Children’s Book Blog: Recommended read – The Weasel, Puffin, Unicorn, Pig, Lobster Race by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon
Every month or so I recommend a children’s book that either hasn’t or isn’t likely to get the media attention it deserves. This might be because it’s self-published, or a bit niche, or simply because new authors and publishing houses don’t get as much page space as more established ones.
My choice for this week is a surreal picture book by brand new writing/illustrating duo James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon – also known as ‘The Superhairies’ – and is published by the equally new independent publishing house, Digital Leaf.
What’s the story?
A weasel, a puffin, a unicorn, a pig and a lobster all compete in a wacky race. What they stand to gain from this competition besides the glory of victory isn’t exactly clear, but it must be pretty special because all of the animals feel compelled to cheat, except the poor old unicorn…
Who’s it for?
Four to eight year-olds, though this is definitely one for the parents as well.
Why should I read it?
Because it’s bonkers – and brilliant. It’s one of those books that makes you excited to turn the next page, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen next, both in the story and the pictures. The race itself makes very little sense. The titular animals negotiate a series of surreal obstacle courses, employing everything from custard trampolines to banana diggers to give them an edge over their competitors. Why all this is happening is anyone’s guess. Probably the most accurate thing you could compare the ‘plot’ to is an early computer platform game.
However, plot is not the point here. Instead, James Thorp’s rhyming text revels in its sheer silliness and is, at times, reminiscent of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Rhymes. Angus Mckinnon’s illustrations, meanwhile, are simply spectacular. The surreal menagerie of anthropomorphised animals and Fruit Pastel colour palette combine to create a psychedelic effect that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the cover of a late-Sixties Jefferson Airplane album. You’ll finish the book feeling slightly baffled but with a big grin on your face.
Best character: Well, it has to be the unicorn, since he’s the only honest creature in the competition. But I also love the puffin who, for reasons known only to himself, is wearing Y-fronts.
‘I’ll win this barmy race,’ he thought, ‘and beat those other beasts, but first of all I think I’ll need a sneaky way to cheat.’
So joining all the berries using scrambled egg for glue, he sailed off down the river on a raspberry canoe.
If I like this, what other books might I like?
The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear by Edward Lear
Rebecca Davies is a journalist and children’s author and completed her middle-grade novel, Shirley Smart and the Nix’s Curse earlier this year. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here
Follow Rebecca on Twitter @TheStoryMonsterTagged in: Angus Mackinnon, Digital Leaf, Edward Lear, James Thorp, Lobster Race, Nonsense Rhymes, Pig, puffin, The Superhairies, The Weasel, Unicorn
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