I am delighted to welcome to the blog author Kate Scott, whose books Giant and Just Jack are two fabulous examples of funny books for children. Both stories explore important themes through humour and are hugely entertaining, but full of heart. Kate is sharing today why she thinks funny books are one of the best ways to engage children in stories.
What a gorgeous book! I opened the package from Bloomsbury and out fell this fabulous illustrated chapter book. You can’t help but fall in love with Fabio the flamingo, a brand new character from author Laura James (who writes the Adventures of Pug series) with fabulous illustrations by Emily Fox!
Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo by Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Fabio, the world’s greatest flamingo detective, just wants to sit on the veranda of the Hotel Royale and drink pink lemonade, not judge the local talent show. But when Julia the jazz-singing hippo disappears from the stage, Fabio knows he’s been served a tall, refreshing glass of crime.
This first story in the series sees Fabio the flamingo on the case of finding a missing hippo of all things. Having been roped into judging the local talent contest, Fabio uses his detective skills to find out just who is behind the disappearance, all the while hearing the many and varied talents of the local residents of Lake Laloozee! Aided by his somewhat hapless assistant, a giraffe called Gilbert who loves to be helpful and put on a disguise, Fabio cleverly weaves his way through the suspects to find out who kidnapped the star-songstress Julia. It seems nearly everyone has a motive, but Fabio is not one to give up easily and notices everything – after all he’s the world’s greatest flamingo detective!
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which had echoes of many of my favourite detective novels. A convincing setting; a fantastic cast of characters from moody hotel owner Smith the vulture to the fabulous jazz band trio of crocodiles Kevin, Delilah and Tiny Bob; and plenty of suspects – this read like an Agatha Christie for kids! The imaginative plot will keep young readers guessing and laughing out loud; especially where Gilbert the Giraffe is concerned. I absolutely loved the artwork and three colour illustrations throughout, bringing to life the animals and their various personalities. Fabio, of course, is the favourite – who knew a flamingo could be so suave and sophisticated?! The culprit is of course caught but it’s a suitably happy ending with the world’s greatest detective in charge! I absolutely cannot wait for the next adventure and am sure this series will be a hit with young readers far and wide.
With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review!
Two very different animals feature in our next winter wonderland installment. Whilst not strictly festive (apart from the snow!), both books have wonderful themes of being brave and celebrating friendship and would make lovely gifts at Christmas time!
Don’t Leap, Larry! by John Briggs, illustrated by Nicola Slater
You can’t help but fall a little in love with Larry the lemming. He is bold and fearless and unlike his fellow lemmings, loves to be different and think for himself. From going sledging with the puffins to choosing his own very brilliant name (everyone else is just called lemming!) he stands out from the crowd. So much so in fact he decides to see if he’ll fit in better with another group of animals – but nothing works – especially not the polar bears! Finally, Larry returns home only to discover he can help his fellow lemmings think for themselves just like he does.
This is a gorgeous story. Funny and heart-warming with a few thrills and spills to boot, it will have all readers cheering for Larry and eventually, the other lemmings too. Brilliantly drawn by Nicola Slater, it’s a joyful story with a wonderful message about being brave, standing out from the crowd and not worrying about thinking differently.
Published by Pavilion Books
The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
This is a lovely tale about a little girl who needs a friend and some courage. Who better to help her than The Snow Lion? Caro and her mum have moved home and Caro is just a little bit lost in her new surroundings of bare white walls and no one to play with. As if by magic, a beautiful big white lion appears and soon Caro has made a new friend with whom she can play all day! And not only does he stop her from being lonely, the Snow Lion helps her find the courage to go outside and make new friends. As the gentle narrative unfolds, Caro’s new home isn’t so lonely anymore; it’s filled with colour – and friends! The Snow Lion quietly leaves but Caro will always know where to look for him…
Text and wonderful illustrations come together perfectly to create a charmingly touching story young readers will want to visit again and again. I loved the beautifully described friendship between the Snow Lion and Caro, and how he gently and ever so kindly encourages her to be brave. It’s reassuring to know that sometimes we all need a little comfort and how it’s very often finding a friend in unexpected places that can be just the thing!
Published by Simon & Schuster
With thanks to Pavilion Books and Simon & Schuster for sending me these books to review!
With only twenty sleeps to go till Christmas Day, it’s really starting to feel festive! For the next few weeks in the run up to Christmas I’ll be featuring some gorgeous wintry and festive stories on the blog. Today we’re exploring some snowy landscapes!
Up and Down: A Walk in the Countryside with Nosy Crow and The National Trust, beautifully illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, takes young readers on a walk through a snow covered landscape introducing them to the idea of opposites.
Two little walkers explore the woods and discover ‘up and down’, near and far and many other ‘opposites’, all the while enjoying getting close to nature.
Young readers will love to spot the various animals who live in the woods and all manner of festive creatures. There’s even a snowman! This is a great addition to the A Walk in the Countryside board book series and will have everyone wishing for snow!
Find out more at www.rosalindbeardshaw.com
Another wintry landscape is stunningly brought to life in this beautiful exploration of winter; Little Hazelnut by Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard. I literally gasped when I opened this book – there’s something utterly magical about pop-up books. Books like this make me love them even more! Little Hazelnut takes the reader on a journey with a variety of animals and birds venturing into the garden during winter.
Each page features a different animal pop up, with a charming narrative capturing the variety of life that appears in a garden in winter. The blue-tit is my favourite – just gorgeous! Simple but detailed, the artwork shows even the animals’ footprints as they navigate the snowy landscape. Little Hazelnut is an absolute delight and would make a lovely gift at Christmas time.
Find out more at Old Barn Books.
What could be better on a cold winter’s day than two beautiful picture books to warm the heart? Old Barn Books publish some stunning titles and these two are no exception, both having been nominated for the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal. They would make lovely gifts for little ones and budding readers to enjoy.
Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard illustrated by Stephen Michael King.
This is a beautiful lyrical lullaby putting into a very few words just how important we can be to each other, especially during times of great need. A family – mother, baby, boy and dog – are escaping danger across the sea in a tiny boat, through wind and rain.
During their journey they come across a stranded polar bear, who too needs help. Together they cross the ocean and eventually both the family and the polar bear find a place of safety.
The stunning illustrations depict the many wondrous ways we can help each other – shelter, reassurance, food, light, acceptance, love. The words are perfectly and lovingly placed to appear just at the right moment as your eyes travel over the pages. Pea Pod Lullaby is a wonderful example of how words and pictures can effortlessly communicate a truly heartfelt message – a message that can speak to any and every situation where we might find ourselves in need.
Storm Whale by Sarah Brennan illustrated by Jane Tanner
A beautifully illustrated exhilarating tale, Storm Whale tells of three sisters who visit the beach one windy day and find a whale washed up on the shore. Their family day at the seaside is transformed; they battle the wind and waves all day to save the whale seemingly to no avail. As night closes in, they have no choice but to return home. In the morning they rush to the beach only to find no sign of the stranded whale….for with their help and the power of the storm, he has returned to the sea.
The poetic narrative in Storm Whale reads like an ancient tale and captures the enormity of the task in front of the girls, from which they do not falter. Amazing scenic illustrations, each like a canvas in its own right, bring to life the wildness of the sea, the sound of the wind, the awe of waves and the bravery of the three sisters.
There is something other worldly about the sea and the creatures who live in it and Storm Whale creates a wonderful connection between ‘our’ world and theirs. It also depicts a sense of family and warmth between the sisters which I loved. Despite the danger and the incredible force of nature, their bravery and determination wins through, showing how even though a problem may seem insurmountable it is possible to make a difference.
Both of these picture books would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf to be enjoyed by readers young and old!
With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.
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How many times have you opened a book and marvelled at the illustrations inside? I often do and feel somewhat envious of someone who can pick up a pencil, pen or paintbrush and create a little bit of magic, bringing to life an authors’ words!
James Brown is just such a person and his delightful illustrations in Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! written by Jane Clarke demonstrate how words and pictures work together to capture the imagination.
Today on the blog, James is sharing his experiences of working on Al’s Awesome Science and insight into his illustration techniques. Welcome to the blog James!
“Pictures don’t just trigger the imagination, they fire it up. And in particular for the Al’s Awesome Science series, which features lots of science experiments for young readers to try at home, it was important to get things ‘spot on’. How else could readers give the experiments a go? I think that’s what drew me most to it – the buoyancy, the action and how to convey this visually to readers.
I remember as a child being a bit disappointed when images were repeated in books or when there were insufficient drawings. Al’s Awesome Science is filled with pictures of all the key hilarious moments in the story, but the series also allows for the ‘extras’ – awesome facts and experiments – the refreshing bits and bobs which the designer Becky places so quirkily throughout each book. I admit the experiment pages bring out the kid in me. I like doing them snappily, like I used to do in my homework diary at school. I was forever doodling. I used to Tipp-Ex the inside lid of my pencil case and draw repeatedly on it. Once it was filled, I’d blob over it and start again. If it was a caricature of the teacher I could always hide the evidence!
When I’m out and about, especially on trains, I love using sketchbooks. I’ve got lots of Moleskin ones, a different colour per project. But, I confess that, in the main, when I’m working up an idea, character or spread, I use everyday plain A4 white paper – and reams of it! Squiggle, scratch, swirl, sweep. I’m not sure how many other illustrators do this, but I also enjoy sketching in biro first. It’s all about getting the right shape and movement – those ‘unprecious’ sketches and scorings loosen up my initial drawings. Now I understand why editors always jump to the back of portfolios to find the sketchy stuff!
Then, from this sketchy beginning, I start refining, trying to retain some of that initial energy. I think that’s why my other favourite stage is watercolour (which I save ‘til last). No matter how adept you might think you are, watercolour has its own mind and it can sometimes surprise you. Often the happy accidents are the ones that add more character, either to clothing or backgrounds.
Using my lightbox really helps to overlay and position. I do less-rough roughs on my iPad, using Procreate, then crayon, watercolour and gouache for the finals. I always aim to do the final artwork in character batches, for continuity, and have whole afternoons or evenings on just one person. You really get to ‘know’ them that way!
Sometimes characters pop up first time around. Einstein, for instance, is very similar to the first sketch I drew. I was given free rein, which is always exciting. I knew he had to be big, hairy and animated. Immediately I thought of THE Einstein and gave him a big, bushy moustache and scraggly hair. The lolling tongue and sideways eyes gave him just the look I was after. Mr Boffin is basically me (if I ate my spinach, drank umpteen protein shakes and actually went to the gym, that is). Mrs Good is a take on my mum (sorry, Mum!). But Mr Good, who was a little portly at first, took a bit of slimming down… The twins Lottie and Al were a little too old at first but soon lost a couple of years.
The freedom to try things out has been the most splendid aspect of illustrating this series. It’s very much a two-way conversation between me and the creative team. We always bounce ideas back and forth! I think flexibility and being open to ideas is important. My editor Natascha even sends me videos of her son doing the experiments! Then, BINGO! I can picture it and so too (hopefully) can the young scientists reading it with their own sketches and diagrams and oodles of doodles.
Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown is out now, £6.99 paperback (published by Five Quills). Look out for more fun and experiments with Al and Lottie in book two, Splash Down!, coming spring 2018!
The last time I saw A F Harrold, he was performing poetry to a classroom full of utterly enraptured children at the Bookchat Roadshow. It was absolutely brilliant to see how much the children enjoyed the poems and the performer! I’m delighted he is joining us today to talk about his new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (review available here, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton) and all things writing. Thank you for participating Mr Harrold!
Congratulations on the publication of Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space! It’s fun, full of quirky characters and a great mix of sci-fi and sleuthing . Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it? Hi Victoria. Greta comes from a combination of things I typed and things I mistyped. Back in the first Fizzlebert Stump book one of the books Fizz borrows from the library was called The Great Zargo of somewhere or other. It sounded a good sort of science fictiony sort of thing Fizz might enjoy, and when I came, a few years later, to start thinking about a new series the name popped back into my mind. I type quite quickly, but because of the ways in which my fingers move there are a few words I’m forever typing wrong and having to go back and correct… one of these is ‘great’, which, if I’m typing at a gallop, always comes out ‘greta’. And so Greta was born, inside the spelling mistake that appears inside the book!
I’ve always read science fiction, and always loved science fiction, but I’d never really written any (The Song From Somewhere Else probably counts, but that’s about it), and this seemed a bit odd. So I wanted to write some. And I wanted it to be funny. Because funny books are a Good Thing. And so, after a lot of sitting around and staring into the air, several baths, and quite a few biscuits, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space was born.
Throughout the story there are footnotes (or more appropriately sidenotes) adding interesting anecdotes to the narrative which I loved; why did you decide to include these? Who doesn’t love footnotes? They’re a way of having ‘a bit more’ without getting in the way of the story. They’re especially useful for (a) comedy (because you add in extra jokes) or (b) academic articles about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden (because you can cite your sources). Fortunately, as far as I can see, no one has mistaken Greta Zargo for an academic article about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden.
There are some wonderful and quirky characters in the story. I particularly loved Greta’s eccentric Aunt. Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters? And I have to say, how do you decide on the fantastic names you’ve given them?! Characters just walk into scenes as I type and if they’re at all interesting then they stay. There are occasionally very boring ones who turn up, but I’m ruthless in deleting them at the first opportunity, unless they’re boring in a funny way. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s true, the best characters walk in and surprise me. I don’t know what they’re going to say to Greta when she questions them and I listen to their answers as I type them. This is the most exciting bit about writing these books, I think, is finding out about the inhabitants of Upper Lowerbridge at the same time as the reader.
Where do their names come from? I blame the parents.
Being married to huge fan of cake, I can very well imagine the consternation if cake was stolen from my household. Can you tell us- 1) do you eat cake? 2) if so, what is your favourite? 3) if not, why not? (And what do you have with tea if not cake?!) (1) Yes, I eat cake if the opportunity arises. (2) I’m going to say Battenberg, because it has just the right amount of marzipan. (3) I said I do, so I don’t have to answer this one.
The sci-fi elements in the story are great and often times, very amusing – even with the inevitable destruction of planets going on – the Bar-Tarry-Tuffians spring to mind! Did this involve any scientific research – I’m thinking of the impressive references to hyper spatial physics, measuring of light years and so on?! I don’t remember doing any particular research before writing any of the outer space chapters, other than a lifetime of reading and watching sci-fi and sci-fact books and programmes.
That lifetime of experience has been composting inside my head for long enough that some of it made sense when mixed up and spilt onto the page. It’s fascinating to look back and remember when I was a kid we knew of no other planets outside our solar system, and now there are thousands of exo-planets known. And as our techniques and our instruments become better we’re finder smaller and more Earth-like planets out there, even around nearby stars. I don’t doubt that on some of these worlds life has arisen, and maybe even what we would call ‘intelligent’ life.
The gaps between the stars are so immense though, that it would take many lifetimes for people to travel between and so one of the ways it has been suggested we explore the galaxy is by making self-replicating robots, like the ones in the book. Because these robots don’t grow old like we do, they could spend the centuries travelling between planets without dying or going mad. And when they get there, if they have the ability to make more copies of themselves they can then send those out to other star systems.
These self-replicating machines are called Von Neumann probes, and I don’t remember where I first heard about them. But they’re not my idea, just something that made its way into the book because it made sense. The lesson of this is – those useless bits of information you once learnt might turn out to be useful after all, so never turn them away… let them live in your head – one day they might become a book.
When you’re writing fiction, do words come more easily than when you’re writing poetry? Do you have a specific process for each form of writing? I try not to think too much about it, either sort of writing. I just try to get on with it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t and it feels like your banging an empty head against a brick wall of blank paper, then that just means it’s time to go have another bath.
When we last met at the Bookchat Roadshow, you had some wonderful advice for the audience regards encouraging children’s creativity. You said that whatever their means of expression – writing, art, poetry, drama – we should encourage children to express themselves in the way that’s best for them. Who has given you the greatest encouragement for your work and what motivates you to keep writing? What motivates me to keep writing? That’s an odd question. I don’t know what else to do. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t write every day and I don’t write an awful lot, but if I go any length of time without making something (and the making is usually with words in one way or another) then I feel antsy and irritable and unfulfilled and awkward and sad. I would make things with words (poems, stories, songs…) even if no one wanted to read them, even if no one was paying me to do it. Maybe not the books I’m writing right now, but who knows? (After all, I spent many years writing things that no one paid me for, before I ever had a book published.)
As for who has encouraged me… there’s such a long list, but a few I would like to mention include my editors at Bloomsbury, Kate and Hannah and Zöe, who have helped make the books we’ve published better than they would have been if I’d been doing it on my own. Part of their job is to send me back to my desk when what I’ve given them hasn’t been good enough, or funny enough, or right enough. And the fact they think I can do better makes me try harder and make the books better. Also my partner, Iszi, who suggested I try writing stories for kids, instead of just poems, in the first place. And more abstractly, out there in the world of children’s writing, many authors whose books I read or who I meet at events – they inspire me, by making Good Things themselves and showing that it can be done.
And finally, two very special sets of people – the kids I meet when I visit schools… the fact that some of them have been reading my books and seem to enjoy them makes the effort that sometimes went into making the books seem worthwhile – and secondly, the illustrators who get given my words and who make the books look so beautiful (Sarah Horne, Emily Gravett, Levi Pinfold, Chris Riddell and, for Greta Joe Todd-Stanton)… seeing what they do, the magic they work… oh it makes me want to do good, for them. I don’t want them wasting their time on any old rubbish!
So lots of people encourage and inspire me and my work.
Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share the inspiration behind your work.
Read my review of Greta Zargo here.
With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for organising this interview.