With its short bites of text, humorous adventures, and hilarious graphics, So Wrong Uncensored is so right for readers aged 10-13, particularly reluctant ones.
Former reluctant readers themselves, Michael and Wayne have created the book (and series) they wish had existed when they were kids.
Here Michael chats about how and why he created So Wrong.
ABOUT SO WRONG
How did this series come about and what prompted you to create it?
Over the years, I’ve written lots of little bits and pieces that I couldn’t find a home for. They were ideas for things like two-panel cartoons, satirical ads, parodies of picture books, etc. None of them were substantial enough for a book of their own or would sit easily in a book of short stories, but I liked them and really wanted to do something with them. So they became the spark for So Wrong. It started out as a place to put all these awkward little bits and pieces.
But once I started assembling them into a book, I got really excited. Not only was I having the most fun I’d ever had as an author (which is an important sign), but I felt like I was creating the exact thing I would have loved as a kid.
Instead of reading books when I was in later primary school, I preferred magazines like Mad and Cracked. So Wrong felt like that sort of publication but in a book form. It had the same hyperactive structure, and abundance of ideas, but short stories instead of comics, and rather than being cynical and worldly, it was more cheeky and absurdist, making it naturally more aimed at children than teens.
The big problem however (which kind of hung over me as I wrote) was how to get it illustrated. It really needed a lot of variety, so it felt like I was going to have to employ several illustrators and a flexible designer to make it work. But then I remembered working on an animated feature film many years ago with an artist called Wayne Bryant. I knew he could vary his style and while discussing the book with him I discovered he was an excellent designer and a fan of Mad and all sorts of other hilarious and beautiful retro comics. So, suddenly, the big illustration problem was solved.
The narrator in question, Mitey Mikey, is actually one of the book’s ‘sponsors’. He appears in 3-4 places throughout the book in order to convince you, the reader, to pay for his ‘Lyfe Coach for Kidz’ services. He’s a kid, but he’s a strident, overconfident little go-getter, who believes he’s headed for fame and fortune – except he’s not actually as clever as he thinks, which becomes immediately apparent when you realise he can’t even spell his very first lines: ‘HEY YOO! Wee need to tork.’ So the joke is that he thinks he’s brilliant (and is a little bit in some ways), but we know he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.
But we reckon his misspellings serve more than one purpose – depending on who’s reading the book.
In a funny sort of way, his inability to spell subtly validates the reluctant readers who are also poor spellers. In a quiet sort of way it says to them that being a poor speller is a known, common problem (even for kids with other strengths), and it’s not a life-and-death issue, so work on becoming a better speller, but don’t lose all your self-esteem if you’re not that great at it just yet. It’s not actually the end of the world – in fact it can be a source of a lot of fun.
But also, because it’s tricky to decode Mitey Mikey’s poor spelling, it really reinforces the value of consistent, uniform spelling. If we all spelled phonetically, the way he does, we’d spend all our lives decoding text.
And then there’s the sheer fun of suddenly being able to read his text quite fluently. When that happens toward the end of the book, you feel a little bit like someone who’s just mastered a secret code.
Why are this book and the series important to kids?
We hope these books appeal to all kids, but most importantly to reluctant readers. We think it’s important to keep those kids reading just one more book … then one more series … and for one more year. Just to entrench the habit of reading a little more. And to help them make their own positive associations with books.
What did you hope to achieve when you created So Wrong?
All we wanted to achieve is a book/series that kids love – particularly reluctant readers. And a book that no one’s afraid to admit they like, no matter how ‘cool’ or tough or naughty they feel they have to be.
What will kids gain from picking up these books?
Hopefully, more positivity towards books themselves, a good laugh, and a little validation.
As a reluctant reader, what challenges did you face?
One of the biggest problems with being a reluctant reader (as a child, mind you, I’ve been an avid reader all my adult life) is that you can easily feel as if you’re not that smart. That kicks in especially when the topic turns to books. It’s embarrassing to admit you haven’t read this book or that book or, basically, many books at all.
But it’s more than just embarrassing, it’s downright frustrating. By reading fewer books, you naturally have a smaller and less effective vocabulary than many of the people you know. Despite being an intelligent child (according to my reports – well, some of them), I could barely explain anything if I was under any kind of pressure. I never had the words, while others did. That’s frustrating and bad for your self-esteem.
How does this book/series address these challenges for kids facing these challenges today?
The real competition for reluctant readers is with screen-based forms of entertainment. In order to improve on what they offer a child, you have to be super relevant, visually interesting, and highly validating. That’s what we’ve aimed for with So Wrong. If we’ve achieved it, then those kids won’t think books are quite so boring. And they’ll read one more … and then another … And they’ll start to benefit from reading in all those subtle ways people who love books do, without ever quite realising it.
What I like about this book apart from its non-stop entertainment value is that it offers achievable reading goals for kids who are reluctant to pick up a book. They can read a few pages at a time and still complete a story or segment.
As the book itself states, it’s 100% unboring guaranteed.
I think my favourite parts of this book were the highly suspect ‘life advice’ from supposed Life Coach for Kids, Mitey Mike, and the hilarious advertisements for useful products like The Parental Attitude Adjuster.
So Wrong Uncensored is as the name suggests, uncensored, so there are some references to bodily functions and ‘alternative education’ however it’s all clearly done in jest, and designed to tickle the reader’s funny bone.
The narrator’s spelling in some parts is a little suspect too, and these tales are full of naughtiness (including visual treats throughout), but the book is clearly written from the hearts of the creators to entertain the kids who read it.
If you have a reluctant reader in your home or classroom then So Wrong Uncensored could be so right for you.
So Wrong Uncensored is clever, funny and engaging. It’s the first book in the series and is published by Billy Goat Books.