Category Archives: Humour

Babette laid an egg

Babette Cole

I well remember the shocked giggling at the book party. Back then, about twenty years ago, I was part of a group of mothers who hosted and attended many selling parties, and one kind was the Red House book party. That’s where my neighbour discovered Babette Cole’s Mummy Laid an Egg!

Babette Cole, Mummy Laid an Egg

She had probably been a little bit too properly brought up for the openness in Babette’s book. Hence the palpable shock, even if she giggled. Which just goes to prove how essential this very funny picture book was, and still is. Children need to be told where babies come from, if only so they can pass that knowledge on to their parents.

And now Babette has died, and there won’t be any more books to produce such gasps among the older generation.

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

Give us a hug!

Awww… Hugless Douglas is so sweet! And so, well, confused. But cute.

Douglas, who is a very young and very brown and pretty big bear, wakes up one morning, needing a hug. Not being all that clued up on who would be likeliest to give him his hug, Douglas wanders off in search of one.

David Melling, Hugless Douglas

He likes them big. And he likes them tall. But rocks and trees aren’t the huggiest of creatures. And sheep might be soft, but unwilling. And so it goes.

Douglas does try hard, but you can’t force the local wildlife to hug you if they are not huggers.

Luckily, Rabbit has the solution. (I believe it was Rabbit who was the sensible one in the other Hugless Douglas book as well.)

Mothers are often a good bet if you are after a hug. Not the only ones, but fairly dependable for a good squeeze. Come here!

(By David Melling. I fell so hard for Douglas that I almost forgot to mention his creator…)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This was absolute bliss. Whereas it is generally ‘quite nice’ to revisit a film and its characters, the concept of J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them beats most that I have seen. Even though I obviously read the book [by Newt Scamander] however many years ago it was published, almost as an afterthought, the new film is such a tremendous bonus!

It’s something you didn’t see coming, separate but still belonging to Harry Potter’s world, and it couldn’t have been better. I never thought of Newt Scamander as anything but an obscure historical character, with an interest in animals. The film about Newt shows how wrong I was, and how Rowling’s magic just carries on and on.

As someone said the other day, it’s rather a relief to have a film like this with almost no children in it. It meant we could see Muggles and Wizards in the New York of 1926 as it might have appeared in just about any film; it was all about adults going about their business, which in Newt’s case was rescuing creatures at risk, and trying to teach other magic people that the beasts have a place in the world too.

Kowalski, the wannabe baker Muggle, was a Rupert Grint kind of man. Quite ordinary but also quite brave and someone who adapted well to the seemingly crazy world of magic. The two main female characters, sisters Tina and Queenie, were just as intelligent, kind and beautiful as you needed them to be. And Eddie Redmayne’s Newt was mysterious and enthusiastic and kind, with a nice sense of humour towards his ‘walking stick insects’ and dragons and all the other creatures.

The bad guy was so charmingly bad that you almost believed he might be all right. And the remaining characters made for a rich background.

Isn’t it wonderful how you can have a spin-off like this from a ‘mere’ children’s publishing sensation? Something so good and fun and mature, which wasn’t born from the usual film mould?

I don’t often float away from cinemas, especially not in the middle of the night. But I did this time. And I felt happy.

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

Crafty Henry

Or, to make proper use of alliteration, Horrid Henry’s Crafty Christmas. It’s a book about things ‘to make and do.’ So I don’t think it’s actually by Francesca Simon, it is about her creation Henry, and features ideas for what to do at Christmas.

At any time of the year, if you’re feeling Henry-ish.

It is filled with ‘boredom-banishing stuff’ and when mentioned at the same time as Horrid Henry, it rather fills me with dread. Like, what will he be getting up to next?

Horrid Henry's Crafty Christmas

But it is – probably – totally innocent. Scissors, hole punches, sticky tape; what could possibly go wrong? There is baking and slime and rude crackers. Sorry, Rude Ralph’s Christmas Crackers. Occasionally it says to ask an adult to help with certain parts of the crafty doings. Well, do you really think Henry’s friends will give up the separating of eggs to someone else?

I like – used to like, anyway – crafts books and tips. They’re fun. Irresistibly fun.

So have some horrid fun! And don’t blame me.

The goat

I nearly always read the news one day late, and sometimes not at all. But one morning this week my attention was drawn to the short piece about the goat in a Carrickfergus shop.

Goats are nearly always fun, but I primarily noticed it because of Carrickfergus, where I’ve never been, but which is home to one of my most favourite detectives, Adrian McKinty’s Duffy.

Then, for some reason, I decided to dive into my junkmail, which I hardly ever do. (I ought to really, as it often contains important stuff.) Found a tweet by Adrian McKinty about funny books, and followed the trail to Adrian’s blog, thinking it was odd how he cropped up twice in a morning.

On the blog I followed the trail further to Adrian’s new website where – naturally – there was a goat. In Carrickfergus. In a shop. You couldn’t make it up.

Except Adrian did. The *new, as yet unpublished sixth Duffy (yay!) has a scene where Duffy encounters a goat in Carrickfergus.

Duffy and the goat

The annoying thing about this deliciously funny coincidence will be that in future people will say Adrian borrowed the incident from the news.

*Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.