Tag Archives: The Mystery of the Haunted Farm

My Top 10 Picture Books of 2015

This year has been another great year for picture books.  There has been a good mix of laugh-out-loud picture books to read aloud to groups and picture books with lots of details to share one-on-one.  Below is my list of favourite picture books from 2015 (some with links to my reviews).  I’ve been doing lots of school visits in my library role this year and most of the books below have been real winners with the kids I’ve read them to.  Some of them I didn’t get a chance to review (these I’ve elaborated on) but they have proved to be very popular.

  1. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey
  2. Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite) by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley
  3. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
  4. I Want Spaghetti by Stephanie Blake
  5. My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley
  6. The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan
  7. Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey – another winner from Aaron Blabey.  This was the book that got me hooked on his stories.  It’s about a pony called Thelma, who really wants to be a unicorn.  She discovers that fame isn’t all that its cracked up to be and that being yourself is more important.  Boys have groaned when they have first seen it but they laugh along with the story too.
  8. The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton – for a debut picture book this is absolutely brilliant!  Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior and she needs a big, strong, fast horse to help her.  Her parents don’t get her wishes quite right and she ends up with a short, fat little pony that farts a lot.  This little pony might not be what she asked for but together they become a great team, and help the meanest warriors show their cuddly sides.  Kids from Year 1-8 have all loved this book and I never get sick of reading it aloud.
  9. Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers – Two huge names come together to bring imaginary friends to life.  It’s a quirky, funny and absolutely stunning book.  Fred is the best imaginary friend you could ask for, but he always finds that he isn’t needed anymore and he fades away.  Then one day, a boy called Sam wishes for a friend and everything changes.  It’s a book that I want to share and tell everyone about.  The only downside is that it is too long to read to a group of children.  I love it though and it will be one that I’ll read again and again.  Check out the book trailer here.
  10. The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Tony Wilson – I always enjoy retellings of fairy tales and nursery rhymes and this book is a hilarious take on Hey Diddle Diddle.  The cow tries again and again to jump over the moon but she keeps messing up.  She trips over the moon, crashes into the moon, and sails straight over the moon, but she is determined to do it.  It’s a perfect book to share with pre-schoolers and it will have them laughing out loud.  It had me in stitches!
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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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Filed under Guest Post, picture books, Seriously Spooky Month, Seriously Spooky Month 2015