The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter tells the story of Billy Plimpton who is desperate to be a stand-up comedian when he grows up. He loves telling jokes and making other people laugh. He’s always on the hunt for new material, which he finds in joke books and by studying his surroundings. The only problem is, he doesn’t actually like telling jokes in front of people. Billy has a stammer, which means he often finds it hard to find his voice. Except for Granny Bread, he doesn’t have anyone he feels comfortable enough with, yet.
When he starts a new school, he hopes his stammer will improve and he will still manage to achieve his lifelong goal of comedic glory on a stage, in front of a real audience. But when he starts secondary and his stammer is still as obvious as ever, he resigns himself to the fact he needs to change his dream. Maybe being a stand-up comedian isn’t for him after all.
With the help of a kind teacher, thoughtful friends and Granny Bread, Billy has a journey of finding out who he really is without being defined by his stammer. He wants to stand out in the right ways, not for something that he feels makes him appear negatively to everyone he meets. Despite how he feels, everyone around him loves him, but can Billy learn to love himself?
As a reader, we are taken on this journey with Billy. This book is full of emotion from start to finish. We see Billy’s anger, acceptance, upset and happiness within the pages which, in turn, helps use feel as though we might have some insight into what life might be like with a stammer. I know for me, it really made me consider how someone might like you to react. Billy tells us about the different types of people there are when talking to someone with a stammer – I’d hope I would have been a ‘waiter’ anyway, but it did make you question your own impact on children and adults you might meet.
His relationships with family, friends, school staff and even a bully were really crucial to the story. Billy is a compassionate character; despite the difficulties he faces himself, he shows empathy for others when he can and learns from his mistakes when he maybe hasn’t acted as he wished he had. As the main character, Billy was completely likeable and I felt so involved in his story. At the end of the book, I will admit to shedding a few tears!
As Billy loves comedy, each chapter started with a joke (FYI, my favourite was at the start of Chapter 20!) which added to the humour which was naturally interwoven through the pages. Funny books are so important in children’s literature and this is one I think should be on every classroom shelf. Not just because of the important topics, but also because it is laugh out loud hilarious!
The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh is well-suited for year 5 & 6 – it speaks about the transition to secondary school, as well as what an experience for a child with a stutter might be like. It would be fantastic for a class reader; not only is it informative and promotes the development of empathy, but it also has humour which the class will also enjoy, too. Alongside class reads, there are some fantastic opportunities for discussions in a ‘circle time’ or PSHE setting. The themes of acceptance, bullying and friendship are all meaningful topics that can be focused on in discussion.
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