Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pizza Cake - Morris Gleitzman

Sitting down with a new Morris Gleitzman book in your lap is like sitting down to a gourmet meal in a swanky restaurant: you know that what you’re about to imbibe has been lovingly prepared by an expert. Your mouth starts to water just thinking about it. Pizza Cake is a gustative reader’s feast.
 
But be warned. Don’t read this book in a doctor’s waiting room unless you’re the type to be unperturbed by a roomful of people watching you a) fall off your chair b) roll around on the floor in uncontrollable fits of laughter and c) try to slink into the doctor’s surgery sideways because you’ve wet your pants. Each of the ten stories in this collection of short pieces is a candidate for producing unexpected mirthful explosions in the reader.
 
Pizza Cake is Gleitzman at his inimitable best. His writing is na├»ve art in sentences. Master of representing the workings of the child’s mind through humour and exaggeration, his books have an instant appeal. Gleitzman’s ability to tap into the universal experience of the young person creates an accessibility that allows his characters to immediately become advocates, friends and co-conspirators with his target audience. And his indefatigable ability to come up with fresh stories is a godsend to Gleitzman’s fanbase – who will be delighted with Pizza Cake.
 
The stories in this collection are crafted using the trademark ingredients of Gleitzman’s recipe for a great reading experience: prose that is tight and spare; the immediacy of the present tense –from a combination of first and third person point of view; unflinching commitment to plot; and gratifying depth through theme and symbolism. In fact, in the last story in the book – ‘Harriet’s Story’ – Gleitzman weaves in a bit of writing advice to the young storyteller by outlining the elements of a good story as part of his narrative. As with all the stories in Pizza Cake, this piece also typifies Gleitzman’s extraordinary imagination and his ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat by crafting a tale out of an ordinary, everyday event that any child would relate to: in this case when a girl wakes in the night feeling thirsty.
 
In other stories in the collection we experience the far-reaching ramifications of mishearing some terminology in the title story, ‘Pizza Cake’; what the world would be like, in ‘Saving Ms Fosdyke’, if teachers were paid more than movie stars; sibling rivalry where twins fight over boobs in ‘Big Mistake’; what happens when there is some uncertainty about a bloodstained neck in ‘Draclia’; how life can be tricky when your parents christen you with the name of a very famous person, in ‘Charles the Second’; problems with farting in ‘Tickled Onions’; how a paper clip can save the day in ‘Stationary is Never Stationary; what happens when your parents complain about everything in ‘Can’t Complain; and when the tables are turned and the kids are more cluey than their dad in ‘Secret Diary of a Dad’.
 
The themes in Pizza Cake are spot-on when it comes to the interests of a child. In all these stories there is something to uplift and to honour, to validate a child’s own lived experience and sense of self. With ingenuity and sensitivity, and a fair whack of parody, Gleitzman weaves through this story collection the themes of bullying, loss of power, fear of failure, standing up for yourself and the strain of maintaining one-upmanship.
 
The freshness, originality and humour in Pizza Cake make it a rewarding and thoroughly entertaining read. Highly recommended.
 
Puffin 2011
 
(A shorter version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 27, Issue 1, March 2012)

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