Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween with Tamara Small

Hot on the heels of our SCOOP interview with the Fearsome Beastie back here. I am delighted to welcome the latest biographical subject of Giles Paley-Phillips and Gabriele Antonini to the Little Wooden Horse on this- Officially Spookiest of Days; Tamara Small.

'Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball' is a reassuring read for anyone who defies my predictions and is actually terrified of the vampires, ghosts and ghoulies that will be thronging in our streets this evening. Tamara, our heroine, receives a hairy monstrous visitor who scoops her and her gallant Ted from her bed in the dead of night. Luckily, his intention this time is not to eat her but simply to take her to the Halloween party to end all parties; the Monsters' Ball where everything that normally just goes bump in the night congregates to bump 'n grind this night away.

Tamara's dancing proves such a monster hit that she even receives a special sweet surprise to reward her before she is returned home (more of which to follow...)

Welcome Tamara and your gallant Ted and Happy Halloween! You're a brave pair: After your Monsters' Ball trip does anything scare you now and what tips can you give the rest of us on how to be brave?

Going up stairs at night time; you never know what might be just behind you! I recommend running as fast as you can...

Excellent advice. I may try it on Eddie who is always strangely slow on that final stair trip up to bed.

How are your new Monster Chums? Is it true that Werewolf is being hired for the next series of 'Strictly'? Can you give us a hint as to who his partner might be?

They are okay actually; although one of the vampires woke up too early the other day and got sunburnt. Yes, Wolfie will be on 'Strictly' and will be partnering Mandy Dingle! (shh don't tell anyone else though)

I think we all look forward to seeing Mandy and Wolfie's body popping reinvented rhumba.

Do you hang out with The Fearsome Beastie at all? How do you avoid being eaten?

We have met but with all the attention he's been getting he's a bit arrogant now. I think he's sold out big time!

I'm sorry to hear that. I'd heard rumours he'd been in talks with Mr. Gove about a new role in schools being put on Special Measures...

Any Special Measures yourself for Halloween this year? What will you and Ted be up to?

We'll mostly be consuming mountains of slime cake!

Ah yes. The infamous Slime Cake. I have to say I feel a bit uncertain about the yumminess of that. Do you really rate it?

It's awesome, although it's made from bogies, baby possets and alligator drool it really is one of the most scrummy things around! It's a Mary Berry recipe you know?

Mary Berry! ah well in that case... I can quite see the appeal for my children now I know that bogies are one of the main ingredients. They are Fine Connoisseurs of Interior Nose Contents.

Thank you Tamara and have a slice of this one before you go.
'Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball' written by Giles Payley Phillips, illustrated by Gabriele Antonini and published by Maverick isbn 978-1-84886-100-8

With thanks to the author for providing our copy and allowing interview time with his heroine on a very busy day for her.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Red House Children's Blog Tour!

If you think the Little Wooden Horse hasn't been neighing about much recently that's because we are locked in the Crown Court Waiting Room doin' Jury Service.
I have completed a 700 piece jigsaw and re-read a lot of classic K. M Peyton.
Back to blogging next week.

In the meantime- we are very excited and honoured to be taking part in THIS!!

The Red House Children's Book Award Blog Tour.

Hurray. Roll on Friday for the first stop!

Monday, 15 October 2012


Eddie seems to be re-entering one of his periodic phases where he tries to defeat sleep. After bidding him a tender goodnight at about 7.45 yesterday, we became aware of a dramatic reading taking place of his Superhero Squad books filtering down the stairs as we watched 'Downton Abbey' at 9. By the time the ITN news was over at 10.30 and I was ready for bed myself , the dramatic reading had turned into thunderous footsteps running back and forth along the bedroom floor. Intervention was necessary.
"It's really late Eddie, lights need to be off now."
"No! I just love my Lego so much and I need to carry on playing with it."
"Eddie. It's time to go to sleep"
"I am not sleeping. Don't switch out my light and go away"
The only solution at that point was to scoop him up and lie with him until he went to sleep. He lay beside me whispering breathily;
"It's all dark!" (holding out his arms and splayed fingers) "I am full of darkness!" then (somewhat Star Wars influenced) "I have a bad feeling about this!"

Of course having previously blogged about the arbitrary nature of fears, a fear of the dark at some point in your life may be almost universal. Personally, I find even the tiniest chink of light abhorrent when I am trying to go to sleep but I know it wasn't ever so. Plus I do have company in my bed to help fight off any attackers that come under cover of night and Eddie no longer does. I feel for him; Bill loved to share his room with Eddie whilst he was plagued by such fears and then promptly abandoned him when he'd outgrown them. He was finding the late night dramatic renditions of favourite books a little distracting in his own quest for sleep.

I may need to bring out Jill Tomlinson's classic 'The owl who was afraid of the dark': A soothing hymn to the different  pleasures that can only be found at night. Out of the library at the moment though we have Joyce Dunbar's 'The Monster who ate Darkness' illustrated by Jimmy Liao and it's also a goody.

Jo-Jo can't sleep because of the darkness under his bed and the thought there might be a monster there. As it turns out there IS a monster; a very small and hungry one, who starts eating all the darkness away. He sucks up all the darkness in the house, getting bigger and bigger as he does so, then from around the world and finally all the darkness in the sky.

"Now there was no more darkness.
There was no dawn and no dusk.
There were no shadows and
hardly any dreams.

There was only light.
The stark and staring light."

The problems this causes to both the natural world and to Jo Jo himself are beautifully elucidated. The now enormous and lonely monster returns to comfort Jo Jo and the darkness slowly seeps back to its proper homes.
I love Liao's monster, who manages to convey much of the scary/cozy dilemmas of the dark itself. Generally the book's balance between mystery and humour is nicely weighted in both text and illustration. It is a comforting book. 

The only trouble is I think Eddie identifies more with the monster than with Jo-Jo...

'The Monster who ate Darkness' by Joyce Dunbar, illustrated by Jimmy Liao, pub. Walker
 isbn 978-1-4063-0867-9

Monday, 8 October 2012

Into the Forest

Thanks first of all to Anne-Marie and Helen for confirming to me on the previous post the sheer scope and lack of rules that apply to fear. I must also share this text I received on the subject from my bf because I love it so much...
"I foolishly mentioned to M that Van Gogh, who they are doing in art at school, had cut off his ear (I know, what was I thinking?) and now she is frightened of raisin toast because that is what we were eating while we were having said discussion about the post-impressionists...Similar to Bill's Dr. Who behaviour- she sidles away, makes to exit room or in extremis will say:'please could you hide that toast, it's making me think about the ear.'"

So. Who will provide me with a book where a one eared Lady Artist pops out of a trapdoor with a piece of raisin toast in hand, chucks it blase into a swampy pond full of gaping mouthed carp before being TOLD OFF by a dalek waggling its antenna disapprovingly, which then has a happy ending?

Cos that's what we need apparently.

I'd hazard a guess Anthony Browne could give it a go. Obviously if he did the Lady Artist would actually be a gorilla.

He must be amongst the best author/illustrators for giving form to fear in all its messed up glory; although I think it's hard to say whether his books can provide comfort exactly. I admire his work intensely and my children are often drawn to it but it's not exactly a cosy experience for any of us. These are picture books that provide lightening flashes to illuminate the darkest recesses of one's head and you are entitled to ask the question whether that illumination will always be helpful. If there were monsters you were hoping to keep locked up in your own personal cupboard, a session with an Anthony Browne book may throw open the doors.

I barely know where to begin in reviewing a book like 'Into the Forest'. Layers of fairy tale lore and meaning are layered on top of each other within a contemporary framework which might or might not be about a family break up. If that sounds like a sentence which could be a candidate for Pseud's Corner I apologise but every spread in the book could generate its own mini thesis, and nothing is presented as certain. Anxieties about loss, about isolation, about parental absence are all there as well as what true bravery might mean but they are not neatly packaged into a footnoteable formula. The book resists being filed away as a 'topic friendly' resource for a particular set of circumstances.

For me, this makes the book all the more rich  for opening up discussions with a child (a biggish one). On a happy day you might just enjoy spotting all the different fairy tale references hidden in Browne's shifting and ever-revealing landscapes. On an unhappy day this is exactly the book where you'll stop reading it halfway through and hear the story about how somebody called your child a 'tit' at lunchtime today and he couldn't find anyone else to play with...

 Anthony Browne's books are weird; really weird at times and that's why they work. His imaginings are so particular, so precise they can offer something universal. Because we're all weirder than a simple monster under the bed.

 More's the pity.

'Into The Forest' by Anthony Browne, pub. Walker isbn 1-84428-559-6

Thursday, 4 October 2012

What's scary?

Here is a list of the things that have frightened my children over the years.

Things which have frightened Bill:
age 1. Balloons and the threat of them bursting unexpectedly. Parties became problematic briefly.
age 2. The part of The Wiggles Big Red Car DVD where Captain Feathersword gets a black face from bending over the exhaust pipe and it backfiring unexpectedly.
age 3 onwards The part of The (seminal sequel obviously) Jungle Book 2 where Mowgli is told off by his adoptive father for venturing into the jungle without permission.
The very minor character the 'lady artist' from Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag stories, following her unregulated appearance in a fevered nightmare which is still much talked of.
The forgetting of soldier doll 'Clever Bill' from the suitcase and his weeping on the steps of Emily's house in William Nicholson's lovely book of the same name (which I would review here if not for it's very OOP-ness)
The Bad Baby forgetting to say please in Raymond Briggs' 'The Elephant and the Bad Baby'.
The lack of a necessary 3p in Shirley Hughes' 'Dogger'.
The bit in Toy Story 3 where Buzz is reset to factory settings.
now. All of the above, apart from the balloons and the Wiggles, and in addition Doctor Who which he would like to watch but seems to always end up moving into the kitchen halfway through; 'Are you okay Bill?' 'I just need to do something for a bit in here Mum...Has it finished yet? Are they alright? What's happening?'

Fundamentally he hates transgressions, good people doing something bad and anybody being told off. This makes him quite an easy child to be the parent of but not exactly an alpha male risk taker. I don't think he will ever be a successful candidate on 'The Apprentice'. Luckily his aspirations run more to dominance in 'The Great British Bake Off' anyway.
It does mean that there are some picture books that simply cannot be read in his hearing. He finds them too upsetting. Hence the fact that the other night I was able to read him the final battle against Smaug the dragon from 'The Hobbit' but he exited the room when Eddie chose 'Dogger'. Have to say I'm with Bill, I know which writer puts me more effectively through the emotional wringer.

Things which have frightened Eddie:

age 2. The opening credit sequence of doors opening and shutting from 'Monsters Inc.'
age 4. The lion sticker on his cupboard door which had been there for two years and I never knew he was frightened of until the time Bill moved out of his bedroom and then he stopped being able to go to sleep in case it attacked him now his brother was no longer available for it to eat first....
now. sleep. Not exactly scared of it but he sets out to defeat it every night in a bare knuckle tussle til dawn.

That's about it. He's made of pretty stout stuff.

The point of this is that being scared is a strange thing. The things one finds genuinely terrifying are often so specific as to be uncategorisable. I think I can safely say Bill is the Only Person in the World scared of that lady artist picture. I can remember the terror of lying awake in the early morning listening out for the menacing  rumble and clank of the milk float arriving. I am also not a big fan of ponds full of ornamental Koi carp (mouthing mouths at the surface- shudder). Given that most of us are scared of something it has always provided hugely fertile territory for children's authors and illustrators but, precisely because of the uniqueness of fear, success is not always guaranteed. I can remember helping out in Bill's class in Reception and the teacher asked the class what they were scared of. Lots of answers were proffered cheerfully; 'Vampires!', 'Monsters!', 'Spiders!' 'Witches!' but I'd hazard a guess that no-one actually revealed what they were really scared of, only what they'd been taught they should be. Bill certainly didn't say a Scottish island immigrant who gets given the wrong paint brushes and I didn't say something terrible happening to my children (which is really all that frightens any parent I guess).

So, books that can confront and provide generic comfort to the specific, that can be properly extrapolated from is what we are after. Over the next few posts I'll try to find some that might do just that (just in time for the distinctly non-frightening Halloween). What are your suggestions? What's scary to you?