31 March 2012

The Tally's eBay Charity Auction

To help promote the paperback release of The Tally, I’m auctioning off my annotated proof of the book on eBay, with all proceeds of sale being donated directly to the mental health charity, MIND.

A proof is a one-off copy of a book printed prior to publication to give everyone an idea of what the finished product will look like, and to allow for any necessary changes to be made (such as the correcting of any hitherto-unseen typographical errors) before publishing. In some instances, there will be few, if any, differences between a book’s proof and a copy that you would buy in the shops, but this is not the case with The Tally. This one-off edition is thus unique. Please dig deep and have a bid!

27 March 2012

Picture Book Review | Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki couldn’t be anything other than a cat; not with a name like that. What’s more, he couldn’t be anything other than a “blacker than black”, mischievous “rapscallion” of a puss who slinks out of his domicile every night to filch and horde all manner of useless curios. It’s the perfect fodder, really, for an admonitory children’s verse.

Lynley Dodd’s words and pictures do a splendid job of evoking the titular tom’s nocturnal world and his illicit revelry in it. The structure of the rhymes and the onomatopoeic words that Dodd uses to form them cleverly betray Slinky’s wayward charm; even the youngest of children must appreciate that he is a naughty cat - a “criminal cat” - and as such they won’t be able to do anything but champion him, giggling all the way.

If your child is finally - and, no doubt, begrudgingly - growing out of Hairy MacLary, then Slinky Malinki is the obvious next step up Lynley’s literary ladder.

26 March 2012

Picture Book Review | Grill Pan Eddy by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

My first encounter with Grill Pan Eddy was at our local library, where my wife and I borrowed a copy to read to our little girl. As my wife put it to the librarian, speaking for her child in that peculiar way that mothers do, “We thought wed try this one out because that mouse has my daddys name.” The librarians deadpan response was almost as amusing as the devilishly amusing tale that she was checking out: “Grill Pan?”

Jeanne Williss deceptively mellifluous elegy is by turns moving and macabre. She introduces us to the eponymous hellraising rodent; has us succumb to his cheeky charms; and then suddenly kills him off in his prime, only for him to be swiftly succeeded by his equally-anarchistic son: Grill Pan Freddy. Indeed, the increasingly desperate attempts to rhyme something with “Eddy” (steady, heady... leady) actually belie quite a touching tale about domestic tolerance, loss, and the circle of life, all aspects of which are colourfully - and, on occasion, deliberately drably - captured by Tony Rosss arch illustrations.

As wicked and charming as its ill-fated protagonist, Grill Pan Eddy is a must for any family library. The moment that my daughters first pet falls off its perch, Ill be reaching to the bookshelf for this one as I try to usher in its not-quite-identical replacement.

22 March 2012

Picture Book Review | Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

Certain titles inevitably grab your attention irrespective of your age, and Aliens Love Underpants has to be amongst the most alluring that I’ve ever stumbled upon. Happily that particular book easily lived up to its beautifully incongruous billing, and did so with plenty of colour and charm, but in my view Dinosaurs Love Underpants goes one better; perhaps even two.

Whilst most children are sure to take near-histrionic delight in the idea that their otherwise boring laundry may be harbouring tiny extra-terrestrial kegs obsessives inside it, such thrills are as nothing when measured against the altogether more amusing suggestion that the dinosaurs were wiped out in the Mighty Underpants War that devastated the globe, leaving it devoid of dinosaurs, and its surprising population of modesty-aware cavemen with “too few knickers”. So much for the ‘Adric’ theory...

Riotous fun with just a hint of the macabre, Dinosaurs Love Underpants is a misconception-fuelling tyrannosaur of a picture book that is sure to leave its little alien rival green with envy.

19 March 2012

Picture Book Review | Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Stick Man is probably the most straightforward Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffler picture book that my daughter has come across so far, yet it is right up there amongst their most charming. Driven by a cautionary refrain that urges the eponymous Stick Man to beware the many perils strewn across his path, the narrative follows the tragic hero as fate tears him from his “Stick Lady Love” (not Stick Lady Wife, I note - how modern) and their “Stick Children Three” and then a series of unfortunate events take him further and further away from his “Family Tree”.

As with many of Donaldson’s stories (Freddie and the Fairy leaps to mind, for one), Stick Man’s outrageous woes stem not from the malice of others, but their ignorance. Donaldson’s world may be one where a dragon can become an air ambulance, a Big Bad Mouse can dominate the deep dark wood and a stick can be imbued with the amazing gift of sentience, but most of its inhabitants still insist on judging books by their covers, and a result poor old Stick Man almost ends up roasting on the Christmas fire (which might well qualify as the darkest moment that you’ll find in a Donaldson / Scheffler book; the prospect of immolation certainly puts becoming a cuddly old Gruffalo’s sandwich into perspective, and is probably liable to give rise to a nightmare or two).

Colourful and melodious, yet occasionally aberrantly dark, Stick Man might well be a simple story, but it’s one that it’s hard not to love.

02 March 2012

Picture Book Review | It's a George Thing by David Bedford and Russell Julian

When I was young, I’m sure that the books I read didn’t have much in the way of subtext. The odd risqué double entendre, perhaps, but certainly nothing the likes of which you’ll find in David Bedford and Russell Julian’s diversity-affirming picture book, It’s a George Thing!

To its young readers, It’s a George Thing! will be a simple story about a zebra named George who discovers that he has a talent (and, indeed, a passion) for dancing. The trouble is, George doesn’t reckon that his mates will be into dancing at all; their preferred pastimes are much more butch. And so poor George puts up with playing Peachy and Moon’s macho games and does his dancing in secret, until it’s time for him to come out and star in a big show - the prospect of which terrifies him so much that he freezes in the spotlight... until his two friends appear on stage to dance alongside him, even though dancing isn’t really their thing. It’s a George thing...

Of course, to those a little older, It’s a George Thing! might not be such a straightforward story at all, but instead a very well-crafted - if agonisingly transparent - allegory on a young homosexual ‘coming out of the closet’. Some parents might well balk at the idea of such adult themes being explored in a book aimed at young children, but I take the view that with books such as this one delicately influencing the nascent minds of the next generation, in the future those of George’s inclination are more likely to be greeted with the warm reception that George gets when he ‘comes out’ here, as opposed to the prejudice that regrettably some still suffer.

Picture Book Review | Quiet! by Paul Bright and Guy Parker-Rees

Since my daughter’s birth, each weekend my wife and I have taken her to our local library to borrow a dozen or so picture books, as much for our own sakes as for our daughter’s (wonderful though it is, there’s only so many times that a person can recite The Gruffalo). Having long-since exhausted our own childhood favourites, and with very little knowledge of what’s hot and what’s not in the picture book world these days, this ‘try before you buy’ system has served us very well so far, allowing us to inexpensively unearth little trinkets like Quiet! that we would probably not have stumbled upon otherwise.

Quiet! is one of these extraordinary books that appeals to a parent as well as a child. Guy Parker-Rees’ multihued cartoon illustrations instantly incarcerate an infant’s interest; our daughter is just four months old and already her eyes visibly widen at the sight of his vibrant jungle palette. Just as importantly though, Paul Bright’s metrical verses visibly appeal to and excite even those not yet old enough to follow their meaning. And for us parents, the protagonists themselves are a pair with whom we can sympathise: poor old sleep-deprived Ma and Pa Lion, who’ve just got their little cub off to sleep, only for every conceivable clamour and commotion to suddenly rear their raucous heads.

Colourful, charming and painfully redolent, Quiet! is a must for any discerning youngster’s (or parent’s...) bookshelf.