spoof

Halloween Round Up

Writers and publishers love cultural events upon which they can hook a theme – be it glowing Christmas scenes or the approach of a new season – windy autumns, growth in spring. Halloween seems to intensify every year in the UK – a very large percentage of the autumn books I received had a ‘spooky or witchy element’ to them, and I don’t mean that the pages turned by themselves (although that would be useful). So, to help you through the ghosts and ghoulies, here are my spooky and also witchy-themed picks:


Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Ashley King
Not unlike Sylvia Bishop’s stories, also illustrated by Ashley King, this latest from top children’s author Kaye Umansky is an absolutely charming story, which is ideal for newly independent readers. Elsie is recruited to house-sit for local witch Magenta Sharp for a week, and although promised a quiet easy week, has to contend with a host of quirky eccentric neighbours, a tower with personality, and a grumpy talking raven. Each character is well-defined, and Elsie herself is beautifully drawn as unflappable, book-loving, and kind.

The book contains some lovely touches, including hilarious customer service rules (Elsie has been schooled in retail), a love potion that goes awry, a book of instructions that seems to be blank, and a sassy witch whose business is mainly mail-order. Sumptuously modern, but with an old-fashioned fairy tale feel, this is one new witchy series which I’ll be recommending to all. Fun, memorable, touching and bubbly – a real hug of a book. Magic it here.


Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchinson, illustrator Rob Biddulph
Some books just scream cinema. This highly visual first-in-a-series will delight comedy fans everywhere. Opening mid-action, Denzel is in the middle of maths homework when his home appears to be invaded at first by a poltergeist, and then by two figures with a gun. Before long, he too is recruited to be part of the ‘Spectre Collectors’, a kind of cross between Ghostbusters and Men in Black, an organisation in which children use magic and technology to rid the world of ‘spectres’.

With impeccable timing on jokes, sparkling top-class humorous dialogue between Denzel and his mates, and great variety of action scenes, this is a wonderful ghostly spoof. Beware a terrifying episode in the middle in which Denzel’s two fathers don’t remember him at all – as if his existence has been scrubbed from the world – but there are enough laughs and improbabilities to combat the darkness. For age 8-12 years. Spook it here.


Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball by Laura Ellen Anderson
Vampire Amelia wants to hang out with her pet pumpkin Squashy, but her parents insist she attends their Barbaric Ball. When Squashy is captured, Amelia must plan a daring rescue. This highly illustrated read for 7-9 year olds dazzles with superb illustrations, macabre puns, (including diePhones, scream teas and daymares), and is set in a grisly Nocturnia. But Amelia is a fun, endearing and captivating protagonist, and Anderson’s energy shines through with exuberance in both the prose and the illustrations. Much of the normal landscape has been inverted of course, with the characters sleeping by day and playing by night, as well as ‘cute’ things being feared, and gruesomeness celebrated. Join the vampires here.


Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Kathryn Ourst
I’m not convinced Amelia would love Vlad, but this reader certainly did. Another vampire adventure for 7-9 year olds, Vlad isn’t keen on being a vampire. He secretly reads a rather jolly boarding school book about normal children and decides that it would be nicer to live an Enid Blyton-esque existence. Anna Wilson’s trademark humour works a treat in this rather adorable little adventure, in which Vlad tries to balance his life between human school, in which they don’t realise he’s a vampire, and home life, in which he has to hide his new friends from his family.

Added to the plot are some wonderful little touches, such as his new friends telling Vlad that he needs to get his teeth fixed, to Vlad’s relationship with his very elderly grandfather, but mainly his growing friendship with Minxie. Ourst’s illustrations are a joy – very cartoonlike with gleeful vibrancy. The final picture of Minxie and Vlad laughing is enough to bring a smile to any youngster’s face. A thoroughly enjoyable vampire adventure story, sparkling with wit and warmth. Look out on the blog to see a guest contribution from author Anna Wilson next week, and you can show Vlad some pathos by buying your own copy here.


You Can’t Make Me Go to Witch School by Em Lynas, illustrated by Jamie Littler
A slightly longer adventure story from Nosy Crow publishers for the 7+ age group, which sees the advent of another little witch. Daisy Wart wants to be an actress, more particularly she wants to star as Shakespeare’s Bottom on the stage. But when her grandmother dumps her at Witch School, she struggles to escape, despite all her dramatics. This is a strange school, with cauldrons for beds, pupil-eating plants in the school garden, and the ghost of the former headmistress stalking the corridors – a step up from the sudden appearances of Miss Hardbroom in The Worst Witch.

There are highly original touches and a fixation with hats to distinguish this from other ‘witchy school’ books, and Daisy is a protagonist who definitely fulfils the role of leading lady, with her particular brand of speech and her innermost thoughts about the other characters. First in a series, this book sets up further adventures rather nicely, when Daisy, as I’m sure you’ve all guessed, decides that maybe acting isn’t the only thing she could be good at. Littler’s illustrations work their magic here too – bringing the whole ensemble to life. Join Witch School here.


School for Little Monsters by Michelle Robinson and Sarah Horne
I do sometimes wonder where Michelle Robinson finds the time to write so many picture books, but here’s another one that ticks all the boxes. The book follows two children – Bob and Blob – one a human, one a monster – due to start their first days at school. But sadly for them, some naughty monsters have swapped signs and Bob and Blob attend the wrong schools. Rhyming text pulls the reader through this great mash-up of ‘experience’ and ‘monster’ genres, as the reader finds out about their first days at school. The rules for monsters and humans are apparently a little different. Great fun, superbly funny, colourful illustrations, with lots of mayhem. As with all great picture books, the illustrations speak louder than the words. The message is that school is good, as long as you’re at the right one…Be a little monster here.


An A to Z of Monsters and Magical Beings by Aidan Onn and illustrated by Rob Hodgson
Actually, this should probably be at the top of the pile, as the book very cleverly introduces and explains the different types of monsters, from aliens to zombies. Each letter takes a different ‘magical’ being, with a full double spread committed to it. There are plenty of wacky, although somewhat simply conceived, illustrations in matt, muted colours, accompanied by a small paragraph of text, which is more playful than it is informative. Learn the alphabet here.


Pretty by Canizales
A message in a book, this witchy picture book contribution to Halloween and beyond, is a story about a witch with a date, who wants to look her best. The creatures she meets on route give her hints as to how to better her appearance, but by the end of course, her date is disappointed with her new looks. Rather like wearing a little too much make up. The message is obvious – be yourself, but there’s also a rather dark twist at the end. The witch is brilliantly depicted – simplistic and rather lovingly drawn – despite her perceived failings, from hooked nose to pointy chin. Nice touches include her choice of outfits! Be pretty here. Happy Halloween!

Watch out too for my extract from Scarecrow by Danny Weston coming soon – for an ideal first horror book for your 11 year old (and up!)

Let’s Find Fred: A Guest Post from Steven Lenton

Was it the roving eyes on the cover (they actually move!)? The use of the word In-Fred-ible? Or simply the cuteness of his face? I can’t be sure, but I fell in love with Fred the panda instantaneously. It was love at first read.

Let’s Find Fred is the latest offering from author/illustrator Steven Lenton, illustrator of Shifty McGifty by Tracey Corderoy, various Frank Cottrell-Boyce books, and Princess Daisy and the Nincompoop Knights.

Each night Stanley the zoo keeper tucks up his animals in their beds, but by the time he reaches Fred to read him his bedtime story, Fred has escaped – on an adventure filled with dreams of candyfloss, balloons and parties. As any parent of more than one child will know, this is a common occurrence – the little rascals often escape from their beds in search of night-time adventures.

What follows is a panda chase through the town. This is where the book turns magical, for each spread is set in a different vicinity of the town, and unfortunately for Stanley, there are panda images everywhere, or things that look suspiciously like Fred, but aren’t – from black and white dogs in a limousine, to black and white footballs in the newspaper.

But most cleverly, as Steven highlights below – are the numerous adult cultural references, more often than not with a little bit of Panda involved. I’ve had the book for weeks, and still not exhausted examining each spread. It’s the kind of book you read to your child at bedtime, but then whisk out of the room so that you can peruse it yourself later, but also so that they don’t grab a torch and read it after lights out, having their own little panda-themed night-time adventure. And without further panda-monium, here is Steven to tell you about how much fun he had writing/drawing the book:

My picture books have become known for their extra details and layers of additional humour. I think it’s important that both children and the parents who read books at bedtime have fun doing so. For example in the Shifty McGifty series there is a spider on every double spread of the picture books and twenty spiders to find in each of the fiction titles. In Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights there is a mischievous little snail to spot and in Let’s Find Fred there’s a little white butterfly…

To date, Let’s Find Fred is certainly my busiest book!  There is a fun narrative that follows the exhausting chase of Stanley and Fred, but the most fun is the re-readability, and oodles of extra characters and little relationships to spot in all the larger ‘zoomed out’ spreads.

Because there are so many characters in the book I thought it would be great fun to base some of the characters on real people, and a few characters mums and dads might know too – extra talking points for family discussion if you like!

One of the first characters I added was Kylie – there was always going to be a carousel in the funfair spread and it instantly reminded me of the hilariously juddery Carousel in the ‘Got To Be Certain’ video – watch it on YouTube with a cuppa, it’s really (quite) funny.

Other familiar faces to find include;

  • Four Beatles (not beetles!)
  • Numerous famous paintings in the art gallery spread – The Panda with the Pearl Earring and Whistler’s Panda to name but two…
  • Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the inspiration behind my twitter name @2dscrumptious!)
  • The Panda of the Opera
  • Fred Astaire
  • A grandma reading Fifty Sheds in Grey
  • And Panda Travolta

And so many more.

I was at a wedding recently and I took along a copy of Fred for the children there – the first read through went well, but then what followed was LITERALLY HOURS of Fred-based finding!  We turned the book into a game of ‘Can you find the…’ and it entertained not only the children, but also the adults, who we encouraged to look for the tiniest of details.  My tip is to start by finding Fred, then the white butterfly, and then start finding one-off things in the book such as the veeeeeeeeeery long sausage dog (somewhere in the gallery).

I really hope that everyone gains as much enjoyment from Fred, as I and the Scholastic team had when making it!

 

With huge thanks to Steven for sending across his thoughts. You can buy Let’s Find Fred here. Please do, you’ll love the text as much as I do “He’s a panda and it’s past his bedtime!”, and you can tell me where the white butterfly is hiding…

That’s Not For Children!!!

Parenthood can be gruelling. There’s the mundaneness of feeding, clothing, getting your children to sleep, re-reading the same book over and over! So, sometimes you need a laugh. If you’ve read Where the Wild Things Are or Goodnight Moon time and time again, sung ‘hey diddle diddle’ a thousand times, or just thrown away a good meal one time too many – these spoof children’s books are for you. (Warning: this blog contains profanities)

wild mums

Where the Wild Mums Are by Katie Blackburn and Sholto Walker
Publishing 19 February 2015, and a sweet homage to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, the Wild Mums are a riotous bunch. Mimicking Sendak’s original, even from the palm tree allusion in the endpapers, Walker and Blackburn have done a terrific job. Whereas Max in Where the Wild Things Are makes mischief, the mum in Where the Wild Mums Are goes on strike. She looks worn out, and after being insulted, stomps upstairs to have a bath in much the same way as Max is sent to bed. As the forest grows in Max’s room at night, so during Mum’s luxurious bubble bath, the walls melt away and she’s transported to where the Wild Mums are. Much as the wild things go crazy, so do the mums, and there’s a wonderful freedom and mania in the illustrations of the mums’ dancing. The best moment in the book though is when reality dawns:
“For the Queen of the Wild Mums suddenly felt a little bit tired and emotional and wished she were with those she loved more than anything in the world.”
It’s a wonderful parody of:
“And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”
but also works on its own as the call of a mother’s conscience. Of course on her return home there isn’t supper waiting, but a cup of tea! What could be more perfect than that? Not only will you be giving yourself a good laugh, but 10p from every book will be donated to the charity Women and Children First. See www.womenandchildrenfirst.org.uk

goodnight ipad

Goodnight ipad by Ann Droyd
In a similar parody to the Wild Mums, this takes on Goodnight Moon and updates it hilariously for the 21st century. Goodnight Moon is mainly about the atmosphere created in the room by all the different old-fashioned childhood memorabilia from bears and chairs to mittens and kittens, the little house and the little mouse, and of course the moon outside, as gradually everything is wished goodnight and the light fades in the room. Goodnight ipad does the same thing – except the objects are up-to-date, loud and brash:
“There were three little Nooks
With ten thousand books
And a huge LCD
Wi-Fi HDTV
With Bose 5.1
Six remotes, and 3-D”
The lady in the room who is trying to persuade the children to sleep has to wrestle the ipad out of the child’s hands, and throws all the gadgets out the window in an attempt to have peace:
“Goodnight remotes
And Netflix streams
Androids, apps,
And glowing screens”
The horror on the faces of the rabbit-like creatures as their gadgets are discarded is fabulous, as are the small details in the illustrations such as the extension plug leads. Great fun for anyone who knows the original and wants some respite from the modern world.

You have to eat

You have to F***** Eat by Adam Masbach, illustrated by Owen Brozman
The author of Go the F*** to Sleep has done it again, but this time with the most frustrating of topics – getting your child to eat. If you’re really fed up with meal time in your house and need a good scream and cursing session, then this is the book for you. Adam Masbach compares the human child before him who won’t eat – even his favourite foods – to animals who will eat anything that’s put in front of them:
“The bunnies are munching on carrots,
The lambs nibble grasses and bleat
I know you’re too hungry to reason with but
You have to fucking eat.”
The juxtaposition of the cute animals and the grumpy child is a great leaping off point, but my favourite page is the one with the lunchbox returned home full:
“How was school, hon? Whoa, your lunch box is full.
How are you not passed out in the street?
How is it you’re smart? How the hell are you growing
When you basically don’t fucking eat?”
The author also deals with taking children to restaurants, parents eating leftovers, and the need for alcohol at the end of the day. The last page is priceless – any parent struggling with the basics of child rearing would agree.

this little piggy went to prada

This Little Piggy Went to Prada: Nursery Rhymes for the Blahnik Brigade by Amy Allen, illustrated by Eun-Kyung Kang
Lastly, this hilarious collection is a must-have for any ‘yummy mummy’. It contains 21 revamped designer name nursery rhymes, contained within a beautiful pink and velvety cover. It’ll cheer up any new mum into designer clothes:
“Hey diddle diddle,
The skirt fits my middle
Mummy is over the moon
Georgio laughed,
“To see her size halved…
She’ll be back in Armani soon!””
I wish I could quote them all, but I need to leave the surprise for you. It even has the original rhymes in the back for those who don’t know them or need reminding (new to parenthood maybe). Another blessing is that 10 per cent of the profit goes to the charity Save the Children.

 

Where the Wild Mums Are was kindly sent to me for review by Faber & Faber Publishing