Thursday, 25 April 2013

Happy Birthday Dirty Bertie!

The 'Dirty Bertie' books by Alan MacDonald and David Roberts are celebrating their 10th birthday this week and we're delighted to be joining the blog tour party.

 I'll admit that my children's obsession with all things scatological is not my favourite part of being their parent. Don't even get me started on the stomach churning horror that is playing Bill at 'Plop Trumps'. But there is no doubt that they are obsessed and in this interest they Are Not Alone. Dirty Bertie is hardly the only literary boy with repulsive habits bidding for a place on mine or yours obsessed one's bookshelves, but as one of the first and one of the best, his is a birthday definitely worth celebrating.

I hadn't appreciated that DB (as we'll call him) started life as David Roberts' picture book creation before starring in his ever increasing range of early chapter book titles, now written by Alan MacDonald and still illustrated by David Roberts. The chapter books, with their punchy titles eg., 'Pants!' 'Germs!' 'Loo!' and new volume 'Toothy!' were among the first books Bill learn't to devour whole in one sitting as his reading took off. They were probably some of the first that he was moved to reserve at the library too; cue small figure appearing at desk and whispering "Excuse me, have you got 'Bogeys' please?" much to librarian's discomfort.

These books are actually rather gentler and less bodily function dominated affairs than their shouty covers might suggest. They follow the 'Horrid Henry' style format of having three stories per volume but parents and children who find Henry too horrid might well warm to the more diffident, accident prone Bertie. In 'Toothy' DB manages to confuse a dentist with a murderer, cause a major alarm on board an aeroplane and confront the difficulties of ice cream smuggling in school. But David Roberts' illustrations reveal Bertie as endearing round eyed, rosy cheeked ingenue rather than practised schemer and plotter and the trouble he invariably ends up in is not consequence free.

The two original picture books, 'Dirty Bertie' and 'Pooh, is that you Bertie?' are more straightforwardly gross-out and as such have been going down a storm with the Beanstalk kids I do reading help with this week. Who can resist a book that promises a different fart sound button on every page? Plus it turns out that many of the sounds associated with wind provide excellent phonic practice. Anyone entering the library where we read has been treated to the painstaking sounding out of essential vocabulary; t-r-u-m-p, p-oo-t and b-o-ff and (tricky word) ph-u-tt...

In honour of Dirty Bertie's birthday it seemed only fair to prepare a Dirty Bertie-style feast. The fellow reviewers weren't entirely convinced by the delights of my tenderly prepared Bogey Fondue with breadstick Finger dippers...

However, Pudding!(now there's a Dirty Bertie title I'm looking for) of Worms and Soil was a storming success.

"Any more worms Mum?"

Dirty Bertie books are written by Alan MacDonald and illustrated by David Roberts, published by Stripes and Little Tiger Press. Happy Birthday Bertie!

Disclosure: We were sent a few titles for the benefit of this post by kindness of the publishers. Our opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Royal Fleas and Vincent the Vampire

I am a small potato in the giant Blog allotment. Whilst I am theoretically interested in receiving review copies of books (FREE STUFF!- come on you like it too dontcha....dontcha??) when I have been sent them they sometimes engender a certain panic: I'm not interested in bashing anything- there's enough of that on the internet, and I want to write about what I want to write about. But it's hard not to feel a sense of obligation when someone's sent you something, and obligation and objectivity are not friends. This is all perfectly manageable when you're being sent something by a big publisher or distributor but rather less so when you are holding someone's self-published dreams. And so I have tended to head off the self published who approach me periodically for that reason.

Against form I didn't however pass up the offer to be sent Jules Marriner's books; and, reasonably objectively I hope- I'm glad I didn't. In a world where getting a picture book publishing deal is apparently Quite Hard she seems to be doing a very professional job going it alone. These are funny and enjoyable books definitely worthy of a readership outside her immediate family and friends I think.

'Vincent the Vampire' tells the story of a controversial blackberry-loving bat who finds unlikely sanctuary in a vampire's castle with surprisingly good catering for vegetarians.

'Royal Fleas' deals inventively with the tricky problem of What To Do when you spot the Queen's corgi scratching.

Both have plenty of humour in both text and illustration. There's some good spotting to be done. I liked the sharp-toothed dentures and the changing face of Munch's Scream in the background of 'Vincent the Vampire'. In 'Royal Fleas', the incongruous pink fluffy slippers of the Queen's snooty secretary, Mr Horatio Flowers-Simkinson made Bill giggle.

They're not perfect. Personally I find the watercolour palatte of the illustrations could take stronger tones and  I'm not sure about the cut out collage lines. Inevitably the 'feel' of them in terms of paper and binding is not quite the same quality you'd get from the budget of a conventional publisher. They have charm though.

Both books bear stickers on the cover saying 'Written and illustrated on the Isle of Wight'. I think this is a pretty canny move on Jules Marriner's part and emblematic of one of the most interesting parts of the brave new world of self- publishing. I love the fact that increasingly a visit to a fair or craft market leads to an encounter with an author next door to the miniature teddy maker and knitted egg cosy lady. And I'd much rather bring back a bookish souvenir to remember a place or holiday than anything else. I like the idea of a community rallying around its authors and supporting their stories.

Visit Jules Marriner's website here to find out more. Her books are available through the dread-but-useful Amazon. I received my copies through kindness of the author, my opinions are my own.

'Vincent and the Vampires' and 'Royal Fleas' both written and illustrated by Jules Marriner, pub. Scarlett Inc isbn 9781470145774 and 9781475212174

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Martha and the Bunny Brothers: I heart Bedtime!

How excited are we to be part of the new Martha and the Bunny brothers book blog tour?Answer- REALLY excited!
Of course we are-Eddie became a Superfan of Martha within hours of Clara Vulliamy's first book about her happy bunny family entering the house. You may remember this post where it was only Martha's tight security that presented her being mobbed on stage by her small blonde stalker.
Last month, me and the boy attended Clara's  'make a Martha' workshop at the Imagine Festival; where we also got a sneak listen to this second volume. Advance copies were unexpectedly available to buy there. When Eddie saw the pile, it was a similar reaction to a One Direction fan chance meeting Harry Styles in the supermarket; he RAN to them, hugged a copy to him and carried on hugging it for the next three hours. He has good taste:

'I heart Bedtime' proves as toasty warm and cheering as its predecessor; 'I heart School'. Clara Vulliamy shows her usual skill in making these everyday milestones both safe and celebratory. They're packed full of delicious detail and, perhaps counter-intuitively, it's precisely all that lovely detail that gives them universal appeal. Nobody's bedtime routine and house and babysitter will be exactly like Martha, Monty and Pip's- but everyone's bedtime rituals will find some point of contact with theirs. And there seems to be nothing that children like more than identifying things that are the same as them and things that are different to them in a book. You would not believe the complexity of the conversations Eddie and I have had about toothpaste flavours since this book entered our house. She's a clever bunny that Clara Vulliamy.

So- Same but Different- a Comparison of Bedtimes between the Little Wooden Horse Brothers and The Bunny Brothers:

They both have Special Collections:
 Martha likes owls, cats and shells,
LWH Bro's favour action figures and medals
They both have Cuddlies:

Giant Bob, Tigey, Hulk, Koala, Berry 3 and Berry 2 and The Babies (the latter are regular bathtime chatshow hosts)

They both have fun at bathtime, despite the LWH bro's inadequate ear length for styling:

And most of all- they are CERTAINLY great fans of Best Gym- or Bill Fu as some household members prefer to call it.

But of course the biggest difference between Bill and Eddie, and Monty and Pip is that the former have no Martha to show them the right way to go to sleep. Her patented method is to sing the Bedtime Bunny Song. To help impoverished Martha-less households like ours, I'm glad to say Clara Vulliamy has provided her own version for them to listen to here.  It's a rather lovely thing.
We can't achieve the same perfection but Eddie is learning...

Sweet Dreams.
'Martha and The Bunny Brothers, I heart Bedtime' by Clara Vulliamy, pub. Harper Collins isbn 978-0007419197