Tag Archive for Hutchison Barry

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 Hutchison, 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!)

Beaky Malone: A Guest Post by Barry Hutchison

Do you remember the film Big starring Tom Hanks? Of course you do. Then this new book, Beaky Malone, World’s Greatest Liar by Barry Hutchison, is for you. But instead of turning Big, when Beaky Malone steps into the truth-telling machine at the mysterious Madame Shirley’s Marvellous Emporium of Peculiarities, he stops being able to lie, which is shocking, as he’s quite in the habit of telling fibs. With hilarious illustrations from Katie Abey, and amusing antics care of writer Barry Hutchison, this is a delightfully entertaining comedy for 8+ years. I’m delighted to welcome author Barry Hutchison onto the website today, with a *true* story about Barry’s lies…..

Beaky Malone – World's Greatest Liar - Jacket

There’s nothing wrong with lying, you know? In fact, I’d go so far as to say that without lying, our entire civilisation would fall apart in a matter of hours.

We lie constantly. When I meet someone for the first time, I say “Pleased to meet you.” But if truth be told, I don’t yet know if I’m pleased to meet them or not. They might be a massive racist. Or a serial killer. Or have just gone for a poo then didn’t wash their hands – one of which I just shook.

From “what a beautiful baby,” to “no, that outfit definitely doesn’t make you look fat,” our lives are a non-stop whirlwind of fibs, tall tales, and shocking untruths. Lying is the glue that holds our civilisation together, and the grease which keeps the world’s wheels turning.

Looking back at all the lies I’ve told over my life, though, there’s one that stands out. One whopper that stands head and shoulders above them all. One lie so unbelievable, so nonsensical, and so utterly, completely pointless, that the thought of it still makes me come out in cold sweats.

It started, as these things so often do, with a girl…

I was twelve. Thirteen, maybe. My family was off on holiday at a caravan park outside Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland, and I had just fallen in love for the first time.

OK, that’s possibly an exaggeration. I had just seen a girl of around my age who, for the first time ever, didn’t make me think, “ew, girls,” and want to run away. Basically, to my young, adolescent mind, that meant I was looking at my future wife.

I’d spotted her sitting on a swing in the middle of the rather desolate caravan park, and decided there and then that I was going to go over and talk to her. I wanted to be sure I impressed her, though, and – being the 80’s – if there was one thing I’d learned from movies, it was that girls loved a man in sunglasses. As luck would have it, the campsite shop had a pair of Top Gun style mirrored aviators on sale, so I forked out some of my holiday money, slipped on the shades, then strolled over to work my charm.

The girl looked up as I approached. She raised a perfect eyebrow and I felt my young heart skip a beat.

“Alright?” she said.

“Yep,” I replied, my throat suddenly dry.

“I like your sunglasses,” she said.

Yes! I almost punched the air in delight, but stopped myself in the nick of time. I had to play this cool.

“Thanks,” I said, shrugging as I sat on the next swing over.

“Why are you wearing them?” she asked.

That one caught me off guard. “Hmm?” was all I could think of to say.

The girl looked up at a sky that was heavy with dense, grey cloud. Mid-August or not, this was the North East of Scotland, and sunshine was a rare sight indeed.

“Well, I mean, it’s just that it’s not sunny,” the girl said. She held a hand out. “It’s actually raining a little bit. So why are you wearing sunglasses?”

My stomach tightened. My mouth opened, flapped about for a bit, then closed again. She had raised an excellent point. I knew why I was wearing sunglasses – to impress my future wife – but I couldn’t very well tell her that without making myself sound like a maniac.

“I, um, always wear sunglasses,” I blurted.

She frowned. “Always?”

“Yep,” I said, my voice suddenly squeaky. “Always. No-one has ever see my eyes before.”

I snapped my mouth shut. Oh God. Why had I said that? What was I thinking?

“What,” she said, snorting a little. “Never?”

I hesitated, trying to think of a way I could backtrack over the past few seconds of conversation and find an escape route. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t think of one. I had no choice. I had to press on.

“That’s right,” I said. “Never.”

The girl rocked on her swing, considering this for a few seconds.

“Why has no-one ever seen your eyes before?” she asked.

I’m not sure why I said what I said next. Panic, probably. The clammy realisation that my lies had led me into an inescapable dead end, and that only by taking my fibbing to an entirely new level could I hope to somehow break through to the other side.

“Because…” I began, dragging the word out for as long as I possibly could. “I haven’t got any.”

The girl blinked. She stopped swinging.

“You haven’t got any eyes?” she gasped.

“Uh… Yep. I mean nope. I mean… that’s right,” I said.

“What… none?”

“Apparently not,” I said, in something that was more a whimper than anything else.

She struck like a cobra, swiping the shades off my face. Our eyes, to her surprise, met.

“Yes you do!” she said.

I should’ve laughed it off, of course. I should’ve said, “Of course I’ve got eyes, I was just having a laugh,” but I was too far gone, now. Too heavily invested in this strange alternate reality where I, a twelve-year-old boy from the Highlands of Scotland, compensated for having no eyes by wearing an oversized pair of Top Gun style sunglasses, yet could still somehow walk confidently across a caravan park in order to strike up a conversation with someone who had been sitting in complete silence. There was no turning back.

I jumped up from the swing.

I waved my hands in front of my face in what I hoped was a convincing display of disbelief.

“It’s a miracle!” I cried. “It’s a miracle!”

I ran back to the caravan, still waving my arms in front of my face and shouting, “Mum! Mum! My eyes are back! My eyes are back!”

Then I scrambled inside, bolted into the tiny little room where my miniscule bed was, and locked the door.

Next morning, when I opened the caravan door, I found my sunglasses sitting on the step, but I didn’t see that girl again for the rest of the holiday, or any day since then.


With thanks to Barry Hutchison. 

Beaky Malone is available to purchase here.