Lit Kid: first choose your title

More book sorting. Prospect of spring fair at school, running the book stall again (aka
I spoke up first so I got my stall of choice): I should at least provide a few books.

It’s not just a book stall: it’s also DVDs, the odd Nintendo game, and so on. But books is the main part, and it provides a good excuse to be wise about what we hang onto.

Between the school fair, and the book fairs in Peebles (also in the early part of the year), there are plenty of opportunities to gain more books: but I am strict about getting rid of some first.

Looking through them, though, I thought that there was merit in deciding what might make a good title, at least for a children’s book.

I should probably explain what I’m after: I do love a quirky title. I know it has to set up at least a little idea of what the story is about, but I think we can still do that and make people smile, don’t you?

Here’s my shortlist for now:

But I Am an Alligator – Lauren Child. This was the book that prompted today’s post. Lola, co-star of the book, has a favoured costume which she wants to wear everywhere. Can you guess what it is?

For all of Lola having a good line in dresses and butterfly hairslides, she’s not stuck in what I think of as ‘pink mode’. If you are going to wear a costume everywhere, it had better be a good one.

And I like the fact that her choices are just a bit edgy. This is the girl whose favourite library book is Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies. Onward, Lola.

A Boy Wants a Dinosaur – Hiawyn Oram, Satoshi Kitamura. On the face of it, this looks like a bit more of a ‘does what it says on the tin’ title.

But wait. The fun is in how the phrase occurs in the book. His grandfather says,

“A boy wants a dinosaur this much, a boy should have a dinosaur.”

Jewish phraseology, dinosaurs that eat everything, and pictures that beautifully capture the dinosaur’s bird-like qualities (just look at the mouth on the cover).

The Great Piratical Rumbustification – Margaret Mahy. I love Mahy’s work – both the books for younger readers and the older teen novels.

Mahy has a great sense of what I think of as ‘mouth chew for words’ – how they feel in your mouth when you read them aloud.

(Her piece de resistance, in this sense, is Bubble Trouble, an amazing poem about a baby accidentally captured inside a very large bubble, which I strongly urge you to order from the library at least.)

So I like an author who uses great chewy words like rumbustification – and truly, when pirates plan a knees-up, they do it well.

Another great title is Fattypuffs and Thinifers by Andre Maurois. I think I came across this in the library in my teens, or maybe a bit earlier.

It is one of those extended analogy books that sit well alongside the likes of The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s one I happily reaquainted myself with recently, reading some back entries on the children’s book blog Tygertale.

Imagine two kingdoms at war, one with citizens on the plumper side, one whose inhabitants are pretty skinny. Add in a couple of brothers who typify the two sides, and you have a great battle on your hands.

In a similar vein, I have to add Bottersnikes and Gumbles, a brilliant book by Australian author S.A. Wakefield.  A school friend introduced me to it, and I read, entranced.

(The pictures are fantastic. This link shows you lots – the text is in Chinese, but you get to see the various cover illustrations and a good number of others too.

And if you are unsure why the small cuddly characters are walking around in tin cans, it’s because the nasty long-nosed characters find jam tins the best things to catch them in.)

These books are harder to track down now, but it’s worth it if you can – and it’s a little series too, if you get hooked.

I discovered that they have also now been animated, so you can get a sneak preview of them in action here.

For another strangely named creature with a tricky attitude, try Bogwoppit, by Ursula Moray Williams.

(Pictures are by Shirley Hughes, one of my favourite illustrators, setting aside her own creation Alfie for the Bogwoppit, a frowning owl-like creature.)

There are many more such titles out there, I’m sure. Let me know if there’s any key ones I’ve missed.

For my money, if a title has a good mouth feel to it, a sense of al dente when you try it for size before your junior audience, it’s worth a go. All of these have. Tuck in.

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