What happens when the child you’re reading to at bedtime takes control of the story and turns expectations on their head? So if instead of something quiet and soothing, designed to make eyelids heavy and pulses slow, the air is suddenly filled with swooshing lightsabers, gnashing robots and adrenalin-pumping, giggle-inducing craziness? The sort that – even as the illustrator of the story you are reading may acknowledge – leaves the parent needing a glass of wine to recover?
Subversive, witty, and gently challenging all sorts of assumptions about the way things “have” to be, This Is Not A Bedtime Story written by Will Mabbitt (@gomabbitt) and illustrated by Fred Blunt (@FredBlunt) is the real deal when it comes to everything I want from a great bedtime read with the kids. Joyous, honest, and wonderfully silly, it makes those shared minutes before turning out the lights truly something to treasure, rather than a routine to go through the ropes with.
Sophie has her own ideas about how the cute pink kitten story she and her Dad are sharing ought to play out. No cuddly teddy bears for her, but instead a battle of epic proportions with wild lions, helicopters and rocket launchers! Sophie re-tells the book they’re sharing, surprising her father at just about every turn, with her imagination and desire for excitement over insipid soppiness, creating a bedtime story neither of them will forget in a hurry.
A celebration of Dads reading and of kids having the opportunity to tell their grown-ups their own stories, reminding us that girls love adrenaline and adventure just as much as boys, This Is Not A Bedtime Story makes shared reading a real delight for both young and old, bringing the day to the end with laughter, imagination and a few moments of really being together.
Blunt’s scratchy, energetic, animated illustrations bring bags of humour to Mabbitt’s well-observed, all too believable text; the Dad’s expressions throughout are pitch-perfect, the pets’ faces fabulously funny. Clever page turns inject even more drama, and the final illustration spoke volumes to me.
Whilst of course, at time, kids prefer something soothingly familiar, and parents may just want an easy, quiet ride, I love the humour, creativity, honesty and energy of This Is Not A Bedtime Story and am convinced your kids will too!
I was so delighted by This Is Not A Bedtime Story that I approached the books author and illustrator to ask them about their own bedtime reading, as a child and now as parents. Here’s what Will and Fred had to say:
Playing by the Book: What do you remember about your own bedtime routine as a child?
Will Mabbitt: I remember sharing a room with one of my older brothers and my dad reading us stories. Further back I have vague memories of him singing me Morningtown Ride. I sing it to my daughters although I never remember asking him to stop like they always ask me. He also used to make us a special ‘supper drink’ with hot milk with a spoonful of black treacle sitting in the bottom. He called it Burma Oil after an old oil company. I don’t have many bedtime memories of my lovely mum. I reckon she was too busy doing everything else.
Fred Blunt: Very little to be honest… but I do remember trying my best not to be noticed around bedtime – being as quiet as a mouse, just in case I got to stay up a bit later, to see Starsky and Hutch, or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century!
Playing by the Book: What (bedtime) books do you remember especially enjoying as a child (if any)? And why? i.e. what made the experience so lovely?
Will Mabbitt: I remember my dad reading us ‘The Hobbit’. He must’ve really liked that book to dedicate so much time to reading it aloud at the end of a working day. The books I can actually remember reading are from when I was a bit older, I think. Things like ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (Jean George), ‘White Fang’ (Jack London), and in particular ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Treasure Island’ (RL Stevenson). Bedtime stories are great. You can go anywhere and do anything, all from the safety of your own bed.
Fred Blunt: I vividly remember ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (Maurice Sendak). I can still recall being fascinated by beautifully hatched drawings of the monsters. Maybe even mildly scared by them. Even then I could tell it was a very special book.
I also loved my mum reading ‘Richards Scarry’s Best Nursery Rhymes Ever!’. I Loved the old rhymes and loved all the old fashioned characters too.
Playing by the Book: As parents, what do you enjoy (and NOT enjoy!) about bedtime stories? Which books have you discovered as parents that you love to read out loud? What makes those books such good books?
Will Mabbitt: I’m lucky in that I love most books. Sometimes though I have to grit my teeth and read one I don’t like – but the reason will usually be completely subjective. I’ve never liked vehicles with faces for example. I try and let my daughter choose, though I will admit to some books getting lost behind the bookcase after fifty readings. One that has stayed at the top of the pile for ages is ‘Orange Pear Apple Bear’ (Emily Gravett). It was a favourite of me and my oldest daughter. She loved saying the words out loud and we both loved the pictures. Now I’m reading ‘Bear Hug’ (by Katherine McEwan) with the youngest. We’ve read it A LOT and we’re both still enjoying it. The holy grail in a bedtime story is finding a book that both me AND my daughter like.
Fred Blunt: In our house, we love funny books, and books where we can put on silly voices. ‘I Want My Hat Back’ (Jon Klassen) falls nicely into this category (and has lovely pictures for me to admire!)
Poetry is popular too… ‘Dirty Beasts’ (Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake) is a firm favourite. The kids squeal with delight when we read the Scorpion and myself, or Clare (my wife) mimics a scorpion scurrying under the covers with our hands!
We’re not so keen on overly saccharine books, or message books at bedtime. The fun books tend to win.
Playing by the Book: What is your favourite time for reading for yourself and why?
Will Mabbitt: Having young kids is tiring and my reading habits have changed completely. Now, reading late into the night is very unusual, and the idea of having a lazy saturday morning reading a book is far-fetched to say the least. There’s no lock in our bathroom so I can’t even read on the toilet without someone toddling in. On the plus side I’ve discovered a whole new world of contemporary children’s books I never would have encountered otherwise – and have had the combined pleasure of discovering them with my kids. My favourite place to read now is in the pub. A pint, a book, and a packet of twiglets. What could be better than that!
Fred Blunt: The only time I find to read for myself is in bed, just before lights out (and sometimes with a mug of Ovaltine!) It’s a great to take your mind away from the hecticness of the day, and get the eyelids drooping, ready for some well-earned shut eye.
My thanks go to Will and Fred for generously answering my questions today, and especially for creating one of the funniest books I’ve read this year. There’s no need to wait for bedtime – go seek it out now!
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.