Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.
Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.
Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.
Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.
Natural Born Loser shouts out to all those kids tangled in nets of mediocrity, too worried about failure to cut themselves free, reminding them that with just a little effort, amazing things can result. This story kick-starts confidence and encourages kids to follow the glow of their own headlights rather than that of others’. This message here being, if you can own your own desires and act on them, you will eventually stand out and … shine. I love that premise and think 7 – 11 year-olds will, too.
Raymond is an uncertain leader at first but proves that not all heroes bound about in bold stockings and loud capes. He demonstrates that great outcomes are possible from small, quiet ideas and coincidentally underpins the importance of fundraising as a means to attain solutions. These are heartening notions, delivered in equal parts of touching sensitivity and that witty, self-debasing jocularity for which Phommavanh is renowned.
Penguin Random House 30 July 2017
Wallace’s humour courses through this novel as invitingly as a river of chocolate. The premise of poor-little-rich-kid-come-good-but-still-not-accepted-by-the-other-rich-kids is peppered with laughs, magic tricks, tongue in cheek ridicule and plain good old-fashioned humility.
Jamie Brown is likeable, not because he’s a gazillionaire, but because he is also a glowing, albeit bumbling at times, example of believing in and loving the person you are. His family are poorer than poor, barely surviving on mum Tracey’s ability to make a feast out of little more than a herbed banana and dad Marcus’ talent for being the most accommodating person ever. Jamie owes a lot to his family’s almost absurd never-say-never attitude as it allows him to appreciate their matchbox-sized home on Hovel Street and the more meaningful things in life, like true friendship and … magic tricks.
One day, after a strange car pulls into their street unannounced, change occurs in the Brown household in ways they never imagined possible. They become gazillionaires. Fortunately, being rich does not change the Browns, too much. Jamie maintains his penchant for listing things in order to make sense of life and tries hard to accommodate some of the less appealing aspects of wealth after the family uproots to the more palatial side of town. How he and his family eventually assimilate into their new lifestyle roles satisfyingly fills 186 pages, give or take the odd gag.
Despite the endless visual wisecracks and comical one liners, there are also several moments of thoughtful contemplation that allow readers to develop a deeper fondness for Jamie and appreciate that his enviable situation is not all it’s cracked up to be.
This story rockets along in a way that active young ten year-olds favour with plenty of opportunity to laugh aloud. Bonus points for the snazzy holographic book cover.
Ford Street Publishing May 2014