Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Review, This School is Driving Me Nuts



by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


This School is Driving Me Nuts is a book of plays for kids, written by Duncan Ball, illustrated by Craig Smith and published by Second Look Publishing, an imprint of Christmas Press (2016). This is a revised version of Ball’s earlier book of plays, Comedies for Kids, and includes a new play, The Teeth of the Vampire.

From the publisher:

This hilarious collection of nine short plays for kids, written by popular author Duncan Ball, ranges from a comic monologue to a play that can involve a whole class, and everything in between. It will suit use both in the classroom and on stage, as well as being lots of fun to read at home. Capturing the imagination and tickling the funny bones of young readers and actors, the plays range from spoof mystery to fantasy to school capers. The book also includes tips on staging the plays.

It’s hard to find books of plays kids will enjoy. I taught drama for many years and know how schools struggle to find reasonably priced scripts for reading and/or performance. Most kids love to read plays, and perform them too, while teachers are constantly on the look out for scripts a class can perform for families, and other classes. So what was my reaction to This School is Driving Me Nuts? It’s a winner. Why? Allow me to let you in on a little secret: what 7-12 year old kids want in a play is not a label saying “great literature”. They want humour in the form of gags, gags that make them giggle, sight gags, running gags, even gags that remind them of their Dad’s terrible jokes. This makes it not only easier for children to memorise their lines, but gives the audience a way to interact, and that helps raise energy levels in everyone concerned. Ball understands this and that’s what he gives them - gags, in spades. Another great feature is the variety of plays - from monologue to skits to longer whole class plays. Ball adds really helpful notes too: pithy, useful tips on possible staging.

I have long loved Craig Smith’s illustrations. Three stand-out books for me are Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns, Heather Fell in the Water and The Windy Farm, all written by Doug MacLeod. Smith is an inspired choice for this book because he’ll be another draw card for kids - on top of the other two cards: “funny” and "plays”. Whether they read them or perform them, whether they decide to write their own changes to the plays - with Duncan Ball’s blessing! - I believe children everywhere will be as glad as I am to see these zany plays republished.

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