This is a guest post by local author Mat Larkin, author of The Orchard Underground, written as part of his Virtual Writer in Residence program in partnership with The Little Bookroom and the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office.
Reading stories is weird.
Telling stories is very weird.
Being a kid, with an untamed imagination bouncing around in a world full of new, unexpected experiences, is so fantastically weird that it makes being an adult look as boring and normal as 2019.
A big part of growing up is about putting away your weirdness. As a writer, the older you get, the more you have to start paying attention to things like markets and transitive verbs and grants and subordinate clauses and royalties and the poetic use of the transferred epithet in 300 words or less, discuss.
As writing and life become more technical, it’s easy to lose sight of why you love stories: because they express an entire universe that springs from the inside of one human mind to the inside of another, and that is fundamentally really, really odd.
So when kids ask me what they should do to be a good writer, I say to them: unleash, nourish, and protect with your life, your inner weirdo.
Now: the terms ‘weird’ and ‘weirdo’ are often used to put someone down. Don’t be so weird, Maxine. Ugh, look at Dinh, what a weirdo. Why do you always have to say such weird stuff, Greg? Other people’s stunted ideas of human potential can destroy in our minds a precious, important truth, which is this: you are weird, and that’s good, because when you are at your most weird, you are the most like yourself, and no one else.
Your inner weirdo is that part of you that compulsively rewrites song lyrics in your head, or works on plans for an origami moose whenever you stare into space, or invents dance steps on the way to the bathroom, or makes a joke you could never tell but makes you snort in class, or any other thing your mind whirs away at that feels different to everyone else in the world. It’s your uniquest identity, your purest story, your secret wishes and the voice that still speaks with your youngest, wisest voice.
Your inner weirdo is where your creativity breathes.
Give it oxygen. Put your oddest, truest self on the page. At least in the first pass at any piece of writing, indulge every whim it has. There will be plenty of time for honing and editing later.
To be clear: this doesn’t mean filling your stories with a baffling soup of purple donkeys in curly hats and dancing train carriages that take you to town in a conga line (although to be fair that does sound pretty good). Being weird is not the same as being whimsical, unless that’s what you’re feeling, deep in your strange little bones.
Your writing is working when your stories are most like what’s in your head.
A weird story is surprising, yet recognisable. You instantly see that it could only have been written by this exact person at this exact time, and no one else. They ring a bell inside you that you didn’t know other people had, and could ring too.
And that’s the final secret of weird stories: through them, you not only see someone else’s inner weirdo, but you recognise it. Looking from your peculiar mind into theirs, you see a strangeness not the same as yours, but just as weird. And you make a new connection, and the world becomes a little richer. That’s what stories can do, if we let them.
There’s a famous scene in the movie The Craft, where a bus driver tells our teen witch heroes, ‘you girls watch out for those weirdos!’
And they tell him, ‘Mister, we are the weirdos.’
As a strategy for being a witch, that didn’t turn out great. But as a creative, connected reader and storyteller, it can’t be beaten. If you want to make a story that rings like a bell inside someone else’s heart: be the weirdo.
This is subjective a list of stories that feel like they could not have been told by anyone else, because they ring the little bell in our hearts. Beautiful stories. Wonderful stories. Weird stories.
What does your list look like?
The Curiosities by Zana Fraillon and Phil Lesnie
Miro wakes one morning to find the world isn’t quite the way he thought it was.
Small Things by Mel Tregonning
With no words, only illustrations, Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by…
The Spectacular Suit by Kat Patrick and Hayley Wells
A buoyant and heartwarming celebration of individuality, identity, and dressing to suit yourself!
Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar
Who knew that so much trouble could come from one little bubble?
The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat
While humans fuss over their appearance, food, possessions, free time and love lives, worrying about being happier than everyone else, Riley just enjoys the little time he has in the world.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
The bear’s hat is gone, and he wants it back.
A Human For Kingsley by Gabriel Evans
Kingsley had decided to own a human. This was not a decision to be taken lightly. After all, owning a human is a responsibility.
There’s a Ghost In This House by Oliver Jeffers
A young girl lives in a haunted house, but has never seen a ghost. Are they white with holes for eyes? Are they hard to see? She’d love to know!
Rosie The Rhinoceros by Jimmy Barnes (yes, I know!) and Matt Shanks
A book about the joy of being yourself.
The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess
A whimsical modern fairy tale from internationally renowned cartoonist, Tom Gauld.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is–but she knows she needs to survive.
DJ Funkyfoot: Butler for Hire by Tom Angleberger and Heather Fox
Meet DJ Funkyfoot–he’s not actually a DJ–he’s a chihuahua and a butler!
Lemonade Jones by Davina Bell and Karen Blair
Lemonade Jones likes to ask lots of questions and does not like rules . Warm, funny stories for the beginning reader about a girl who likes to ask ‘why?’
Sometimes getting a little lost can help you discover who you really are…
Barkly Mansion by Melissa Keil and Adele K Thomas
There is absolutely NOTHING weird about Cookie, Kyle, Fizzy and Lady Delilah. Except that they live in a mansion — and they’re dogs. There’s NOTHING weird about their home on Sullivan Street either – until the day a gorilla named Edmund comes to live with them.
Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest by Ole Könnecke
Dulcinea has been forbidden since she was small to enter the dangerous magic forest where the witch has her castle.
Nelson: Pumpkins and Aliens by Andrew Levins and Katie Kear
Nelson hates vegetables. He hates the smell of them, he hates the look of them. Most of all, he hates eating them. But what if they gave him superpowers? Superpowers he needs…
My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg
Candice Phee wants to bring light and laughter to those around her, and somehow she succeeds despite the bizarre mix-ups and the confusion she effortlessly creates.
Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt
On the run, Peat heads for the endless marshes, where she’s caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.
The Endsister by Penni Russon
The Outhwaite children all live contentedly squabbling in a cottage surrounded by trees and possums until a letter arrives to say they have inherited the old family home in London. Outhwaite House is full of old shadows and new possibilities…
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
When Tom is sent to stay at his aunt and uncle’s house for the summer, he resigns himself to endless weeks of boredom. As he lies awake in his bed he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen!
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World by Ashley Herring Blake
When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.
Greta Zargo and the Death Robots From Outer Space by A.F. Harrold and Joe Todd-Stanton
Nobody knew it at that moment, but only three things stood in the way of the complete destruction of the Earth- one elderly parrot; one eight-year-old spelling mistake; and an intrepid young schoolgirl-turned-reporter in search of a story …
Young adult stories
Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
Ever since the witch cursed Babs, she turns invisible sometimes. She has her mum and her dog, but teachers and classmates barely notice her. Then, one day, Iris can see her.
This is Shyness by Leanne Hall
In the suburb of Shyness, the sun doesn’t rise. Wolfboy meets a stranger called Wildgirl, who dares him to be her guide through the endless night.
Neverland by Margot McGovern
After doing herself near-fatal harm, Kit has returned to her island home. But it’s a place she hardly recognises- the witch and the mermaids are hiding and the pirates have sailed to more bountiful shores.
Catching Teller Crow by Amberlin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Nothing’s been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her, and he’s drowning in grief. Only a suspected murder, and a mystery to solve, might save them both.
In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black
Tamara has been living on a star freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive.
Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller
Remember daughter, the world is a lot bigger than anyone knows. There are things that science may never explain.
The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough
It’s a hot summer, and life’s going all right for Jackson and his family on the Mish. It’s almost Christmas, school’s out, and he’s hanging with his mates, teasing the visiting tourists, avoiding the racist boys in town. Just like every year, Jackson’s Aunty and annoying little cousins visit from the city – but this time a mysterious boy with a troubled past comes with them…
Graphic novels and comics
The Prince & the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Paris, at the dawn of the modern age: Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone….
Thornhill by Pam Smy
Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. After Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.
Stars in their Eyes by Jessica Walton & Aśka
Pop culture-obsessed Maisie can’t wait to get to her first Fancon. But being a queer, disabled teenager with chronic pain comes with challenges. Can Maisie make it through the day without falling over, falling in love or accidentally inspiring anyone?
The Sad Ghost Club by Lize Meddings
Ever felt anxious or alone? Like you don’t belong anywhere? Like you’re almost… invisible? Find your kindred spirits at The Sad Ghost Club. (You are not alone. Shhh. Pass it on.)
Seance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Growing up sounds terrible. No one has time to do anything fun, or play outside, or use their imagination. Everything is suddenly so serious. People are more interested in their looks and what others think about them than having fun adventures. Who wants that?
Dolphin Girl: Trouble in Pizza Paradise by Zach Smith
Dolphin Girl and Dad discover their rivals are up to evil. But when Captain Dugong suddenly flakes out on Dolphin Girl, she must summon her inner sea mammal. With new recruit Pizza Paradise’s employee Keith to help out, Dolphin Girl sets out to defeat Sea Cow!
Mat Larkin writes children’s adventure stories with heart. After starting out on the Zac Power junior fiction series, his debut middle-grade novel, The Orchard Underground, is a much-loved favourite recommendation of The Little Bookroom. His follow-up, The Chameleon Thief, will be published in 2022. Mat lives and works on unceded Wurundjeri land in Naarm-Melbourne.
An explosive, suspenseful and utterly brilliant middle-grade mystery for fans of Louis Sachar’s Holes.
Not-quite twelve year-old Pri Kohli knows the town of Dunn’s Orchard better than anyone. After all, he was the first kid ever to live there. He knows its mysteries (none), its secrets (also none) and the best ways to have fun in it (climb a big tree and sit there).
So why can’t he answer newcomer Attica Stone’s simple question: if the town’s called Dunn’s Orchard, where’s the orchard?
As Pri and Attica go in search of forbidden fruit, they uncover stranger mysteries: a robot caterpillar, a mayor with a murky past, a Possibly Real Actual Boogeyman and a house made of doors in a haunted wood. But what will Pri and Attica do when they discover the biggest secret of all – that something truly magical is about to be destroyed, and the only way to save it could be by destroying the town itself?
Mat Larkin’s stunning debut is a big-hearted, wildly surprising and deliciously well-plotted mystery for readers aged 8+ about the joy of discovery, and digging just that little bit deeper to uncover the truth.