Bubbles, bees and Blake

Written by Stephen Barnaby

Quentin Blake is, of course, a hard act to follow, so no grown adult would bother trying. Here’s where the idea of getting children to illustrate the 26 Twits stories is a stroke of genius. Children aren’t bothered by reputations. No self-respecting child would have any problem with stomping up to Turner, Picasso or Titian and telling them they were rubbish.

Which partially explains why, excited though I was by the idea of a child illustrating my piece, there was no way I was going to entertain the accompanying suggestion: getting involved in some kind of school project. The very words fill me with horror. I just about know how to talk to my own children, but I haven’t the first idea what to say to anyone else’s. That’s the kind of thing best left to people with baffling qualities such as boundless enthusiasm, perpetual energy and basic communicative abilities. Which may not necessarily describe the primary school teachers of my childhood but, by and large, seems to now.

So, I thought I’d stick with what I know, safely within my comfort zone. Not terribly heroic, but history is full of battered heroes.

Consequently, I turned to my younger daughter Polly, who can usually be trusted to rustle up something artistic and a tad off the beaten track. This is generally while turning the house into a complete bomb site and getting twice as many artistic materials on herself as on the paper..

What’s more, the theme of flatulence, I thought, would be right up her street: it’s one in which she takes an intense and, erm, personal interest.

So Polly went off to her room and all fell silent. This is when my partner and I start to worry.  It usually means the house is undergoing a spot of unscheduled redecoration, if not structural alteration.

It transpired, though, she actually had been hard at work – well, she’s always hard at work, just not necessarily at the things we had in mind. The resulting opus was inimitably Polly. Or perhaps not. Maybe everyone imagines the world like this: why wouldn’t a gathering of contemporary world leaders feature Winston Churchill, David Cameron holding a balloon emblazoned with the legend ‘DC PM’ and bees randomly flying about (including one in the BFG’s ear)?

All in all, I think Polly’s picture does this lovely project justice. It admirably captures her own effervescence and that of Dahl’s legendary beverage, not to mention, in a very literal sense, that of those who imbibe it.

I think Quentin Blake would approve, although whether he’d tell Polly I’m not sure: I once saw a film of him talking to a small girl about illustration and was amazed that someone with such an incredible ability to depict life from a child’s perspective, with all of its gleefully exuberant naivety, appeared to have no actual natural rapport with children whatsoever. Indeed, when the doyen of children’s illustration was confronted with an actual child, he seemed intensely uncomfortable.

Which I find oddly heartwarming.

Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.


polly-barnabyWritten by Stephen Barnaby, illustrated by Polly Barnaby
Inspired by The BFG



It appears that someone has been smuggling a mysterious downward-bubbling drink into diplomatic conferences and peace negotiations all around the world.

As a result, war and disagreements between nations have been wiped out completely as top politicians and army leaders blast themselves merrily into the air in a joyful outbreak of hilarity and what has become known as ‘whizzpopping’.

No one is sure who is responsible for this.

Efforts to find the catering manager from these events have revealed only two facts: that he is 900 feet tall and that he apparently regards recent occurrences as having been ‘frobscottlyumptious’.


Read the feature story ‘Bubbles, bees and Blake

Oompa Loompas Versus The People

Written by Samm Short, illustrated by Phoebe Alexander-Davis
Inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory




Oompa Loompas Versus The People


FILED: 04.28.16

JUDGEMENT: Uncertain


Image 1: Rubbish Chute.

Defendant nods vigorously.

Image 2: Ms Salt, Falling Down Chute.

Defendant laughs hysterically. Stops. Puts hand into pocket and pops dark bean into mouth.

Image 3: The Accursed Oogletrumper.

Defendant gasps and puts head between legs. Requests for Defendant to stand up properly are refused until Judge apologises and promises not to show awful pictures again.


Immigration papers are requested. Defendant tosses a caterpillar over his shoulder and shrugs.


Man in hat at the back calls Blashphemoodle! and lobs a gobstopper at Judge.




The Enormous Crocodile

Rosa illustration 3Written by Olly Davy, illustrated by Rosa
Inspired by The Enormous Crocodile


Now I must say, in my plans for the day,
This was not one of my cleverest tricks.
Muggle Wump the monkey, Humpy Rumpy and Trunky
Have put me in a rumbunculous fix.

They caught me, they trapped me, they saw me, they stopped me.
Warned the children and spoiled my lunch.
Those botherous beasts interrupted my feast.
Next time, it’s their bones that I’ll crunch.

I can’t wait to land and make secreter plans
To enjoy a fantabulous meal.
I’m sure Trunky tastes good, with Roly Poly Bird pud.
It’s not long ’til I’ll be hearing them squeal.


Read the feature story ‘Dahl workshop account’

Dahl workshop account

Written by Olly Davy

Make it kinaesthetic, my teacher pals advised. But advice based on a word you don’t understand is not the most helpful kind. Of course, I murmured, reaching for the dictionary.

I’d already spent an hour with my very own Quentin Blake, my friend’s delightful daughter, Rosa, bouncing around mad theories about the Enormous Crocodile’s motivations for eating children and discussing the heroics of the jungle creatures who foiled his schemes. The session was guided by the focus of my response to Dahl’s book: the belligerent beast’s final, fatal journey to the sun. Now it was time for the (self-inflicted) workshop at Rosa’s school – 26 (how apt) five-year-olds and me. Oh dear.

My nerves were calmed by the charming Miss Hutchinson at Halley House School in Hackney. She glided around the class arranging things for the afternoon while I gawped at the alien yet ever-so-familiar surroundings. I realised it had probably been a quarter of a century since I’d been in a room like it. Not that much has changed. The large interactive whiteboard dominating the front of the class is the most obvious addition.

“Thing is,” I explained to the unflappable Miss Hutchinson, “I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m worried they might, I don’t know, pick up on that…figure me out somehow.”

“They’re five,” she responded, somehow managing not to sound like she was talking to a simpleton. “Get their imaginations fired up and you won’t have any problems.”

The little people arrived, filing in wearing Roald Dahl-inspired fancy dress. There were several Charlie Buckets, a wicked witch, a Fantastic Mr Fox and some looser interpretations of characters that I couldn’t pin down. And there was Rosa, poorly that day but valiantly present and sporting a homemade Willy Wonka hat.

After a rousing welcome, I flicked through some illustrations from the book, gauging their interest in the story, which had been read to them the previous day.

“Can anyone think of other words that mean ‘enormous’?” I asked, tentatively.

Hands shot up and the kids lobbed me an audio thesaurus.




As arranged, I then left the class, claiming I’d forgotten something, before creeping back in wearing a wolf onesie (the closest I could find to a crocodile). I paused at the door. Their backs were to me. I gave a fearsome roar. They turned as one.

“I’m going to find some delicious children to eat for my lunch!”

They screamed. I crept through the class, pretending not to have seen them. What next, I thought to myself, not knowing how this was going to develop or conclude. I suddenly ‘noticed’ the throng of children and let out a shriek of my own:

“So many! I can’t possibly eat them all.”

I made for a giant cardboard Wonka bar, snatched it up and fled the room.

“Sorry about that.” I offered on my return. “I heard a strange noise. What was it?”

“IT WAS A WOLF AND IT WAS YOU!” came the unanimous declaration.

“What? A wolf? Goodness. Let’s hope he doesn’t come back.”

The wicked witch was weeping, shocked by the dramatic episode. Miss Hutchinson offered consolation as tears rolled down the witch’s green-painted cheeks. Does making children cry count as engagement?

The next hour was a journey through illustration and ideas – encouraging, questioning, praising. I marvelled at the children’s boundless imaginations. I thought of Ken Robinson’s compelling argument that “schools kill creativity” and wondered how something so effervescent could be quashed, especially with talented enablers like Miss Hutchinson at the helm.

The children rotated between the desks where they worked with me, and other creative activities. The building sets were a particular favourite with the boys who came to show me their efforts.

Boy One: “It’s Optimus Prime.”

Boy Two: “I love Optimus Prime.”

Boy Three (to me): “You should marry Optimus Prime.”

—sniggers all round—

Me: “Um, I don’t really want to marry a robot.”

Boy One (in revelatory tone): “You could marry a girl robot!”

I closed the workshop with a final frolic in the wolf outfit. No one cried this time but the class did reach manic levels of excitement as they turned on the child-eating transgressor. I was practically lynched and dashed away howling to avoid a forest of clawing hands.

The workshop was a rewarding and exhausting experience. I now have even greater respect for those who run classrooms day in, day out, not just for a couple of hours. It was thrilling to share the delights of Dahl with the next generation and my own imagination was nourished by the fearlessness of theirs.

Huge thanks to Halley House School, and Miss Hutchinson in particular, for making the workshop possible.

Postcards from retirement

maya-chapmanWritten by Nick Parker, illustrated by Maya Chapman
Inspired by Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Charlie! Your first day in charge! The goodest of lucks!
Remember – call the Wonkaphone if you need me!

Charlie! Had splendiforous idea for edible hats!
If it’s not a winner I’ll… eat my hat!!  Drop by and show you?
Fine if you’re busy.

SO sorry for the trubulation.
Just wanted to see the Oompah Loompahs again.
Of course I’ll bring them back! Hope production not affected.

Yes. Was me on the roof last night. Must have been sleepwalking.
Were the squirrels very spooked? A thousand apologies.

Charlie, my dear boy.
Listen. Don’t suppose you need a lift operator, do you?

This is the story of James Henry Trotter

Liam-Gogan's-giant-peachWritten by Mike Gogan, illustrated by Liam Gogan
Inspired by James and the Giant Peach


This is the story of James Henry Trotter.
He’d two nasty aunts, each a real rotter.
Old Spiker and Sponge had put fun out of reach,
Until ‘Bang!’ Fun came along with a giant peach.
James wriggled inside the fruit so delicious,
To start him an adventure so luscilicious.
Inside the peach, he made strange friends indeed;
A grasshopper, a spider, a centipede.
Like the peach, all giants, worm and ladybird too,
They bounced, they floated, to the clouds they flew.
With sea gulls on strings, what fun these friends had.
Three cheers for James, now there’s a happy lad.

The girl from The Magic Finger


Written by Michelle Nicol, illustrated by Oisin Farrelly
Inspired by The Magic Finger


Something cracks deep in my tummy.
Tumbling, rumbling like a hard, sour, unripe pear.

A roman candle rocket blasts up to my chest on magnesium flames.
Cheeks sizzle like a lobster on a hot plate.
Chilli burns through every pore.

Belly bubbling goes ballistic.
White-hot lava surges through my bones.
Seething, simmering,
I grind my teeth.
I writhe. I hiss.

An electric eel sparks through my veins.
A million billion shocks through every cell.
I’ll explode.
Shatter like a glass droplet.
I am furious, fierce, ferocious.

Enough of your oshkoshery!

I point my finger…

No looking back.



Grandmamma and the BFG

Written by Mavis Gulliver, illustrated by Bronagh Newman
Inspired by The BFG


The BFG shook his head so hard that the breeze from his ears sent grandmamma flying.

“Most totally unpossible,” he said as he picked her up and popped her into his waistcoat pocket. “My dreams is for tiddly childers. They is not for oldy human beans with prunefuls of winkles and goldilocks as grey as bodgers’ bottoms.”

“Please,” she coaxed. “Just one phizzwizard for a box of peaches and a real live elephant.”

“You is tempting me,” said the BFG, “but no promises and no kiddling. I wants to see peaches and elefunts before I decides if they’s worth it.”


With grandmamma safely inside his waistcoat pocket, he strode across town and hopped over the fence into the zoo.

“There,” said grandmamma. “There’s your elephant.”

“That is NOT a elefunt,” said the BFG. “That is a pretend elefunt. I is wanting a truly elefunt that I can ride.”

“That IS an elephant,” said grandmamma. “It is the biggest animal in the whole world. But you are a giant and there are no animals big enough for giants to ride.”

The BFG stuck out his bottom lip. He scowled and he sniffed and tears of disappointment dripped from the end of his chin.

“I is discombobulated,” he said. “My hopes is smithered to smashereens.”

He crouched down and peered at the elephant. It rubbed its head against his knuckles, coiled its trunk around his finger and rolled on its back.

“Coochy, coochy coo,” chortled the BFG as he tickled its tummy. “You is nice and jumbly even though you is titchy as a squip-peak. I is going to be the only ever giant with a pet elefunt.”

He took grandmamma home and popped her through the bedroom window.

“I is thanking you muchly for my elefunt,” he said, “and I is leaving you a plentiful of goldenmost phizzwizards.”

He tipped thousands of happy dreams into his trumpet and blew them into every corner of grandmamma’s house.

“One by one they is coming out of crooks and nannies,” he said, “and they is enuff for your whole lifelong.”

With the elephant dangling from his little finger, he danced down the road.

“You forgot the peaches,” grandmamma called as she waved goodbye.

The BFG waved back. “You eatem,” he said. “I is lappy as a hark. I is dappy as a hutcher’s bog. I isn’t needing peaches now I got my ownmost elefunt.


Bronagh Newman's illustration for Grandmamma and the BFG.


My words

Unpossible – impossible

Tiddly childers – little children

Oldy – old

Prunefuls of winkles – as wrinkled as a prune

Goldilocks as grey as bodger’s bottoms -hair as grey as a badger’s bottom

Kiddling – kidding

Discombobulated – disorientated – I may have heard this somewhere else

Smithered to smashereens – smashed to smithereens

Titchy as a squip-peak – as little as a pip-squeak

Muchly – ever so much

Crooks and nannies – nooks and crannies

Enuff – enugh

Eatem – eat them

Lappy as a hark – happy as a lark

Dappy as a hutcher’s bog – happy as a butcher’s dog

Ownmost  – my own


Read the feature story ‘Writing about the BFG’

Grandmamma and the BFG

Bronagh Newman's illustration for Grandmamma and the BFG.Written by Mavis Gulliver, illustrated by Bronagh Newman
Inspired by The BFG


The BFG shook his head so hard that the breeze from his ears sent grandmamma flying.

“Most totally unpossible,” he said as he picked her up and popped her into his waistcoat pocket. “My dreams is for tiddly childers. They is not for oldy human beans with prunefuls of winkles and goldilocks as grey as bodgers’ bottoms.”

“Please,” she coaxed. “Just one phizzwizard for a box of peaches and a real live elephant.”

“You is tempting me,” said the BFG, “but no promises and no kiddling. I wants to see peaches and elefunts before I decides if they’s worth it.”

Read more…


Read the feature story ‘Writing about the BFG’