Posted in humour, picture books, poetry

Review: The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race

Today’s review is of The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon, to be published in September 2013. Plus, as an added bonus, you get Holly’s thoughts on nonsense poetry as a genre (I wish she’d written my MA essay!) and a new nonsense poem written by her!

 

Image courtesy of http://images.angusrobertson.com.au

 

What it’s about (from the publishers): The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race is a psychedelic children’s story best described as, ‘Doctor Doolittle meets Sergeant Pepper’. Beautifully illustrated, it’s zany story follows a race as feverishly competitive as any held before. All manner of dastardly plans and cheats are concocted by the beasts including custard trampolines and banana diggers (the swines!). The Unicorn alone respects the rules. Admirable, yes, but in this weasel-cheats-puffin world what chance of victory does that give him?

Holly’s review: This book is about these animals who gather to do a race. People come to watch it to see who is the fastest. This book is written in rhyme and has just been published and was sent to us by the publishers Digital Leaf to read and review, so I say a warm thank you to them for sending us this book. I like this book because it is written in rhyme and the rhyme is nonsense and I love nonsense poetry because it makes me laugh. The drawings are very interesting – I can’t explain why, they just are, and they are all drawn with the same colours – purple and pink. I think this book has to be one of my favourite picture books and I definitely recommend that you read it.

Holly on nonsense poetry: It is just great the way that nonsense is written because for some reason even though it is nonsense you can still understand it.

There are different types of nonsense. Sometimes there is playing with words or sometimes it is actual real worlds put into nonsense poetry, like this poem I like:

I went to the pictures tomorrow

I took a front seat at the back,

I fell from the pit to the gallery

And broke a front bone in my back.

A lady she gave me some chocolate,

I ate it and gave it her back.

I phoned for a taxi and walked it,

And that’s why I never came back.

Playground Rhyme, published in The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse, ed. Quentin Blake.

 

Do you see what they are doing? They are doing opposites so turning the meaning of the words around.

This is a poem I wrote for a local nonsense poetry competition. It is for Alice’s Day, which you can read about here: http://www.oxfordshirereading.co.uk/nonsense-poetry-competition We had to include the words Alice, Dodo and Sausage.

 

Alice the troll

She ate sausage rolls

And pickled kidneys of Dodo.

Her desert as we all know

Is Fried Hodo.

Alice the troll

She lives in a hole

By a river of liver.

It sparkles and glows

Deep low in the ground

With no space around, all around.

The dance and they sing

And drink liver ding ding

By the river of Liver.

 

Sam’s review: Holly adores nonsense poetry – always has done. The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse she quoted from was one of the first books that she saved her money up to buy and it’s so worn (pre-loved I believe is the mot du jour) that the pages have deep crevices and creases in them from so much thumbing. I loved her summary of nonsense verse and in fact wished I had her write my last MA essay on nonsense verse – I think she would have done much better on it than I did! She picked up on a vital aspect of nonsense poetry that I don’t think I had ever really talked to her about, which was that the best nonsense does make some sort of sense. It’s never completely insane.

The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race was a delight to read. I felt that it was a kind of hybrid between Edward Lear and Spike Milligan in its plot – the ludicrous situation of the animals and the bizarre antics they get up to are great modern equivalents to these nonsense giants. The illustrations are marvelous too and really draw you into the story effortlessly. This is a book I know we will return to time and time again, and the fact that it sparked Holly to write more generally and critically about nonsense poetry with no coaxing from me (she wrote her review entirely on her own) shows what an effect this book had on her. We hope to see more of the same from the author and illustrator!

What is your favourite nonsense poem?

 

Please note that we were sent a copy of this book by the publishers but were under no obligation or reward to review it, and all thoughts are our own.

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Posted in difficult subjects, humour, Young Adult

Review: Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine

Today’s review is of the book Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine, and the film it inspired: Mrs Doubtfire.

courtesy of annefine.co.uk

What it’s about (taken from the author’s website): Lydia, Christopher and Natalie Hilliard are used to domestic turmoil and have been torn between their warring parents ever since the divorce. That all changes when their mother takes on a most unusual cleaning lady. But there’s more to Madame Doubtfire than domestic talents.

Holly’s review: This book is about three children whose parents are divorced. When the mum decides to get a house minder to look after the children and won’t let Daniel the dad look after them, well that’s when Madame Doubtfire comes along. I liked this book because it is funny but also it has some inappropriate language which I think would make me say that children below the age of eight shouldn’t read this book. I think it is more for an older child – for example, there are a lot of fights in the book between the parents or the parents say nasty things or act nastily towards each other. In conclusion I think this is a good book even if there is bad language in it because it is funny and exciting because of what happens when Madame Doubtfire goes to work as a child minder. But don’t let me say too much or I will spoil the surprise.

When I watched the film of Madame Doubtfire (aka Mrs Doubtfire) I think I liked it slightly better because they changed it and I liked how they changed it. I don’t usually prefer the film to a book but I did with this one.

Sam’s review: I must admit that I first came to this story from the film and as an adult, having not known about the book. Therefore, when I saw it in the library, I got it out for Holly, remembering how the film, despite its sad subject matter, made me laugh. I was quite surprised and rather shocked by the very different tone in the novel. Anne Fine does warn on her website that it is a book for older readers and I can see why – as Holly said in her review, there is a lot of fighting between the parents and the language is rather ripe in some of the passages, though certainly nothing offensive and I am sure many younger children nowadays – 16 years after its initial publication – will have heard all the words before. But what really made me feel uneasy reading this with Holly (aged 10) was the vitriol between the mum and dad. This of course is entirely realistic in the situation and I am not condemning Anne Fine for it at all, especially in light of this perhaps being more suitable for children older than Holly. I would argue that ten would be the absolute minimum age for children to read this at, not eight, as I think the subject matter is not so easily understood by younger children who might just find it all distressing – I must admit to squirming when reading certain passages.

Anne Fine has done a marvellous job capturing the emotional turmoil of a family caught up in the intensity of divorce. The humour provides a relief from discomfort but even that at times doesn’t come across as easily as in the film, which has its visual nature on its side. The film felt less bitter, no doubt so that younger children could enjoy the content and I think this is where the two diverge: the book is for teenagers/young adults whereas the film is aimed at younger children and up. The book seeks to explore the raw emotions of divorce and the lengths a parent will go to in order to see their children. The film does this too but it relies more heavily perhaps on humour to lighten the mood (whereas I think Anne Fine wanted to explore the emotional depths more). Like Holly, I preferred the film, which tended to play on sadness rather than bitterness in its more emotional moments, but perhaps that is because I find the subject matter difficult to deal with anyway and the film provides more of a comfort blanket.

Madame Doubtfire is a good book but needs to be approached as a young adult book, as Anne Fine originally intended.

 

Have you read Madame Doubtfire or seen the film? What did you think about either or both?

Posted in humour

Review: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

With only 19 days left till Christmas, we thought we’d start intermingling reviews for ‘normal’ books with some Christmas titles. The first is a review of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr Seuss. Warning: the review does contain a spoiler.

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Image courtesy of http://www.amazon.co.uk

What it’s about: The Whos make a welcome appearance in this even more fantastical version of Dickens’ Scrooge character. The Grinch hates Christmas so much that he is determined to ruin it for his excited neighbours with the help of his long-suffering dog Max and a Santa outfit. However, while his evil scheme does go to plan, the results are unexpected and the consequences make him doubt his long-held  beliefs about Christmas and all its celebrations.

Holly’s review: The Grinch is great! He is funny and evil and kind. He realises that there is more to Christmas than presents – it’s about enjoying yourself no matter what happens, which is what some people think. If you don’t have presents it might not be so good but it’s still Christmas and you should still enjoy it. I like Dr Seuss’ rhymes because they are funny, like how he rhymes ‘nimbly’ and ‘chimbly’.

The illustrations are black, white and red with some green and maybe he chose them because they are Christmas colours? The drawings are bouncy and interesting and Dr Seuss’s stories are like fables but he tries to prove his point in a fun way, not a serious one.  Dr Seuss is one of my favourite authors because he is funny. Most people like him I think because he is such an inspirational writer.

Sam’s review: I am always amazed how timeless books like these are. The first edition of this story was printed in 1957 and here we are, more than 50 years later, and children still love the rhymes and the characters. Dr Seuss’ world is so extraordinary that it doesn’t seem to date. You just suspend disbelief and jump right in there. Holly liked revisiting this book so much that she read it aloud to us two nights running, getting into the characters and playing with the rhymes. I felt it was quite observant of Holly to notice that this was like a fable, albeit a comical and surreal one, as the moral message is there, but in a nice, not lecturing way. Holly’s favourite rhyme – ‘nimbly’ and ‘chimbly’ is very reminiscent of Ogden Nash’s practice of playing with words to fit his rhyme scheme and Seuss does it to great effect in all his stories of course. This is a great book for children at Christmas, and perhaps slightly more accessible for younger readers or listeners than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, though we will be looking at an abridged version of that shortly.

 

What’s your favourite Dr Seuss book?

What Christmas books can you recommend to us to read?

Posted in general and welcome, humour

Review: You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!

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Image courtesy of egmont.co.uk

Title: You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!

Author: Andy Stanton

Illustrator: David Tazzyman

What it’s about: This first book of the popular Mr Gum series introduces us to the miserable and evil man Mr Gum, who’s always, with his disgusting butcher friend, trying to destroy the town of Lamonic Bibber through wicked and, frankly quite bizarre, methods. Unfortunately for him, brave young heroine, Polly, and her assortment of allies, are always there to fight against him. In this book, Mr Gum is out to get the popular village dog Jake… but will he succeed? As Friday O’Leary, Polly’s sidekick shouts, ‘The truth is a lemon meringue!’

Holly’s review: When I was younger, I never wanted to read the Mr Gum books because I thought they would be just rubbish. All the boys liked reading them so I thought I definitely wouldn’t like them if they did. But then a girl in my class told me to read them. Since then I have really liked them. This book of Mr Gum is the first book of the series and I liked it because it’s funny because there’s this evil guy Mr Gum who keeps his garden really tidy. Do you want to know why? If yes, then read this book because I am not telling you.

Sam’s review: Ah, Holly has decided to be cryptic and teasing in her review, so I guess I had better not let the cat out of the bag and say anything that alludes to what happens. I’d probably not be very popular with you anyway if I included a spoiler. But I will say that we’re racing through the Mr Gum books here and are all enjoying them. They are definitely literature to be read aloud, so everyone can have a laugh and it’s fun to have an attempt at all the characters’ accents, even if I embarrass Holly and she has to roll her eyes in frustration at my sometimes American, sometimes Devonian rendition of Polly. And my Friday O’Leary … well, I aim for Irish but Liverpudlian gets in there too. We’ve read the Mr Gum books out of order but that hasn’t made much of a difference to our enjoyment or understanding. I think the books are hilarious and am glad Holly has overcome her refusal to read them on the basis that they’re ‘boys’ books’.

 

Posted in general and welcome, humour, popular authors

The wonderful world of Richard Scarry

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a little while now as it deals with one of my favourite children’s authors: Richard Scarry.

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Image courtesy of amazon.com

Holly likes him too but perhaps with not the same zeal. Or maybe I felt the same as her when I was young but have a new-found sense of fondness now I am older and returning to books that appeal to my love of the comic and surreal.

Because this is what makes Richard Scarry’s books so good. That and the amazing cast of anthropomorphised animals who regularly appear in his books, such as:

Huckle, the cat…

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Image courtesy of http://www.ismoyo.com

Lowly, the worm…

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Image courtesy of blog.schoollibraryjournal.com

and a whole raft of other funny characters who frequently drive fruit- or vegetable-shaped cars…

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Image courtesy of http://www.thingamababy.com

Many of these animals live in a place called Busytown, where life is manic and crazy disasters befall most of the characters at one point or other. Take, for example, Mr Raccoon, who gets up one morning and announces, with cheery optimism: ‘It looks like a good day.’ However, it soon transpires that it will be anything but:

The Unlucky Day, part of The Funniest Storybook Ever, by Richard Scarry (a wonderful understatement in light of what’s to come)

Bad luck hits poor Mr Raccoon from the moment he utters these ill-fated words, from a broken tap, burnt toast and the door coming off to embarrassingly ripped trousers as he tries to fix a flat tyre, an an errant hat going walkabout in the wind. The dreadful day ends with him and his wife eating cold pickles in the middle of a flooded house, as Mr Raccoon is unable to buy groceries because Warty Warthog tricks him into buying him lunch and eats everything on the menu. (Holly particularly liked this story because of the ripped trousers…)

Busy, busy, busy…

Richard Scarry’s books are often criticised for being too ‘busy’, ironic when you think that he named one of his fictional towns ‘Busytown’. I can see why the accusation has been levelled at him: there is always an incredible amount of detail on every page, as well as narrative. Normally both Holly and I don’t like comics for this reason but in Scarry I don’t really mind it. Perhaps because the paper behind is clean and white, rather than boxing the action into separate frames. We find the stories easy to read, and the intricate detail means there is always something to point at and see for the first time. The expressions on the animals’ faces are particularly entertaining – they always look rather surprised at the world or jolly or optimistic. Unless someone is driving a pickle-shaped car at them. Or stealing loads of bananas and trying to smuggle them through a cafe selling banana soup.

Another less than favourable comment against Scarry is that he was primarily an illustrator and not a writer and that his books are best read by looking at the pictures and ignoring the narrative. I disagree with this.

Poor Mr Raccoon…

Image taken from The Funniest Storybook Ever

The narrative above seems pretty matter-of-fact but this style makes the pictures more hilarious. For example, the way he nonchalantly reports Mr Fixit’s cheerful parting comment “I’ll come back tomorrow to fix the leaks” as Mr and Mrs Raccoon stare hopelessly on, half-immersed in water. What more does the story need than that? Occasionally, Scarry talks to the characters, begging them to be careful or trying to cheer them up with a positive thought or two. This usually makes Holly and I laugh as the animals stare open-mouthed at the irony of it.

Passing down the love

What has been lovely is sharing my love of Scarry’s books with Holly. I saved a couple of my books from my childhood and we’ve read those through time and time again.

Richard Scarry’s Animal Nursery Tales

The Animal Nursery Tales are a humorous retelling of classic stories we’ve all grown up with but with animals taking the lead in many cases where humans might have before. Little Red Riding Hood becomes a cat, as does Goldlilocks (but the three bears stay the same…). One of my favourites from the collection is: The Teeny Tiny Woman, who appropriately takes on the form of a mouse in Scarry’s retelling. It is a marvellously funny tale of a mysterious voice in a cupboard calling out to the Teeny Tiny Woman in an increasingly loud voice for a bone. When I was young, I demanded that my mother read it to me night after night. When I first read it to Holly, she became so enamoured of it that she demanded similar repetition… and I could see why my mother’s face would fall in dread at the request, as mine would! Repetition is appealing and entrancing to a child: to an adult it easily becomes tedious. Perhaps it’s because a child likes the familiar and finds comfort in it, whereas adults prefer the unknown.

Another of Scarry’s books that I saved was Tinker and Tanker: Tales of Pirates and Knights. I proudly scrawled my name in it when I was around five or six, and Holly added hers to mine:

Holly has added her signature to mine, thirty years apart.

The book was printed with black and white illustrations, as well as colour. I decided, as a young artist, that they needed some colour:

You can probably see from this why I never made it as an illustrator or painter…

I see that Richard Scarry is still selling strong, and am delighted by this. I think that his particular brand of storytelling and drawing are timeless, despite adults’ attempts to rewrite some of the stories since Scarry’s death in 1994 to make them more PC. Hopefully Holly’s review will help show that children still delight in his wacky tales and that there is no need to rework his stories to meet a modern adult ideal of what should be in children’s literature.

Holly’s review: The Funniest Storybook Ever is a funny, entertaining book full of fun. I liked this book because it was funny and amusing the way the author wrote the book and also the pictures. I recommend this book to all ages, especially children between four and 12. Enjoy this fascinating book and thank you for reading!

PS: Sam’s review: When I was little, I had to write a review of a Richard Scarry book: unfortunately I can’t remember which one. I remember though writing that even though the author was called Scarry, his books weren’t scary!

 

Have you read any Richard Scarry? Which are your favourite stories?

Posted in humour, popular authors

Review: Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout

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Image courtesy of firstnews.co.uk

Title: Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout

Author: Andy Stanton

Illustrator: David Tazzyman

 

What it’s about: (by Holly) It’s about a man and his name is Mr Gum and he has an evil assistant called Billy William The Third. They came across a secret hideout and they had an evil plot: to try to destroy the town of Lamonic Bibber. There are these two heroes: Polly and Friday (he really loves yoghurt) and they set up an office called The Department of Clouds and Yoghurts in the middle of the high street so they could find out why clouds are falling out of the sky.

Holly’s review: I really like this book because it is a hilarious book full of silliness. At first I thought I was not going to like it but then as I started reading more I discovered that I really like it and that is why me and mum thought it would be an excellent book to put on the website. It looks rude when you first start reading it but soon you will discover that the rudeness turns into funniness. So don’t judge the book at the beginning like I did otherwise you won’t see how good it is so why don’t you go to a book shop now !!

Sam’s review: Reading this with Holly was a pure pleasure. We bought it on Saturday and had finished it on Sunday. It was a book that Holly read to us aloud entirely – she said it was not a book that you could read in your head – it has to be read out loud. I agree – the humour is so delicious that it must be shared. I am incredibly envious of Mr Stanton’s talent and jealous of his insane creation. If there is a better fictionalised town name than Lamonic Bibber, I challenge you to let me know!

I had heard about Mr Gum before but had always assumed he was more a ‘boys’ author’. Silly I know as I don’t really like gender distinction in books. Anyway, I was talking with a good friend about books that reluctant readers might enjoy and she recommended the Mr Gum series. I picked up a copy in a charity shop and was laughing in under a minute of starting on the first page. The sheer surreal humour in the books reminds me of Spike Milligan. I took the book in to show a child I work with at school who hasn’t yet found a book that he likes. I invited him to start reading this to me and within that magic minute, the corners of his mouth started turning up, despite his best efforts, and then he forgot to protest at all, racing through the book and laughing at Polly’s rather poor grammar. The series is also good for those who struggle a little with their reading because not only is it engaging and hilarious but also the layout means that it looks like you’re reading a meaty tome when in fact only half of each page is devoted to text. With some of the children I read with at school, who struggle with reading and are aged 10 and 11, they feel embarrassed at reading ‘thin’ books as their friends tease them for being babyish. These books are cool, they look substantial and they give you a good laugh too. What else could you ask for?

Because this is a book to be shared, Holly has recorded a small snippet for your entertainment here. Enjoy!

 

Posted in humour, picture books

Review: Splish, Splash, Splat

Title: Splish, Splash, Splat

Author: Rob Scotton

What it’s about: (by Holly) This book is about Splat the Cat going swimming and finding out that even the bully Spike isn’t always brave. It’s an excellent book about cats swimming.

Holly’s review: I like this book because it’s funny and amusing. It’s a lot of splashing fun. I love it. It describes stuff brilliantly. The pictures are hilarious. Me and my mum couldn’t stop roaring with laughter with all the pictures with cats in swimming trunks. I would give it top marks and I recommend it to anyone.

Sam’s review: Holly and I picked this up at our little, local library while returning some longer books. We’ve started returning to picture books again at the moment as we rediscover the joys they bring, somewhat forgotten amongst chapter stories. Holly is right – Scotton’s style of illustration is very apt for the story he tells. Splat really comes off the page in a nearly 3D way. The detail to the individual hairs spiking delicately off Splat’s body is amazing. The story has a gentle moral to it – about how even the toughest-looking person has fears and often friendship can be found through shared worries. It was a great read. I mean: who wouldn’t laugh seeing a bunch of cats in swimming trunks?

 

You can hear Molly Ringwald read this title on the Barnes & Noble website: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/storytime/index.asp – scroll along to get to the story. (She really doesn’t sound like the girl I watched in Sixteen Candles!)

Rob Scotton’s website: http://www.robscotton.com/