Recently I have been borrowing, what my son calls, chapter books from the library at the school I work in. The librarian has noticed this and decided to lend me a newly bought book that has yet to be categorised and placed in the library in return for an honest review. My eyes lit up and my brain said, blog post. So here it is, my review of Vulgar the Viking and the Rock Cake Raiders by Odin Redbeard and Sarah Horne (oh, I should say that there are some spoilers in there!)…
I was a little disappointed by the first chapter, it almost seemed like a book for older children. My son is four but he can get the general gist of books for eight to ten-year olds. It may be a strange thing to say, but I felt there were too many technical viking words. Yes it is about vikings, but I felt you needed to have some knowledge of them to access the book. However, chapter 2 onwards seemed to move quickly into writing that was fit for the age range. Along with the quick pace of the story came the silly jokes and gross situations, including juggling elk poo and eating bogeys. That good stuff that makes kids laugh and amuses adults, even though they do not want to admit it. From here it became sillier and sillier, however, what I liked is that it joked about this, it revelled in observational comedy. It was almost as if the characters were asking the questions you wanted to as a reader. For instance, when King Olaf tells the kids a story about how he survived at sea with no food or drink, he says he ate bogeys and drank seagulls blood, then one of the children asks why he did not just eat the seagulls (which is what I was thinking!). Another thing that got me into the story, but was maybe over my four-year old’s head, was that fact we were looking at modern vikings. It was set in the ‘olden days’ but the vikings had shops, a village and did not plunder or loot, Vulgar’s Dad even cleaned toilets for a living. The comedy comes from the fact that the vikings were now ‘civilsed.’ The whole situation in the book stems from the point that Vulgar wants to be a real, old-fashioned, viking. This leads to the three main characters making a boat to cross the village pond and stealing some cakes. It is such a preposterous plot that it is perfect for a children’s book. I actually laughed out loud when the three kids escaped the mob in their barrel boat only to be caught on the other side as the mob just walked around the pond.
Two other children’s books I have been impressed with are Wilf the Worrier and King Flashypants. I have likened these to Monty Python for children. I think that Vulgar the Viking is another book that can fit into this category. Maybe then, this is the state of children’s literature today. Have they finally caught on to alternative comedy much like adults got in the 1970s. Maybe it is the people who grew up with Monty Python that are now putting their ideas into children’s books. I for one am glad if it means we get such funny stories as those mentioned above. The one thing that annoys me, though, is that I have heard many people say these types of books are good for reluctant readers as if they are just silly and that is all. These books are actually well written and great for all readers, they are silly and make you laugh but most importantly they are entertaining. So, I for one endorse Vulgar the Viking and the Rock Cake Raiders and am satisfied to say that it adds to a growing list of what I call ‘proper comedy books for children’.
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!”