Leigh Hobbs was the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016 – 2017 which brought him to greater national and international attention. For most of his working life Hobbs had been a teacher, indulging his passion for drawing, sculpture and painting in his spare time. The publication of his cartoons featuring the cat Old Tom brought him to readers’ attention and he has since authored more than 20 books.
In Freaks on the Loose, the new teacher, Miss Corker is totally overwhelmed by class 4F who are the worst in the school and, recognising her weaknesses, make life even more difficult for her. She tries story time, a spelling quiz and in desperation she consults The Teachers’ Handbook but no matter what she tries the class ‘could not be tamed…or taught’ (page 61).
I found my concerns about the characters being described as ‘Freaks’ entirely unfounded as the strange characteristics of 4F’s students are so over the top that any possible pejorative meaning is subsumed in the humour of Feral Beryl, Strange Sidney and Nearly-Normal Nancy with her three eyes. And then there is Miss Corker herself who decides ‘if you can’t beat them, then join them’ and wears a freak costume of her own to fit in.
Naturally, this has problems of its own and in the second book Freaks Ahoy we see Miss Corker disguised as Miss Schnorkel taking the class on a cruise ship only to find the other passengers are burnt out teachers seeking to escape students like those in 4F. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that Miss Schnorkel, who looks like her freakish students, is much more successful than Miss Corker.
Hobbs illustrations are wonderful black and white line drawings which manage to capture the unusual personalities of the students such as Feral Beryl, whose jagged teeth are clamped down on a bone or a tree branch; or Baby-face Barry complete with dummy; or One-eyed Eileen with her pirate eye patch. I especially enjoyed Miss Corker’s disguise as Miss Schnorkel who looks like a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and the Bearded Lady.
The book is great fun for children of all ages and those at school will particularly enjoy the way 4F gets the better of Miss Corker.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: January 2018