My Life and Other Failed Experiments by Tristan Bancks

My Life and Other Failed Experiments is the seventh book in the Tom Weekly series and it continues to make me laugh out loud! It is filled once again with funny short stories, lists and quizzes by Tristan Bancks and hilarious illustrations by Gus Gordon. I can only imagine the fun Tristan and Gus have creating the Tom Weekly books. What a dynamic duo!

Tom Weekly says his life is a science experiment gone horribly wrong so his new motto is ‘Never give up, never give in’. That’s a big challenge when your guinea pig is held hostage by your evil sister, you’re hit in the face by a fruitcake as hard as a brick, attacked by a posse of possums and you totally embarrass yourself in front of the girl of your dreams on Christmas Eve.

In Hostage, Tom’s sister Tanya holds his guinea pig Gus hostage and threatens to drop him out the window if Tom doesn’t hand over his birthday money – a whopping $180! With just eight seconds left can Tom save his beloved Gus and his birthday money from his evil, maniacal, psycho sister? Stop reading at page 11…What would you do?

The legendary feud between Tom and Jack’s Nans, Nancy and Sue continues in Razorblade Fruitcake when Nancy’s crown as the Fruitcake Queen is threatened when Sue enters the baking competition. Why does Tom believe his Nan when she tells him Sue has baked something dangerous in her fruit cake? Who wins the prize and the fight as fruitcakes go flying like frisbees?

Some people think possums are cute…Tom Weekly is not one of them! Thanks to Tom, in Attack of the Killer Possums, the Weekly’s roof has been invaded by possums and their noisy roof antics are turning his family into sleepless zombies. On top of the ladder at midnight, Tom tries to put the roof tile back in place only to discover…

There are ten or twelve possums staring at me from a tree. A posse of possums. I’m pretty sure one of them is picking his teeth with a long knife. One looks like it has only one eye. Another has tattoos on its pink hairless snout and bears its sharp teeth, growling in a low demonic hiss.

It’s Tom Weekly versus the possums…and it gets ugly!

I don’t think I will be looking at the Christmas lights in my neighbourhood in quite the same way after reading about Tom’s exploits in The Christmas Kiss. Tom’s mum asks him to dress up as Father Christmas on Christmas Eve and zoom down a zip line from their balcony to deliver candy canes and Christmas puddings to neighbourhood kids. Tom only agrees when  Sasha, the love of his life promises to give him a kiss. Eating a record twelve candy canes beforehand, combined with Tom snagging the Christmas tree lights on his way down, makes the Weekly’s Christmas Eve one that will be remembered in their neighbourhood for a long time. And one both Tom and poor Sasha will want to forget!

One of my favourite stories, Author Visit should be compulsory reading for authors! Gary Cleese (aka Barry Cheese thanks to Mr Skroop) is visiting Kings Bay Public school. Not even his ‘Reading is Fun’ t-shirt or Tom Weekly’s desperate attempts can save Gary Cleese from the 400 students ready to bring him down in ways he had never imagined with a barrage of questions that hijack his carefully planned author presentation.

Tristan continues to ask the hard questions with his quizzes What Would You Rather Do? and Who Would You Rather Be? For the record I would rather abseil down the side of a sky scraper than dive off a tall bridge and I’d rather be Wonder Woman than Lisa Simpson (although I’d really rather be Batgirl who was also a librarian!). I’m sure there will be lots of discussion with your friends about your choices and you could think up some of your own! You could also try some of Tom Weekly’s Handy Hacks for Household Chores…your mum might not be impressed though!

After reading My Life and Other Failed Experiments check the back of the book to see all the schools and kids who have helped Tristan with his ideas during his author visits and writing workshops.

 Tristan can make an author visit to your school or a visit via Skype or Google Hangout.

Thanks Tristan and Gus for creating books that make reading fun!

Tristan Bancks’ Writing Workshop

Last week I went along to the fabulous children’s bookshop, The Little Bookroom in Carlton to a writing workshop with Tristan. He read us the opening of Hostage and asked everyone with just 8 seconds left, how they would save Gus the guinea pig. There were some clever ideas!

Next was a writing task, ‘I Remember’ and in 30 seconds you had to write as many funny memories as you could. Tristan then asked everyone to choose one memory to write about, but also add something untrue to their short story. The challenge for the audience was to listen and pick which part of the story wasn’t true. Tristan explained that you write a good story by mixing your experience and imagination (just as Sally Rippin said), which is how he writes his funny stories about Tom Weekly.

Another great piece of writing advice from Tristan was to be kind to yourself as a writer because “Your first (and second and third) drafts always stink.” Keep drafting and polishing your stories until you are happy with them. 

These are great Teacher Notes for the Tom Weekly series.

Happy reading and writing! 

Celebrating Australian Picture Books

Thanks to The Kids’ Bookshop, I spent an inspiring evening listening to the Andrew JoynerGus GordonAnna Walker and Jane Godwin talk about the process of creating their latest picture books.

I really enjoy hearing about what sparks an author’s ideas, where they like to write or illustrate, the process they follow and any other interesting tidbits of information I can share with readers.

Here are some little pieces of information I gleaned from the evening….

Andrew Joyner – The Pink Hat

The Pink Hat was inspired by the 5 million people in 82 countries who participated in the 2017 Women’s March

This is the first book that Andrew has created entirely on an iPad

Andrew does his thinking by drawing

Andrew once worked in a record shop and has a big collection of vinyl records he likes to listen to as he illustrates in his office space at home

Teacher notes

Gus Gordon – The Last Peach

The Last Peach is Gus’ first book that is written completely as a dialogue

Gus was playing around drawing bugs to match a possible book title when he drew the two bugs that star in his latest book. A little dialogue between the bugs started in his head and their story was born

Gus chose to use a limited pallet of colours for this book and when collecting green papers for his collage he was amazed at the many shades of green that can be found

Gus wasn’t sure how the book would end. He found his answer when walking along a street in Paris and saw a vintage black and white picture with a bright orange sun…that looked like a peach to him!

Gus works in a gorgeous light-filled nook at home where he has an impressive set of drawers that hold his precious collection of vintage papers, cards, flyers etc that he uses for his collage illustrations

Gus enjoys listening to music as he illustrates 

We both come from the same area in country New South Wales!

Teacher notes and Activities


Jane Godwin and Anna Walker – Go Go and the Silver Shoes

Go Go and the Silver Shoes is the seventh book that Jane and Anna have created together. They see the world in the same way and their words and illustrations complement each other

The name Go Go is thanks to Andrew Joyner!

Jane is an author and a book publisher

Jane prefers doing her writing alone and in silence or with just the sounds of the natural world

Anna works to scale with her illustrations (same size as the book) and it takes about a year for Anna to complete a book from the roughs through to the final illustrations

Creating collages reminds Anna of playing with her doll’s house when she was young and she is still very good at focusing and getting lost in her work

Anna enjoys working in a shared workspace at the Abbotsford Convent

Anna owns a pair of sparkly silver shoes just like Go Go!

Teacher notes and Activities

We are lucky to have many talented Australian authors and illustrators! Thank you for a fabulous evening giving us a peek into your creative processes and for generously giving your time, Andrew, Gus, Anna and Jane…

Happy Reading!