Meet the Grumblies

Meet the Grumblies
John Kelly and Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger

The three Grumblies are an argumentative lot as their name suggests, and that’s despite having an easy life with food readily available courtesy of the bread bushes and fruit trees, and a constant supply of fizzy juice from the pond.

This primitive trio lead a low-tech existence and like nothing better than to bicker about the relative merits of the stick, the rope and mud.

These articles are put to the test when suddenly a huge and very hungry Gobblestomp breaks into their clearing and proceeds to devour their precious crops and slurp up their bubbly beverage.

Sticks bounce harmlessly off the hairy pachyderm;

the rope fails to slow it down and as for mud, it’s far too shallow to halt its progress.

Time for Grumble-Stick, Grumble-Rope and Grumble-Mud to cease squabbling, pool resources and come up with a plan perhaps; and so, overnight, they do.

The trio’s teamwork proves highly successful stopping Gobblestomp in its tracks

but there’s more than one change afoot in the village for it’s not only the Grumblies who see the error of their ways …

John Kelly’s daft neanderthal tale demonstrates the importance of teamwork and there’s plenty to giggle over in Carmen Saldaña’s animated artwork.

Shhh! I’m Reading

Shhh! I’m Reading!
John Kelly and Elina Ellis
Little Tiger

I cannot imagine how many times I’ve uttered the title words to people in my time. Now though it’s Bella spending a wet Sunday afternoon engrossed in her book who resents being disturbed.

First to show up is Captain Bluebottom the Flatulent wanting her to join him for a Windy Pirates adventure. He receives a firm refusal.

Next comes Maurice Penguin announcing ‘Showtime’ and tempting her with a sparkly outfit. He too and his entourage are told to sit quietly.

Emperor Flabulon’s challenge receives similar treatment

and finally peace reigns allowing Bella to finish her book. Having declared it the best ever, she then invites the intruders to join her and go adventuring.

Their instant response comes as something of a surprise; or does it? …
Game, set and match to Bella! And to the power of stories, books and the imagination.

John Kelly’s funny tale will resonate with all those who like nothing better than uninterrupted reading time. It’s a smashing read aloud that celebrates the delights of losing oneself in a good book.

Elina Ellis captures both the humour of the chaos caused by the intruders and Bella’s responses to same with terrific brio and  reminds us that, with all good picture books, reading isn’t just about the words.

What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo?

What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo?
John Kelly and Steph Laberis
Little Tiger Press
My immediate answer to the title question would be, ‘move out straighaway’. That is precisely what the human characters in this funny story do eventually, but that is getting way ahead of the action.

The whole sorry saga begins one Sunday when the boy narrator’s parents finally agree to their son becoming a pet owner. He’s overjoyed but undecided as to what kind to choose.

Monday morning sees him dashing off an ad. to go in the local paper.

Come Tuesday the responses start arriving, and by Wednesday the lad is inundated.

Dizzying confusion reigns.

On Thursday an animal invasion begins … which very quickly becomes a total take over and that’s despite Dad’s heartfelt “No more animals!” order.

Eventually in desperation the family decamps to the garden: surely that must be a haven of peace and tranquillity? ….

Now it’s Mum’s turn to insist: They’ve all got to go!” That does the trick: women rule OK!

Feeling a little sad at the animals’ hasty departure, the would-be pet owner admits that perhaps none of the applicants was quite the right pet for him. But then he comes across one letter that he’d previously over-looked, albeit a rather whiffy affair. Could this finally be THE one? Its writer certainly does appear to have a winning way with words.

A hilarious tale that will delight those with a penchant for pets especially; but those less keen on sharing their home with a feathered or furry friend will equally be tickled by the pet problems encountered by this particular family, as so amusingly related by John Kelly and visually documented in Steph Laberis’s zany scenes of mischief and mayhem animal style. The animals’ letters in particular, are a real hoot.

Two Dragon Tales

Dragons: Father and Son
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures
Young dragon Drake, a chunky little charmer, lives with his pot-bellied father, a traditionalist, who decrees that the time has come for his son to start behaving like a real dragon; and that means burning down a few houses in the village over the mountain. Poor Drake. He seldom emits a plume of smoke and setting fire to houses is something he does not want to do at all.
Next morning though he does as he’s ordered and finds himself a likely target. Just as he’s stoking himself up to commence his flame throwing, out rushes a little boy who offers a larger alternative, the village school.
Here however, as he’s about to disgorge his destructive breath, the teacher and pupils disarm him completely with their appreciation …

and Drake finds himself heading for a third target. Yet again though, he is diverted.

What is his father going to say when Drake returns home and reports on his activities?
Needless to say, he’s more a than a little displeased; so it’s just as well that young Drake has, in the course of his travels, ‘learned a lot from the humans about being smart.’
Thereafter, we leave both father and son satisfied in the knowledge that there is, after all, more than one way to be a respected dragon.

Lacroix debut picture book text, although longish, is mostly in dialogue and has a droll humour that, with its themes of divergence and tolerance, will give it a wide age range appeal.
Badel’s watercolour and ink illustrations show Drake’s appearance in the village striking fear and consternation among the adult population but only excitement and adulation in the children he encounters. Perusal of the pictures also reveals an intriguing bit part player in the form of Drake’s pet bird which accompanies him on his adventure, appearing in both the large coloured scenes and the line drawn vignettes that punctuate the text.

Sir Scaly Pants: The Dragon Thief
John Kelly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Sir Scaly Pants, the one and only Dragon Knight returns for his second adventure.
It all begins when a fire-breathing dragon kidnaps the King right from his saddle while he and the Queen are enjoying a paddle in the river. The Queen is distraught and of course, Sir Scaly Pants, furious at the behaviour of a fellow dragon, resolves to do his bounden duty and rescue his Highness from the kidnapper’s clutches.
He leaps on his trusty steed, Guinevere, and gallops off eventually discovering the King’s whereabouts in a dark tower.

A tower guarded by the fearsome king-napper demanding gold in return for releasing his captive.
It certainly seems as though Sir Scaly has bitten off more than he can chew when he charges right at the open jaws of his adversary.

However, thanks to Gwinny, not to mention his own fireproof shield, Sir Scaly finally releases the King, removes his helmet and gives the king-napper the surprise of his life. It turns out that he’s not so wicked as Sir Scaly first thought: let a new friendship commence …

Striking, melodramatic illustrations with eloquently humorous expressions on the characters’ faces and in their body language, should ensure that this rhyming tale is set fair to captivate young audiences and win Sir Scaly more fans than just Flame.

Hibernation Hotel / Still Stuck

Hibernation Hotel
John Kelly and Laura Brenlla
Little Tiger Press

This book really made me think of winter, starring as it does, a bear, who despite it being past hibernation time, is still wide awake.
Bear’s sleeplessness is all down to his over-crowded cave but it looks like he’s thought of a solution.
A phone call later, followed by a drive in his jalopy and he’s checking in at a smart hotel in the mountains. The perfect place for some uninterrupted shut-eye, especially as he’s asked the receptionist for a March 1st wake-up call.

How wrong could Bear be? Noisy, partying guests, an over-soft bed, and heavy bedding are far from sleep-inducing, and the TV shows just upset him.
Perhaps an empty tummy is the cause of his insomnia; room service should soon fix things …

And fix things it does, entirely satisfactorily; only not quite in the way Bear anticipated.
Kelly & Brenlla’s enormous ursine character with his fascination for hotel freebies, fixtures and fittings, is a peevish delight.

In that luxurious alien environment he discovers that creature comforts can come in unexpected forms.
Just right for a pre-bedtime giggle with little ones, especially those who need a bit of help dropping off.

More bedtime shenanigans in:

Still Stuck
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s time for a bath and the independent-minded toddler protagonist refuses help with getting undressed. Good on you, little one. But then, almost inevitably thinks the experienced nursery teacher part of me, his shirt gets stuck – well and truly so.
This sets the infant off on a surprisingly upbeat contemplation of the challenges of ‘stuckness’ and their problem-solving solutions – being thirsty for example …

Then there are the possibilities of friendship with other similarly stuck individuals: that could be lots of fun …

Coldness starts to invade his thoughts so the lad has another go at extricating himself, starting with his trousers – a valiant effort but definitely not a success.

Eventually Mum appears, disrobes the boy and lugs him off (wait for giggles at the bum views) to the bathroom.
But then, come the pyjamas – hmmm. What could possibly go wrong?

Yoshitake’s dead-pan text combined with wonderfully observed, cartoon comic, digitally rendered visuals make for a chucklesome pre-bedtime share for adults and infants.

Can I Join Your Club?

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this cleverly inclusive book

Can I Join Your Club?
John Kelly and Steph Laberis
Little Tiger Press
Children are inveterate club creators (often calling them gangs); and club joiners. There’s the book club, the gym club, dance club, drama club, art club and so on: after- school clubs are numerous and in my experience, extremely popular. Adults too are big club joiners. The trouble is, the issue of insiders and outsiders often rears its ugly head causing upsets, resentment and sometimes, worse: discrimination and prejudice for example.
John Kelly’s wonderful story of Duck’s efforts to become a member of a club – any club – be it Lion Club, Snake Club or Club Elephant find him wanting: he receives a resounding ‘Application DENIED!’ in each case.
Down, but definitely not out, Duck knows just what he must do. He sets up his very own club: one where every single applicant is welcome – Good on you Duck. And best of all, he calls it, eventually, OUR CLUB.

Drum roll for Duck. Acceptance and friendship rule.
How beautifully Kelly takes the issues of inclusivity and the vital importance of embracing diversity and weaves them into this funny book. As someone who is in despair about current issues such as BREXIT, the treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, not to mention Trump’s wall, this is truly a timely parable. This could be seen as a wake-up call for one and all.
Steph Laberis’ animal characters are a treat to behold: the specs they sport in this scene are so ridiculously spectacular.

Almost every scene simply crackles with energy; there is deliberately, the odd exception though – not a lot of dynamism here …

I now hand over to the book’s author to talk about the way he works:

Where do I work? And how do I work? With John Kelly author of Can I Join Your Club?

I work from home.
But the truth is that I work in lots of different places.

I work sat bolt upright in front of my desktop computer, but also slouched on the sofa with my laptop. I draw with big pencils on a drawing board perched on my dining room table, yet I scribble tiny doodles with my favourite fountain pen in a Moleskine sketchbook. I write leaning against the kitchen worktop, hunched over a cup of coffee in a cafe, wrapped up warmly on a park bench. I construct plots, characters and rhymes best in a hot bath, in the shower, laid flat out on the floor with my eyes closed, or walking a friend’s tiny Jack Russell (called Luna) round the park.

My writing work falls roughly into two modes of working.
Rhyming books and Non-rhyming books.

Rhyming books tend to start with a general idea: i.e. ‘What if a dragon was raised as a knight in armour?’
I then just begin jotting down random rhyming couplets that make me laugh or, by a bizarre combination of words, spark some other silly idea.
When I’ve got enough of those (about 40-50) I’ll see if it’s possible to roughly cut them into some kind of order. That order will then (fingers crossed) suggest some kind of story. I then start filling in the gaps with more new couplets. This will then suggest even more silly ideas which, in turn, suggests more stupid plot ideas. I then need new couplets, and the process goes on, and on, and on…

After an indeterminate time (anything from three weeks to two years) I end up with a working story outline. So then I go through it doing everything to make the rhymes as amusing as possible. Then I polish it over and over until I’m not clever enough to make it any better and send it to my agent.
She emails me back saying, “That’s great!” or “That’s awful!” In which case I start again.

Non-rhyming books are a bit different.
They still start with a general idea: i.e.‘What would happen if a Bear checked into a 5 star hotel to hibernate?’
But then I’ll just jump straight into writing in my sketchbook, trying to work out what the story is actually about. I often do drawings as I go along – not because I’m intending to illustrate it myself – but because it helps me find the meaning of certain scenes. It’s like having my own pet actors who can act out scenes to see if they work or not. Sometimes the actors are much cleverer than me and they’ll come up with something I would never have thought on my own.
Eventually I have enough to attempt a rough draft. Then it becomes very similar to the previous method of working. The big difference with non-rhyming books is that I act them out in my kitchen, which I’m sure is enormously amusing/irritating to my neighbours.

I do school visits and have learnt that what works on paper doesn’t always translate out loud. So I’m now a big believer in performing each draft of my texts. I don’t think it’s until I’ve read something out loud, in a silly voice, that I get a sense of whether it works – or not. It’s got to the point now where when I’m writing I’m always thinking, ‘How this will sound?’ in front of a hall full of 150 kids.

(I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall when John is acting out some of those drafts of his.)

I’ve signed the charter

A Minibeast Bop & A Crunching Munching Pirate

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Twist and Hop Minibeast Bop
Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Come, come, come with me, to the stump of a fallen tree, there’s something there you really must see: minibeasts both large and small, are gathering to have a ball. Actually it’s a bop but hey, it’s loads of fun and you’re sure to see tiny creatures in all their glory gathering to dance till they drop. There are ants, shiny-shelled beetles, slithery slugs, head-turning ladybirds and dazzling butterflies to wow us all.

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But, as the band strikes up and the dancing starts, someone is notable by their absence: snail is missing all the wiggly rumba, cha-cha-cha and jittery jiving fun. Will he arrive before the final grand boogie? Suddenly from the rim there comes ‘a RUMBLING sound’ … and ‘a rolling rock that SHAKES the ground’; now what could that be?

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WHOPPEE!! It’s that slow-coach at last and he’s about to prove himself …

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Wonderfully exuberant rhythmic, rhyming fun: you really must join the dance-along, shout-along, clap-along romp BOP composed by Tony Mitton, master of rhyme, and depicted by Parker-Rees in wonderfully upbeat style.
Wherever you are home or school, your feet just won’t be able to keep from moving; for sheer exuberance, it’s hard to beat.

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Munch, Crunch, Pirate Lunch!
John Kelly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Pirate leader, Heartless Bart is a pretty fearsome-looking character and when he discovers that one more of his crew has been consumed by the Beastly Pirates, he is determined to take on his dastardly enemies, and has an evil plan up his sleeve to boot. A few days later the ‘good ship’ Beastly Pirate looms into view and this cry is heard “A Jolly Roger! Dead ahead! It’s time for dinner. Beastlies. GET THE OVEN ON!” When the Beastlies have made their capture, it seems they might have bitten off more than they can chew for who should leap aboard their vessel but …

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and he’s making a challenge rightaway: “I’ve come to end the terror of your culinary reign. You’ve had your last pirate repast. You shan’t eat us again.
A fearful battle ensues with charging, biting, whacking and worse but nothing is a match for Bart, not even the unleashing of a cannon ball …

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As Snapper and Bart are about to embark on a frontal attack, there’s a thunder crack and a storm blows up. The two assailants fight tooth and nail and it begins to look as though Bart might just be the victor: then down comes a huge iron hook and up goes a certain metal-clad bully and down comes a thunderbolt – one hundred thousand volts of it.
To discover who is finally victorious, you’ll need to beg, borrow, or preferably buy a copy of this mock-scary story and read it for yourself but here’s a clue …

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Told in appropriately rollicking rhyme, with a bunch of deliciously hideous-looking characters engaging in alarming and awful antics, this is likely to send shivers of delight down the spines of young audiences and have them cheering at the finale.

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