Lollies 2023: Ages 9–12 Shortlist Q&A

Hear from the creators of our superbly silly titles in the Ages 9–12 Shortlist for the Laugh Out Loud Awards 2023!

Lollies 2023: Finding the funniest books!

We sat down with Pooja Puri (PP), author of A Dinosaur Ate My Sister, Neill Cameron (NC), author of Freddy vs School, Natalie Smillie (NS), illustrator of The Amazing Edie Eckhart and Helen Rutter (HR), author of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh to ask them all about their shortlisted works, and why funny books are so important.

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Laugh Out Loud Awards 2023! How does it feel to have your work recognised by the judges?

PP: Thank you! It’s absolutely brilliant! I couldn’t believe it when I found out that A Dinosaur Ate My Sister had been shortlisted for the Laugh Out Loud Awards 2023. When I started writing the story, it was a higgledy-piggledy jumble of ideas about time travel, dinosaurs and a genius inventor. To think that it’s now been shortlisted for the Lollies is an incredible feeling and I’m chuffed and truly honoured that it’s received such a positive response.

NC: Just absolutely amazing! It’s such an honour to be shortlisted, and to be alongside such incredible authors. I am humbled and honoured and delighted, and basically lots of other words that mean ‘chuffed’.

NS: It means an extraordinary amount to be recognised! As an illustrator all we really want is to add the icing on the cake of the stories written by our authors.

HR: Eeeeek! WHOOP! Fart. YAY! I think describes my feelings accurately.

Why do you think funny books are important?

PP: I’ve always enjoyed reading funny books. I think they give readers the chance to lose themselves in a different world and join in the fun of a laugh out loud adventure! In A Dinosaur Ate My Sister, I was keen to combine humour with science to show that it is possible – and indeed important – to have a laugh whilst learning something new.

NC: I just love things that are funny! Laughing is just the best thing in the world. But it’s actually surprisingly hard to talk about; to describe exactly why it’s so important. It’s like trying to explain why you like feeling happy, or why you enjoy food that tastes delicious. It’s kind of just… how we’re built as human beings. All my favourite people make me laugh. All my favourite films, and stories, and books, make me laugh. I think funny books can cheer you up when you’re feeling down, can take your mind off things if you’re worried, can make you feel less alone if you’re lonely. And all those things are incredibly important.

NS: I think laughing in general is important – it’s good for you! Reading funny books is important escapism. Reading about funny characters that do the daft things that we also do helps us realise that it’s ok to laugh at ourselves.

HR: Because what is life without laughter? We NEED to laugh. Especially when things are tough- then it’s even more important.

Can you tell us more about your shortlisted book?

PP: A Dinosaur Ate My Sister tells the story of Esha Verma, a genius inventor, who is determined to win The Brain Trophy, an amazing prize given annually to the best Young Inventor of the Year. This year she’s come up with her most amazing invention yet: a time machine! But when her annoying big sister, Nishi, accidentally sends herself to the Age of the Dinosaurs, Esha and her snotty apprentice, Broccoli (along with his cunning pet tortoise Archibald), must set off on a prehistoric rescue mission to get her back. Along the way, they face mysterious wormholes, terrifying time-space monsters, and of course, lots and lots of dinosaurs!

NC: Sure! Freddy vs School is my first novel and it’s a story about Freddy, who is an amazing superpowered robot with many incredible robotic abilities… which he is absolutely NOT allowed to use at school. So on the one hand he’s basically this awesome and incredibly powerful superhero… but on the other hand he’s just stuck in class doing maths the same as everyone else. And it’s about him getting very frustrated by these rules, and by the way he seems to be constantly getting in trouble just for being himself. But it’s also about the friends and family who love him for who he is, lasers and explosions and all, and who help him get through it all.

NS: Our book is about Edie Eckhart who is funny, silly and a little bit clumsy – all things that I can relate to! She’s funny and warm and even though she sometimes gets it wrong, she tries very hard to get it right. And that’s something we can all relate to.

HR: The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh is about an eleven year old boy called Billy Plimpton who dreams of becoming a stand up comedian. There is just one thing that’s getting in his way-his stammer. He can’t imagine ever having the confidence to stand on a stage when he finds it hard to get to the end of a sentence. We follow Billy as he starts secondary school and tries desperately to fit in. Throughout the book he begins to realise that maybe he doesn’t need to change who he is after all.

Why should children vote for you?

PP: Because this book is PACKED full of giggles, chortles, laughs, time-space monsters, time travel, wacky inventions and dinosaurs, including burping ones! What more could you want? (And if children vote for me, I’ll tell them my TOP-SECRET method of how to build their own time machine).

NC: Oh, I’m just happy to be nominated! Honestly I don’t even mind if I win or not. Freddy, on the other hand… I mean, if he doesn’t win there’s a very good chance he might throw a massive tantrum and start blowing up people who didn’t vote for him with LASERS.

NS: It would be the best feeling to see a book that shows us characters that are differently abled win this award. We’re not so different from each other at all!

HR: They should vote for me if they read all the books and liked mine the best. Or maybe I should tell them a sad story about my poorly puppy and play some violin music in the background to try and convince them to vote for me out of pity? I think they are too clever to fall for that – although my poorly puppy is super cute and has massive eyes – so vote for me!

What would you say to anyone hoping to one day write or illustrate their own book?

PP: Keep writing/drawing as much as you can, even if it is only for a short while each day. If you’re ever stuck for inspiration, try making an ideas board which you can fill with doodles, pictures, song lyrics, anything and everything! I find this is a really helpful way to kickstart your imagination and get that all important BRAIN-SPARK. Most importantly, never give up!

NC: I would say, get started! Get stuck in. Writing and drawing and telling your own stories is an incredibly fun thing, and it’s something you can get started having a go at, whatever age you are. Write a story! Draw a comic! Make a film on your parents’ phone! There’s so many different ways to be creative and tell stories, so just have fun with it and try different things and find what works for you!

NS: I would say that if you want to illustrate books, firstly you need to draw – a LOT! Secondly you need to draw the things that you’re interested in the most, there’s no point drawing fairies if you like drawing cars, and there’s no point drawing planes if you’re really into unicorns!

HR: DO IT! Go on do it! No really….DO IT! Do it, do it, do it. Don’t get it right get it written. Did I say DO IT!!?

Don’t forget to read the shortlisted books and vote for your favourites!

Cast your vote

Dinosaur Ate My Sister
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A Dinosaur Ate My Sister by Pooja Puri and Allen Fatimaharan

This brilliantly illustrated, laugh-out-loud, wacky adventure through time by Pooja Puri is the perfect blend of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Jurassic Park.

Before you start reading, there are a few things you should know: 1. I, Esha Verma, am a genius inventor extraordinaire. 2. There is nothing I cannot invent. This includes words. 3. I did not mean to send my sister back to the Age of the Dinosaurs. That was HER OWN FAULT (Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, please take note).

Esha Verma, her snotty apprentice Broccoli and his cunning pet tortoise have a dream. They are going to win the legendary Brain Trophy – the ultimate inventing prize. This year’s entry: A TIME MACHINE.

But the day before the competition, Esha’s IGNORAMUS big sister hijacks the time machine and is lost in the Cretaceous age.

With help from a new recruit for The Office of Time, Esha and Broccoli will have to face hungry dinosaurs, mysterious black holes and malfunctioning inventions to get them back in time.

Freddy vs School
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Freddy vs School by Neill Cameron

POW! PEW! FWOOSH! Meet Freddy – the most super-amazing superhero robot EVER. His unbelievably Amazing Robotic Abilities are mind-blowingly cool. But it turns out that teachers get really angry when you use your rocket boosters in class. Which is rather a problem for Freddy… This is the story of one superhero robot’s quest to stay in school, save his friends from disaster, and – hardest of all – stay true to himself.

Amazing Edie Eckhart
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The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones and Natalie Smillie

Hello! My name is Edie Eckhart and I’m eleven years old. I’m a little bit different. I have a disability called cerebral palsy, so I talk slowly and fall over a lot. It’s never really bothered me because I’ve never known anything else.

Edie Eckhart is Excited with a capital E to start secondary school with her best friend Oscar – the fish to her chips, the bananas to her custard. But when she and Oscar are put into different tutor groups on their first day, Edie is devastated. Who will play secret hangman with her in class? Who will she eat sausage rolls with?

But while she’s plotting her reunion with Oscar, she accidentally gets cast as the lead in the school play. As Edie discovers a passion for performance, she also finds new friendships, talents, and dreams. After all, it’s easy to shine on and off the stage when you’re Amazing with a capital A.

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
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The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter

Billy is an eleven-year-old boy with a big dream. He wants to be a stand-up comedian when he grows up: delivering pinpoint punch-lines and having audiences hang on his every hilarious word. A tough career for anyone, but surely impossible for Billy, who has a stammer. How will he find his voice, if his voice won’t let him speak?

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