Sunday, 14 December 2014

SANTA SABOTEURS: Download and play a festive version of the Werewolves card game.

This time last year, I wrote a blog post about the annual visit of the Puzzle Elf to the Emmett household. This year I thought I’d write about another of my family’s elf-based Christmas antics and give you the chance to join in the fun.

My family and many of our friends are big fans of the parlour game commonly known as Werewolves. Originally called Mafia, the game was invented in the 80s by Russian psychology student Dimitry Davidoff. It can be played with an ordinary pack of cards or even a few scraps of paper, but we usually play it with a proper deck of Werewolves cards like these.

Although the game has a distinctly Halloweeny feel, we play it all year round. It’s a popular fixture at our Christmas parties and a couple of years ago I decided to create a special festive version, called Santa Saboteurs, to play at this time of year.

This version of the game it set at Santa's North Pole workshop where the elves have been infiltrated by a small number of evil goblins — the Santa Saboteurs. The elves must root out the traitors in their midst and banish them from the workshop before Christmas is ruined for everyone!

If you fancy playing it yourself, you can download pdfs of the cards and rules below. The cards pdf contains both the card-fronts and the card-backs (with the snowflakes on). It’s best to print the cards pdf onto a sheet of A4 card or thick paper. Once you’ve printed out the card-fronts, turn the card/paper over and put it back into the printer to print the card-backs on the reverse side. Then cut carefully along the dotted lines to make your set of cards.

Click the images above to download pdf files of the cards and game rules

If you've never played Werewolves, don’t be put off by the length of the rules. Only one person, the moderator, needs to understand them fully and then he/she will be able to guide the other players throughout the game. Most people find the game easy to pick up once they start playing and it can be played with children as young as five.

The game is suitable for 8 to 24 players.

If you do make your own set, I hope you enjoy playing it as much as we do!

For a darkly funny Christmas story about another would-be Santa Saboteur
check out The Santa Trap by me and Poly Bernatene.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Bradley Bartleby's Badvent Tweets

Several years ago illustrator Poly Bernatene and I created a picture book called The Santa Trap about a beastly brat called Bradley Bartleby and his attempts to trap Santa Claus and steal all of his presents. You can find out more about the book on this page of my web site.

As far as Poly and I were concerned, the book was a work of fiction. So you can imagine our surprise when, in November 2012, we started to receive threatening messages from Bradley himself. It seemed that the young man was not happy with the way we had represented him and he demanded the opportunity to set the record straight on this blog, which – after some unpleasant threats  – I allowed him to do. You can read his post here.

Stranger still, it seemed that this real life Bradley was putting the finishing touches to a real life Santa trap! The real Bradley had not bothered to finish reading the book, which he dismissed as "made up nonsense". So he was unaware that his subsequent exploits (as documented in Bradley's Twitter feed below) were uncannily similar to those described in its pages.

  Scroll inside the box to read them all  

You might think that after such a humiliating defeat, young Bradley would want to retreat from the public eye, but the following Christmas he was back on Twitter again, doing his best to spoil the holiday spirit by offering some "Tips to Ruin Christmas".

  Scroll inside the box to read them all  

And this Christmas he's Tweeting once more. In an attempt to discourage people from reading about his villainous exploits, he's offering his own "Rotten Reviews" attacking my and Poly's work. Here's what he's tweeted so far. Watch this space for updates or subscribe to Bradley's Twitter feed.

  Scroll inside the box to read them all  

If you have the misfortune to come across any of Bradley's reviews on Twitter, please disregard them. Here are a few things that genuine reviewers have said about the book.
"Bernatene’s cinematic mixed-media illustrations work wicked magic with Emmett’s darkly comedic prose … an ideal Christmas present for children who prefer Halloween."
"The cleverly constructed plot unfolds with perfect comedic timing and dry wit."
KIRKUS REVIEWS  - Starred Review and one of the 100 Best Children's Books of 2012
"A hilarious adventure. The stylised illustrations complement the story brilliantly, creating a wonderful darkly funny atmosphere."
You can read more real reviews of the book here.


Unfortunately the regular UK paperback edition is currently out of stock and will not be reprinted before Christmas. However the Let's Read UK MINI-PAPERBACK and the US HARDBACK are still available and can be ordered using the links below.
find your local bookshop Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

P.S. There are rumours that a musical theatre adaptation of Bradley's story is being developed for Christmas 2015. I dread to think how Bradley will react to that.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

MARVELLOUS MACHINES: Technology in picture book illustration

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.

Understanding how it all fits together is no mean feat.
One of David Parkins's techtastic illustrations for Eileen Browne's story, No Problem.

I’m a bit of a technophile and several of my picture books, such as Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit and Tom’s Clockwork Dragon have a technological theme. I’d like to think that my enthusiasm for technology comes across in my writing, but the writing only tells half the story in a picture book, the other half being told by the illustrations.

Some of the fundamentally flawed bicycle
drawings from Rebecca Lawson’s study
To draw a machine or mechanism well, an illustrator has to understand how it’s put together and operates. This cognitive skill doesn’t always go hand in hand with artistic ability and is relatively uncommon, not just among illustrators, but among the population as a whole.

Cognitive psychologist Rebecca Lawson demonstrated this last point with a series of experiments in which subjects were asked to either draw or complete a drawing of a bicycle. The bicycle is a simple machine that most people will have been familiar with from an early age and even non-cyclists encounter them regularly. While many people may think that they understand how a bicycle is put together, Lawson’s experiments (which she later published as a paper) show that relatively few people are able to draw one from memory without making fundamental errors.

Having established how rare this ability is, here are 10 techtastic picture book illustrators who excel at drawing machines.

You can see every nut, bolt and washer in David Parkins’s wonderful illustrations for No Problem, written by Eileen Browne. This book is one of my all-time favourite picture books about technology and was a huge bedtime favourite of my son’s.

The extraordinary Chris Riddell seems to excel at drawing everything and technology is no exception. The robots that inhabit Wendel’s Workshop demonstrate how technically detailed illustrations can also be brimming with character.

Mark Oliver, who created Monster’s - An Owner’s Guide with me, cites his engineer father as an inspiration for much of his work. Mark once told me that the key to illustrating technology well is that, “it has to look like it could actually work.”

Jonny Duddle’s The King of Space is full of superbly drawn spaceships and robots. Rex, the book’s anti-hero, lives on a farm which may be why the huge “warbot” he constructs looks like it’s made from tractor parts.

Ted Dewan’s re-telling of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice replaces magic with technology, and the work-shy human apprentice with an equally work-shy robot.

Although some of Callum’s creations in Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit are huge, Ben Mantle’s brilliantly detailed illustrations make it clear that they are constructed from pieces that a child could handle and assemble on his own.

William Bee’s illustrations for And the Train Goes are packed with the sort of wonderful technical detail that’s rarely found in picture books for the very young.

While cross sections are more commonly found in non-fiction, Steve Cox’s design for the crocodile submarine in our picture book The Treasure of Captain Claw was so stunning that publisher Orchard gave Steve this huge gatefold to show it off. Click here to see a much larger version in Steve's Flickr album.

No list of techtastic illustrators is complete, without the grandaddy of them all, Heath RobinsonThis illustration is from Railway Ribaldry, published for the centenary of the Great Western Railway in 1935.

And finally, I couldn’t resist sneaking in an illustration from The Clockwork Dragon (a reworking of Tom’s Clockwork Dragon), my forthcoming picture book with Elys Dolan. Elys is a self-confessed armour nut, and this certainly shows in her splendid illustrations of the eponymous dragon, which is made from recycled arms and armour.

Do you have a favourite picture book featuring marvellous machinery that I haven’t mentioned? If so, tell me about it in the comment box below.

Friday, 24 October 2014

HERE BE MONSTERS - Event and signing at Waterstone's Nottingham

If you live near Nottingham you might like to come along to my Here Be Monsters event and signing in the children's department of Waterstone's book shop on Saturday 1st November at 11.00am. I'll be reading the book and there'll be a chance to draw your own monster-infested treasure map. If X marks the right spot – you could win a signed paperback!

And, if you don't win, I'll be on hand to sign the copies on sale in the store.

Draw your own treasure map for a chance to win a copy of the book

Here Be Monsters – Event and Signing
11.00am Saturday 1st November
1-5 Bridlesmith Gate

Friday, 10 October 2014


Usually when a picture book goes out of print, it stays out of print. So I consider myself very fortunate to have several of my out-of-print picture books republished – or about to be republished – recently. The latest are Dinosaurs After Dark, illustrated by Curtis Jobling, and What Friends Do Best, illustrated by Nathan Reed. Both books are published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

They are “special sales” editions, which means that you may not be able to find them in your local bookshop, but you can buy What Friends Do Best from The Works and both books are available through online booksellers such as Amazon.

Here’s a couple of spreads from the books.

Dinosaurs After Dark

Buy this book at amazon UKIf Curtis Jobling’s illustration style looks familiar it may be because he's also the designer of Bob The Builder series and the creator CBeebies Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. Curtis has also written the Wereworld series of novels for older children.

Find out more about Dinosaur After Dark on my web site

What Friends Do Best

Buy this book at amazon UKWhat Friends Do Best was originally written as a sequel to my first Mole and Friends book, Bringing Down the Moon. The story was centred on Squirrel, rather than Mole and was about preparing a meal. When Mole’s publisher didn’t take it, I recast the story with new characters and made it about building a rocket instead.

Find out more about What Friends Do Best on my web site

Monday, 29 September 2014

HERE BE MONSTERS - Now out in paperback + Nottingham Event

I'm delighted to announce that Here Be Monsters, my third picture book with illustrator Poly Bernatene, has just been published in paperback by Macmillan Children's books!

When greedy Captain Cut-Throat hears of an island strewn with giant gem stones, he and his villainous crew set sail immediately to take the treasure for themselves. According to the map the misty waters that surround the island are teeming with hungry monsters – but that doesn't bother the Captain who assures his crew that "monsters simply don't exist." However as the ship nears the island, the unfortunate crew learns otherwise. Will they be able to convince their greedy Captain before it's too late?

"Here be monsters!" said the first mate.
"Monsters hiding the mist!"
"Nonsense," said the Captain.
"Monsters simply don't exist."

The hardback edition has had some great reviews. Here's a couple of them:

"Raucous rhymes, playful visuals, and great gobs of wicked humour make Here Be Monsters a wildly imaginative adventure. The road to ruin has never been so fun"
Donna McKinnon, 32 PAGES
"What a brilliant book to read aloud. Dare you to read it and not burst out a pirate accent! The rhyming is divine and the plot adored by young listeners."

To mark the publication of the paperback, I've created 3 new activity sheets – a Here Be Monsters Crossword, a Misty Monsters drawing sheet and a Spot the Monsters sheet – which you can download by clicking on the images below.

Here Be Monsters Crossword
Buy this book at amazon UK
Misty Monsters Drawing Sheet

Buy at amazon US
Spot the Monster's Sheet

You can also download and print out the Munching Monsters Card Game featuring the Poly Bernatene's wonderful character illustrations from the book.

Here's a couple of spreads and the trailer for the book.

And, if you live near Nottingham, you might like to come along to my Here Be Monsters event at the Telling Tales Children's Festival on 11 October. I'll be explaining how an ancient ostrich egg and a five-hundred-year-old sea map helped to inspire the story and we'll be drawing monster-infested treasure maps. If X marks the right spot – you could win a signed copy of the book!

UPDATE: This event has now sold out, but if you don't have a ticket, you can still come along to my un-ticketted "drop-in" storytelling event at 3.15pm to hear me read The Princess and the Pig and Pigs Might Fly.

Click here to find out more about the book on my web site

find your local bookshop Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

Monday, 22 September 2014

Skyboy and other Stupendous Science Stories • Early Reader

Although most of my books are picture books, I occasionally write for older children as well and my latest book, out this Friday, is a collection of science-themed stories for 8 to 9-year-olds called Skyboy and other Stupendous Science Stories.

When Oxford University Press asked me if I’d like to write something for their Project X series, I had mixed feelings at first. They wanted me to write what they called a “Mash-Up”, comprising of three stories and a poem which seemed like a lot of work for one book.

However the theme of the stories was science, a topic that’s always appealed to me, and the three stories were all in different formats; a conventional short story, a comic strip and a play script. I’d never written a comic strip or a play script before, so I decided I should give it a go. I’m glad I did, because I’m delighted with the way the book has turned out.

I wrote each of the stories about a different area of science:
The short story, Brought to you by ThinkRight, is about a sinister use of neuroscience (the study of how the brain works).  
The comic strip, Skyboy Takes Off, is about the invention of an anti-gravity generator 
The play script, The Greatest Scientist of All Time, is about time travel 
And the poem, My Cousin is a Cucumber, is about evolution and the amazing fact that all life is thought to have descended from a single simple lifeform.
One of Kevin Hopgood's pencil roughs for Skyboy Takes Off.
The two scientists in the story, Max and Laura, are named after
my children.
Although it’s by far the simplest story, the most challenging to write was the comic strip, Skyboy Takes Off. OUP’s brief required that the story be told in 10 pages (slightly smaller than A5) with no more than 3 panels on each page and a maximum word count of less than 150 words. There’s only so much plot you can cover in such a tight format, but I wanted to write something that had some action and excitement, so I wrote an origins story for a young superhero that finishes the moment that Skyboy takes to the sky for the first time.

One reason I’m so pleased with the finished book is the illustrations. I can be quite picky about illustration style and with four different illustrators working on the book I thought it might take a while to agree on a suitable line-up. However the first four illustrators that designer Lily Trotter and editor Rachel Green suggested were all great matches for the stories they were illustrating.

My short story, Brought to You by ThinkRight was influenced by the “Golden Age” science fiction short stories I’d read when I was growing up, so Simon Bartram’s slightly retro style is a great fit for that story.

Skyboy Takes Off was very much in the tradition of Marvel comic superheroes, so I'm thrilled that Iron Man and 2000 AD illustrator Kevin Hopgood has illustrated it.

I’d discovered Alex Patterson’s comical illustrations through Twitter and had recently suggested him for a book with another publisher, but it had ended up with another illustrator. So I was delighted that he was able to illustrate the play script of The Greatest Scientist of All Time.

And Yannick Robert has done a terrific job of illustrating My Cousin is a Cucumber. I love Yannick’s little caricature of my science hero, Charles Darwin, sitting in a tree.

Charles Darwin is one of my science heroes and I have a little collection of Darwin souvenirs in my office.

Readers can test their knowledge of the stories
in the book by downloading the Skyboy crossword.

find your local bookshopBuy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US