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Book Review: ‘Christopher Nibble’ by Charlotte Middleton

Charlotte Middleton wrote and illustrated this excellent little book about a guinea pig saving the dandelion from extinction and learning to love growing things.

I’m not going to analyse the book and wax lyrical about its eco-friendly theme or regurgitate the blurb. I’m just going to mention what works.

The illustrations have a sustained and original style, which is good because it helps children to immerse themselves into its unique world.

The choice of guinea-pig pants in the front and end of the book is always of interest: “which pants would you choose daddy?”

The words are easy to read and the decision not to rhyme everything (like most children’s authors feel the need to do) was a good one.

The amusing books in the library are fun for adults to find too: ‘War & Pizza’ anyone?

The double page spread of Christopher blowing the dandelion seeds works nicely.

The end is nice if not spectacular, amusing, or unexpected.

This is a book that is a pleasure to read and doesn’t try too hard. The author is wise to understand that at bedtime a gentle story can be just the ticket.

I, however, won’t be wearing pants and wellies in the garden any time soon.

Book Review: ‘Pulling The Trigger’

This is a book for sufferers of OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and related depression, currently sitting on top of Amazon’s search lists for books on those topics. Adam Shaw, a successful businessman and founder of a mental health charity, reveals his problems with OCD and how Lauren Callaghan’s approach to treating him worked. The book was published by Trigger Press in 2016, which is a publishing company created by Shaw (Managing Director) and Callaghan (Director).

As a sufferer from obsessive thoughts, anxiety and depression, and diagnosed with BPD I bought the book hoping for at least something helpful.

Reading through the book I remember being very frustrated as page after page (85 of them including the introduction to be precise) just detailed Adam Shaw’s problems and kept saying how wonderful the new approach to treatment was without going on to spell it out. It actually made me quite angry.

In the second part of book the back-slapping continued. I finished the book wishing that they had just written: ‘Adam had OCD and Lauren told him to accept it’. It would have saved me a lot of time, effort and cash. The conclusion is all that you really need to read.

Accepting that you have OCD and panic attacks is very difficult. Embracing it feels wrong. It is not for the faint-hearted and I can envisage many feeling that this approach is not for them. I’m not criticising the technique because it obviously works for some people. I just think this could have been an article on a website and not a book because it keeps repeating itself all the way through.

I would advise people to google treatment for OCD and read about it online instead.

Book Review: ‘I Know A Rhino’ (2002 Gullane Children’s Books)

‘I Know A Rhino’ (2002 Gullane Children’s Books) is written and illustrated by the award winning illustrator Charles Fuge.

The book benefits from Fuge’s gift for illustration. His pictures burst from the page in a cuddly loveliness that children must adore. The different animals are drawn brilliantly in his original style that lifts this book out of the ordinary.

It was a pity that his words didn’t get edited well. The book is written in rhyming couplets but they occasionally don’t fit – something that would have been obvious and easy to fix. For example:

‘I know an ape and we keep in good shape, miming pop songs and dancing along to a tape’.

Why didn’t his editor suggest cutting out ‘and dancing’ to make it scan better? ‘Miming pop songs along to a tape’ works much better. Strange. There are other examples as well that could have easily been sorted out.

However, as imperfect as the book is it still had worked well enough with my children to be used regularly. It’s more for very small children but the ending will have to be explained to them. Despite this, they love it.

Good – but not quite great.

Book Review: ‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’ by Charles Fuge and David Conway (2010, Hodder Children’s Books)

‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’ by Charles Fuge and David Conway was first published in 2010 by Hodder Children’s books. It was nominated for two prizes.

The Nosy Crow website has this biography of illustrator Charles Fuge:

‘Charles Fuge was born in 1966 and grew up in Bath. He made his picture book debut in 1988 with Bushvark’s First Day Out, which won both the Macmillan Prize and the Mother Goose Award. Since then Charles has illustrated over thirty books, a number of which he has also written. He is the illustrator for A Lullaby for Little One, written by Dawn Casey, and he lives in Dorset.’

David Conway has been involved in several children’s book projects and nominated for a number of awards.

I first came across Charles Fuge’s work when I bought books from the ‘Little Wombat’ series. His illustrations are the best I’ve seen in children’s books and the prime reason for buying ‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’. They are simply gorgeous, beautifully done, colourful and I’m sure they make children want to leap into the pictures and cuddle the animals.

This is a picture book and as such will be judged on its pictures. It is also a reading book and so must be judged, albeit to a lesser extent, on its words. The words (written by David Conway) are not up to the standard of the pictures. Do small children understand, or need to understand words like ‘hullabaloo’; ‘din’; ‘clamour’; ‘hubbub’; ‘rumpus’; ‘raucous’; or ‘cacophonous’? Try explaining the difference between those. Also, the words sound clumsy in this context with occasional rhyming being particularly awkward. The words feel like they should scan but they don’t. Either rhyme all the time or not at all. The alliteration (‘zany zebra’) works well throughout. I find it difficult to read the snoring sections but you may not.

The story itself is perfectly entertaining but the ending misses the mark and is a little anti-climactic; that all being said, my children have enjoyed it, and the hard-back version presents the wonderful illustrations nicely. Worth buying but not five stars.

Evan And The Bottom-Rockets

My New Book for Children: ‘Evan And The Bottom Rockets’

My book is nearing the final stages of editing and I’m still receiving feedback from parents who’ve read a draft of it to their children.So far all the feedback has been very positive and it appears the book has made children laugh out loud throughout. What’s more, parents have also been laughing and that’s great because all along I have wanted to write for children and for their parents also. After all, the parents have to read the book, sometimes dozens of times, and they need to like it too. If they like it the whole process is so much better and they can share in a great experience with their child. I’ve read the same book dozens of times with my children, through gritted teeth. Sometimes these books are very uninteresting to parents and it is difficult having to read them again and again. I hope that my book won’t be like that.

The test for me was: did it make me laugh out loud as I was writing it? I have a childish side to my sense of humour and that has definitely helped me. My son has just turned 8 and his reaction to the different drafts as time went along was extremely helpful, not only did his laughter or lack of laughter help me to edit it, but his suggestions have been surprisingly useful as well.

I cannot publish my book here on this blog because it would harm its chances of being accepted by a publisher, and I need to watch out for people who might steal my work. However, I can give you a synopsis with some quotes from the current draft.

Synopsis

The book concerns a boy named Evan:

‘Evan Hart-Boodle had always been a topsy-turvy sort of boy in the middle of a topsy-turvy sort of world. He had a problem and only he knew why.’

Evan is an unusually clever boy in a world of foolish adults where roles seem to be reversed. His problem is the central theme of the book. Perhaps I won’t give it away but I will let you know that it concerns certain bodily functions. Do your children laugh at those? Mine do. In fact, I do too!

The reason for his ‘problem’ is a secret until the end of the book.

Other characters in the book include a doctor who has a problem with names:

‘Doctor Bottom wasn’t very good with names. “What can I do for you Mr. Fart-Noodle?” he said. “Hart-Boodle”, replied Evan’s dad, awkwardly.’

A hapless father called Mr. Willy Hart-Boodle:

“He sat on a Weever Fish and it poisoned him in the butt”, said Evan. “He had to go to the Lifeguard’s hut and put a burning flannel on his butt but he dropped it in front of everybody…”

An eccentric school friend called Ophelia Pongsby:

‘Ophelia was in a world of her own and began walking in the wrong direction. She was grabbed by somebody and sent the right way, and there was a good deal of giggling. She climbed the steps to the stage and stumbled, grabbing the lectern to steady herself, sending a glass of water all over the Mayor and his wife who were standing up ready to award the prize.’

A fearsome Head Teacher known as Shirty-Gerty:

‘Mrs. Gertrude Booby instilled fear into every child. Her punishments were always severe, her wrath was renowned, her irritability legendary.’

An obsequious deputy called Mr. Paddy Pantsdown:

‘She then went on about the school year, which seemed to be all about how well she had done as Head-Teacher. Mr. Pantsdown looked on glowing with admiration for her and excitedly burst into applause at one point, but stopped when he realised he was the only one clapping. Shirty-Gerty gave him a glare and he put his fingers over his lips and shook his head as if to tell her he wouldn’t do it again.’

There is plenty of fun in the book with rude, or just plain silly, names.

‘“Willy Weewell?”
“Yes Miss Take”;
“James Windbottom?”
“Miss”;
Tiffany Whiff?”’

Children have really enjoyed these names. Be prepared to have to try and calm them down before bed-time because the story makes them quite rowdy according to one parent!

The Hart-Boodle family try and do normal family things but Evan’s problem makes every trip out an event. At school he becomes notorious following some high-profile incidents.

The book ends with Evan facing a new problem – a clever twist.

I can’t give it all away. If you would like to read the story and feel it would make your children laugh please show your support by leaving a comment. I hope that we can see this project through and that you will be able to get your hands on the finished book some time in the future!

Is this the sort of book that you would be interested in buying for your children? If not, why not? Let me know!

Writer’s Bureau Flash-Fiction Results 2017: ‘The Coffee Cup’ Short-listed

My story ‘The Coffee Cup’ was recently short-listed for the Writer’s Bureau flash-fiction award.

Writers from all over the world enter these competitions so I’m very happy just to be short-listed.

The story was quite quickly put together last year when I decided to enter a few competitions for the first time.  I was surprised to find out how many entries these competitions get and the amount of countries represented is sometimes mind-boggling.

So, I’m very happy to be named and perhaps one day some of my stories will make it into print.  They’ll have to wait though because I’m concentrating on getting ‘Evan And The Bottom-Rockets’ published and I’ve already started my next book.  On top of that I’ve got a novel forming in my brain for the adult market.

Still, it’s a step forward!

Children’s Book Review: ‘Wendel’s Workshop’

First Published in 2007 by Macmillan Children’s Books, ‘Wendel’s Workshop’, is both written and illustrated by Children’s Laureate (2015-17) Chris Riddell, making the Booktrust Early Years Award shortlist.

Riddell is a talented illustrator and writer winning numerous awards throughout his career. He was born in 1962 in Cape Town, South Africa, but his family moved to England when he was only one. Apparently, he was encouraged to draw by his mother to keep him quiet during his father’s sermons (his father was an Anglican Vicar).The book is dedicated ‘For my father’. His work includes political cartoons for the Observer newspaper.

Riddell is well known for the ‘Ottoline’ and ‘Edge Chronicles’ series.
I have been reading ‘Wendel’s Workshop’ to my son since he was three years old (he is now 8 as I write in January 2018). The target age group for the book is probably the same.

As with so many children’s picture books, the star is a talking animal, in this case, a mouse named Wendel. Wendel is a prolific, workaholic, inventor and his feverish creativity is like that of a manic depressive. Wendel is pictured creating a toaster that burns toast and a self-pouring tea-pot. The toaster is sent down a chute that leads to a rubbish dump. At the end of the book Wendel changes his ways and mends and adjusts things rather than throwing them away. Is this a process that the author himself can relate to?

Wendel’s workshop becomes very untidy due to his round-the-clock inventing and he decides to create a robot (the Wendelbot) to clear up for him. The robot malfunctions and begins to destroy everything, reducing teacups to a tidy pile of powder and shredding umbrellas in his dedication to the cause of tidiness. The theme of intelligent technology becoming threatening to its creators comes to mind but that may be taking the analysis of a children’s book too far. However, it is quite obvious that the author references the clichéd image of ‘Hamlet’ picking up the skull of Yorick at one point. I’m not sure how many children would get that one.

Wendel’s first robot was named Clunk and rejected for getting everything wrong. When Wendel is thrown down the chute by the Wendelbot Clunk encourages him to create an army of robots from pieces of scrap. The army then challenges the Wendelbot which has become more and more unhinged and intent on tidying the world.

When the robots are too quick for the Wendelbot its head explodes with an enormous bang. Wendel is pictured in his garden in his dressing gown being poured a cup of tea by Clunk into a boot beside him, having made use of the Wendelbot’s body to grow plants and flowers in.

My son memorised the entire book because he loved it so much. In fact, I memorised most of it because of having to read it so many times. He particularly enjoyed the moment the Wendelbot’s head explodes and insisted on taking over from me, shouting the word ‘bang’ at the top of his voice. He also enjoyed discussing the robots in the pictures and picking his favourite one, insisting that I do the same.

The moment the Wendelbot opens the door and Wendel and his army confront him is described using just the words ‘”Good morning,” said Wendel’. The words are written on a picture of the new robots spread over two pages which we copied it and hung in a frame in my son’s bedroom. I became quite sentimental about this image and the book because of the times that I shared with him reading it as he grew from being a toddler to a small boy. Hanging on the wall the picture is a piece of nostalgia. I would have loved a signed print!

Chris Riddell did a magnificent job with both the words and the illustrations and I heartily recommend the book if you can get hold of a copy. We will be keeping ours.