Big bad books and gentle wolves
The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle: review + author interview
We were delighted to chat to one of our favourite picture book authors, Lucy Rowland, about her new book, The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book. Read our review and interview to find out where Lucy gets ideas and see her tips for aspiring authors. Discover Lucy's favourite part of the writing process, and which fairy tale character Lucy would like to arrive at her door...
What's it about?
Ben and his mother are reading The Three Little Pigs, when a phone call interrupts them. Impatient for the story to continue, Ben picks up the book and starts turning the pages without Mum. To his surprise, the characters start showing up at his house, including the big bad wolf, who claims to be reformed and wants to be friends. Can he be trusted? This is a companion to Little Red Reading Hood, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.
What can we learn?
Everyone deserves another chance and it's never too late to start over. Stories are fluid and can have many outcomes. If you don't like your narrative, you can change it.
What makes this stand out? It's a playful and inventive take on traditional fairy tales which celebrates the imagination and the magic of storytelling. At a time when there is a lack of diversity in picture books, it's wonderful to see Black main characters. I love how this suggests that stories can become real and even take on a life of their own. It taps into a childhood sense of wonder - when we're young stories do seem real to us. The illustrations are marvellous, and generate even more magic.
About those illustrations...
We're huge fans of Ben Mantle's enchanting and animated illustrations. The colour palette and lighting he uses are gorgeous, and create an exciting and mystical atmosphere. I love all the shadows from fictional characters cast on the wall behind Ben and his mother as they read. The facial expressions are brilliant, especially that of the wolf, with his wide, toothy grin and his large, gleaming eyes. We are mad about the wolf and how Ben has portrayed him.
There are subtle references to Little Red Reading Hood; we see a framed portrait of Red hanging on the wall above the stairs. Later, Ben's mother reads the book to the three pigs and the wolf in the final scene, and shadows of Red and the wolf appear on the wall. There are also references to another book by Lucy and Ben, Dracula Spectacular, in the framed pictures on the wall. These reflexive elements add to the story's playful qualities.
Why we love it...
I love how this celebrates the magic of storytelling and shows that there are infinite possibilities to what can be created. We're huge fans of Little Red Reading Hood and were delighted so see its wonderful wolf return for this tale. It also features the librarian from ittle Red Reading Hood and it's lovely to have these stories connected. It's fantastic how the wolf gets a second chance and the pigs get a happier ending too, now that they no longer need to fear him.
Why you need it...
This refreshing and inventive retelling of a familiar story is so much fun from start to finish.
About the author:
Lucy Rowland is a speech and language therapist with years of experience of working with children, which shines through in all of her work. Lucy has written lots of excellent books that connect with young people. We have reviewed Little Red Reading Hood, Wanda's Words got Stuck, Sammy Claws and There's No Such Thing as Unicorns and love them all. Read our interview with Lucy below.
About the illustrator:
Ben Mantle has illustrated many award-winning and bestselling books for children, including several that he also wrote himself. Ben recently collaborated on Boot with Irish author Shane Hegarty which was a 2020 Dublin Citywide Read. Ben illustrated some of our favourite picture books (King of the Swamp and Little Red Reading Hood), and the cover of The House at the Edge of Magic, one of the best middle grade books we've read.
We were delighted when Lucy Rowland kindly answered lots of our questions recently - read our interview... Have you always wanted to be a writer and/or how did you become a children’s book author?
No I haven’t always wanted to be a writer actually. I loved poetry as a little girl and enjoyed writing poetry when I was younger too but then I stopped doing any sort of writing for a long time. It was only a few years into my career as a Speech and Language Therapist that I picked up a pen again and realised how much I enjoyed it. I then spent about 6 months learning as much as I could about picture book writing before starting to submit my work to agents. I think I was very lucky to find my brilliant agent, Anne Clark, of Anne Clark’s Literary Agency, so quickly. I was in Indonesia, travelling and taking a sabbatical from work, when I got her exciting email saying that she would like to represent me. And my author journey really starts there! How much has your experience as a speech and language therapist influenced your work and the kinds of stories you write?
I often wonder this. I think it helps me to notice the kind of themes and topics that children are interested in, the kind of language they use and the funny things they say. It probably helps me to pitch my writing style to the right age group too, thinking about the vocabulary they would be able to access or which would be exciting or new and challenging for them. Of course, in some of my texts, it has a much bigger influence. Mine and Paula Bowles’ book Wanda's Words got Stuck is all about a shy little witch who feels very anxious about talking. I wrote this book thinking about children on my case load who have Selective Mutism or other significant communication difficulties.
What inspired you to rewrite Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf?
Little Red Reading Hood came about one Sunday when I was playing around with the words Riding and Reading. The story arrived pretty much fully formed in my head during a walk! And I wrote the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book in case Macmillan wanted a sequel (which luckily they did). I liked the idea of what might happen to the characters in a story if the story were interrupted and couldn’t be finished. How did you get the idea for a gender-swapped Rapunzel?
I’m afraid I can’t claim that one. That idea came from my wonderful sister who works with Kindergarten-aged children in Switzerland, and who often comes up with brilliant ideas!
I’ve heard that writing rhyming books is very difficult and most people who are skilled at it are also talented songwriters. You make it seem so easy - are you a musician like Rapunzel in Rapunzel rocks?
I wish I were! I like to sing (in the car where no one else can hear) but I can’t play any instruments. I would love to be able to play the guitar like Rapunzel!
I love the montage of buddy scenes in the endpapers at the back of Little Red Reading Hood and how they give a glimpse of the next book. Had you already drafted The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book at this point?
I can’t quite remember. I think I was in the process of it. But the clue to the The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book was in Little Red Reading Hood when the wolf chose that book from the library. I think it was Ben Mantle’s brilliant imagination that led to those lovely end papers. I remember thinking how wonderful those characters were, so I was pleased that they might have a story of their own one day.
The mother in The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book looks like the librarian in Little Red Reading Hood and has the same haircut, earrings and glasses as the librarian in Little Red Reading Hood – are they the same person?
Yes, they are. Good spot! That was Ben Mantle’s idea. It’s so nice how he weaves the two fairy tale worlds together.
It’s brilliant how we see the wolf help the pigs build the brick house in the endpapers of The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book. Are there more adventures of Mr. Wolf planned?
I’m excited to say that there is another one planned. Ben is doing the artwork currently and, of course, it looks beautiful!
Despite the wider variety of books and other forms of entertainment available to children now, fairy tales are as captivating as ever. Why do you think fairy tales have endured for as long as they have and continue to entertain children?
I think there’s something about parents picking them out for their children because they want to pass on the same stories that they knew as a child. They feel like important stories to know as there are so many references to them in education and arts and in more modern literature. But above all, I think it’s because they’re just brilliant stories and those will always last.
What was your own favourite fairy tale when you were growing up?
I liked Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. Though the witch in the Disney version was terrifying!
In The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book, fairy tale characters unexpectedly arrive at a little boy’s house. Which fairy tale character or characters would you most like to have knock on your door?
A Genie who could grant me lots of wishes would be fun!
You’ve worked with so many amazing illustrators and lots of them more than once. What’s it like seeing your books brought to life by an illustrator for the first time? Are you ever nervous about how they might interpret your words? Have you ever been surprised by how your characters looked when brought to life by an illustrator? Is it lovely to work with the same illustrator again on another project?
It's my favourite part of the whole process, seeing the illustrator’s artwork for the first time. I don’t think very visually and I never have an idea in my head of what the characters look like so it’s a lovely surprise to finally ‘meet’ them. Yes, I do love working with the same illustrator again because I maybe know them a bit better by the second book… perhaps we’ve done a few events together by that point or have chatted over twitter… and it’s lovely to hear a bit more about their process. Sometimes they even share some sneaky previews of the new artwork with me!
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process? How do you come up with ideas? Do you have a favourite place or time of day to work?
To be honest, it very much depends how much time I have. When I have lots of time, I tend to spend time walking and daydreaming and mulling ideas over. If I come across a good idea then I will make the time, wherever and whenever possible to get it written, late at night, in the evenings, during my son’s nap times, writing on my phone on the bus etc. At the moment, I only have one scheduled half day a week for writing so it’s tricky to be very creative. Fortunately, I’m doing some very specific ‘to-brief’ projects for one of my publishers at the moment, which I am really enjoying and which are a really efficient use of that time!
When you begin writing a story, do you already know exactly what happens and how it will end or is the plot more fluid and subject to change?
No not at all, I’m not much of a plotter. I may have a loose outline scribbled down but I like to see where the story takes me. It feels more exciting and natural for me that way.
Are you working on anything at the moment, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?
Some ‘to-brief’ projects from one of my publishers which I can’t say much about yet. But I’ve also seen some lovely artwork recently for a couple of upcoming books with Bloomsbury which I am excited about. Laura Hughes (who is fabulous and who I have worked with before) has shared some of her artwork for one of these books already. It features a boy called Jack and a very special tree. I have also been doing some edits for a new pre-school series I’m working on.
Little Red Reading Hood opens with the following lines:"Little Red Reading Hood LOVED reading books, always curled up inside crannies and nooks. She read in the bathroom. She read on the porch. She read late at night by the light of a torch. Flicking through pages, her little head bowed, dreaming up stories and laughing out loud." Are these autobiographical?
No, not really. I liked reading as a child, (and I really love it now if I ever get a moment) but was more likely to be climbing trees or building dens than being found with my head in a book. I remember reading the whole of Fantastic Mr Fox on a car journey once though.
What were your favourite books when you were younger? Are there any authors and/or illustrators from your childhood who have had a particular influence on you?
My grandparents read me lots of poetry and particularly A.A.Milne. I absolutely love his poetry collections and return to them again and again. The unusual rhythms/rhyming patterns make the poems so brilliant to read aloud. My absolute favourite poem of all time is ‘Forgiven’ by A.A.Milne.
What are your favourite stories to read with your own children?
Well our son is just about to turn 18 months so we’ve mainly been on board books, touchy-feely texture books and simple ‘Lift the Flap’ books but he’s just starting to move onto some short picture books (which is a welcome relief!). He likes The Flying Bath by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts and we’re just getting into the Pip and Posy series by Axel Scheffler.
Are there any contemporary authors/illustrators who you admire and/or who have inspired you?
So many illustrators- I am in awe! I can’t draw at ALL so I find it magical what they can do.
In terms of author; Michelle Robinson, Caryl Hart and Elli Woolward.
Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s book authors?
Read lots! Work out where your text fits in the market. And be flexible. Creating a picture book is all about team work. The more flexible you can be about your text, the easier you are for editors to work with- plus they know what they’re talking about! But, do stand up for ideas, language, lines or characters that you really believe in. You will be respected for that as well. But the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn is patience! It can be an incredibly slow industry at times. Oh, and I’ve had to get better at taking rejections too!
What do you love most about being an author?
I absolutely love it when parents and teachers send me photos or messages saying how much their children have enjoyed my books. It’s just the BEST feeling in the world. I love that a little seed of an idea, that started off on one of my walks, is now a real-life book being shared in schools and homes.
Finally, I consider myself a picture book snob - is there anything you're snobby about?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Ooh, I’m addicted to hand cream! So yes, handcream is something I’m very snobby about. There are some brands that just will not do!
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat to us and for such fascinating answers to all of our questions! Thank you very much for your questions and for having me on your blog.