Tag Archive for Gough Julian

So Good They Did It Again

Don’t we just love a good series? Box sets are all the rage. And children are no different. They love a series that gives an extra helping of the characters and adventures they liked the first time round. It makes a new book choice easier, perpetuates that reading experience, and develops character even further. Last year I highlighted four great new books, and this year each has a sequel out. And they’re just as good, if not better than the first.

Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough and Jim Field

The first Rabbit and Bear book was an inspired mix of great bedtime story with subtle educational facts, dominated by wit and humour. This second in the series is no different.

Bear has woken from winter hibernation, and Rabbit is spring cleaning his burrow. But then various elements in the woods disturb Rabbit’s peace, and it is up to Bear to use his wisdom to educate Rabbit about not getting quite so het up about things, and seeing the disturbances from a different point of view. I could learn a thing or two!

Vastly reminiscent of the character of Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh for this Rabbit’s general grumpiness, but also reminiscent of the Pooh books more generally, in the ability of the characters to demonstrate the finer qualities of friendship – loyalty, kindness and gently educating each other, this is a warm story for newly developing readers.

The writing excels here. Gough has a way with words – which he transposes to Bear, of pointing things out in the most straightforward way possible. Rabbit has issues with things that are both too noisy and too quiet – Bear explains that the only thing in common with these irritations is Rabbit himself.

In this clever way, Gough gently points the reader towards learning about tolerance, and seeing things from a different perspective, but all the time through the gentle humour of Bear and the funny grumpiness of Rabbit, and with a plot that develops at pace.

There are other elements introduced, such as the usefulness of practising something, overcoming fear, and finding happiness.

The illustrations help to exemplify both the gentle message and the humour – different perspectives of the forest and the animals, but also the characters’ brilliantly expressive faces. There’s so much packed into this small book – and wonderfully the publishers have produced it to a high quality – with thick pages and hardback cover, knowing that children will want to revisit it many times. Ages 6+. You can buy it here.

King Flashypants and the Creature from Crong by Andy Riley

This series about a nine-year-old king and his hilarious adventures is suitable for the whole family and has strands that are reminiscent of The Simpsons (mimicking the stupidity of Homer and the mischievousness of Bart), but also the all-out craziness of rulers, and I’d expect nothing less from one of the writers of Veep.

When a huge monster called the Gizimoth stalks a nearby land, King Edwin (Flashypants) decides that in order to prove his kingliness he must go and fight it, but evil Emperor Nurbison has plans of his own, and they include squishing King Flashypants and his kingdom.

The book is packed with illustrations, which always convey wit, and either gently nudge on the story or give an extra emotional depth to the characters. The characters remain consistent from book one, with Nurbison’s evil laugh, Edwin’s penchant for sweet foods, and Jill’s sensibleness, but each develops further with this second book.

There’s the usual amount of silliness – things being too small, or oversized, words being overused, vomit and poo etc., but there’s also a clever wit behind it all, and twists on modern everyday references that children will recognise – such as portions of fruit and vegetables, and talking about what they’ve learned after the adventure (circle time).

In fact, the book is incredibly cartoon-like – from characters falling off cliffs, to breaking their weapons, to my absolute favourite – the illustration of the evil Emperor’s sidekick Globulus on his knees, wailing “Emperooor” as his beloved Nurbison is….(no spoilers here!)

Riley is clever – there is a joke on almost every page, either tucked into plot or character, or poking the reader right between the eyes. It’s almost as if the humour is infectious – you can tell the author must have had a huge amount of fun writing it.

All in all, a preposterous story, but utterly brilliant. Packed with great character, subtle heart, charm, and nods to the history of storytelling and modern culture. King Flashypants and the Dolls of Doom is due in the autumn. Ages 6+. You can buy King Flashypants and the Creature from Crong here.

Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) by Swapna Haddow, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey

Whereas in the first Dave Pigeon book humans were friends – keepers of jam biscuits and distributors of bread, in Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) the new human is most definitely the enemy.

With their normal human and her Mean Cat away on holiday, Dave Pigeon and his friend Skipper need to find another source of food. When they stumble upon Reginald Grimster beckoning them with crumbs, they think they’ve found another patron, but would a man with mini-umbrellas on his shoulders, who keeps other pigeons in cages, really be friendly towards birds, or is he looking to make some nuggets?

This is another fabulously funny tale about Dave, our pigeon with a complete lack of self-awareness, or in fact general awareness, other than for food. Luckily he has a great friend in Skipper, who is a tad more worldly, and manages to keep them both from fatal danger.

The laughs in this story come from either Dave’s lack of self-awareness, or from the fact that all the pigeons featured are so uncompromisingly human in their thoughts and actions, such as putting up one feather in front of their beaks to keep each other quiet.

Also much of the humour comes out of misunderstandings and slapstick – a pigeon called Fienne, pronounced fine, whom none of the others realise is saying his name rather than his state of being, some nervously pooing pigeons, and a pigeon spy agency… Of course the whole premise and plot are so ridiculous that this is what makes it funny, particularly when the enemy this time is a man with a chip on his shoulder about pigeon poo.

As before, the story is punctuated with little speech bubbles from the pigeons arguing with each other about the book they are writing or talking directly to the reader, and these are all funny as well as providing interesting interludes. And because the pigeons are purporting to write the books themselves, there is an added element of self-reference in the writing too.

The illustrations are glorious – particularly as there is a fair cast of pigeons in this book as opposed to the few in the first book, and some particularly enthralling scenes in a supermarket. Never have pigeons seemed quite so appealing. Ages 6+. Buy it here.

Waiting for Callback Take Two by Perdita and Honor Cargill

Picking up more or less where the first book left off, this witty contemporary YA (although suitable for tweens) second book, Waiting for Callback Take Two, tells the tale of Elektra, a young teen wannabe actress. It can be read as a stand-alone though, as book two joins Elektra about to embark on her first film role in a dystopian thriller with some A-list stars. The book follows the trials and tribulations of filming – the delays, the stars, the arguments and the rewrites. At the same time, Elektra is just a normal teen living at home, and the reader sees her juggle her normal life of summer holidays, friendships, studying and boyfriends along with her new career.

As with the last novel, Elektra is a wonderful protagonist. Witty, somewhat self-deprecating, a little prone to peer pressure and manipulation, she is a character with whom to identify. Her supporting cast works well too – a loyal best friend, an ongoing boyfriend (will they/won’t they communicate properly?), an eccentric and loveable grandmother, and of course a home life with an over-wrought mother who struggles to make peace with her daughter’s new found passion for acting. If anything the character of the mother in this second book is slightly overdone compared to the first – less subtly witty and more full-on anxious, but she also becomes more of a minor character here.

The book feels warm and friendly throughout – mainly down to the main character, and has pace and a good evolving plot. There are interspersed gossip columns reporting on showbiz, as well as letters from Elektra’s agent, and the most winning bit for me were the text messages between Elektra and various people, but most particularly her boyfriend. Archie is a phenomenal character – a great teen boy trying to navigate his way in the world, and with women.

It’s a book that hooks the reader right from the beginning, with great dialogue, realistic inner consciousness, and oodles of heart and humour. Age 11+. Take a look here.


Friendships: Rabbits and Bears

Sometimes the strangest pairings work as a grand relationship. And no, I’m not talking about author and illustrator pairings. Here below are some rabbit and bear friendships for you –

Rabbits Bad Habits

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field
Continuing in the tradition of highly illustrated first chapter books, this is an absolute gem. It looks attractive, reads beautifully, and is downright hilarious – from the rabbit’s expression on the front cover onwards.

Bear is inadvertently woken from her winter hibernation by an intruder. She discovers all her food has been stolen, and that she has woken too early, because it is still snowing. However, she looks on the bright side of life and starts to build a snowman.

Before long her building disturbs Rabbit and in a Bugs Bunnyish pose, he emerges from his hole to remonstrate with her for blocking his sunlight.

Before long the two are gently sparring – the Rabbit in full grumpiness mode, the Bear in Pollyanna-ish optimism. The Rabbit tries to explain gravity to the Bear, calling her an ‘idiot’ with a most supercilious look, explaining that he doesn’t mean ‘friendship’ when he is talking about ‘the force of attraction.’

Of course, that’s the irony of the whole book, which is about the unlikely burgeoning friendship between the two. Before long, Bear witnesses Rabbit’s bad habit (no, not the stealing of food, although Rabbit is revealed as the culprit, but eating his own poo) and Rabbit’s grumpiness turns to embarrassment.

There is so much to adore about this book. There is humour throughout – both in the witty dialogue and in the turn of phrase as the action unfolds. The characters’ interaction is priceless. To add to the fun the blue tonal illustrations are exquisitely funny – it really is like watching a cartoon on the television. From Rabbit’s surly eyebrows, bent ears, downturned mouth to the playfulness in size between Rabbit and Bear – and the wonderful illustrations of food – their hunger for good food, and relish in eating, is palpable.

With allusions to Winnie the Pooh – the map at the beginning highlights a ‘giant sandpit’ and a ‘bear’s cave’ and ‘rabbit’s warren’, as well as Bear’s little(ish) brain:

“Bear was actually a lot cleverer than she thought she was.”

And the introduction of a wolf who is turned off the idea of vegetarianism by a mouldy carrot, this is a book to cherish. One of those that turns children onto reading – with humour, knowledge, fun and perfection in text and illustration. Don’t let this one slip through your fingers – buy it and read it. Again and again. A classic in the making. Age 6+ years. Click the link to buy the book.

bear in love

Bear in Love by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
More allusions to Winnie the Pooh in this rather whimsical picture book about giving and taking in friendship. Bear finds little treats left for him outside his cave – the first morning a juicy carrot, then many carrots, and before long a flower, and a cookie. He decides to leave gifts in return, including a honeycomb; and lie in wait for his secret admirer. However, being a sleepy bear, he always falls asleep before the mystery guest turns up.

The illustrations are gentle and ambling – the bear is portrayed as a little stupid, and makes up various simple amusing songs as he strolls along in the forest. The beautiful tepid watercolours of the illustrations give a softness to the characters – the bear is seen yawning and with flushed pink cheeks – as well as softly asleep. Indeed, he spends much of the book with his eyes closed. The reveal of the ‘mystery friend’ isn’t shocking for the reader, but is amusing nevertheless – the rabbit’s pink cheeks matching the bear’s, their posture mirroring each other. But it is the delight in food gifts here that will appeal to small children – from the blueberries, to the enjoyment of honey, to the chocolate bar. An easy picture book for age 3+ years. You can buy it here.

Beatrice and Bear

Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi
Another rabbit and bear tale, although sadly not widely available in the UK. The two are best friends, and do everything together – supporting each other even when they do something that one can and one can’t – such as swimming. But then Bear hibernates, and although Beatrice the rabbit wants to share in this too, she cannot get to sleep. A wonderful few pages of Beatrice attempting to sleep will draw appreciative nods from insomniacs.

She is devastated that winter will be ruined because she cannot share it with her friend Bear. Her ears flop. Then she decides to document everything she does and prepare a scrapbook for Bear about the winter. She creates The Great Scrapbook of Winter Delights and Adventures For Bear by Beatrice – snow bear snowflakes, ice skating, how to make a bunny angel, and bunny tracks in the snow. The page in the book even looks like a scrapbook. The book deals excellently with the friends’ separation, the illustrations are full colour – dominated by browns, blues and greens. Age 4+ years

Finally, I can’t finish the blog without mentioning one of my favourite picture books about rabbits and bears – I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. There is certainly no friendship in this one – just a thieving rabbit (do I see a pattern emerging?)