Now my son is a bit older I have been reading him longer books, or as he calls them ‘Chapter Books.’ The standard of young children’s fiction these days is a lot better than I remember as a child. Gone are all the twee stories about brothers and sisters or adventurous pets (well there are still some of those) and in come ones with jokes about farts, silly bad guys and lots of action. We have read the likes of Captain Underpants, Billy Bonkers and Dirty Bertie but the one that has really stood out is ‘King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor’. It is a little longer than the others but it really has some good humour in. I can only really liken it to Monty Python for kids. Silly sections where they need to stick their toes up their nose, peasants having a discussion about the pros and cons of revolting, the youngest seeing through the Evil Emperor’s plans but no-one listening to them, and no one wanting to go to a place on holiday because the name is too long to pronounce all add to what I could sum up as very British humour. Maybe it is because I am British that I get it, maybe it is because I find these things silly. All I know is that the main critic is my son and he loved it. He liked the previous books mentioned and would tell me about bits of the story and say, “that’s funny,” but with King Flashypants he was actually laughing. The drawings are great as well, I love the way they are annotated in places to give a bit more humour. I also like the fact Andy Riley laughs at the stereotypical by using it in such silly ways such as explaining the difference between King Edwin and Emperor Nurbison’s castles. I think I felt a connection between this work and Super Lizard, reading it almost made me feel like I had done something right with my series as I could see many of the jokes working in both books. Maybe then it was that more emotional connection, something that made me think that this was the sort of book I would write if writing for that age range, in fact I have one planned and if it is even half as good as ‘King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor’ I will be happy. Let’s move away from my works, you can look at them if you want but you really need to read ‘King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor’ because it shows how children’s literature should be done, both accessible to children and the adults who may read to them. If you are not sold yet just think of it this way, I am a 34-year-old man and I can’t wait to read the next one in the series! So all I have to end with is this, “what is a King without a crown?” As my son puts it, “just a normal person!”
It is very rare that a book makes a large impression on my three year old son. As for me, reading children’s books every night I find many merge into one collective mass of stereotypes and twee endings. Recently we got ‘The Book With No Pictures’ by B.J. Novak from the library. My son had his five year old cousin over and I was reading both boys their bedtime stories, I was told I could choose so picked ‘The Book With No Pictures’ amongst others. When we got to that book both my son and his cousin protested, they did not want me to read them something that had nothing to look at in it. I pressed my advantage of being the father figure and was allowed to read it to them as long as they got another book as well.
The idea of ‘The Book With No Pictures’ is that it gets adults to say silly things out loud. Very quickly it had the three and five year old laughing loudly and repeating the comments I was saying. As soon as I finished they wanted me to read it again, in fact I had to stop them asking for rereads so they could get to bed on time. The book really does have no pictures but that does not matter, it is the words (and the fact it tricks an adult into saying silly things) that the children will enjoy.
The next day when we got up, ‘The Book With No Pictures’ was the first thing they asked for, ahead of CBeebies! We then went out to a farm park and both were singing the silly song in the book (it is only two lines so easy to remember) and saying out loud (shouting) many of the funny lines the book makes adults say. My son even asked for the book again at bedtime. If we are getting intellectual then this is the classic story of never judging a book by its cover, but really I just wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed the book. So if you are looking for a silly book to read at bedtime, ‘The Book With No Pictures’ is a sure-fire hit!
Having two small children means I have been immersed in the world of Julia Donaldson for some time now. Her and Axel Scheffler have produced some of the best children’s books around and a night rarely goes by without a Julia Donaldson book being included in the bedtime story selection. The big classic, as far as Donaldson and Scheffler books go, is The Gruffalo. What I like is that it really is a classic, some books get called classics and when you read them they are not as good as stated or have become dated. The Gruffalo is as good now as when it was written in 1999. The sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child written in 2004, is equally a masterpiece of rhyming and imagination. The success of the Gruffalo has gone from strength to strength with TV animations, activity books, plays, woodland trails and a, soon to be released, cook book. Whilst these are great they do sometimes appear to be cash ins. My son has some of these Gruffalo extras including a pair of Gruffalo wellies and Gruffalo shorts. Most recently we have learnt about the Gruffalo song and have been singing that in the car. Now whilst these are great (my son knows the words to the story and can join in with the rhymes when he sees something with a Gruffalo on) what I would really like to see is Donaldson and Scheffler reunited to create a new Gruffalo story. Their last book was in 2014 so they are still working together. I understand that we do not want Gruffalo stories churned out one after the other as they lose the magic after a while but this year is the 15th anniversary of the original and one more book would be nice, it does not even need to follow the pattern of walking through the woods like the other two books do. In terms of content we have had a book about the Gruffalo and one about his child. Anatomy and biology dictate that he must have had a partner to have child with so maybe the next book could be The Gruffalo’s Wife. It could be about them getting ready to get married like The Scarecrow’s Wedding or could be the Gruffalo and his child looking for their wife/mum in the deep dark wood and coming across the fox, the owl and the snake, maybe they could find the Gruffalo’s Wife having a tea party with the big bad mouse. Just some silly thoughts there. Anyway, I for one would be very excited by another book in the Gruffalo series (also it would have a lot marketing potential so would not be a bad thing for Donaldson and Scheffler, although I doubt they need more exposure, they are pretty big in children’s literature as it is). Here’s hoping we see the Gruffalo in a new adventure soon.
This may seem like a sales pitch but it is really not, although I will provide a link to my book if you do want to take a look (got to get the marketing where you can!). I have said for a while that I was unhappy with the formatting of Captain Caleb and the Tickle Monster on Kindle, however I have recently looked at it on my Hudl and it looks much better than it did on my iPhone or on an iPad. Because of this, and the fact we were trying to entertain him whilst waiting for lunch in a pub, I decided to read Captain Caleb to my son who is now just a little over two and a half. It really was nothing more than a time killing solution. However, as I read I tried to get my son to do the actions and phrases in the book which he duly did. Yet something magical happen, he was actually giggling at the story and pointing at items on the pictures. He noticed that Purple Pete was chased by a bat and pointed to the X on the treasure map. He was also excited by being able to swipe across the screen to change pages but I take no credit for that!
After we had finished he said those immortal words a write wants to hear, “I want to read it again.” This time Mummy took up the mantle of reader. The second time through my son was even more animated, chuckling to himself and joining in. Towards the end of the book when it says, “are you scared?” he said, “No, it’s a tickle monster,” and proceeded to tickle my Wife and myself. You know, I may not have sold many copies and I have pretty much no reviews of the book but that does not matter when your son is clearly enjoying the work you have done. It put a big smile on my face and for the first time in a long while made me proud of myself. I think we will have to read it again in the coming days as the boy asks for more and more. I am so glad he enjoyed it so much.
So, the marketing bit of this lovely family moment is coming now. If you want to buy the book you can by going here for the UK version or here for the US version. I am still planning on creating a print copy but have lots I want to do first. Thank you and if you do not buy it then just revel in the wonder that children bring to your life.
As any parent of small children knows, a copious amount of picture books is essential. Not to keep your little one entertained (they will devour the same book over and over again!) but to stop adults having the monotonous boredom of reading the same story over and over. Seriously, it is us parents that need new picture books not the kids! As someone who has written and illustrated a children’s picture book and is working on another one I thought I would do a post about some of the books me and my wife love to read to our little boy. Yes your Gruffalos, Meg and Mogs and Hungry Catapillars are must haves but the ones below are those little gems that are hidden away in row upon row of generic samey stories. I do find most children’s books have predictable uninspiring stories and are not actually that well written but quickly rushed out to make a bit of money. I am not saying this is a guide to good children’s pictures books, more the style that we like…
Baby Blue Egg by Mij Kelly and Mary McQuillan
We picked this one up cheaply as an ex-library copy. My wife had a quick look and it seemed funny. When we read it to our boy he loved it. It is about a little egg that starts to hatch and is off to find who his mother is when he suddenly gets chased by a scary dinosaur. He bumps into different friendly dinosaurs who are each a different colour. The rhyming is really good and it helped our son learn his colours. There is also a twist at the end which is obvious to an adult but adds some excitement for the little ones. It has been ready many times so far.
Yawn by Nick Sharratt and Sally Symes
I bought this when I knew we had a child on the way for its simple language and clear images. It has a big mouth shaped hole running through it and is basically the story of Shaun who does a yawn that is given to different animals. Again there is good rhyming throughout and, when he was old enough, our son could tell you who the yawn was going to next. It is nice because each page ends with, “Guess who he/she gave it to?” then the next animal appears on the following page. We have moved away from this but it was great when our boy was learning animals names and sounds.
Oi! Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field
We don’t actually own this one, we borrowed it from the library but it was an instant classic. It is about a frog that wants to sit on something soft but is told by a cat, who is a stickler for the rules, that frogs sit on logs. The book is all about the frog saying, “so what does a…sit on?” and naming different animals. The cat tells him and they all rhyme leading to some animals sitting on some funny things. The twist at the end is particularly humourous too. We did buy it for a friend’s child but have not purchased a copy for ourselves yet.
There’s an Ouch in My Pouch! by Jeannie Willis and Garry Parsons
As the boredom of old books sets in we have started to buy second-hand books from charity shops. We saw this and grabbed it quickly. Willaby Wallaby has been kicked out of his mother’s pouch by a terrible ouch and now he is throwing a wobbly. The story revolves around him finding other marsupials and them offering their pouches but they are all wrong somehow. In the end we finally find out why he has been kicked out of his own pouch. It is nice because it is set in Australia and introduces loads of new animals to discuss. I will say this though, it is a tongue twister of a book so look through it a few times before reading out loud to your children.
Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George
There is a reason that Julia Donaldson is such a renowned children’s author. The books she has created with Axel Scheffler and Nick Sharratt are classics, but the amazing thing about her is that her lesser known books are really good too. I recently discovered Rosie’s Hat at the library but the one we have that is great is Freddie and the Fairy. We actually got this in the 4 for £5 offer in The Works. I find most books in that offer are that mushy pulp that try to teach morals and are pretty badly written or simply not entertaining enough, but if you sift through you do find some classics. In Freddie and the Fairy, Freddie saves a hard of hearing Fairy from a tree and is granted all the wishes he could ever want. Unfortunately Freddie mumbles and the Fairy gets most of his wishes wrong, mixing up his wish with another thing that rhymes with it, such as him getting a frog instead of a dog. It is really nice to read and, much like Yawn, the reveal of what he gets is on the page afterwards so helps the little ones to say what they see. We tend to turn the page and let our son say what is there instead. Freddie does learn the error of his ways and gets what he wants…or very nearly!
I think what this shows is that there are so many children’s books out there you need to sift through a lot of rubbish before you get to the good ones. I think that rhyming and something a little different is best. Something that is either interactive, a little bit silly or allows you to educate your child a bit through them guessing what comes next or learning about colours, shapes or animals makes for better books. You can really get them involved then. I will say this, I laugh at poo and farts but there appears to be a lot of children’s books about this and they are actually not very good. Most are not clever, they are just pretty much saying, “he he, look some poo.” This all makes me realise that writing a children’s picture book is not actually that easy, you need to think about it and move away from the lowest common denominator stuff. You also need to realised that children are not as unintelligent as you may think and the best books should entertain the adults as well.
I was going to add my own book in but that would be a bit self-indulgent (also it is nowhere near as good as the books above!). So there we go, just the sort of books we like to read in our household. I hope that has given you a few ideas if you have, or know, little ones and I hope these are books you haven’t really heard of so they can bring entertainment to other households too.
It was as I signed up for Movember that I noticed the little picture of Mr. Mo, a mustachioed Mr. Man, on the website. Penned by Adam Hargreaves under his father, Roger Hargreaves, name, it follows the gentlemanly Mr Man who accidentally gets his mustache shaved off. As my son is really into Mr. Men and trying to get all the books (ok, he is only two and a half months old, it might be Daddy who is purchasing them all and insisting he has the whole collection!) I thought I would buy it. It may only be on Kindle but I, I mean we, had to have it, and it is all for a good cause. I have loved the Mr. Men from such a young age. They are silly, accessible to young readers, have clear brightly colour images for babies and do not always hammer a message down your throat. The humour is also quintessentially british, which I love. I actually enjoy all the stories as I read them to my little boy. Basically put, like all the other Mr. Men books, Mr. Mo is a classic. So if you have an iPad, Kindle Fire or any other type of tablet, you can get it from Amazon. Not only will you be doing a good deed (some of the cash goes to Movember!) but you will have a bit of a laugh at the same time. If you have loads of cash you could always sponsor me too by heading to mobro.co/harveycd. Oh yeah, whilst you’re at it grab Mr Bump and the Knight, that dude is a legend and I actually laughed really loudly as I finished it. Now how many children’s books do that to you?
There are some amazing milestones in life, things that make you grow up and look back on what you have achieved. I got anxiety disorder and overcoming the features to move from my island home of Guernsey to England to complete a degree in teaching was one. Moving permanently with my then girlfriend was another, her becoming my fiance then my wife has made me realise how lucky I am. Now the most amazing thing has happened, my first child has been born (my wife thinks that will be it after experiencing labour but I am hoping for more). To celebrate the birth of my son I thought I would make Bella and Lola available for free download once again as Up the Wrong Tree was written for him. As I am a generally nice chap, A Sting in the Tail will also be free. So whilst I get sleepless nights you can have a ‘great’ read, well if you are around 5-8 years old that is. Anyway, you can get them from here for free on Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th August…
Up the Wrong Tree
A Sting in the Tail
I hope that if you download them you enjoy them. One final plea, if you do read them can you write a review or at least give a star rating no matter how good or bad it is. Right I am off to change dirty nappies, get sicked on and have no sleep whatsoever. I do get cuddles so it is all good!