We are thrilled to be the first stop on the blog tour for Mini Monsters: Can I Be The Best? by Caryl Hart and Tony Neal. This brilliant new book releases on Thursday 21st January. Read our review and an interview with superstar children's author, Caryl Hart...
Can I Be The Best? is the second book in the absolutely adorable Mini Monsters series, which launched last year. The first, Can I Play?, introduced characters Scout, Sparkle, Arthur and Tiny with an engaging and thoughtful story about the importance of being inclusive. Can I Be The Best? follows on from this with another insightful and gentle exploration of the emotional lives of young children.
In Can I Be The Best? Arthur, Scout and Sparkle compete at board games, building sandcastles and racing. Although he comes last each time, Arthur congratulates his friends on their successes and appears genuinely happy for them. Despite this, Arthur can't help feeling sad about not being the best at any of these pursuits.
Arthur doesn't realise that there is something at which he excels. Arthur is the kindest of all the Mini Monsters, and this is an aspect of Arthur that is greatly appreciated by his pals.
Scout, Sparkle and Tiny find a way to show Arthur just how wonderful he is and demonstrate that being a good friend is more important than being number one.
This is a simple story that will appeal to toddlers and preschoolers, but even my five-year-old enjoyed it. The illustrations are bright, colourful and cheerful with lots of fun and appropriately monster-esque details in the background. I love how the endpapers of each book are designed to look like the fur of the character with whom the plot is most concerned. The Mini Monsters are incredibly cute, especially Tiny and Arthur who you just want to cuddle (how fabulous would love plush toys of both be?).
Can I Be The Best? shows children that they don't have to be the best at everything and that everyone has a talent, even if it's not immediately apparent. Arthur's kindness to his fellow creatures is celebrated, helping readers to understand that there is more to life than winning. The story explores how it can feel to lose and why we shouldn't compare ourselves to others. We see why bragging might be insensitive and are encouraged to be more considerate.
The Mini Monsters recreate settings and situations to which the very young can easily relate, helping children to navigate the social minefields of their early years. It's comforting for young children to see these characters in scenes with which they are familiar, whether it's being excluded from games or feeling inadequate.
Toddlers and preschoolers who recognise some of their own less altruistic behaviours in the Mini Monsters may subsequently show more compassion for their peers. This series allows children to better understand their classmates as well as themselves, and offers subtle guidance on acting with empathy.
Preschool protocol and etiquette can be confusing, especially as we are spending more time than usual at home at the moment. These books are ideal for teaching children how to interact harmoniously at a time when there is a lack of opportunities to learn this in person. They are also perfect for reading aloud in nurseries and preschools once they reopen, especially as there are lots of free downloadable activities to accompany the series.
I was beyond excited when Author Caryl Hart generously agreed to an interview with Picture Book Snob! You can read the full interview here and below is an excerpt which focuses on Can I Be The Best? and the Mini Monsters series:
This is the second Mini Monsters book – are there many more planned?
I’m very much hoping so! But we have to wait and see how the first two books go before committing to any more.
How did you get the idea for the Mini Monsters series?
I was inspired to create some stories about the challenges children face in preschool after watching Channel 4s Secret Life of 4 and 5-year-olds a few years ago. Watching these programmes made me realise how many emotions and tricky situations young children have to learn to navigate and cope with when they start getting to know new people. No wonder young children are exhausted at the end of the preschool day!
Can I Be The Best? shows children that everyone has a talent. What did you excel at when you were younger? Was there anything you longed to better at?
I was a hard worker as a child and was reasonably able academically. I started violin lessons at 4 years old and made it into the county youth orchestra by the time I was around 12 or 13. I passed grade 8 at 14. So looking back I was pretty good, but it was a pretty competitive arena and I never really felt that I was good enough, which is a shame.
There are so many things I long to be better at!
When I was younger, I wanted to be good at sports and was quite a good swimmer. But individual sports weren’t valued at my schools and only the top players were supported to any extent in team sports, so the message I got for a long time was, “you’re rubbish, don’t bother.” I only really realised sport was for me in my late 20s when I discovered non-competitive fitness – ie going to the gym. Suddenly I could enjoy physical exercise without that awful feeling of being the last one to be picked! I’d also love to be better at playing the piano, singing, doing hair and makeup and choosing clothes!
The Mini Monsters have so many characteristics in common with young children – are they based on anyone in particular?
They’re not based on anyone in particular though I do think it helps to find real people to model your characters on where you can.
The Mini Monsters all have distinct personalities – which Mini Monster do you most resemble?
Ah that’s a good question. I think I’m a lot like all of them in different ways. Sparkle is assertive and proactive – which I am a lot of the time. Scout is enthusiastic, which is also me. Arthur is thoughtful and loves nature – I have a science and conservation background so love nature too… though only other people will be able to tell you if I’m thoughtful – I do try to be. The only one I think I don’t share many characteristics with is Tiny, who is non-verbal and very funny. I talk a lot so I think I am like Tiny the least!
Arthur loves insects. Are you interested in entomology and have you ever built an insect house yourself?
I used to work for the environment agency and then for the peak district national park so I have a background in ecology and conservation. I haven’t actually built an insect house myself but have worked with others who have. I’m pretty good with insects on the whole, though have been known to get the eeby-jeebies with big house spiders. But I’m a trapper-and-freer and never a squasher!
We adore Tiny and even though he/she (not sure of gender or if they have one!) doesn’t say anything in either story, my kids enjoy seeing what they are up to and find Tiny very amusing. Are there any plans to put Tiny centre-stage in a future Mini Monsters book?
The plan is for each Mini Monster to have a story that focuses on them, so hopefully if the series goes well, Tiny should take the spotlight soon!
I love Tony Neal’s bright and cheerful illustrations and he has made the Mini Monsters so cute. It must have been exciting to see his initial artwork when you were working on Can I Play? Did you collaborate with Tony closely on how the Mini Monsters would look or was he given free reign? How did it feel to see Tiny, Scout, Arthur and Sparkle for the first time?
We actually spent a lot of time getting the look of the characters just right. Poor Tony had to do a good many iterations before we were all happy with the final design, but I’m super pleased with how they’ve turned out.
The Mini Monsters gently demonstrate how to play together and interact with consideration and kindness. I found it amusing that the Mini Monsters are in preschool as children can sometimes be beastly towards one another at that age. Have you any memories of monstrous behaviour by yourself or other children when you were in preschool?
I don’t remember very much about preschool other than doing road safety with Billy Beacon and being disappointed that there wasn’t a little bed I could sleep in when I was tired! I’m sure I did behave monstrously at times, but the mind has a habit of blocking out one’s own misdemeanors!
Apart from the Mini Monsters, you’ve also created How to Win a Monster Race, There’s a Monster in My Fridge and The Beast of Bramble Woods. Are you a big fan of monsters and do you have any favourite monsters or monster books by other authors?
Haha! That’s a very good question! In fact, my initial concept for the Mini Monsters was to have them as baby dinosaurs as at the time I was developing the stories, there didn’t seem to be any preschool dinosaurs around. But then Rob Biddulph published Dinosaur Juniors so that particular slot was taken!
I don’t personally have a particular affinity with monsters but the advantage of using made-up characters is that you can avoid potential stereotyping. Once we decided on monsters, I actually loved the metaphor – that we all have mini monsters inside of us, so it seemed rather neat to choose this theme.
Read the full interview to learn more about Caryl's creative process and upcoming books, and her advice for aspiring picture book authors
Mini Monsters: Can I Be The Best? releases on Thursday 21st January and signed copies are available from carylhart.com
Follow the rest of the blog tour to learn more about Mini Monsters: Can I Be The Best? and join a live story time - see all the stops here: