measure children's books by.

"But funny is a difficult, slippery thing. There are a lot of different styles and one book can't do everything. The shortlist has a range of different types of humour.

"It's a good time to be a children's author and it's especially good for people on that list."

Andy Mulligan and David Walliams are shortlisted with Anne Fine, Hilda Offen and Philip Ardagh for the older children's prize.

For those aged six and under, the competing tales range from Peter Bently's The Great Dog Bottom Swap to Allan Ahlberg's The Pencil, which draws its own story and a cast of increasingly cranky characters.

Mike Kent, head of Comber Grove Primary, south London, stressed the role of humour in enthusing children about books.

"Being funny helps enormously for infants. For older children, the important thing is to get into the story quickly. That's why Roald Dahl is still so successful. He also writes about things children love - like scratching bums, breaking wind and chewing gum."

The winners will be announced on November 10.


Andy Mulligan reflects on life in the Philippines since his novel was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize - and on the joys of teaching.

I am number two best-seller out here in the Philippines, but that is because queues of loyal Manila school children are buying the book, skewing the figures! In fact one of my pupils told me the other day she went down to the main bookshop here and moved all the Wimpy Kid books off the display stand and put Ribblestrop on. What more can you ask?

Teachers may find the book as funny as their pupils. In fact, they might find in funnier because most teachers fantasise about a total absence of lists, forms, attainment targets, health and safety, and the freedom to simply enjoy teaching. Ribblestrop is a crazily dangerous place, but its cornerstone is that the staff yearn to share their bizarre enthusiasms: everyone has a good time.

So many of the events are based on things I've seen - the young teacher leading the nature ramble . how was he to know the shortcut he improvised involved an active railway tunnel? How did he feel when he heard the train whistle? I'm just delighted people find it funny, but then most teachers will tell you that if you relax, teaching is about the funniest profession you can enter. Children actually spend most of their day smiling and laughing if you let them - you imagine being part of that, five days a week!

When I heard I'd been shortlisted, I'm afraid I went straight to the fridge and cracked open a bottle of wine - to think that my ugly little name is associated with the great Dahl for even just five minutes! As a teacher, Roald Dahl is the holy ghost: the writer who electrifies! He gets kids reading and chuckling, and then surprises, scares and converts them. For every Revolting Rhyme there is a bizarre and fascinating short story; for every terrifying elevator there is the joy of autobiography. Roald Dahl becomes a very close friend to our children, and teachers round the world feel very close to him. And rejoice in his anarchy!


- Funniest book for children aged six and under

The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently, illustrated by Mei Matsuoka

Octopus Socktopus by Nick Sharratt

Elephant Joe is a Spaceman! by David Wojtowycz

Crocodiles are the Best Animals of All! by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Hannah Shaw

Mr Pusskins Best in Show by Sam Lloyd

The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman

- Funniest book for children aged seven to 14

The Galloping Ghost by Hilda Offen

Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine, illustrated by Kate Aldous

Grubtown Tales: Stinking Rich and Just Plain Stinky by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jim Paillot

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Purple Class and the Half-Eaten Sweater by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Helen Bate

Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan.

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