Posted in Author talk, fun resources, humour, Links we love, other news and reviews, picture books

Illustrator talk: Sarah McIntyre

This is part two of my author/illustrator review from the Bookfeast Festival, held in Oxford last week. You can read the first – a talk by Ali Sparkes – here.

It was another hot day. Children in years 3 and 4 from primary schools around Oxford had gathered in the non-ventilated, non-air-conditioned lecture hall at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to hear illustrator Sarah McIntyre talk about her career and do a reading from one of her books. Everyone gasped in pleasure and concern when Ms McIntyre strode into the hall wearing a full pirate uniform, with impressive coat, skirt, stripey leggings, boots and a massive pirate hat. ‘Won’t she be hot in that, mummy?’ Holly asked me worriedly. Since I was on the verge of passing out in cool, loose linen, I agreed.


Photo of Sarah McIntyre from her website, taken at the Museum during the Bookfeast.

Not a haaarrrrd act to follow

Ms McIntyre had definite stage presence. She didn’t need a gimmicky pirate parrot on her shoulder to draw in her audience, who were keen to discover who this excitedly dressed lady was. The reason behind her maritime attire was because she was going to read from one of her books – You Can’t Scare a Princess – which she illustrated alongside the text of Gillian Rogerson. As she read through the story, she involved the children in looking at the drawings, asking them questions about what pirates were like, and getting them to shout a very impressive pirate ‘AAAARRRR!’ at key points during the story, which is about a group of pirates who don’t take orders from a princess… or do they?

Illustration piracy

One of the highlights for the children was a guided talk on how to draw a pirate in the style of Ms McIntyre. As the Bookfeast people handed out pencils and paper, children excitedly prepared themselves for their task. It was so quiet as she took us through the various stages of drawing eyes, nose, mouth, beard (with disgusting bits in it), whiskers, hat and anything else we felt like adding.


Pirate ahoy! An example of Sarah McIntyre’s drawing before you see our attempts.


Holly did this one at home as her attempt during the day is at school. But she’s not stopped drawing pirates since!
This was my attempt on the day, in ink, as there weren’t enough pencils. This is the most human thing I have ever drawn (which says a lot about my illustration skills!).

The creative process

Ms McIntyre shared with us how she goes about illustrating a children’s book. It looked incredibly complicated to a lay person – if someone handed me several pieces of A4 types with a few lines per page I wouldn’t know where to start. Mind you, I can’t draw. This  is her process:

1. She reads the manuscipt over and over.

2. Then the doodling starts as well as other ways of drawing.

3. In You Can’t Scare a Princess  she started with pencil drawings, which then were brought to life with watercolours.

4. Adding the little details is great fun!

5. She sends in her artwork on watercolour paper to the publisher.

6. The publisher scans in the documents and then emails them to a massive printing house in China.

7. Once printed, the books are shipped back to the UK.

8. The books are ready for selling!

This was an excellent talk, activity session and guide to how to illustrate picture books and everyone (adults included) came away keen to keep trying to draw pirates. Ms McIntyre should beware… there may be mutiny afoot!

Check out Sarah McIntyre’s web page here:

Posted in humour, picture books

Review: The Queen’s Knickers (well, we had to do something for the Jubilee!)

Title: The Queen’s Knickers

Author: Nicholas Allan

What it’s about: It is a hilariously funny book about what knickers the Queen wears and the illustrations make it very funny. She has a different pair of knickers for different things such as travelling, at home, funerals, Royal Weddings, horses (extra padded), foreign visits (compulsory Union Jack design), Balmoral (woollen), garden parties, everyday. But one day her panties trunk goes missing!

Holly’s review: A hilarious book about the Queen. The moment I saw it I knew I would like it because sometimes you know you’re going to like something. I liked it because the Queen always has a pair of knickers for something. The way it was written made laugh. 

Sam’s review: At first I thought that this book might be a little childish because of the drawing on the front but this was a classic example of never judge a book by its cover. The simplicity of the drawings added to the comedy of the text. I have never seen such a marvellous collection of panties in one place, and the extra details on each page gave the book comic depth. I’ve been studiously avoiding Jubilee-related things (sick of the overkill) but this was a great read and highly recommended for a look at the royal family.

Nicholas Allan’s website:

Posted in humour, parents' and adults' corner, picture books

How rude!

I was commenting on a post by a fellow blogger, agreeing that books that are rude tend to be very popular with children, and suggested a great book that someone else had recommended to me, called The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business, by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch. 


Normally I stay away from books about bodily functions because I hear enough giggly comments about rude things from the children I work with (and the one I live with!) but I thought I would give it a go with two 11-year-old dyslexic boys who I was trying to coax into doing some gentle reading. They soon became immersed into this book and loved the mole, who basically spends the story asking who had pooed on his head. I was delighted, two weeks later, to ask who their favourite fiction character was and be told that it was the Mole.

Anyway, I digress. After finding a link to the book on amazon and posting it with my reply on Playing by the Book’s blog (which I reblogged on this site), I opened my amazon home page to find an array of titles recommended for me on the basis of my recent browsing history. These included:

The Gass We Pass, by Shinta Cho


Everybody Poos, by Taro Gomi

Walter the Farting Dog, by William Kotzwinkle and Glen Murray and Audrey Colman (of which there appears to be a series!)


 And… Constipation, Withholding and Your Child, by Anthony Cohn (perhaps inevitably)


Holly hasn’t read any of these and, in fact, becomes totally disgusted when I talk about the existence of such books. Although she happily uses the word ‘fart’ more often than I care to disclose and sings an embarrassing song I stupidly made up on a boring road trip to make her laugh. So she rather likes puerile toilet humour but doesn’t want to read about it. I wonder if other girls are the same and whether it’s boys who prefer the lav laughs.  

I’m all for books on bodily functions if they make it all seem more hilarious than embarrassing. But I hope these recommendations soon disappear from my amazon homepage before the adverts for Anusol and Windcheaters start making their gaudy way under my recommendations. That would be a real stinker.

Posted in humour

Review: Danny the Champion of the World


Title: Danny the Champion of the World

Author: Roald Dahl

Illustrator: Quentin Blake

Publisher: Puffin

What it’s about: By today’s standards, Danny and his father live in poverty in a gypsy caravan, running a small petrol station, but to Danny it is a wonderful existence. He adores his father, who has raised him since his mother died when he was only four months old. However, just before his ninth birthday, Danny discovers that his dad has a rather naughty secret and that a nasty landowner, Victor Hazell, is plotting to get rid of them. It’s up to Danny to come up with a plan that will restore their peace and happiness.

Holly’s review: This book is more serious than other Roald Dahl stories, which tend to be jolly. But I like it as much as them. Danny and his dad love each other very much. It’s sad that the mum died but good that they have a very close relationship. The story is unusual because normally Roald Dahl’s men are lazy characters – and I would have expected him to be a lazy widower who lives in an apartment or house, not a nice man in a caravan. I like Quentin Blake’s illustrations. It looks like he has sketched them and they have a messy appearance but not so much that you can’t understand what’s going on. For example, trees don’t have to be neat and tidy.

Sam’s review:  I had the same reaction to Holly when I read Danny years and years ago – that it was a relatively seriously book compared to the sometimes manic and bizarre storylines of other novels such as The BFG, Mathilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was unsettling at first but I think as Holly says it’s just a different type of book. There are still moments of comedy – Victor Hazell, as with all of Dahl’s villains – is hilariously described (and drawn by Blake). The relationship between Danny and his dad is very moving and gives a nice example of how parents can actually be close to their children (rather than beastly or inept or stupid!). It’s more of a book that you cuddle up with and enjoy as parent and child than roll around laughing but that is no bad thing nowadays, when it’s becoming rarer for this to happen.

Link to Roald Dahl’s website:

Posted in humour, picture books

Review: Fred

Title: Fred

Author: Posy Simmonds

What it’s about: The much-loved family cat Fred has died and children Sophie and Nick are feeling very sad. They reminisce about how Fred slept all the time and in all places – on beds, cars and dustbins, amongst others. However, one night they awaken to find that Fred wasn’t the cat they thought he was because, by night, he had a totally different life – the feline equivalent of Elvis. Nick and Sophie join in the funeral celebrations with moggy fans who have come far and wide to pay their respects to a very cool cat.

Holly’s review: This was a nice book because it shows how you might feel if any pet dies, not just a cat. It shows that you can think of them in a happy way and feel better rather than feel sad all the time.

Sam’s review: I found this in a charity shop around the time when we lost our first cat, Charlie. We were all feeling bereft as she was very much a real character in our family and was loving and adorable. Some of the bereavement books for children, while lovely, focused more on the sadness of death, whereas the joy in Fred is how Posy Simmonds celebrates life. It made us laugh and took the sting out of death as we imagined what Charlie’s secret life might have been. I recently gave a copy of this to friends who had lost their cat and they also enjoyed the story. The only shame is that now it’s hard to get copies easily. 

Posy Simmonds’ page: 

Posted in humour, non-fiction

Review: How to Look After Your Cat

Title: How to Look After Your Cat

Author: Colin and Jacqui Hawkins

What it’s about: This is a non-fiction book, in cartoon-style, which gives tips for children on how to look after their cat. Topics include feeding, health and hygiene, how to provide a good home for a cat, grooming and handling. This was first published in 1995 and it seems hard to come by new copies.

Holly’s review: This book was very funny. There were tonnes of pictures and words about looking after your cat such as what they like and don’t like – for example, they don’t like being put in a bath. It also says how to groom a cat with long fur and asks questions on what sort of cat you might like and whether you would want it to have kittens. There are little jokes and funny stuff for children. I like how they have written it, explaining in a good way to understand: short, basic and funny. Other non-fiction books can be hard to understand but this isn’t. The drawings are funny too.

Sam’s review: I got hold of this book from old stock the library was selling off and thought it was a must for Holly (and me!). Holly’s right – you can learn a lot from this book on cat care and it’s done in such a funny way that it doesn’t feel like hard learning. The little asides and jokes in the illustrations add to the content and give young readers and their parents a chance to keep finding new facts and information, as well as having a laugh together.  

Colin & Jacqui’s website: