“Just goes to show we shouldn’t judge people, or amphibians, until we get to know them…”
We chatted to one of Australia’s funniest and most loved children’s writers, Morris Gleitzman, ahead of the release of his newest book Toad Delight! You can learn more about the book here, and read on to find out why he chose a cane toad as his main character, which books he loved growing up, and what he’s up to next….
BRK: Congratulations on Toad Delight! It’s been eight years since Toad Surprise – what made you want to return to Limpy, Charm and Goliath, and will we see them again in the future?
MG: I was surprised to see that eight years have passed, and to realise how much our world has changed during that time. I was struck by how we humans are becoming more and more like cane toads. For example, cane toads are legendary food fans. If they can fit it in their mouths, they’ll add it to their diet. Bit like us in the current My Kitchen Rules era. I thought it would be interesting if Limpy and Co. had a chance to experience up close some of the eating habits of modern humans.
BRK: Limpy is a kind, loving and thoughtful character, not words we usually tend to associate with cane toads in Australia. Did you always know you wanted to write a story about cane toads, or was Limpy a surprise?
Just goes to show we shouldn’t judge people, or amphibians, until we get to know them. I started out wanting to write a story about a member of a non-human species so I could have a squiz at what we humans get up to through non-human eyes. A story needs a problem, so I was looking for a species that humans don’t like very much. I’d met lots of cane toads years ago when I worked in a sugar mill in North Queensland, and I’d noticed the main reason people buy utes in those parts is to squash cane toads with them. So cane toads shot to the top of my list. Plus they’re so good at emotional intelligence and abstract problem-solving.
BRK: From the swamp to the studio, there are loads of fun scenes in Toad Delight. Did you have a particular favourite to write?
I had lots of fun writing the TV cooking show scenes. I enjoy cooking, but one of the great things about a story is you can experiment with ingredients you wouldn’t dream of whacking into a pan in real life.
BRK: The adults in this book seem to be a bit selfish and rather obsessed with TV and social media. Is that a subtle hint to grownups everywhere?
It’s not my job to tell people how to live their lives, just to write about those lives from the point of view of a curious and sometimes puzzled cane toad. For example, Limpy wonders, why do humans invent phones that can guide them anywhere, then spend so much time staring at the screens that they walk into trees?
BRK: You’ve said that Toad Delight is about juggling two worlds – for Limpy, it’s the quiet comfort of the swamp and the scary, confusing land of humans, but all of us can feel torn between our day-to-day life and the great wide world. How can books and reading help us navigate the two?
It’s such a big and busy world that mostly we only have time to skate over the surface. Which is where confusion arises, because to find out the truth of what’s going on we’ve got to go beneath the surface. Stories always take us beneath the surface. We don’t want to read on unless we’re sharing the thoughts and feelings – the inner world – of characters we care about.
BRK: What do you like most about writing for children, and how do you go about making them laugh?
I love how young readers are always ready to share the emotions of characters. They haven’t yet learned to be scared of feelings, and hopefully, with a life full of stories, they never will. Laughter always comes easily to people with brave hearts.
BRK: Please tell us about the books that influenced you as a child.
In south-east London is a suburb called Welling. In 1965, the public library there had about 3000 books. Those are the ones that influenced me mostly as a child. In particular the brilliant and very funny stories of an author called Richmal Crompton. In my books Once and Then I gave Richmal Crompton to the main character, Felix, as his favourite author. It was to say thank you to her for starting my dream of becoming an author.
BRK: What can we expect from your upcoming book of short stories, Snot Chocolate? It sounds very appetising.
MG: It’s another collection of funny stories similar to my books Give Peas A Chance and Pizza Cake, but of course even funnier. As the title suggests, food does feature in a number of the stories. But it’s not all about culinary delicacies. There’s a fairy demolition contractor too, and some useful advice about what to do if you turn into a dog.