Today, Mat Waugh, author of the Cheeky Charlie series, discusses why his funny stories for kids seem to strike a chord with grandparents, too.
Mat: As a children’s author – particularly one who measures success in the breadth of a child’s smile – I’m occasionally taken to task by parents who disagree with the notional boundaries I’ve drawn, and break. It’s OK, I get it: what’s just across the line for me (and therefore hilariously funny to a six year old) is beyond the pale to other families. It’s probably why we get plenty of space in the supermarket. These parents will give my next book a swerve, and pick up something with a wholesome moral (yawn).
But grandparents are different. At its best there’s a direct connection between grandparent and grandchild, a desire to discover the world together. And curiosity goes hand-in-hand with rule breaking, asking what if? and enjoying the unintended consequences.
Case study 1: when my eldest daughter was a few months old and enduring our attempts at baby-led weaning, she was left in the tender care of my wife’s mother for an afternoon. On our return we noticed a suspicious brown smear around the baby’s mouth. My wife dabbed it with a finger, and sniffed it cautiously.
“Mum, it’s chocolate!”
“Oh, stop making a fuss, it was only a KitKat,” my mother-in-law said. “She absolutely wolfed it down. She ate both fingers.”
Case study 2: it’s two years later, and we’re in the garden of a friend who has a newborn herself – he’s three, maybe four months old. My parents are with me. The mother disappears inside to make tea and while we’re distracted, my father decides that now would be a good time for the infant to ingest his very first solids: a hunk of Victoria Sponge cake. Guess what? He couldn’t get enough of it. We notice in the nick of time, brushing crumbs from wispy hair and wiping jam from chubby cheeks before the mum reappeared. And then we exploded at my unrepentant Dad in the car home.
Both children are still with us; one mother is still blissfully unaware that her first-born didn’t first cut his teeth on a carrot stick. My wife and I were indignant at the time – how dare these old-timers trample on our finely calibrated child-raising values! But now, as the children grow older, we discover that an illicit bit of cake is hopefully the least of anyone’s worries (latent egg allergies aside). And I reluctantly concede that, just maybe, grandparents know best. Most of ‘em, anyway, most of the time.
This is particularly poignant for us as our middle and youngest daughters never got the chance to be fed a KitKat finger on the sly – my loving mother-in-law died before they were born. But the loss is so much more than that: it’s the hugs, the bedtime pep talk and, above all, the life-affirming laughter.
Charlie, the title character of my short stories, is three, and entirely without malice. If he’s rude he doesn’t mean it; if he causes offence it’s an accident (mostly). In one of the new stories he takes a rude woman to task and inadvertently sparks a mutiny on a ferry. But that’s because, like many toddlers, he lives by a stronger moral code than many adults.
Perhaps that’s the reason Charlie seems to appeal to kids and grandparents in equal measure. They’re both at liberty to know what’s right and wrong, to build a worldview, but also to break the rules sometimes, just to see what will happen (and because it rarely matters that much anyway). And if it makes everybody laugh along the way, the world’s a better place already. And on that I think we can all agree.
Mat Waugh is a children’s author from Tunbridge Wells, UK. The second book of Cheeky Charlie stories, Bugs and Bananas, will be published on May 11, 2017; you can find out more about it and other books at his website. The first collection of Cheeky Charlie stories for children 6+ is available now to download for free. Ideal for shared bedtime stories, or for adventurous independent readers.