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on October 14, 2014
Great funny stories with a bit of a twist!
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on September 13, 2011
I loved this book as a kid! Unfortunately no one know what I was was talking about when I spoke of it. I'm happy I was able to find it again.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 13, 2009
At primary/intermediate school, everyone in my class had a copy of a Paul Jennings book with their name scrawled on the front cover so that nobody got mixed up with all the book-lending that went on. We knew every twist, surprise and bizarre occurrence, we looked forward to the teacher reading to us on the mat, we discussed every story from every possible angle in our search for the best story, we watched the Australian TV adaptation "Round the Twist" on rainy days, and Jennings was our inevitable choice on every book reports we ever did (the teacher was probably sick to death of the whole phenomenon).

Perhaps best compared with R.L. Stine's Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps Series), and Christopher Milne's Naughty Stories for Good Boys and Girls: The Complete Book of All, Paul Jennings collection of quirky tales stood head and shoulders above both of them, with twist endings that are written with infinite more intelligence and skill. Each anthology of short stories was an eclectic mix of ghost stories, modern fairytales, comedic gross-out anecdotes, Victorian-esque morality plays, and others that simply defy description.

"Without a Shirt" concerns a boy with a compulsive disorder that makes him to add the words "without a shirt" to the end of every sentence he speaks. No doctors can cure him, or even explain why he's compelled to do such a thing, and he inevitably suffers from bullying at school. But one day his dog Shovel brings home what is unmistakably a human bone, swiftly followed by several more, which emit an aura of sadness and - even more alarmingly - reassemble and move of their own volition.

How are these bones linked to his speech impediment? I won't give it away, but this story is one of my favourites, being oddly poetic, surreal and moving. Maybe it was just the nostalgia (I still have the project I did on this story back in school) but I felt a little choked up at the triumphant, yet understated denouncement.

There are two more ghost stories in the collection; one comedic, the other poignant. Perhaps anticipating that a story with the word "dunny" in the title would be popular, Jennings starts "The Skeleton on the Dunny" with: "so you want to know the story of the ghost on the dunny. Everybody wants to know about it, so I am going to tell it for the last time." Bob is orphaned and sent to live with his Aunt Flo in the Australian outback, where she sadly tells him that the conditions of her will leave everything to him: except the expensive painting that was apparently stolen by the lodger that looked after the house in her absence. When she returned from her travels, the painting was gone and Old Ned was found in the outhouse: nothing more than a skeleton. It's hardly a pleasant story, and Bob is reluctant to visit the outhouse, especially when he realizes that it's haunted. But why would a ghost haunt a dunny?

"Lighthouse Blues" is another poignant ghost story, in which a young man is apprenticed to a grisly old light-house keeper. Like so many others, he hears the sound of a clarinet and a saxophone every Friday night, though he can't imagine where it's coming from. Stan the lighthouse keeper claims he's never heard the music, but believes it might be the spirits of his father and grandfather, buried on the island. Deciding to investigate further, he finds that the ghosts can communicate through the songs they play and calls on their help with the lighthouse is threatened by property developers.

"The Strap-Box Flyer," "Lucky Lips" and "Smart Ice-Cream" are three thematically-linked stories in which an unsympathetic protagonist is eventually punished for their ill-deeds by karmic retribution. Jennings often uses this particular plotline throughout his books, reminiscent of the infamous Victorian children's books in which disobedient or naughty children are horribly punished. However, in Jenning's case, the punishment tends to fit the crime.

In "The Strap-Box Flyer" a man sells seemingly miracle-glue that stops working after four hours, with tragic results for those that purchase a tube from him. But he gets his comeuppance when he meets a man who has invented what he calls the strap-box flier, a small device that allows an individual to fly at will. There are only two in existence...but with one crucial difference between them.

Likewise, "Smart Ice-Cream" is told in first-person narration by an obnoxiously bright kid who considers himself superior to everyone around him - particular the ice-cream man, who claims that his ice-cream can magically clear up pimples, shrink large noses, cheer people up...and make them smarter. Our narrator is having none of it, and breaks into the ice-cream van to investigate - but gets more than he bargained for when he samples some of the ice-cream for himself.

"Lucky Lips," is more of a "be careful what you wish for" story, in which a young man who's never been kissed decides to take the easy route, and acquires a tube of magical lipstick from an old fortune teller. She promises him that the lipstick will compel any woman in the vicinity to kiss him. Stretching over a surprisingly long period of time, this story tells of the mishaps that occur concerning the loopholes and conditions of the lipstick and its effects on women.

As for "Cow Dung Custard"...well, there's one in every family, I suppose. A rather unfunny story that relies too much on gross-out humour, this tells the story of a father and son who are in the manure business. Unpopular among the neighbours thanks to the smell they make and the flies they attract, this may well be the worst of Jenning's stories, not just here, but in any of his books. It involves swarms of flies, no understanding of how manure and compost actually work, and a final twist that doesn't actually make any sense. Give this one a skim-read, or a miss altogether.

Finally, "Wunderpants" is a funny, quirky little story about a boy whose mother makes him underwear out of pink material with fairies on it. He naturally mortified, but soon finds that the underwear grants him super strength and speed that gives him the upper hand over the school bully. But when the underwear shrinks (I won't tell you in what circumstances) he despairs: what use is underwear that barely fits over his fingertip? As it turns out, there is a very good use for them...

Rereading Paul Jennings was a wonderful trip down memory lane, and many of the stories are just as fresh, funny and imaginative as I remember them from my childhood. Perfect for reluctant readers both then and now, these are books that take silly little tales and turn them into something a bit more special. The cartoony covers make them seem more grotesque than they actually are: in fact, these are in fact sensitive, thought-provoking and memorable stories that perfectly capture the voices and nuances, anxiety and wonderment of youth...with ghosts, dunnies, underwear and cow manure.
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on August 30, 2006
"Unreal", first published in Australia in 1985, was Paul Jennings' first book, which he wrote while he was a school teacher. It is a collection of weird and wonderful short stories for kids, though it's fun for all ages, I reckon. "Unreal" went on to win a whole bunch of awards, and Paul Jennings went on to become a full time writer, and something of a phenomenon here down under. His books sold millions of copies, and spawned two TV series ("Round the Twist" and "Driven Crazy"). He's done an awful lot for kid's reading down here. I've been a fan of Paul's since I was nine or so years old. I'm grown up now, but still I find his books worth reading and re-reading.

Every single one of the eight stories in "Unreal" is great fun, and are among Jennings' best work, in my opinion. Here's a summary:

"Without A Shirt" features a boy who obsessively ends every sentence with the phrase "without a shirt". His teacher feels sorry for him and the other kids make fun of him. His life, however, takes a strange and unexpected turn the day he has to do a talk in front of the class...

"The Strap Box Flyer" is a story I'd forgotten about for quite some time, but it's interesting. It's all about a greedy businessman who goes from town to town selling glue. He tells his customers it will stick anything together. He doesn't tell them that it will only stick for 4 hours. Great ending to this one!

"Skeleton on the Dunny" is something of a ghost story centred around an outhouse. "Dunny" is an Australian slang word for toilet, used in a similar way to the American slang "the can". Really liked this story when I was a kid.

"Lucky Lips" is all about a sixteen year old boy whose never been kissed, but hopes to change all that with some magic invisble lipstick. Things end up getting a little crazy, though.

"Cow-Dung Custard" is a story designed to gross out, a type of story that Paul tends to write from time to time. This one's about a boy whose Dad is a prize winning gardener. He's a success thanks to his special combinations of animal manure. One of his combinations, "cow-dung custard" is a bit too special, and ends up causing chaos among the townsfolk.

"Lighthouse Blues" is another ghost story. A young lad goes to work as an apprentice on a lighthouse, and every Friday night he hears eerie music played on the saxophone, music whose lyrics seem to be trying to say something to him!

"Smart Ice-Cream" is an interesting one. A know-it-all boy is convinced that the local ice-cream truck is making his peers smarter by way of the ice-cream they eat. A short but sweet story (pardon the pun!)

"Wunderpants" is all about an enchanted pair of homemade underwear. I think that's all I need to say about that one!

Highly recommended to young readers. It's a lot of fun. If you enjoyed it, check out some of Paul Jennings other books like "Quirky Tales", "Uncanny" and "Unseen".
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on November 8, 2004
What odd, delightful, unique stories. Sort of spooky at times, but certainly not typical.
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on September 20, 2001
I think that this story would be suited to children 7-12 years of age.
In this story there is a very smart boy who always gets 100 out of 100 for Maths and English.
He teases people with pimples and other problems, but Peppi the ice-cream man fixes these problems with ice-cream.
There is a twist at the end that you couldn't guess. Read to find out.
This was an okay story. It is pretty short but has enough infomation to get the story line across. There were a few funny parts that make the story interesting.
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on April 7, 1999
This book is great, my favorite story is called "Without a Shirt". It is about a boy that cannot say a sentence or paragraph without ending it with the phrase - "Without a shirt". Of course there is more to the story, but I think it nice to with hold the ending for the reader.
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on October 8, 1998
Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it dowm because the stories were very interesting with a good sense of humor. I really like Paul Jennings and all of his books so I gave him 5 stars
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on May 9, 1998
This book is great I think everyone should read it!I enjoyed reading it so much I couldn't put it down!
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