I was feeling mildly guilty about my slight preferences for nostalgia in reviewing but then found and completely fell for an almost new book in the children's bookshop this weekend. I bought it, brought it home to Bill, who read it in one sitting and satisfactorily made very similar snorty pig laughs all through that I myself had done in the shop.
'Ronny Rock starring in Monster Cake Meltdown' is by Merryn Threadgould and illustrated by Bruce Ingman. The Bruce Ingman factor was what made me initially pick it up; I was already a fan of his witty line and paint pictures in Allan Ahlberg's 'The Runaway Dinner'. Then the front cover reads; 'if you like cakes and bunging buns about and stinky stuff then this is the book for you!!'. Well yes. As previously discussed, we certainly like cakes and buns in this family and although personally I am less of a fan of the stinky stuff I know the rest of the household would disagree. Sold.
This is a format of book I'm not sure I've seen before: Picture book in size and indeed chocka full of great pictures, the story is divided into modest 'chapters' and has a reasonably meaty amount of text. It's a great crossover for newly confident readers. Even for established readers (and their, ahem, possibly text pushy mothers) it's nice to be reminded that pictures still rock and to feel that a publisher is prepared to invest in something a little more luxurious than the normal small, thin paperback with the pages already yellowing.
The story is of Ronny Rock; ' a very lucky boy'. He lives with his dad above his dad's baker's shop and he is allowed to choose a different cake every day for his lunch and for his tea because 'Mr Rock thought cake was good for growing boys.' This fact is accompanied by an inspiring diagram of some of the different sorts of cake baked by Mr Rock and the calculations needed to demonstrate that that equals 728 cakes a year. (Bill marked this fact with a small intake of breath; '728 cakes mum! 728.'). Ronny helps his dad with his special orders for birthday cakes; lovingly described by both writer and illustrator and familiar to any parent who has been faced with an overly complex cake request: I liked 'Sophie Barm wants a cake of some mice playing hopscotch on a cat'. (see also this weekend's Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/14/elaborate-birthday-cakes?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038 )
One Friday, single parent Mr Rock goes to the cinema leaving Ronny in the care of cool but lovably gormless teenager Kieran and during their game of bun ping pong a missing cake request letter is discovered. Disaster. Kieran and Ronny must work to fufill the order on their own before it is due to be collected the next morning. The monster cake they construct is based on hated teacher Mr Bunt 'who had left teaching to become a slug farmer' and has a few monstrous twists for authenticity all Ronny's own. The next morning in the cake shop Ronny starts to worry about some of those twists but-too late- the cake is already being shown to the birthday boy and... well... it shouldn't be spoiled, but it's a cracking climax that involves fainting girls in pink princess dresses and a riot in the bakery. Crowd pleasing stuff for 7 year old boys and their mothers.
Bruce Ingman's pictures ping between and around the text; it's graphically really exciting to look at. Some are reasonably conventional full colour spreads opposite a page of text but the story is also told in diagrammatic form, comic strip form and laid out like a cookbook at points. Less confident readers will find much to draw them in. I hope it does well because I'd like more please.
Thankfully my own children (perhaps recognising their mother's limitations) have always been reasonably reasonable with their own cake requests. 'I'd like a round chocolate one with smarties on please'. Good boys. I hope this doesn't go giving them ideas....
'Ronny Rock starring in monster Cake Meltdown' written Merryn Threadgould, illus. Bruce Ingman pub. Walker isbn 978-1-4063-3597-7