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.

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