Last week was Book Week, and like many kids’ authors, I hit the hustings. At my old school, Camberwell Grammar, I had the Pre-Preps to Grade 1s roaring as Grannysaurs. Across town in Taylor’s Lakes, the Grade 4s penned a story with me about finding Harry from One Direction working as a janitor in the boys’ toilets at Overnewton College (it finished with the band performing a one off gig as ‘One Disinfection’). At PEGS, I answered questions that fire to the very heart of literacy in this country (‘Which team do you barrack for?’), and for the parents at St Mary McKillop in Keilor Downs, I prepared this list of book recommendations across various age categories.
In recalling some of the great books I’ve read, I got to thinking about all the terrible books my daughter has read. I’m not talking about the ones Tam and I have read to her. I’m talking about the fifty or so readers she’s ploughed through in the first half of her prep year. ‘Biff gets on. Chip gets on. Kipper gets on too. Oh, no! Too many have got on! Splash!’
Apart from the miracle of watching a child learn to read, the content highlight of the reader canon so far has been the fact that somewhere, anywhere, in the wide world of literature, there is a character called Kipper. And what a character! The stuff that kid can get up to with a single intransitive verb.
The other stand out work, for mine, has been this book, ‘Meet the Johnson Family’ (Pearson 2003) by Jan Pritchett.
‘Meet the Johnson Family’ delivers on its titular promise. You do indeed meet the Johnson Family, and then you go on an eight page journey as they do stuff around the house, like eat breakfast.
As Polly lumbered through the book, the only thing I could think about was the photo shoot for the cast. Who were they? Did they belong to an agency somewhere? Had they received a call from a casting agent, who would undoubtedly have had to decide what level of enthusiasm to inject into her voice: ‘Yes … yes I do have a job for you, it’s actually in publishing … yep … a photo shoot for a children’s literature project … Um …’
And then, after the shoot, did the actors playing the Johnsons get to provide any feedback? ‘Look, I know this isn’t high art, but did they have to cut the kid’s foot off on the cover? I don’t suppose there’s a different version of my ‘cooking’ face? Are crutches really doing the business of making us look “every famiily”?’
Of course, most likely, the Johnsons are friends of the author or the publishing team. Most likely they don’t have agents, and they’ve agreed to slap on some makeup and smile hard for children’s literacy. Maybe they weren’t even paid?
Or maybe this is the full stop? Maybe Mr Johnson has committed his life to acting, scored a few background roles on Carson’s Law and Sons and Daughters, and hoped to make a life of it. Maybe this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the final cradled ember of a dream. Maybe this is the saddest thing in the world.
For years, I have had a fascination with whatever the opposite of multi media megastar is. Single media picostar? Perhaps my favourite example of a single media picostar is my sister, Sam Wilson. In October 2004, she was shopping at her local butcher when a photographer arrived and asked her if she’d be willing to be photographed as a cover girl for ‘Australian Meat’.
This picture brings me more joy than anything else in the world.
I asked Tony Martin about picostars, and he remembers a policeman calling during ‘Martin Molloy’ claiming that real police were called in for background roles on ‘Australia’s Most Wanted’. The caller had landed the gig — ‘our job was milling about behind the host’ — and it formed the inspiration for this hilarious scene in ‘Bad Eggs’ (2003).
In 1999, I had a brief stint on a Channel 7 comedy show called ‘The Late Report’. For years I had been obsessed with lotto officials, and whether they enjoy the media picostardom of being introduced to distracted gamblers and offering an officious nod. It turns out that they do.
As an end note, just to illustrate what a shit fight it is getting anything on to commercial television, Channel 7 didn’t allow this cut of the story to go to air because it showed the Tattslotto draw suffering a blackout. ‘Tatts don’t want it,’ I was told. ‘They don’t want to remind people that anything can go wrong. They don’t want people to lose trust in the lottery.’ In the end, Rex was allowed to talk about his heroism during the blackout, but we weren’t allowed to show the incident.