FCBG Children’s Book Award Blog Tour

Welcome to my stop on the Children’s Book Award Blog Tour! Monday saw the announcement of the Top Ten books as voted on solely by children across the UK. A blog tour has been created to celebrate each title and today is the launch of that tour!

I am delighted to share a blog from author-illustrator, Jon Agee all about his shortlisted title, My Rhinoceros, published by Scallywag Press!

When children ask me which of my picture books is my favorite, I always hesitate.  I feel like a parent, in front of a large family, having to choose which child they like best.  My reply is usually diplomatic, pointing out the unique characteristics of all my children, er, books.  The truth is, I do have favorites, and My Rhinoceros is one of them.  

This book represents a turning point.  For many years before Rhino, my picture books featured – no joke – stories about hapless middle-aged men.  There was Eugene Mudge, a grumpy retiree; Felix Clousseau, an overlooked painter; Dmitri, a forgotten astronaut; Milo, an incompetent magician.  In My Rhinoceros, there are plenty of interesting grown-ups, but front and center – to the relief of my publisher! – was a little boy.

The idea for the story sprouted, one afternoon, from a doodle in my notebook of – predictably – a middle-aged man.  He was standing in a park, near a tree, holding a leash.  The leash suggested a dog, but when my pen line got to the end of the leash, I drew – just for fun! – a rhinoceros.  Staying with the dog analogy, I drew the man tossing his pet rhino a ball, then a stick, then a frisbie.  When the rhino doesn’t fetch, the man – no surprise – gets annoyed.  It was clear to me that this rhino needed to have a different talent, something distinct to a rhinoceros, and – aha! – the horn on its nose seemed full of potential.  What might a rhinoceros do with this pointy thing (SFPB: Safe for Picture Books!) that no other creature could do?  How about: popping balloons and poking holes in kites?   It made absolute sense – and it made me laugh.  My only concern: how could this playful, yet destructive impulse be used in the service of good?  The answer came to light in a few more thumbnail sketches (particularly a bank robbery scene) and the whole story, practically word-for-word, was sketched out in less than an hour. 

One of the appealing things to me about My Rhinoceros is how this wildly offbeat story is carefully grounded in logic.  Tone, gesture, and expression all play a part.  For example, at the start of the book, the boy’s matter-of-fact appearance and understated narration make having a pet rhino seem perfectly normal.  When he loses patience with his rhino, it’s all in keeping with typical issues of pet ownership. When we hear of the rhino’s two purported talents – balloon popping and kite puncturing – this is explained by none other than a “rhinoceros expert”–– and an expert has credibility!  Page by page, the reader is encouraged to suspend their disbelief, so that by the end of the book, it takes little effort to believe that a rhinoceros with two unusual talents, might have another that’s even more unusual.  

There’s another reason I love this book: it’s the most fun to tell in front of large groups of children. Oddly enough, instead of reading from the actual book, I enjoy telling and drawing the story live, using a big marker on a large sheet of paper. Rhino, I’ve discovered, leaves lots of room for improvisation: sound effects, funny voices, pantomime, including back-and-forth with the audience. Who knew that young children would get such pleasure watching me draw bank robbers fall screaming out of the sky?

You can watch Jon Agee reading from My Rhinoceros on this link, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EhnaHXmF9fY

Thank you to Jon Agee and Scallywag Press for this brilliant blog! Keep reading for further details about the Children’s Book Award and how to get involved!

The Children’s Book Award is the only national award for children’s books that is voted for entirely by children. It is owned and coordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and is highly respected by teachers, parents and librarians. It has brought acclaim and strong sales to past winners such as J.K. Rowling, Patrick Ness, Andy Stanton, Malorie Blackman, Anthony Horowitz and Michael Morpurgo, who has won a record four times. The award has often been the first to recognise the future stars of children’s fiction and has the ability to turn popular authors into bestsellers.

Who will win? Children nationwide are now invited to vote for their favourite of the ten shortlisted books. The deadline for online voting is 12 noon on Friday 12th May. The category winners and the author of the best children’s book published in the 2022 nomination period will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony which takes place in Central London on Saturday 10th June, and will be live-streamed.

Vote online here – www.fcbg.org.uk/childrens-book-award-2023/.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s