Children’s Book Blog – books for April: The Day the Crayons Quit, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig and Grasshopper Jungle
At the start of each month, I pick out three of the best children’s book I’ve been reading recently, from picture books to Young Adult novels, old classics to new favourites. My recommendations for April are The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.
PICTURE BOOK OF THE MONTH: The Day the Crayons Quit
As anyone with young children will know, finding a truly original picture book that makes you smile with every turn of the page is no easy feat. The Day the Crayons Quit is one such book.
The premise is delightfully simple: one day when a little boy called Duncan goes to take out his crayons at school, he finds a note from each crayon declaring that they have gone on strike due to a list of individual grievances. Red Crayon is worn out from over-use, Black Crayon is fed up with only being used to outline things, Orange and Yellow Crayon are embroiled in a bitter dispute about who should be the rightful colour of the sun, and poor old Pink Crayon only ever gets used by Duncan’s little sister.
Each crayon’s note has been seemingly scanned into the pages of the book, scrawled in childish handwriting and accompanied by examples of some of ‘Duncan’s’ drawings to illustrate their point. Of course the drawings were in fact carefully created by the supremely talented Oliver Jeffers, who has been shortlisted for this year’s Kate Greenaway Medal for his efforts.
Perhaps the best thing about this book its underlying message about the power of creativity. The crayons’ complaints will encourage young readers to think outside the box – while, of course, still colouring inside the lines.
I was originally going recommend Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep Pig in this slot, as it was one of my favourites when I was growing up, but then another wonderful – and very funny – book about a pig landed on my doormat and I couldn’t resist covering this instead.
The porcine narrator of Emer Stamp’s debut novel is known simply as ‘Pig’. Pig is best friends with Duck and the sworn enemy of the Evil Chickens, who he/she takes delight in gassing with ‘super-evil-grade-A farts’ on a regular basis. The only people who call Pig anything other than just ‘Pig’ are the farmer and his wife, who affectionately refer to him/her as ‘Roast Pork’. It is Pig’s discovery of the true meaning of this nickname that ignites the book’s madcap plot involving a rocket ship fueled by poo and a trip to Pluto (although perhaps not the Pluto you might think).
The large, ‘hand-written’ text and abundant illustrations (drawn by the author) make this a great choice for reluctant readers, much like the Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates series. But be warned: like The Sheep-Pig before it, this book may turn your child temporarily vegetarian!
The press release that accompanied my copy of Grasshopper Jungle predicted that my reaction upon finishing the book would be ‘Holy s***!’. And they weren’t far wrong. It’s difficult to know quite how to respond to a book about a sexually-confused Iowan teenager who becomes one of the unwitting instigators of an Apocalypse involving unstoppable giant praying mantises who only want to do two things – one of which is eating people, the other I’m sure you can work out for yourselves. What I can say is that I couldn’t put it down and, rather like its insect antagonists, I devoured the whole thing in one go.
Andrew Smith’s frenetic and cleverly repetitive narrative hops effortlessly back and forth in time and perfectly captures the chronic confusion of adolescence. He has also, somehow, managed to craft a story which simultaneously acts as a critique of present-day Middle America, a philosophical thesis on the absurdity of life and a sexy, pulpy sci-fi-horror-thriller. Plus it features an enormously likeable hero in the form of 16-year-old Austin Szerba, who cannot decide whether he is more in love with his girlfriend, Shann, or his best friend, Robby, and is made horny by things like rule-breaking, people using the word ‘moment’ and the idea of going to Sweden.
The prose is also extremely cinematic – if they haven’t already, some film studio needs to snap up the rights to this immediately. I, for one, would be first in line to see this story on the big screen.
Rebecca Davies is a journalist and author and is currently working on a guide to children’s book writing for Robert Hale Publishing. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here
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