You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum!
When reviewing a book, a cool, detached analysis is what you’re aiming for. It's very much like performing an autopsy, only with less rummaging around in slippery guts. You need to keep a certain professional distance. So it hurts my heart to write something as fanboy swoony as "Mr Gum is the bestest children’s book in the whole wide universe, ever." It's probably true though.
No funny book review site would be worth a pinch of bellybutton fluff without raising a cheer for Mr Gum, and we’re getting straight in on Day One. Because if Edward Lear, Roald Dahl, Rik Mayall,
and all the Monty Pythons got together and had a book baby it
still wouldn’t be as funny as Andy Stanton’s. You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum is the first in a nine-book series, and was famously written for Stanton's young cousins over a single, coffee-drenched Christmas Eve night. It brings the funny on the scale of a biblical plague. Locusts, probably. Stanton does not mess about, or bother warming his readers up. He’s here to slay from the first page and you can literally close your eyes and stick a pin in this book - it doesn’t matter where - to find a bum-curlingly funny line. In fact, let’s do that right now, just to prove the point.
Pin. Eye-closed. OK, here we go. Oww, that was my knee. Wait. Aaaand, I give you …
“He was playing a song he had written himself called “He Was Playing a Song He Had Written Himself. (He had also written a song called “But He Wasn’t Playing That at the Moment” but he wasn’t playing that at the moment.)”
This is absurd, absurdly funny stuff. The gags in Mr Gum line up to kick you in the goolies and run off waggling their eyebrows. Chaotic, anarchic, unexpected, it’s funny children’s writing that goes way above and beyond to leave you clutching yourself and gasping with laughter. Like all great comedy, it feels personal, too. The genius of Andy Stanton is that he can sell by the bucketload, and win ALL the awards, but any child who picks this up will feel like they’ve discovered a secret: a book written to tickle their own individual funny bone.
The story is classic good versus evil, with evil represented by Mr Gum aided by Lamonic Bibber’s town butcher, Billy William the Third. On the side of good are the nine-year-old Polly (I’m not going to type out her full name), Friday O’Leary (NOT Mr Gum’s long-lost brother), Mrs Lovely from Mrs Lovely’s Wonderful Land of Sweets and a random Spirit of the Rainbow. Together they foil Mr Gum’s attempt to off Jake the dog – a furry wobbler, friendly as toast. It’s a simple story that’s easy for any seven-year-old reader to follow, and it’s the off-the-hook characters, bonkers stream-of-consciousness asides, and never-ending flood of jokes that sweep the reader along on a tidal wave of breathless joy. Adding to the fun are the unhinged illustrations of David Tazzyman. Surely a pairing destined by fate, Tazzyman is the Blake to Stanton’s Dahl. They just work together.
But you don’t need me to tell you all this. You’ve read it before. Of course you’ve read it before. Go back and enjoy it again though, and again. Like all great comedy, it never gets old and it works for pretty much any age group. The second time around you might also notice that not only is Stanton proper hilarious but he does fantastic things with language. Clever things. Often beautiful things.
I could go on about Mr Gum all day, but I’ll leave you with this: if you know of a young reader who by some strange accident of fate hasn’t read this book, buy it for them. Buy it for them now. Buy it by the wheelbarrow load and throw copies at them like invitations from Hogwarts until they read it. If you have to, staple their eyes to the pages until they’ve devoured every last word. Then do the same for books two through nine. They’ll thank you for it.
Is it a classic? It was only published in 2006, but hey – by the power invested in me, I declare this book a classic. Shabba me whiskers!