Category Archives: authors

The Magic of Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo is one of my favourite authors.  He has written hundreds of stories now and they always leave a lasting impression on you.  He is an incredibly gifted storyteller who knows just how to grab the reader.  There are two new Michael Morpurgo books out just in time for Christmas and they will make lovely gifts for any reader, both young and old.

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The Fox and the Ghost King (published by HarperCollins) is a wonderful little story with something for everyone.  There are foxes, football and a ghost.  The story follows a family of foxes who love to watch football.  Their favourite team, the Leincester City Foxes, keeps losing and losing and it seems like things will never look up.  One night though as they are heading home they hear a ghostly voice and they discover the ghost of a king who has been buried underneath a car park.  The ghost king promises the foxes that if they help him, he will help their favourite football team to win again.  This is a book that is perfect to share with the whole family as it is short and will grab everyone’s attention.  I loved this little story and will come back to it again.

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Such Stuff: a story-maker’s inspiration (published by Walker Books) is the perfect gift for any Michael Morpurgo fan.  This gorgeous hardback book is packed full of information about Michael’s most memorable stories.  Michael introduces his stories, telling you where he got the inspiration for each of them.  This is then followed by an extract from the story and some of the facts from the story too.  Reading this book makes you feel like you are sitting down in front of the fire with Michael as he tells you his stories personally.   With every part that I read I felt that I fell more in love with Michael’s writing and his stories became more ingrained in my mind.  Finding out where the inspiration for the stories came from made me desperate to go back and read them all over again.  By the end of the book I felt completely wrapped up in his stories.  It’s a book that I will dip into again and again.

This book is a family effort.  Not only are there parts written by Michael Morpurgo about his work, but Michael’s wife Clare, his brother Mark (who came up with the idea for the book) and Michael’s long-time collaborator, Michael Foreman, all helped to create this treasure trove of a book.  Such Stuff is a must-buy for any Michael Morpurgo fan.

 

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Guest Author – Juliet Jacka on Frankie Potts

Juliet Jacka is the author of the fantastic new Frankie Potts series, about an inquisitive girl detective.  The series is full of excitement, adventure and lots of fun.  You can read my review of Juliet’s new series here on the blog.

Juliet has very kindly written a special guest post for My Best Friends Are Books all about her Frankie Potts series and how it came to life.

How to turn five crazy words into a book

My new chapter-book series about Frankie Potts, amateur detective, and her clever dog Sparkplug burst into life thanks to an exercise I did at a writing course. Our teacher asked us to string together a bunch of unrelated words into some sort of story.

I wish I could remember exactly what those five words were. But I’ve lost the bit of paper. Although I think they might have been something like:

Jam
Spectacles
Bobbydazzler
Slater
Apricot

Or possibly something else altogether. The point being, those five crazy words made my brain crank and whir, as it tried to string those horribly unrelated things together into some sort of something … and when I tried that out popped the character Frankie Potts.

Although, initially, she was a he — Arty Potts — until my story grew and changed after I fell in love with Arty … then Frankie … and started turning the 500 word exercise into a fully fledged book.

So, why don’t you give it a go? You might surprise yourself and accidentally write a book. All you need to do is pick five words, then try and smoosh them up together somehow into a 500 word story.

If you’re after crazy five-word inspiration, give these ones a go (they’re from my first two Frankie books, out now).

Five words from Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries

Dirigible
Skateboard
Tattoo
Circus
Dog

Five words from Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar

Skull
Borneo
Python
Gobstopper
Kangaroo

Now go get crazy word story writing!

Find out more about me and my books.

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Guest Post: Peter Millett on Johnny Danger

Peter Millett is the author of the funny, action-packed secret agent series, Johnny Danger.  So far there are two books in the series, D.I.Y. Spy and Lie Another Day.  With the third book, Spy Borg, being released in September Peter wants to give readers a special preview of the cover.  Peter joins me today to talk about why he created the Johnny Danger series and gives us a sneak peak of the Spy Borg cover.

 

Johnny Danger is turning into one of the most fun projects I have ever worked on in my career as a children’s author.

I’ve created the series with two audiences in mind: students and teachers. Firstly, students aged 8 – 12 years will enjoy the slapstick comedy, outrageous pranks, spectacular action sequences and unpredictable story twists that Johnny Danger and Penelope Pounds experience as teen spies working for MI6. Secondly, teachers and parents will appreciate the fun I am poking at the James Bond spy series and enjoy the subtle sense of hidden humour that is at play in the background. I am an eternal prankster and I have purposely littered the book with all sorts of comedy traps to catch readers of all ages off-guard.

My wife has taught Year 6 students for over 20 years and I am more than aware that teachers re-read certain stories in their classrooms each year and that they want these stories to maintain a fresh and energetic feel over multiple readings. The Johnny Danger series has been created for such purposes.

The comedy is broad and will appeal equally to both boys and girls. I’ve gone to great lengths to construct well-planned plots that end satisfactorily and unexpectedly. I’ve also made sure that the scatological humour used in the books doesn’t overtake the storytelling.

Additionally, books one and two contain DIY spy codes that can be emulated in the classroom by students. The first book uses humorous anagrams as the basis of an intricate software hacking system, and the second book uses upside down calculator spelling words to hide vital codes. Both these DIY codes can be created by student readers with everyday school or household resources.

We live in an increasingly multimedia-orientated world and I have decided to embrace a number of new technologies to help connect readers with the Johnny Danger series.

The digital trailer for book one “DIY Spy” uses state-of-the-art 2D animation to project the spirit of the main character:

The trailer for book two ‘Lie Another Day” uses a mixture of live-action footage and green screen technologies to display the off-the-wall comedic moments of the book as well as hinting at the plot:

 

Finally I made an appearance on national television so that readers could hear first-hand what they were in for if they read Johnny Danger.

I hope the Johnny Danger series is remembered as one of the funniest sets of children’s books ever to be released down under. I also hope that reluctant readers find them a gateway to discovering a love of comedy fiction.

As a ‘special feature’ to this blog I’m including the world premiere of the cover of book three “Spy Borg”.

Book 3

(Please note that this blog will self-destruct in five minutes time!)

Pete

 

You can find me on:

Website www.petermillett.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PeterMillettBooks/

Twitter: @petermillett

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Aaron Blabey talks about his work

Aaron Blabey is my idol.  If there is one person in the world I wish I was it would be him.  He is one very talented guy who creates some of the funniest books for kids.  He can write and illustrate stories for all ages and in different forms, whether it’s picture books like Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas or novels for older readers like The Bad Guys.

I found this wonderful video on YouTube of Aaron Blabey talking about his work with the brilliant people at Story Box Library.  Watch it and find out about the magic behind Aaron’s stories.

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Michael Grant’s Front Lines Australia & NZ Blog Tour

Front Lines banner dates

Bestselling YA author Michael Grant is in Australia and New Zealand this May to promote Front Lines, the first book in his blockbuster new YA series, Soldier Girl.  I’m very excited to be part of Michael Grant’s Australia and NZ blog tour to promote his new book, Front Lines.  Join me on Thursday 12 May for a special guest post from Michael Grant and a review of Front Lines.  Here are the other awesome blogs and bloggers that are part of the blog tour:

Monday 9th May – Diva Booknerd
Tuesday 10th May – Reading Time
Wednesday 11th May – Paper Fury
Friday 13th May – Stay Bookish

Check out the cover, blurb and book trailer for Front Lines below:

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It’s 1942. The fate of the world rests on a knife’s edge. And the soldiers who can tip the balance . . . are girls.

A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.  Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves.  Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans.  For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war. These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines.  They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.  But not everyone believes that the girls should be on the front lines of war.

Now Rio and her friends must fight not only to survive, but to prove their courage and ingenuity to a sceptical world.

 

 

 

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Michael Morpurgo Month – A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

Michael Morpurgo has written some of my favourite stories – Private Peaceful, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, and Shadow.  He one of the best storytellers around.  Michael’s latest book, A Medal for Leroy, is inspired by the life of Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British Army in the First World War.

A_Medal_for_Leroy_PBMichael doesn’t remember his father, who died in a Spitfire over the English Channel. And his mother, heartbroken and passionate, doesn’t like to talk about him. But then Michael’s aunt gives him a medal and a photograph, which begin to reveal a hidden story.

A story of love, loss and secrets.

A story that will change everything – and reveal to Michael who he really is…

A Medal for Leroy is a story of war, love and family secrets.  Like many of Michael’s other stories, it’s told from the point of view of someone who is old (in this case Michael) looking back at his life and telling the reader the story of what happened.  I really like this style of storytelling because it makes you feel like you are just sitting down for a cup of tea with the main character while they tell you the story.  Michael tells us that he never knew his father because he died during the war, but his mother and his aunties love him very much.  When one of his aunties dies, she leaves a special package for Michael, full of family secrets.  In this package, Michael learns about his auntie’s life and about the father he never knew.  Her story is heart-breaking, but with moments of happiness and hope.

Once again, Michael Morpurgo has written an emotional story that you get caught up in.  Even though the war is happening, you hope that everything is going to be fine, that Martha will meet Leroy again, and her father will welcome her home.  As always, Michael presents the realities of war to portray what life was like during this horrible time.  Even though Michael has returned to a topic that he has written about many times before, A Medal for Leroy, is a different story and just as wonderful as his other war stories, like Private Peaceful, War Horse, and An Elephant in the Garden. You can read more about the person who inspired this story, Walter Tull, at the back of the book too.

 

 

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Interview with Maria Gill

Maria Gill is one of our queens of children’s nonfiction in NZ.  She has written some fantastic books for all ages and on many different topics, from dogs to Kiwi and volcanoes to politics.  Some of Maria’s most recent books have profiled remarkable Kiwis from all walks of life.  In Maria’s latest book, Anzac Heroes, she tells the stories of the triumphs and tragedies of 30 heroic Australasians during World Wars One and Two.

I had a few questions about Anzac Heroes and Maria Gill kindly offered to answer them for me.  Maria talks about some of the extraordinary men and women she discovered while writing her book and the collaboration process with Marco Ivancic.  Thanks for joining me Maria!

  • Who is the ANZAC that fascinated you the most?

Hard to pin down to one. Charlie Upham, perhaps. Not just for his bravery on the field – he sacrificed his life many times for his men and the Anzac army – but also, for his tenaciousness at trying to escape prisoner of war camps eight times! When he came back to New Zealand, locals had fundraised and bought him a farm to thank for his service to his country. He refused it. As far as he was concerned, unless they were going to give a farm to all the soldiers, he wasn’t going to be singled out for a gift. Australian Joice Loch was another.

anzac-heroes

  • Did you have a personal connection with any of the heroes in your book?

None of the heroes are relatives or friends’ relatives. However, Albert Knight’s story touched me personally. It was very difficult finding any information about Aboriginal soldier Albert Knight. I only found two sentences online about his life. There were no archived newspaper stories about him. Sadly Aboriginal soldier stories have gone unreported. I had to find his family and speak to them. I only had his surname and the town he was born in over 120 years ago. I rang many phone numbers until I found a family member. That person put me on another family member, and they told me to ring another. Between Albert’s relatives, I pieced together his life story. There was a lovely outcome that came out of talking to his family – read his story to find out.

  • How did you choose the heroes to be featured in your book?

First I had to define ‘what is a hero’. Then I had criteria. I wanted Army, Navy, and Air Force servicemen. They had to have a range of jobs within those military forces and fight in different places so that I was covering as many of the wartime arenas as possible. Next I wanted four indigenous soldiers: two Aboriginal and two Maori. Lastly, I wanted to include women. Women couldn’t fight in the two wars, but the five women I chose were incredibly brave while operating in the war zones as ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, rescuing refugees or as a spy. It means there aren’t just Anzac soldiers in the book, but in the Introduction, I say why I included all the others.

  • We hear so much about the male heroes but your book also features some incredible female heroes.  Can you tell us a little about one of these amazing women?

Dr. Jessie Scott was a young doctor from Canterbury. When she received a personal invitation from the Scottish Women’s Hospital to work in Europe – she caught the first boat out. She had been working in a hospital close to the frontline when the Austrians then Germans invaded Serbia. She and the other doctors decided not to desert their patients. Instead, they stayed. The Germans crammed Jessie and the other nurses and doctors into a train carriage with little food or water. For several weeks, they were taken from one country to the next while the American Red Cross negotiated with the Germans for their release. When they arrived back in London and Jessie was interviewed about her ordeal, she perkily said the Germans had treated them well, and they had enjoyed the scenery. They had only eaten once a day, slept on straw, and the Germans had taken most of their possessions off them. Jessie’s story didn’t end there, though…

  • What was your collaboration process like for this book? Did you work closely with Marco Ivancic?

I worked closely with the illustrator and designer of the book. For Marco, I took photographs at museums in Australia and New Zealand so he could use them for photo reference when drawing the pictures.  I also spent a day with an Army re-enactment group and took photographs of them doing a drill, acting out a war scene, and holding different guns. They kindly stood still in poses while I took photographs of them at all angles. Marco had asked for close-ups of details on their clothing, how they held a gun and expressions on their faces. The re-enactment group even stood in formation so Marco could see the stance and angles for the front cover illustration. For designer Luke Kelly I gathered different maps of Europe during WWI and WWII and marked in battle zones. I also found all the medals for the heroes, and for the medal page. Sometimes I could not get the real medals that belonged to that hero so had to line single medal images up in order and send to Luke. Luke, Jack Hayes (New Zealand military expert) and I put a lot of work into those medals! I also collaborated with different experts, museums, and Creative NZ enabled it to happen with their grant.

  • What does ANZAC Day mean to you? How do you celebrate it?

I believe Anzac Day recognises not only the sacrifice men and women made during the different wars but also the kinship between Australia and New Zealand while fighting. Common themes that resonated throughout the different Australian and New Zealand stories were their comradeship, incredible bravery, modesty, and down-to-earthness. Leaders fought with their men instead of sitting in their offices. It shows how alike Australians and New Zealanders are, compared to other nationalities.

I’m going to attend my first Anzac Day dawn parade this year. I have to confess my only interest, before writing this book, was in reading war stories. I love adventure stories where the hero survives at incredible odds. Most of the heroes in ‘Anzac Heroes’ fit that category.

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Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic is available now from Scholastic New Zealand.

 

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Interview with Glenda Millard

Today I’m joined by Glenda Millard, author of the amazing new YA book, The Stars at Oktober Bend.  Glenda’s book, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, is one of my favourite books and I was very eager to read her latest book.  It is an absolutely amazing story with unforgettable characters (you can read my review here).

Check out my interview with Glenda to hear about her inspiration for The Stars at Oktober Bend, why she wrote her story in the way that she did, and her haunting characters.

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FRONT COVER (20 October 2015)

  • What inspired you to write The Stars at Oktober Bend?
My strong point as a writer is certainly not planning! I usually begin writing with a singular idea and develop it as I go. The initial idea for ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’ came from a brief newspaper article about a homeless girl who sang and in doing so had earned herself a scholarship to study music at a prestigious conservatorium.
 So I began writing with the vague notion of telling the story of someone who sang as a means of escaping a traumatic past. But as often happens, once the characters began to evolve and further information came to hand, my story changed direction.
One of the bigger impacts on the change of direction for ‘The Stars at October Bend’ was that my daughter was studying for her Masters in Speech Pathology and I became aware of language disorders, their causes and effects. That led me to thinking about what it would be like to be unimpaired intellectually, but to struggle with expressing ideas verbally.
  • Your characters really got under my skin and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  Do they still haunt you?

Literary characters have to live and breathe for me. I have to be totally engaged with them and believe in them otherwise I can’t imagine how other people will. I feel the same as a reader – if I have no emotional connection with the characters, then it doesn’t matter how good the plot is, there is nothing to keep me motivated to read. So I suppose the answer to your question is ‘yes’ because I think of the characters as  living people for so long, that it’s hard to forget them once the book is finished.

  • What is your secret to creating memorable, relatable characters?

I’m not sure I can tell you the answer to that. I imagine that creating a literary character and acting the part of one in a play or movie might be similar in some ways. I only know that I have to try to feel what my characters feel and then express it in a way that readers will relate to – not only in an intellectual way, but an emotional one.

  • Joey is the sort of brother that all sisters would want.  Do you have a brother like Joey?

I don’t have any brothers, but I invented one who I hoped would seem plausible – Joey with all his human faults and foibles, but staunchly loyal and faithful.

  • You use both prose and verse to tell Alice’s story.  Why did you decide to do this?

I used prose, verse, lower case letters and minimal punctuation as an acknowledgement of the difficulty Alice had in explaining longer, more complex thoughts in single sentences.  As Alice herself says, she began by writing lists, these developed into verse and then as the story progresses, so too does Alice’s ability to communicate more complex, cohesive thoughts. One of the things Alice and I love about verse is that each line can give a small foretaste of what is to come – a kind of prompt or reminder. So for Alice, verse became an aide to expression, something that helped her string longer passages of thought together in small bites.

  • You write picture books, books for younger readers and teens.  Do you have a favourite age to write for?

Anyone who can read! The age of the reader is in some ways irrelevant to me. Even when I write picture books, I don’t presume that only children will read them. I am always looking for the best way to tell my story, so that whoever reads it will enjoy it for some reason or other. Perhaps the story itself or simply the way it is told. Each genre has its own challenges and pleasures. Picture books, for example, generally demand very concise writing. For me, writing across a broad range, from picture books through to novels is a way of keeping my writing fresh and not allowing myself to get too comfortable or predictable.

  • Who are your rock-star authors?

Among the many on my list, David Almond, a UK writer, has been for many, many years, my rock-star author. My not-so-secret wish is to have David endorse one of my books!  In Australia, I am a great admirer of Ursula Dubosarsky’s beautiful writing and have had the privilege of meeting her on a number of occasions.

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Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall

To celebrate the release of Leanne Hall’s new book, Iris and the Tiger, I’m highlighting her previous YA novels, This is Shyness and Queen of the Night.  Leanne’s books are some of my all-time favourite books and I can’t rate them highly enough.  If you haven’t read these ones already go and grab a copy now.  Also, check out my review of Leanne’s latest book, Iris and the Tiger.

The Text Publishing Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing has introduced me to some of my favourite writers.  The first winner in 2008 was Richard Newsome, author of the brilliant Billionaire’s Curse Trilogy, and the second winner was Leanne Hall, author of one of my favourite books of 2010 called This is Shyness.  In This is Shyness, Leanne introduced us to the suburb of Shyness where it’s always dark because the sun never rises.  This mysterious suburb is home to all sorts of weird and wonderful people, including the Kidds who are hooked on sugar, the Dreamers, and Wolfboy.  The story is focused on one night in Shyness where Wildgirl meets Wolfboy, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since I read it.  Thankfully, Leanne wrote a sequel, which has just been released called Queen of the Night.

9781921758645For six months Nia has tried to forget Wolfboy, the mysterious boy she met in Shyness.  The boy who said he’d call but didn’t.

Then, one night, her phone rings.  The things Wolfboy says draw her back to the suburb of Shyness, where the sun doesn’t rise and dreams and reality are difficult to separate.  The Darkness is changing, and Wolfboy’s friend is in trouble.

And Nia decides to become Wildgirl once more.

Queen of the Night is just as strange, mysterious and wonderful as This is Shyness.  It’s one of those follow-up books where you find yourself right back in that place you loved as soon as you start reading.  I felt that same sense of fascination about Shyness and I wanted to know everything about this mysterious place.  Some of the questions I had from the previous book were answered, but Leanne also added to the mystery and I get the feeling we don’t quite know everything about Shyness and the weird things that happen under the cover of constant darkness.  There is still a lot we don’t know about Doctor Gregory and his strange experiments and I hope that we get to learn more about Diana. I loved being able to get inside Wolfboy and Wildgirl’s heads more in this book, and I really liked the ‘Inception’ vibe in the second part of the story.   Like Wildgirl in the story, I got quite disorientated by Shyness.  I would forget that just because it’s dark in Shyness, it could actually be mid-morning outside Shyness.   If you liked This is Shyness you’ll love Queen of the Night, and if you haven’t read Shyness you need to get your hands on a copy.  I hope that Leanne has more in mind for Wildgirl and Wolfboy because I’m certainly not ready to leave them behind.

 

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Laugh out loud with Aaron Blabey

If you need a good laugh all you need to do is read a book by Aaron Blabey.

Aaron Blabey has become one of my favourite author/illustrators this year.  Not only are his books incredibly funny, he is also really prolific.  By the end of this year Aaron would have published 6 books through Scholastic!  This year he has given us Pig the Fibber (a follow-up to Pig the Pug), Thelma the Unicorn, Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas, I Need a Hug (released this month), and two episodes of his brilliant series for younger readers, The Bad Guys.  Every one of these books is a winner in my eyes.  I love Aaron’s sense of humour, which appeals to kids and adults alike.  His picture books are perfect to read aloud and I have shared them with kids from Year 1 to Year 8 this year, with resounding success.

I hope that we have many more Aaron Blabey books to look forward to next year.  Here are my two favourites from Aaron this year.

Piranhas

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas

This is the story of Brian (love the name!) a Piranha who should like meat but much prefers fruit and veges.  His friends aren’t happy and try to put him on the right track.  He tries to persuade them that ‘fruit is the best’ but they would rather eat feet, knees and bums.  This is a hilarious read that has kids and adults cracking up.  The idea of the story is great and it works really well.  There is so much expression in both the text and the illustrations.  Brian is just so happy being who he is but the other piranhas get really frustrated with him trying to get them to eat fruit and veges.   I also like Aaron’s extra added features in the front and back of the book that explain all about piranhas and bananas.  This is a picture book that will be read again and again.

The Bad Guys

This is my favourite series of 2015.  It’s perfect for kids from ages 7-12 and has all the things that make Aaron’s picture books so great – a unique story, laughs galore and great illustrations.  Episode 1 introduces us to the ‘Bad Guys’ of the story, Mr Wolf, Mr Shark, Mr Piranha and Mr Snake.  They’re always portrayed as the bad guys, with their shark teeth and nasty natures, but all they want to do is be good guys.  Mr Wolf gathers his friends together and they come up with a plan to become good guys.  Nothing seems to go as they planned though.  In Episode 2 the bad guys are trying to make good again so they come up with a new plan – rescue 10,000 chickens from a high-tech cage farm.  This time they’re joined by a new guy, Legs, a computer genius tarantula.  He’s a good guy with a bad reputation too so he wants to help out and do something good.

The Bad Guys books are short, chock-full of illustrations (sort of like a comic), and absolutely hilarious!  I chuckled my way through these first two episodes and I’ll eagerly await more escapades of The Bad Guys.

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