Last week I made my way through David Walliams’s first four books. What I loved about Walliams, besides his charming personal tone and his silly humour is the way his books invite adult readers to see things from a young person’s point of view. That is, Walliams does not only speak to children in their own language, but he also represents complex problems from a young person’s position — often exposing common adult prejudices as he does so. He reveals entrenched and narrow attitudes towards transvestism (The Boy in the Dress), the elderly (Gangsta Granny), and the homeless (Mr Stink). His child protagonists, however, allow another way of seeing these practices and people. Walliams’s books insist we discover the whole person underneath the judgmental stereotype, as well as the hurt that complete social devaluation of a person can cause — and all without being pessimistic, moralising, grim, or unfunny.
He also shows how adult prejudices are formed, however; his protagonists (tellingly all at the liminal age of twelve) are able to see homeless “tramps” as people with interesting stories to tell, or cross-dressing as a playful and comforting act. But they also know full well that these opinions are at odds with the adult world. The desire to be approved and accepted makes Walliams’s children question the worth of fighting for their own beliefs.
In the spirit of not being bleak, all of Walliams’s novels end by showing how families and friends will generally accept the people they care about. Perhaps the books are a little bit idealistic in these endings, but such idealism feels welcome in novels that encourage young people to be inclusive to others and courageous in asserting their own differences.
31 March 2013 ~ Hamilton
Walliams, David. The Boy in the Dress. Illus. Quentin Blake. London: HarperCollins, 2008.
—. Mr Stink. Illus. Quentin Blake. London: HarperCollins, 2009.
—. Billionaire Boy. Illus. Tony Ross. London: HarperCollins, 2010.
—. Gangsta Granny. Illus. Tony Ross. London: HarperCollins, 2011.