Posted in blog tours, general and welcome

Lollies Blog tour – meet Andy Stanton!

Could you drink the sea like Danny McGee does? Find out more, and read an exclusive interview with author Andy Stanton, in today’s post, as part of the 2017 Lollies Blog Tour!

Danny McGee and his sister Frannie go for a daytrip to the seaside, where Danny confidently declares that he can drink the entire body of water. Watched on by his curious (and understandably dubious) sister, Danny proceeds to suck up all the salty water through the world’s longest straw, before going on a rampage to consume everything else in the entire world (including Andy Stanton, who is in the process of writing the book). He thinks he’s got everyone, until he stumbles across Frannie. Will Danny burst? How bad is his indigestion? How will he get rid of all that water if there are no more toilets left?

When I read the book aloud to the children in the school library, they fell about laughing. They all expected Danny to explode or run off for a wee and kept watching in disbelief when he didn’t. They tried to anticipate the rhymes and giggled at the absurdity of the situation, made even more hilarious by Neal Layton’s brilliant, anarchic illustrations. Danny McGee was certainly a winner in our eyes.

Therefore, you can imagine how delighted I was to be offered the opportunity to interview Andy Stanton as part of the Lollies blog tour. Huge thanks to Andy for taking part, and thanks to you for reading. Enjoy!

***

How did you come up with the idea for Danny McGee Drinks the Sea?

For some reason, I’ve always thought that ‘McGee’ is a funny surname. Others seem to agree because it feels like it gets used a lot in comedic writing. So the name ‘Danny McGee’ popped into my head and I just loved the rhythm of it and started playing around with rhymes that could tell a story.

Is it difficult to write a book in rhyme? What are the challenges?

I love writing in rhyme, it comes very naturally to me. All of my Mr Gum books have at least one rhyming song in there and I often put little rhyming phrases into the narrative too. For me, writing a whole book in rhyme isn’t too difficult – what’s difficult is finding the right idea, something that’s worth telling. Having said that, ‘Danny McGee’ held some particular challenges because I use a very strict rhythmic structure (one that’s quite like some of the Dr Seuss books) and that means that you have to find very succinct ways to tell the story. Not only that, but I gave myself the additional difficulty of only using one rhyme sound – ‘ee’. So it’s McGee, sea, tree, pea, three, tea, glee, etc. I couldn’t even use words like ‘gravy’ because the rhythmic structure means they wouldn’t scan. So yes, that was the challenge. But often, when you find the ‘game’ in writing something, then the challenge becomes fun. For ‘Danny McGee’, the difficulty of what I’d set out to do became a game, and that’s sort of hinted at by the fact that I made up a nonsense word to give myself an extra rhyme, when Danny swallows a ‘swee’. It’s often when you’ve set yourself tight rules that you come up with the best stuff and the funniest ways of getting around those rules.

How is writing picture book different to writing a novel? Did you find one easier than the other?

Picture books are easier to write because they have a simpler through-line and, hey, they’re a lot shorter. But any type of writing is demanding. With picture books you have to come up with the killer idea and then you have to tell it well, and there’s just no space for something to be not quite right – every word has to work very hard, every word has to count. And you pretty much have to have a killer ending too. With ‘Danny’ I wrote about a third of the story in an hour or so and then I got stuck and thought, no, it’s impossible to write a book using one rhyme. A year later I showed it to someone and she said, ‘you have to finish this book!’ so I sat down and gave it another go. It took me about two hours to get the rest of it done. So I like to say that it took me a year and three hours to write ‘Danny McGee Drinks The Sea’. Anyone who thinks writing a picture book is easy probably hasn’t tried to write a picture book. It’s like solving a really difficult and multi-dimensional crossword. (And then there’s the matching up of the words to the pictures and I like to work collaboratively with the artist to get things exactly right. That’s a whole other subject.)

What has the response to the book been so far? Are children and parents delighted?

From what I’ve heard the response has been really good. One mum told me that her kid likes the book so much that he pretends to drink his bathwater to be like Danny. I’m not sure that’s what I want to encourage but it’s quite flattering.

Is there going to be a follow up or is this a standalone book?

I do have an idea for another ‘Danny’ book. Like the first one, I wrote half of it and got stuck. But it’s been about a year now. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and see if I can finish it…

Have you ever drunk the sea?

I’ve drunk tiny bits of it by accident. It’s not very tasty.

Where is your favourite place by the sea?

This is a great question but I haven’t got a great answer. I spent a year in New Zealand and you really feel the presence of the sea and the coastline there. You’re never too far from some rugged coastline with a dramatically crashing sea; or some impossibly beautiful and underpopulated beach. Then again, somewhere like Cornwall where it’s colder and harsher and exciting because you think of old stories about smuggling… I’d like to live by the sea one day but I’ve no idea where.

Can you drink a lot of anything in one go?

When I was at school, a bunch of us would sometimes have eating and drinking contests after home time. It was pretty gross. I was quite good at drinking an entire can of soft drink in one go. These days I’m trying to cut down on the sugar though.

When I read this book out loud to the children in my library they were convinced Danny would either explode from too much water or need a wee desperately. Did either of these outcomes occur to you when writing the book?

No, I didn’t think of either of those things! One of the things you worry about is that the reader will guess the ending of your story before you get there, so I’m glad the kids thought it would go in a different direction, because hopefully the real ending comes as a surprise.

What was your favourite funny book as a child, and what makes you laugh now?

In terms of pure funny, probably The Twits, although I loved the Just William books too. They’re probably the funniest children’s books ever written. A lot of things make me laugh – funny books, films, TV and music. I love silly songs and I’m always coming up with them. Me and my brother have about fifty stupid songs that we’ve made up together and which we sing all the time instead of talking like normal people. Most of the songs aren’t suitable for children though, so that’s enough of that. And cats. Cats are the funniest animal on the planet and I’m glad they’ve taken over the Internet.

Childtastic would like to thank Andy Stanton for his fab answers and Scholastic for asking us to be part of this blog tour.

Make sure you check out tomorrow’s post by Family Book Worms on http://familybookworms.wales/ and VOTE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE laugh out loud title at: www.scholastic.co.uk/lollies/vote!

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Posted in blog tours, general and welcome

Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad Blog Tour comes to Childtastic!

Here at Childtastic, we are delighted to be part of the ‘Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad’ blog tour to celebrate award-winning author, illustrator and animator Yasmeen Ismail’s new book, by the same name, published on 3 April by Laurence King Publishing.

Blogtour

Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad is a lovely book that not only talks about the different emotions we all feel but also encourages young artists to get creative in helping Dog, Cat and Donkey when their feelings get a little too much. For example, when Dog and Cat are scared, Yasmeen asks you to draw what might be frightening them, while, in another scene, dog is nervous when swimming, while cat is relaxed. What is it that causes their different reactions?

Yasmeen Ismail in her Studio on 28.2.17

Photo of Yasmeen Ismail’s studio and book, by Olivia Hemingway

As usual, Yasmeen’s drawings are fun and full of life, which makes it easy for the reader to want to join in the fun – even me, the worst artist I know! This would make a perfect present for any child, but particularly one who loves exploring through images, or who perhaps needs a little help in expressing their emotions.

Yasmeen Ismail’s Five Favourite Children’s Books

Yasmeen Ismail in her Studio on 28.2.17

Photo of Yasmeen Ismail, by Olivia Hemingway

As part of the tour, Yasmeen has kindly shared with us her five favourite children’s books and why she has chosen them, so read and enjoy!

 

 

5 Melrose and Croc: Together at Christmas by Emma Chichester Clark

This was the first book I bought my new baby nephew (nearly a decade ago), and essentially the first time I had been in the children’s section of a bookstore since I was a child. It was before I became an illustrator and I was so excited to be choosing him a book. It was strange because these books were always there waiting for me, but it was as if there was an unspoken rule that unless you are a kid or buying for kids I could only shop for grown up books. All that changed rapidly, and after decades this was the story that I picked up. Although contemporary it felt immediately classic. The story makes me cry.

4 The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams

I found this book again (after maybe 30 years since last seeing it) just recently. I saw the pictures and I knew that I already knew this book. It was like being reunited with a very old friend. Reading it again I still have the same feelings. It is the most romantic story, tinged with a little sadness.

3 Gaston by Christian Robinson and Kelly Di Pucchio

I bought this book without really looking. I just saw it and I immediately knew that I had to have it. The story is so very charming. It’s extremely well written, and the illustrations are just perfect. The composition from a dog’s point of view. Just everything is so classic and pure. A perfect picture book. Just perfect.

2 Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg 

Another old friend. I saw this and nearly cried. I picked it up and kept repeating “I remember this! I remember!”. I remembered the baby in his nappy made out of big towels, and the naughty burglar, and the box that the baby was kept in, the cat and the rainbow baby-gro. I remembered the lunch that Burglar Bill made, and the fish and chips he stole. My heart was fit to burst. A very evocative book with a great story too.

1 All the Harry Potter books! JK Rowling

Well, this is obviously self-explanatory. For me, everything that JK Rowling writes is just perfect. I am comforted by these books. They are brilliant. Just brilliant.

We’d like to thank Yasmeen for including Childtastic on her blog tour and wish her all the best with the publication of Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad. If you’re looking for a wonderful alternative to chocolate this Easter, this would be the perfect present.

Posted in blog tours

Red House Children’s Book Award blog tour: Jennifer Gray

Holly and I are very honoured that the Federation of Children’s Book Groups asked us to host a post on the Red House Children’s Book Award blog tour, running from 21 October till 5 November 2013.

The award is sponsored by Red House and it’s very special because all the winners are voted for entirely by children. To find out more about how you can vote for your favourites, please see the end of this post.

Childtastic Books was picked to host one of the titles in the Younger Readers category and we were over the moon when we discovered our book would be Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray.

 

Atticus Claw Breaks the Law, by Jennifer Gray
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law, by Jennifer Gray

 

Holly recently read this book and totally loved it and can’t wait to read about his further adventures!

In the meantime, we will hand you over to Ms Gray, who talks about the unique place cats have in children’s literature, and offers a very unique poem written by Atticus.

 

Feline Characters in Literature

I love cats. As well as the real thing I’m a sucker for cat mugs, cat T-towels, cat stickers, cat posters and birthday cards with pictures of cats wearing funny hats. Best of all I love books about cats. Cats get about. They’re independent, clever and gorgeous looking.  They can be stand-offish or affectionate. One minute they’re snuggled up on the sofa, purring, the next they’re out on the tiles with their mates. They’re complicated, which is why they’re fun to write about and have such a great tradition in children’s fiction and verse.

My own cat character, Atticus Claw, has had a very busy year. Arriving in Littleton-on-Sea from Monte Carlo as the world’s greatest cat burglar only twelve short months ago, he has since travelled to London to meet the Queen and from there to the desert sands of Egypt, where he grappled with an ancient Egyptian cat pharaoh.  (All totally plausible if you know cats.) Atticus is, by any standard, a well-travelled feline. Interestingly he shares this characteristic with other literary cat giants. Orlando gets about a bit. Poor Gobbolino – a tabby like Atticus, but with one white sock instead of four – journeys far and endures many hardships before he finally finds a home. Skimbleshanks likes to take charge on the Midnight Mail train and the evil Growltiger patrols the Thames on a barge.

Nor is Atticus the only criminal cat at large. There’s the infamous Macavity, also known as the Hidden Paw, who is conspicuous by his absence at the scene of any crime and, like Atticus in his old cat-burgling days, brilliant at giving the cops the slip. Atticus is also very keen on his creature comforts when he’s not at having adventures (and sometimes when he is), which puts me in mind of the gentle Mog – a lovely family cat who will come to the rescue if pressed but would prefer to have a quiet time of it.

The reason there are so many brilliant poems about cats is partly because ‘cat’ rhymes with lots of other things, like ‘hat’ for instance, as Dr Seuss quickly recognized. Cats also lend themselves to rhyming names like Tabby McTatt and Slinki Malinki (not to mention Atticus Grammaticus Cattypuss Claw). They can even be invisible, such as the soon-to-hit-the-shelves Squishy McFluff. In fact there’s nothing in verse or prose cats can’t do. On the contrary they have a cat-do attitude (groan!). So, inspired by the legacy of literary heavyweights such as Lewis Carroll with The Owl and the Pussycat and, yes, even the great TS Eliot with the cat psychology bible, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, here, in celebration of cats in literature, on mugs, T-shirts, stickers, posters, birthday cards and in general, is a poem about Atticus by … Atticus.

 

Thoughts on My Past and Present

By Atticus Claw

In the style of TS Eliot (or nearly)

 

When I think about cats, it makes me go bats,

(Not really it’s just cos it rhymes)

I actually reckon they’re better than Beckham

At football and, of course, crime.

 

I’m Atticus Claw, and I break the law,

More precisely at any rate, did,

The world’s greatest burglar, I’m nice, not a murderer,

I wanted a home with the kids.

 

I got a rude note from some magpies who wrote

“Steal the loot in the town and we’ll pay”,

Thug, Jimmy and Slasher, I don’t like their chatter,

But sardines are sardines any day.

 

It was then I smelt fish – completely delish,

It was coming from this lady’s basket,

The smell was so pleasant at 2 Blossom Crescent,

I realized I couldn’t outlast it.

 

The kids gave me treats and cuddles and meat,

The problem, it lay with their dad,

He was a policeman, although not a good one,

In fact he was really quite bad.

 

I broke into houses and stole people’s trousers,

Not really – their watches and silver and jewels,

The magpies were glad, but me, I felt sad,

The Inspector, he looked like a fool.

 

I went to the pier, ignored Jimmy’s sneer:

Told the birdies to take back the swag,

But while I was napping the mapgies were flapping,

They framed me and cackled and bragged.

 

Callie and Mick broke me out of the nick,

(That’s Michael and prison in short),

We rushed to the scene where Jimmy – the fiend,

To his army was just holding court.

 

I can’t tell you what happened without getting flattened,

For giving the story away,

Of course I survived – cats have nine lives

For more exciting adventures each day.

 

Atticus Law Breaks the Law has been shortlisted in the younger readers category of the Red House Children’s Book Award 2014. The Red House Children’s Book Award is the only national children’s book award voted for entirely by children. It is owned and co-ordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, and sponsored by Red House.

 

Voting for the Red House Children’s Book Award 2014 is open until 24 January 2014 and your child can pick their favourites by visiting the Award’s special website  http://www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk/vote/index so please do encourage them to get involved! The three categories are Younger Children, Younger Readers and Older Readers.

 

Useful links:
The Federation of Children’s Book Groups: http://www.fcbg.org.uk/
Red House Children’s Book Award http://www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk/
Faber – which publishes Atticus Claw Breaks the Law http://www.faber.co.uk/catalog/author/jennifer-gray

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