Danny McGee Drinks the Sea by Andy Stanton, illustrated by Neal Layton


Gleefully funny, this new picture book will send children squealing with delight as they take in an irrepressible protagonist and his bumptious audacity. Penned by Mr Gum author Andy Stanton, who reveals that he set out to “irreparably scramble the brains of very tiny children”, and teamed with multi-award winning illustrator Neal Layton, this was bound to be a successful pairing.

Egged on by his sister, the pair of them looking naughty from the first page (with their scribbly curly hair and delightful eye for speed as they race down the hill towards the beach), Danny McGee bets his sister that he can drink the whole sea. For who wouldn’t want to – when it lies on the page, glittering and sparkling, an irresistible blue. With an impossibly long straw, that’s exactly what he does. And then he proceeds to swallow everything else in sight. With a nod to There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Danny’s preposterous swallowing is accompanied by his bragging brash stance, and an absurdity in the things he swallows.

The story is told in continuing rhyming couplets, all with the same rhyme (“ee”) giving Stanton a restrictiveness in rhyme to push the sense to a ludicrous degree:

“and he swallowed a bee
and he swallowed a cat who was drinking some tea”

An excitable energy flows through the book, as Danny swallows more and more, including the author, who is writing the book from inside Danny McGee’s stomach apparently. But what enhances this further is the cleverness of the imagery. Cut out photographs of real objects have been placed on top of illustrations, so that Andy Stanton does indeed appear to be inside the book.

On other pages, this works even harder – the straw is real – held aloft by cartoon Franny McGee, and when Danny swallows London, real Big Ben and the Crown Jewels nestle beside scribbly cartoon illustrations of chimney sweeps a la Mary Poppins. Real chips jostle inside a cartoon drawing of the newspaper encasing them. The style to make the illustrations look scribbled and fast is actually stylised and difficult to do.

But above all, it is the anarchic mischievousness of Danny that gives the book its zest. He swallows everything – the whole world and then brags about it.

However, all jokesters get their comeuppance in kids’ books. And as I keep telling the children – beware of your siblings. They know you better than anyone!

You can buy a copy here.