Uncovered! by Paul Jennings

There are quite a number of short story collections in the “Un-” series by Paul Jennings: Unreal!, Unbelievable!, Uncanny!, etc. After reading the first one, I could have picked another at random, but the title of one story in the volume Uncovered! caught my attention. It was called “Pubic Hare.” Recognising Jennings’s brand of slightly risque humour for kids, I plunged ahead.

Imagine my surprise when the first story, “For Ever,” turned out to be a deliberately humourless melancholic drama about a boy who’s terminally ill. I have no problem with being surprised, but the story was too sentimental for my taste. There are a couple more stories (of the ten in total) that are semi-serious. The rest are in keeping with Jenning’s usual brand of wacky comedy, covering such topics as seing ghosts, bed-wetting, growing pubic hair, and even eating a cat-turd!

My favourite was one of the more serious stories: a time-travel tale called “Backward Step.” The majority of the others I found a bit, well, lacking in imagination.

Jennings’s Wikipedia page shows that several of his “Un-” books have picked up multiple awards. I couldn’t help but notice that, in contrast, Uncovered! only picked up one single award. I haven’t read enough of Jennings’s books to make an objective comparison, but my suspicion is that this is one of his weaker efforts.

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Unreal! by Paul Jennings

I became interested in Paul Jennings recently as a result of revisiting an old TV series called Round the Twist on DVD. The series is about a family that lives in a lighthouse around which all manner of weird things happen. The episodes are often hilarious, especially when the humour gets a bit, well, filthy. And by that I mean, for example, losing your false teeth down the toilet and having to collect them at the sewage works, then having the clean and wear them. Ugh! This is typical Jennings story material, and it’s a lot of fun.

I believe Unreal! is the author’s first published book. It contains eight stories, five of which I recognise as episode of Round the Twist from seasons one and two, although the television versions have been significantly reworked to revolve around the Twist family. The versions in the book are stand-alone tales. I heard that seasons three and four of Round the Twist weren’t as highly appreciated as the first two, due to Jennings leaving the show. Having just watched season three, I can attest to that. There were a few excellent episodes, but most of them lacked the imagination Jennings brought to the show.

The first story, “Without a Shirt,” is about a boy who can’t help himself adding the words “without a shirt” to the end of every sentence he speaks. Filmed as “Without My Pants” in the TV series.

“The Strap-Box Flyer” is about a travelling con man selling glue that sticks anything … but stops working after four hours.

“Skeleton on the Dunny” is about a boy who uses an outdoor toilet cubicle on which he sometimes finds a ghostly skeleton sitting. Filmed as the pilot episode of the TV series.

“Lucky Lips” is about colourless lipstick that will make any girl kiss you. As you can imagine, it will not be a smooth ride for the wearer. Another one of the TV episodes.

And so on. I enjoyed this book to the degree that it motivated me to attempt writing my own children’s stories. Full of outrageous fun. As an adult, it occasionally made me think, “I can’t believe he just wrote that,” but always with a smirk.