Thursday, 28 March 2013

Monster and Chips

So today the great baking and book jamboree that was Playing By the Book's Edible Book Festival draws to a close. If you haven't been to gawp at the entries do stop by; there's some crackers. At the time of writing the winners remain unannounced, however it seems unlikely that our scruffy butter iced renderings of severed heads and putrifying flesh will emerge triumphant.

Yes, we EXCLUSIVELY reveal ourselves today as the creators of Hilaire Belloc and Mini Grey's dismembered Jim and lion in cake form. This will not come as any surprise to regular readers who know that it is a bit of a fave for performance in the house.
We particularly enjoyed rendering spinal cord out of strawberry bootlace. I am immodestly proud of the guilty expression of the lion as he hoovers it up. Bill enjoyed eating decapitated Jim with worrying relish.

Our second entry related to a much newer book; 'Monster and Chips' by David O'Connell. Bill is drawing like a fury these days. What he draws is almost exclusively crazy featured people who are either in the middle of or about to commit acts of violence on other crazy featured people. I am very partial to them. He's not quite ready to draw his own comics yet (he tends to wander off after the first panel) but it's probably only a matter of time.
To encourage this enthusiasm (and to allow Eddie and me to enjoy the gentler pleasures of bunny brothers- more of which next post) I signed him up for David O'Connell's comic workshop at the Imagine Festival in half term. We also picked up a copy of the book there and Bill read it on the tube all the way home, letting out gratifying throaty chortles at regular intervals.

It's a simple tale of the pleasures and dangers of embarking on a career in monster catering. Joe; an ordinary boy, finds a portal through to Fuzzby's Diner in a parallel monster universe. The genial Fuzzby, who is very large and very green and furry, takes on Joe as washer upper and sous chef where he learns to create dishes such as 'Mixed arthropod grill in phlegm coulis' or (my favourite) 'Battered Unmentionables'. Most importantly, however disgusting sounding the dish, all are served with their famous (and conventional) chips. Joe must learn to cook without being eaten himself and help unmask dastardly goings on at the Monsterchef contest.

It's enjoyable stuff, but what makes it most enjoyable are the illustrations throughout. I'd say it would be an excellent choice for the seasoned comic lover who needs confidence building to also enjoy books. I really liked the little footnote bottom panels where the cute potato-shaped Guzzelins give their perspective on the action.

So Edible books then. We could have tackled 'Fungal Infection Fritters and chips' or similar of course but on balance we went for the zombie cup cakes. Joe inadvertently creates these in the story and then is forced on the run only escaping through clever use of a vat of frog custard.

"The zombie-cakes had jumped down from the counter and were slowly advancing towards them, chanting BRAAIINNSS! all the time"

We tackled ours more easily with our mouths. They were pretty good- but their super-sour jawbreaker eyeballs definitely fought back.

'Monster and Chips' by David O'Connell pub. Harper Collins isbn 978-0-00-749713-3

Where Bill's head is at currently. I think this is normal.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Interactive Art Book

'The Interactive Art Book' by Ron Van Der Meer and Frank Whitford is an updated reissue of an art pop-up book that first appeared in 1998. Although that is some years before I became a parent I can remember playing with a well-used 'tester' of that first incarnation of the book in the National Gallery bookshop and feeling a bit sad that I had no excuse to buy it. I am very glad to have a proper turn with it now.

It's a kind of hop around the history and processes of making art in seven crammed spreads of fun. It includes pop-up explanations of perspective, construct your own abstract sculptures, plenty of flaps to lift and optical illusions to explore. This may sound pretty gimmicky and superficial but there's surprisingly complex information, and lots of it crammed in between the fun. I really enjoyed the 'Stories and Puzzles' page for instance with its 3D peephole version of Velazquez's 'Las Meninas'. You get to view the picture both as audience and as painter and then read the story round the outside about the sub text of its composition.

Of course Bill and Eddie are really only about the fun at this stage; fighting over the 3D glasses and spinning the phenakistoscope. But I can see this is a book that we'll return to and get different things out of as they get older. At the back of the book is a whole other paperback activity book with suggestions for do-it-yourself art. Bill was completely taken with the cartoons of Gustav Verbeek reproduced in this section; which must be read one way and then turned upside down to continue the story back again. He also really liked the idea of pictures as detective stories with hidden clues that can be interpreted. A more informed trip to the National Gallery may be called for.

My own first introduction to art masterpieces as a child was through repeated playings of an obscure board game called 'Masterpiece' where you had to auction reproductions of National Gallery favourites without knowing what worth they had been assigned. An early, apparently respectable and intellectually nourishing version of 'Deal or no Deal'; it featured a good variety of Great Works including Da Vinci, Manet and Vermeer. You can tell it was from a more innocent time because as I recall (Austin Powers like) the absolute, most amount of money a painting could be worth was £1,000,000.

I'd like to say playing Masterpiece nurtured a precocious artistic appreciation in me but all I can remember is staring at the picture cards and wondering why on earth would ANYONE pay money for a boring old Turner or Rembrandt.
You grow into some things.

Hopefully 'The Interactive Art Book' will help the boys see the point rather more quickly. In the meantime they're definitely enjoying practising their upside-down cartoon skills.

'The Interactive Art Book' by Ron Van Der Meer and Frank Whitford, pub. Tangopaper isbn 978-1-909142-02-2

Disclosure: We were sent a copy of the book by kindness of the publisher. Our opinions are our own.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Happy World Book Day 2013

It's come round AGAIN!

I love it so much: We shared the bus trip to school today with Hermione and Voldemort, Batman and Tintin. Then in the playground, we had to dodge an Enormous Crocodile, got chased by Funnybones and rescued by Rapunzel.

The teachers threw open the doors dressed as Captain Underpants (brave), Wally, The Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Witch and others..

But I think the kids I love most of all are the ones where you have absolutely NO IDEA who they are because they've picked some obscure character from some obscure book and are faithfully living the part for the day. They're playing for themselves not for the crowd. Hurray for a day for Book Nerds!

So the Fellow Reviewers?

Here they are- I present one Dinkin Dings ready to be frightened of everything EXCEPT his Frightening things.

And here is the one, the only Mr. Willy Wonka- faithful to Quentin Blake down to the last detail- "...and I must have pearly grey gloves Mum, and a small black goatee, and Totally Orange socks not the ones with blue heels and bottle green trousers and..."
Thank God for the miracle that is polyester dye. I just hope he doesn't sit next to any naked flames or severely asthmatic children today.

Have a Great Book-Fun-Filled Day

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Some books Eddie hearts in an absolute and immediate way on first introduction, there are plenty he hearts never, despite objective merit  and a select few are slow creepers, that must be read a few times in his hearing whilst he runs-up-and-down-paying-no-apparent-attention-at-all until; all of a sudden, he GETS them and then Will not Be Parted From Them Ever Again. There is no knowing in advance which way he'll go.

The wonderful 'Claude' books by Alex T. Smith I am delighted to announce have recently come into this last category. Phew. I'd been loving them for a while; they have great parent appeal, but it's reassuring that they have also become a hit with the intended audience. The occasional division between parental admiration and child-love for books is a problem many will recognise. In the same way my lovely homemade lentil and tomato soup is spat out in favour of Heinz, one's children can show TERRIBLE taste in books. (Please God not the Mr Men again, please God no. Please. Noooooo!...)

 Claude is a small, natttily-dressed and extremely talented dog with a thirst for adventure not always shared by his life companion; the enigmatic Sir Bobblysock. Who, in case it needs clarifying, is a sock. The books are packaged as perfect small illustrated chapter books, whilst not containing very much more text than a long picture book. Just the right amount for a newly confident reader to enjoy in one or two sittings and Feel Proud.

The parent appeal is in the very gentle innuendo and playful illustrations. It's fairly high camp: Sort of 'My First Carry On Claude'; (think saucily positioned vegetables) but in the most sweet and warm hearted way. Funny and fun to read.

Anyway, Eddie was given 'Claude in the Country' for his birthday and I read it to him a few times without him really 'noticing' it. Then we got 'Claude at the Circus' and a dramatic change occurred at a spread where Claude and Sir Bobblysock go ice cream shopping in the park. He stopped running back and forth and came over to assess the ice cream options very carefully indeed: "Sir Bobblysock chooses an ice lolly Mum. But I think I would choose a chocolate ice cream, maybe with a chocolate flake and maybe with a cherry on top."

That was all it needed. Claude sold. Eddie passionately engaged and now a near complete collection of Claude books in his bed and part of his nightly repertoire.

As I say. phew.

There is a moral here: Authors! Including choices of pudding items early in your books to maximise Eddie attraction. Ice cream sells.
A trio of Claudes- and there are more! Huzzah.

This is a very good example of the type of ice cream picture you may wish to include
'Claude at the Circus' (and others) by Alex T. Smith, pub. Hodder, isbn 978-0-340-99903-5