Tag Archives: Elys Dolan

Steven Seagull: Action Hero by Elys Dolan

I’ve read some fantastic picture books so far this year but the new picture book by Elys Dolan, Steven Seagull: Action Hero, has blown all the others out of the water.

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Steven Seagull: Action Hero is the hilarious story of Steven, a retired cop who comes back to the force for one last case. Someone is stealing the sand from Beach City and it’s up to Steven and his ex-partner, a goldfish called Mac, to catch the thief. They have a list of suspects, including reformed criminals Harry, Lola and Rick. Will they catch the culprit and find out what’s been happening to the missing sand? You don’t want to mess with this seagull.

Steven Seagull: Action Hero is the funniest picture book I’ve ever read.  I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book for months as I’m a huge fan of Elys Dolan’s books.  She creates picture books with so many layers of humour and this book is no exception.  I was laughing the whole time I was reading it and every time I read it again it makes me giggle.  There is no doubt that kids will love Steven Seagull but this is one of those rare picture books that will appeal to adults as much as kids.  I think it’s a book that dads in particular will love, with the references to action movies and action stars like Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude van Damme.

In Elys’s other picture books there have been lots of funny details to find in the illustrations and the pages can be packed with characters.  In Steven Seagull though it’s often the sparse pages that are the funniest.  Take the first two pages for example:

Steven 2

steven speedboat web

From Steven Seagull: Action Hero by Elys Dolan, published by Oxford University Press

 

I love the look on Steven’s face as he looks into the distance.  It’s the perfect action hero stare.  He looks tough and afraid of nothing.

I also love the stereotypical action movie details in the illustrations. Steven’s partner Mac has his police badge around his neck the whole time, there are posters up around the place encouraging the animals to ‘Vote Clam’ for mayor, and the end papers of Steven doing karate moves look like a montage of Steven preparing himself for a fight.

I urge everyone to buy a copy of Steven Seagull: Action Hero (or at the very least borrow it constantly from your library) and join the Steven Seagull fan club.  It’s a picture book that I want to share with everyone and I encourage you to share it with everyone too.

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Perfect Picture Books from Nosy Crow

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – Nosy Crow books are spectacular!  They always publish the best picture books and their books for older children are getting better and better.  I reviewed some of my favourite Nosy Crow books back in August, including There’s a Bear in my Chair, Superhero Dad, and Use Your Imagination (you can read my review here).  One of my favourite authors, Barry Hutchison, has published a hilarious series with Nosy Crow, starting with The Shark-Headed Bear-Thing.  It’s one of my favourite books of 2015 and you can read my review here.

Nosy Crow publish so many great books that I’ve always got a book of theirs that I want to shout out about.  Here are four of my recent favourite Nosy Crow books.

Flip Flap Jungle by Axel Scheffler

Axel Scheffler is one of my favourite illustrators so it’s great that he’s so prolific. This is the third title in Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap series (there’s also Flip Flap Safari and Flip Flap Farm).  It’s a zany flip book where you’ll meet animals you know and some you don’t know.  What do you get if you cross a leopard and an armadillo? Well that would be a leopadillo!  And what about a porcupine and a chameleon? Why a porceleon, obviously!  There is a wonderful rhyme accompanying each animal which are great by themselves but are even funnier when you mix the animals up.  These books are perfect for sharing one-on-one but they also work well with a big group (I’ve used them at Story Time in the library and the kids were laughing at my crazy creature creations). With 121 different combinations this book will keep kids entertained for ages!  See what weird and wonderful creatures you can come up with.  All of the Flip Flap books are also available as apps which are heaps of fun to play with.  You swipe the screen to create new animals and hear the poems read aloud, plus there are sound effects and jungle music.  Check out the Nosy Crow website for more details about the apps.

The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan

I love Elys Dolan’s books!  Her previous books, Nuts in Space and Weasels, are hilarious and her illustrations are chock full of lots of quirky details (including references to spy and sci-fi movies).  Elys’ latest book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm, is even better.  Strange and spooky things are happening down on the farm and Farmer Greg knows just who to call – Ghost Hunters.  The three little pigs are the best guys for the job, with the latest ghost-hunting gadgets, including the Scare-o-Meter and the Phantom Finder 5000.  The farm has a serious zombie duck problem and there are ghosts, vampires and mummies wandering around.  Strangely though, the Phantom Finder 5000 isn’t picking up any unusual activity.  Something fishy is going on and it’s up to the Three Little Pigs to find out what.  This is a brilliant book that kids will want to come back to again and again.  Elys has put so much detail into her illustrations and kids will have heaps of fun reading all the speech bubbles.  The text is hilarious and the humour works on several levels.  Adults will enjoy reading it just as much as the kids.  It’s a picture book that’s perfect for older readers to as they’ll get some of the references that younger children will miss.  I really like the size of this book too (it’s larger than usual, making it great for sharing).  Grab a copy of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm and check out Elys Dolan’s previous books too.

Box by Min Flyte and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

Box is a perfect picture book for pre-schoolers (and anyone who loves making stuff from old boxes).  Four toddlers find some boxes with toys inside them.  After playing with their toys for a while their attention turns to the boxes.  But what will they do with all those boxes?  They use their imaginations and turn their boxes into all sorts of exciting things.  This is a delightful story about all the fun that you can have with boxes.  There are lots of flaps (or boxes) to open and pull-out pages, giving children the sense of anticipation, wondering what might be inside the box.  There are boxes of all sizes, from little boxes to big boxes, and even boxes inside boxes.  The book even looks like a box, with a slot to look through.  Min Flyte’s text encourages children to participate in the story and Rosalind Beardshaw’s illustrations are adorable.

Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Jarvis

Jeanne Willis is a prolific author and whenever I see her name on the cover of a picture book I know it will be a winner.  The combination of Jeanne’s story and Jarvis’ illustrations make Poles Apart a winner to me.  The story follows the Pilchard-Browns, a family of penguins who set out on a picnic and get incredibly lost and find themselves at the North Pole.  Everybody knows that penguins belong at the South Pole and when Mr White, the friendly polar bear finds them he decides to help them get home again.  We follow Mr White and the Pilchard-Browns as they pass through America, England, Italy, India and Australia before they finally make it home.  Then Mr White has to make the 12,430 mile journey all the way back home to the North Pole.  I loved following this funny penguin family and their helpful polar bear friend on their journey.  Jeanne Willis certainly makes the journey entertaining by adding little details, like saying hello in different languages as they pass through the countries.  The penguin children, Peeky, Poots and Pog keep you entertained with their silly antics too.  Jarvis’ illustrations take you on a colourful journey around the world and children will be able to spot the landmarks from the different countries.  Poles Apart is sure to be a book that will be read again and again.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Elys Dolan

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by author and illustrator Elys Dolan.  Elys is the author and illustrator of three picture books, Weasels, Nuts in Space, and her latest book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm.  I love Elys’ books, both for her quirky stories and wonderful illustrations.  Elys joins me today to talk about the making of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm.  Thanks for joining me Elys!

Writing Spooky Books for Children: The Making of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm

1 haunted farm cover webIf you like ghost stories and agriculture then my new book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm, is the picture book for you. In this book Farmer Greg discovers some very spooky things happening down on his farm so he flees to called for help:

2 flee the farm

And who you gonna call when things go ‘BAH!’ in the night?

3 pig mobile

The Three Pigs Ghost Hunters of course. The pigs explore the farm to try and find out what’s causing the haunting and along the way they meet some bizarre, spooky and something rather sticky creatures. Below you can see them investigating the zombie duck pond but there’s even more creatures lurking on this farm including ghost cows, a frankenhorse and of course The Mighty Donkula to name just a few.

4 duck pond

I had a brilliant time creating a book with a spooky theme but when writing and illustrating a story that deals with things that could be seen as scary you sometimes have to tread carefully. In my experience though many children love things that are a little scary. The more gruesome it is the more fascination it seems to hold. This is of course variable depending on the child but it’s a trend I’ve notice when doing school visits and other literary events. I find it’s parents and other adults who tend to be more cautious.

I was quite determined that this book would be more funny than frightening though. For instance in the zombie duck spread there’s exposed brains and eyes falling out which could be quite gory but I’ve combined it with lots of slapstick, ridiculous facial expressions and general silliness which seems to negate any gore. Also I find using animal characters provides another degree of separation and can be more amusing than if the same things were depicted with human characters.

Whilst making Haunted Farm I found that working in an international market can also effect the kind of scary or spooky things you can include in a book. Originally it was intended to have a very different storyline. I had a totally different plot planned out centring around Farmer Greg releasing The Curse of the Phantom Chicken upon the farm by accidentally eating some cursed eggs:

5 greg eats eggsI even had an origin story for the curse and everything:

6 phantom chicken origin story

Once the curse is released it turns the farm animals into monsters which gives us all the zombie ducks, vampire bats and Frankenhorses that the final book contains. Again the pigs are called in and eventually they subdue the phantom chicken and everything goes back to normal (sort of). But alas this story wasn’t to be.

My publisher was worried about the curse element of this story and how that would work in the U.S market. It’s quite important to be able to sell a picture book in the U.S because it’s such a big market and it can make a book financially viable. They felt that the phantom chicken could be seen as too occult and that might upset certain readers with the references to witchcraft. In fact they decided that having any real ghosts in this book could be a bit tricky so I had to be very careful about how I handled them. You’ll have to read the book to see exactly how I did this because it’s a major spoiler!

To finish I think I might point out a couple of my favourite bits in the book. I’m a big fan of horror movies and you can probably guess that I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy etc but there’s a couple of other film references in there that I hope some of the grown ups might recognise.

First up you can see climbing the stairs in the farmhouse there’s the shadow of a Nosferatu chicken:

7 nosferatu chicken

At the barn there’s a Jack Nicolson sheep as seen in The Shining:

8 the shiningAnd finally I was very pleased be able to squeeze in a bit of a ghostbusters/farming pun at the chicken coup:

9 afriad of no goat

The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan is published by Nosy Crow and out now. You can find out more about Elys and her work at elysdolan.com and elysdolan.tumblr.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook at @ElysDolan and facebook.com/elysdolanillustration.

 

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My Most Anticipated September Kids & YA Releases from Allen and Unwin

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Flip Flap Jungle by Axel Scheffler

What do you get if you cross an monkey with a armodillo? Why, that would be a Monkadillo! And a Leopard with a Frog? That would be a Leopog, of course! With its sturdy, split pages and spiral binding, 121 possible combinations, silly names and animal noises to make you giggle, this hilarious rhyming flip-flap book in a fun format is perfect for pre-schoolers.

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The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan

The three little pigs are the best guys for the job, a specialist team of Ghosthunters equipped with the latest in ghost-hunting gadgets. But when the Phantom Finder 5000 fails to recognise any paranormal activity AT ALL, the pigs realise all is not quite as it seems. . . and there’s certainly something suspicious about the mysterious chicken coup up on the hill . . . could that be a werepuppy?

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This Broken Wondrous World by Jon Skovron

A year ago, Boy, the son of Frankenstein’s monster, had never even met a human. Now he’s living with his human ‘family’, the descendants of Dr Frankenstein, in Switzerland. That is, until the maniacal genius Dr Moreau, long ago banished to a remote island for his crimes against humanity, asks for his aid.

Moreau wants Boy to join his army of animal/human hybrid creatures and help him overthrow human society. Boy must choose: side with the twisted doctor and save his fellow monsters, or try to defend the humans who run the planet?

Boy will do anything to save this broken, wondrous world from the war that threatens to split it in two. But how much will he have to give up? And is the world worth saving?

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Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

In a future London, Concentr8 is a prescription drug intended to help kids with ADD. Soon every troubled teen is on it. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Keep the undesirable elements in line. Keep people like us safe from people like them. What’s good for society is good for everyone. Troy, Femi, Lee, Karen and Blaze have been taking Concentr8 as long as they can remember. They’re not exactly a gang, but Blaze is their leader, and Troy has always been his quiet, watchful sidekick – the only one Blaze really trusts. They’re not looking for trouble, but one hot summer day, when riots break out across the city, they find it. What makes five kids pick a man seemingly at random – a nobody, he works in the housing department, doesn’t even have a good phone – hold a knife to his side, take him to a warehouse and chain him to a radiator? They’ve got a hostage, but don’t really know what they want, or why they’ve done it. And across the course of five tense days, with a journalist, a floppy-haired mayor, a police negotiator, and the sinister face of the pharmaceutical industry, they – and we – begin to understand why.

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Picture Book Nook: Wonderful new picture books from Nosy Crow

Nosy Crow are one of my favourite publishers of picture books.  Their picture books are quirky, funny, and they look stunning! They’re the sort of picture books that you’re happy to read to your kids again and again, because you love them as much as they do.  Here are three of my recent favourites from Nosy Crow.  You have to go and get these from your library or bookshop and read them right now.

Weasels by Elys Dolan

Weasels – what do they do all day? Eat nuts and berries? Frolic in leaves? Lurk in the dark? Argue with squirrels? Hide in their weasel holes? Well, all these are wrong. What they really do is . . . plot world domination. Find out how their dastardly plans are foiled in this hilarious, off-the-wall debut picture book from a shiny new star in the children’s book firmament, Elys Dolan.

It’s almost impossible to put into words how original and witty this book is: imagine spoof James Bond meets Scaredy Squirrel if you can. It’s packed with cross-over humour to amuse kids and big kids too. The art is stylish yet accessible and full of details for poring over time and time again – there’s always a new joke to find! And there are machines and maps and even a laboratory . . . oh, and lots of lots of weasels.

Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson

Timothy Limpet feels out of place in the troll family – he likes things to be just so, and most trolls, frankly, don’t. Tabitha Lumpit likes things to be loud, loopy and messy and she feels a fish out of water in her very neat family. Sometimes they wonder if their families really see them for who they are, so when Timothy and Tabitha meet on the bridge they decide each other’s family is a better fit and they swap places . . . with hilarious and touching results.

Based around the time-honoured theme of home is where the heart is, this warm and witty story is a celebration of the individual and offers a valuable lesson on not judging others.

Check out Leigh Hodgkinson’s other hilarious picture book from Nosy Crow, Goldilocks and Just the One Bear.

Books Always Everywhere by Jane Blatt, illustrated by Sarah Massini

A joyful celebration of the physical book in all its glory! For the very young, books can be anything – from a chair, to a tower, to a hat – but the best thing they can be . . . is a book… and it’s never too soon to share a good book with your little ones.

The simple text, written by debut author Jane Blatt is brought to life by Sarah Massini’s delightful and nostalgic illustrations of babies and toddlers discovering the new, magical world of books.

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