I Can Catch A Monster

I Can Catch a Monster
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots

In a castle in a mountainous region in days of yore live Erik, Ivar and their little sister, Bo.

When her brothers announce that they’re off on a monster hunt Bo wants to accompany them. “You’re far too little,” comes the reply but what Bo lacks in stature she makes up for in determination. “I’m smart and brave and strong!” she thinks before sallying forth on a monster quest of her own.

Very soon she has her first ‘monster’ encounter: “… get ready to be got!” she warns the creature, only to learn it’s a griffin and far too polite to be a monster.

Indeed he offers to assist Bo in her quest.

Her next encounter takes her (inadvertently) plunging beneath the ocean waves to face a kraken. She too seems at first, monstrous

but again Bo’s assumption is wrong, for the kraken also assists her.

Next destination is a cave from which issues an enormous roar.

Surely deep within must be the scary monster Bo has been seeking all along. However the roar turns out to be a dragon venting its parental anguish over missing baby, Smoky.

From then on the quest becomes not a monster hunt but a Smoky search, which eventually brings the story full circle, with Bo face to face with two human monsters.

Now she can prove well and truly, who really is in charge.

I love Bo’s rebellious attitude and applaud her open-mindedness and willingness to learn from her mistakes. There’s plenty of potential discussion sparkers in Bethan’s tale but it’s her wonderful illustrations that are the book’s real strength.

Executed in gouache with a more varied colour palette than in her fairy tale reworkings. Bethan’s idiosyncratic art uses teal, duck-egg, orange and pinks to create the mock-medieval scenes for this story. Love those end papers too.

Meet the Planets

Meet the Planets
Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Caryl Hart gives voice to the individual planets as we join a little girl aboard a rocket and zoom off on a space adventure around the solar system.

Our first encounter is with The Sun, ‘the biggest thing up in the sky. /I’m friendly but don’t get too close now / or I’ll frizzle you up to a fry.’ it warns, going on in rhyming speak to inform about its role as daytime warmth provider and light supplier for growing plants before concluding “But be careful, I’m really a /
Great ball of fire – / the HOTTEST and FIERCEST / you’ve seen!”

As the journey progresses little ones will love to join in with the rhymes and  spy all the staring-eyed planets – zippily speeding Mercury, deceptively named Venus that boasts of FIERCE spitting volcanoes, our own friendly Earth with its silvery Moon, mighty windswept Mars with its rust-coloured dust.

Then come giant gaseous ball Jupiter – the planet king; sparkly, shimmering Saturn that can’t resist drawing attention her beauty;

the windy ice ball Uranus; ‘Ice Giant’ blue-looking Neptune

and finally, relatively small Pluto accompanied by Charon.

Youngsters will undoubtedly have a total blast as they whizz through the sky, relishing every planet they meet, and even manage to rendezvous with earth once more, just in time for bed. Bethan’s illustrations are, as ever, totally out-of-this-world strikingly brilliant and such a superb complement for Caryl’s cleverly constructed rhyming text.

Splendid stuff this, for bedtimes and all other times too.

One Fox / The Button Book

Just right for an early years collection are:

One Fox
Kate Read
Two Hoots

One moonlit night down on the farm, with his two sly eyes, one famished fox is on the prowl. Lots of lovely alliteration describes the happenings:

The three plump hens need to keep their ears and beady eyes open.
However that fox is in for a big surprise when he takes six silent steps towards the hencoop and taps seven times upon the outside …

In a dramatic and satisfying climax (although not for the fox), debut author/illustrator Kate Read takes us right up close to the action in her counting story.

With an economy of words she creates a visual comedy that is both exciting and gently educational; but It’s her superb visuals that carry the power – bright, textured art combining paint and collage – that build up expectations of the outcome

and then turn the tale right over on itself.

The Button Book
Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin
Andersen Press

Take a group of inquisitive animals and an assortment of ‘pressable’ buttons of different shapes and colours; add several generous spoonfuls of imagination and stir. The result is this playful interactive picture book for little ones.

Squirrel starts the whole thing off by prodding at the red button with his stick and wondering what will happen. It beeps, and that sets off the button investigation.

To discover which is the clapping button, which one sings songs;

which blows a raspberry;

what joys the yellow button delivers, and the pink and purple ones, you need the fingers of a child or so, and the willingness to indulge in some pretend play.

This is children’s / YA author Sally Nicholls debut picture book and it appears she’s had as much fun creating it as will its intended preschool audience. The latter will take great delight in all the noisy, occasional mischievous activities offered at the mere touch of a button. Adult sharers on the other hand might well be relieved to learn what the white button does.

Seemingly too Bethan Woollvin had fun creating the illustrations; she’s certainly done a cracking job showing the seven characters having a thoroughly good time as investigators and participants in their own comedic performance.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel & Gretel
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots

Most children are familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel wherein the siblings are cast out from their home into the forest where they encounter a wicked witch; but in her latest fairytale reworking, Bethan Woollvin mischievously turns the tale completely on its head.
Here it’s Willow, a very good witch, who follows a trail of breadcrumbs dropped by the brother and sister.

She sees those breadcrumbs as messy and likely to lead vermin to her gingerbread home. Her request that they tidy up is ignored and she’s left to do the job herself, but- ‘Willow did not get angry, because Willow was a good witch.’

On returning home she finds Hansel and Gretel tucking into her house, literally, but despite their appalling behaviour, instead of being angry she invites them into her home for dinner; they must be very hungry she tells herself .

Rather than being grateful for her hospitality, the gluttonous children continue pushing Willow to the limits of her patience until finally, she does get angry.

The totally unexpected and wonderfully dark and humorous finale is spl-utterly delicious.

In her striking signature graphic style and limited colour palette, Bethan Woollvin has again produced a wonderfully witty visual narrative from simple shapes and textures. I love the scattering of birds and tiny animals watching the events from the vegetation that somehow make you pay attention to those stark shapes both large and small. Love the clever endpapers too.

Perhaps not for the most faint-hearted, but I can’t imagine many listeners not devouring this one and asking for more.

Stonkingly brilliant!


Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots
The witch in Bethan Woollvin’s alternative version of Rapunzel has a good little business going: she snips off lengths of the girl’s golden tresses and sells them.

Keeping Rapunzel locked up in the high tower she threatens her with a curse should she dare to attempt an escape.
With Rapunzel however, the evil woman has more than met her match. Far from being fazed by such threats she’s positively emboldened.
If the witch can ascend using her captive’s hair, then the girl can descend by the same means; and so she does.
Once free Rapunzel explores the forest, forms a friendship and hatches a plan.

No it isn’t with a handsome prince: this wily young miss is more than capable of managing her own fate. She’s determined to get the better of the old hag. Thus it’s Rapunzel, not the witch who wields the tonsorial scissors and sacrifices her flowing locks ridding herself of her jailor once and for all.

Then with the aid of her forest friend, she embarks upon her very own witch hunt.
Again Bethan Woollvin uses a limited colour palette – black, grey and yellow on an expansive white background to dramatic effect for her fairy tale rendition. Her assured lines and minimalist shapes are rendered in gouache and she injects subtle humour into every scene: the flies bothering the frog, the abandoned sock on the floor, and more darkly, her subversive heroine continuing to show no fear in the face of her captor’s threats, standing meekly before her with her intended weapon of witch destruction hidden behind her back.
Make sure you check out the endpapers too: the hunted of the front ones becomes the hunter at the back.

I’ve signed the charter  

Little Red

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Little Red
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots
Ever since seeing the publisher’s press notices about this one last year I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival and boy was it worth the wait. That wolf is a wolf to beat all wolves,

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but not Little Red Riding Hood: wait I’m getting ahead of myself here. First off, let’s meet, clad as one would expect, the young miss, as she’s about to set off in the usual way through the woods to visit her poorly Grandma.

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Pretty soon, she’s accosted by this nosy creature demanding to know where she’s going; but is she bothered by the fearsome beast? No way! She replies politely and proceeds on her journey leaving wolfie behind with a plan in his tricky mind …

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Behind initially, but the cunning beast knows a shortcut so he hot foots it to Grandma’s making short work of her before Little Red arrives, donning her night attire and adopting what he hopes is a suitably Grandmotherly pose in her bed. ‘Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.’
There’s no fooling our young heroine though; she immediately sees through his disguise and she too makes a plan. Then, playing along with all the usual “Oh Grandma! What big ears you have” etc. chat,

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and armed with a certain sharp implement she just happens to have picked up along the way, she calmly executes her own plan and off she goes back home to mum.

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I simply love the way the young heroine grabs hold of the story and subverts it to her own ends in Bethan Woollvin’s stonkingly brilliant debut picture book. The comic timing is spot on in this black comedy recreation of the nursery favourite making it one that will appeal to anyone familiar with the traditional story. Those arresting visuals will remain in the mind long, long after the book has been closed. Bethan’s narrative voice is pitch perfect and her title choice perfectly summarises her judicious use of colour in this otherwise black and white delight. Little Red will, I suspect, be much read.

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