Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

42? Sausages? On the meaning of life and Tim Hopgood’s Little Answer

Posted on | April 17, 2014 | 4 Comments

littleanswerBoth giggle inducing and surreptitiously brain expanding, Little Answer by Tim Hopgood is about BIG questions (“What is the meaning of life?”, “What is the secret to happiness?”).

And sausages.

Yes, really. It’s about sausages.

And I say that even though you could in fact argue Little Answer is ultimately about the biggest existential questions any of us face; it’s about trying to find out who we are, about trying to understand how we fit into the big wide world.

Profound AND full of laugh out loud moments, kindness and good old fashioned silliness, this is a fabulous book for all ages.

In this philosophical and joyously absurd book Little Answer actually knows his name (‘Sausages‘), but the worrying problem is that he can’t find his question. Something’s missing in his life, and until he can find the Q to his A, things just don’t feel right.

With help from a friend, Little Answer asks around. Could he be the answer to “What makes the wind blow?” or “Where did everything come from?”. There must be a question out there just right for him to answer…

Children will recognise themselves in the gloriously satisfying end to this book, and they and their parents will enjoy the inclusion of brief answers to all the more challenging questions posed in the story. Indeed this is the perfect book for children always asking “Why?”

Tim’s richly textured illustrations are bright and beautiful. His scribbles and prints, full of energy, have an appealing child-like quality to them. Thick crayon strokes look like they’ve just been drawn on the page. And Little Answer’s characterization is brilliant; he’s utterly personable and endearing!


Tim’s told me that the idea for this book came to him during a question and answer session at the end of one his school visits.

One boy put his hand up and said “I’ve got a guinea-pig” and the teacher then explained to the boy that that wasn’t a question.

She then asked the class “What does a question need?” to which they all replied “An answer!”.

And at that point Tim immediately thought, “But what if the answer can’t find its question…”

I do hope that little boy and his guinea pig one day find out they’ve inspired a wonderful, witty, and warm book perfect for feeding (and satisfying) curiosity.


You know a book’s hit home when within just a couple of hours of it arriving, the kids are already at play, inspired by the book. And so it was with Little Answer. Balloons were filled with rice (making them lovely to hold), and then eyes, smiles and legs were added to make our own Little Answers.


M couldn’t resist making a BIG Answer too! And the answers didn’t go nameless for long.


They were called:

  • Butterfly
  • Mummy
  • Chocolate
  • Loa Loa
  • Ovaries
  • Mint
  • and… 55 (she was the BIG Answer)

  • The girls told me that these were all answers to questions they had come up with, and it was now my job to find out what those questions were.

    Well I like a challenge, and I was certain that one of the questions must involve cake, so off we set for a cafe.


    To the huge delight of the girls, I was WRONG! None of their answers involved anything to do with a cafe (though they were more than happy to try some cake, just to be sure).


    I thought I better up my game, so I then decided that the local library would be a good place to look for questions. M was very obliging and looked up the dewey numbers for the books which might help me find the right questions to the answers she and her sister had prepared.


    So at least I was in the right section for some of my questions…. and I started knuckled down to work, with the Little Answers looking along side me.


    The Big Answer preferred to lounge about!


    I have to admit, it was quite a struggle to find the right questions. But in case you’re wondering what they were here they are:

  • What has antennae, wings and is beautiful?
  • Who do you find in Ancient Egyptian tombs?
  • What does Cadburys make?
  • Name a nematode that might live in your gut
  • Name a part of a flower
  • What’s my (M’s) favourite herb?

  • And are you ready for the really really BIG question?

  • What is 165 divided by 3?

  • I especially liked the big question. It really reminds you how different the world can see when you’re a kid!

    Even if I struggled to find all the questions in the library, we had so much fun with this activity. Any game where the kids are in the know and the adults are clueless is always popular in this home! Plus, along the way we got to practise research skills and giggle a great deal. What could be better?

    Music we listened to whilst making our little answers included:

  • There Are More Questions Than Answers by Johnny Nash
  • The Dewey Decimal Rap
  • What’s The Answer? by Gene Harris & The Three Sounds

  • Other fun activities to try out alongside reading Little Answer include:

  • Playing Sausages! Great for a quick giggle… go on, give it a go!
  • Printing your own fabric to match the dress worn by Daisy in the book. Here’s a how the Artful Parent did child friendly fabric printing.
  • Making a snail friend for your little answers. Older children might enjoy making these ones from old tights or sweaters, whilst everyone will love eating these ones!
  • Reading Tim Hopgood’s BIG! (here’s my review) or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, both of which pair perfectly (though in different ways) with Little Answer.

  • What are you the answer to? What questions are you looking for? :-)

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Little Answer from the author.

    In Heaven

    Posted on | April 14, 2014 | 6 Comments

    This weekend I was in heaven. 48 hours of being surrounded by articulate, engaging, thought provoking, charming, and downright inspirational people does a lot towards making the world seem a good place.

    Here are just a few of said people:

    Cressida Cowell was on a high from having come pretty much straight from being present at the recording of the film score for ‘How to train your Dragon 2′. Always enthusiastic, my favourite line from her was, “Writing picture books is like writing haikus for aliens.”

    Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve need to put on a West End/Broadway Show; they have it all in terms of panache, fun, costumes and great song. We also got a sneak peek of their next book, ‘Cakes in Space’. Wow.

    Meg Rosoff bravely shared pictures of her brain with us (yep, the slide above shows her brain when she sits down to try and write a new book). If ever you have the opportunity to listen to Meg talk, seize it with both hands. She was incredibly engaging, witty and clever. I sound a bit like a fawning teenager, but seriously, she was incredible.

    Two people I met this weekend made me cry with their beauty and thoughtfulness, and one of them was Ruta Sepetys. As you can see, Ruta also made me BEAM. If you haven’t read her books, you have such a treat ahead of you, and when you learn some of the stories behind the books your heart will break and then be made whole again.

    lyngardner450Lyn Gardner spoke with such infection enthusiasm for her Olivia I found myself wanting to run off to stage school.

    kategreenawaywinnersAnthony Browne (centre) terrified all of us present with stories about how a gorilla once took a chunk out of his leg, and the TV crew filming insisted on carrying on! Helen Oxenbury sparkled with charm and mischief. It was especially interesting to hear how even though both illustrators use a lot of watercolour in their work, they approach it in such different ways.

    There were very many more treasured moments this weekend, but I was too busy listening or deep in conversation to take photos! On a very personal note, I had enormous fun interviewing Damian Kelleher, Cate Cain, Sarah Crossan, Anne Cassidy and Ian Beck. It was simply an honour to share a stage with them.

    So the folk around were pretty amazing (slight understatement there!), and the setting was beautiful:



    Over the next couple of days, more photos of all the authors and illustrators I shared my weekend with will be up here. But now I’m off to do a little bit of reading (I returned this weekend with 63 books….)

    Happy Reading to you all!

    Busy with books

    Posted on | April 7, 2014 | 4 Comments

    The last couple of weeks haven’t seen much action from me here on Playing by the book, but that’s not because I haven’t been busy with books. On the contrary, I’ve been busy interviewing:-

  • Lyn Gardner, talking about writing for children’s theatre as opposed to children’s books
  • Sarah Crossan, discussing how verse novels differ from prose novels
  • Damian Dibben, dreaming of Benedict Cumberbatch and Alfonso Cuaron
  • and Ruta Sepetys, exploring where solace can be found (click on the names to read my interviews)

  • …as well as preparing to interview Cate Cain, Damian Kelleher, Anne Cassidy, and Ian Beck face to fact next week …in front of an audience …of librarians, school teachers and other adults passionate about books for children and young people. (It’s going to be equally enjoyable and nervewracking!)

    Yes, on Friday the Federation of Children’s Book Group’s annual conference kicks off (with none other than Cressida Cowell!), and then all the way through to Sunday lunchtime I will be living, eating, sleeping, dreaming books even more than usual.

    Next week I shall report back with lots of photos, bringing you news from Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, Meg Rosoff, Anthony Browne and Helen Oxenbury, Holly Smale, Julian Sedgwick, Damian Dibben, Abie Longstaff, Megan Rix, Justin Somper, Lauren Child, James Mayhew, Mick Inkpen, Guy Parker Rees and Atinuke, in addition to the authors I’ll be interviewing in person.

    But in the mean time I’m in marathon training. Book marathon training. My favourite sort of marathon training, and the best way to prepare for the conference!

    Once Easter is over I’ll be back to a full programme of posting here with lots more reviews and interviews and in the meantime you can always find me on Twitter.

    Happy Reading!

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