The Author Bio
One of Michelle Robinson’s first jobs was writing radio ads. She wrote more than 6,000 before she got bored and moved on to writing stories for children. She now lives in Frome, England with her two children.
Michelle was kind enough to answer my goofy questions…
GeekMom: What is the elevator pitch on The Forgetful Knight? (i.e. How would you describe the book in 60 seconds?)
Michelle Robinson: A medieval, Monty Python-esque romp that you’ll never forget–unless you get BASHED on the head by a dragon.
GM: Keeping both children and adults engaged in the same book (especially when kids like multiple multiple multiple repeats) can be a challenge. How did you make it work? Which elements were most important for you to include and why? Which did you decide to leave out and why?
MR: I treat kids and grown-ups the same. Maybe I even give kids a little more credit than adults because we’re so emotionally astute when we’re young. I just pick scenarios that kids can relate to emotionally–like having a huge mythical reptile swallow your best friend. The dragon is the imagination-stretching, fun part, but the fierce loyalty is where the young reader connects. A strong character and a good story ought to entertain everybody, regardless of age.
It was important to me to keep in as many jokes as possible without the jokes being superfluous to the story. Even with a narrator who is prone to going off on tangents, I had to keep the plot moving forward. I never thought I’d get away with a scene involving a dragon vomiting up pets. I’m so pleased it wasn’t edited out; Fred Blunt’s illustrations manage to be so hilarious that it’s not even gross. Well, not that gross. Did you spot the rat flying out of the dragon’s nostril? Getting something like that into a picture book is a total triumph.
GM: What’s your favorite children’s book? Are there any, in particular, you used for inspiration? Are you a comedy or absurdist reader yourself? Do you have any favorite comedic books? Which make you laugh the most?
MR: Today I’m going to say my favorite children’s book is The BFG. Ask me tomorrow I might answer Charlotte’s Web, Each Peach Pear Plum, or The House at Pooh Corner.
I try not to read too much while writing because the influence can end up being too direct. Nothing, in particular, influenced The Forgetful Knight, just the usual little bits of everything picked up through life that filter through into new ideas. I didn’t realize how “Monty Python” it was until I had a finished copy of the book. I just thought, “I want to write a silly poem about a knight.”
When I do read, I love nonsense verse. Edward Lear is a great favorite. I like playful writers who make up their own words, like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. Have you discovered the Mr. Gum books by Andy Stanton? They’re a riot.
GM: What are you working on now?
MR: I’m trying to write something funny, cool, and science-y. GeekMoms (plus GeekDads and their Geeky Kids) are going to love it. I’m a bit stuck with it at the minute, though. I’m waiting for that moment in writing when everything starts slotting into place. It’ll come, it just needs a bit more graft.
GM: What’s your favorite Monty Python moment and why?
MR: The Fish Slapping Dance. Perfect Python, plus it has my two favorites, John Cleese and Michael Palin. Swoon. But every time the opening credits roll and the giant foot comes down–SQUELCH–I know I’m going to laugh a lot. I watched Monty Python loads growing up and saw the movies over and over. There aren’t many shows that push my laugh button like Python does, and I can’t think of another that is so packed with great ideas.
GM: What color is your saber and why?
MR: Picking my daughter’s favorite color–rainbow–is cheating, right? I’ll go with green because it’s the color of leaves and grass and goodness.
Standard disclaimer: I was sent a free copy in exchange etc. Regardless of the preceding, however, or perhaps because of it, Shiri in reviewer mode usually find at least a few nits to pick with a given book. I usually feel as though I’m not fulfilling the “honest” part of the contract if I tell you all the wonderful things about X, Y, or Z without providing any sort of counterpoint whatsoever. I expect the same courtesy when someone reviews one of my books; how am I supposed to improve if no one tells me what needs improvement?
That said, I have no nits to pick with The Forgetful Knight. None. Zero. Zilch. This is a fantastic little book period, end of story (pun only sort of intended).
I know, right?
The Forgetful Knight is about… well, a knight, obviously, his tale told by a narrator who’s having some issues keeping his facts straight. His mistakes, corrections, and hard lefts are the stuff of Monty Python-esque absurdity that retains child-friendly subject matter and language (not that the lack of either has kept me from showing the kids some of the originals) while engaging and entertaining adults on multiple levels (you may choose from reveling in child-like wonder or diving a bit deeper). It is both a story unto itself and a morality tale but rather than being cloying and obvious, as children’s books so often are, The Forgetful Knight teaches children about manners, friendship, negotiation, compromise, and compassion without being so obvious as to make one want to vomit profusely of preachiness. Also, butts get set on fire and butts are always funny–don’t pretend they’re not.
In many children’s books, the rhyme scheme is forced and the word choice is… well, blah. Kids are kids, sure, and to encourage listening, understanding, and independent reading, parents need to offer books the smaller ones can understand and with which they can interact. Selections shouldn’t be so far above their heads they shut down or get bored trying to sound out ten syllable monstrosities.
(FYI: at this point in the writing of this review, my son wandered over, looked at a random page of The Forgetful Knight and started giggling)
That doesn’t mean, however, that the author needs talk down to them. Distressingly, and more than a bit annoyingly, many do. Ms. Robinson is a rare exception in that her word choice is age-appropriate and yet includes a bunch of not-massive and easy sound-outable words (“strode,” “daring,” and “snaffle”) that will be new to many children and will spark discussions of definition and context between said wee ones and their adults (at least this parent and her children). And, I must say, I appreciate the publisher not “translating” the Britishism as Scholastic did with the American editions of the Harry Potter books (“best mate,” for example, is retained as regards the relationship between our erstwhile knight and “Sir Clopalot”). My husband and I have worked very hard to teach our kids that the differences between people are assets rather than a difficulty to be overcome and how boring the world would be if everyone did everything the same way (including speaking the English language); I love that this sweet little story proves this without even making a concerted effort. Ms. Robinson’s writing has a natural cadence and rhyme scheme, a lovely flow that makes it easy to read and easy to follow without being the standard “Dick and Jane” fare.
Fred Blunt’s art fits the sensibility of the story absolutely perfectly, a bit sketchy and goofy without a hint of the saccharine or condescending. Bright and professional, the kids found it extremely accessible and could see new possibilities for their own art in the figures, shapes, and colors (my son, who refused to draw until a couple of months ago made a fantastic picture of a knight fighting a spiky dragon in front of a castle not long after we read The Forgetful Knight for the first time).
In conclusion? Well, in conclusion, The Forgetful Knight is one of the most delightful children’s books I’ve read in quite some time and we read a lot of books. The kiddos immediately added it to their “most frequently” requested list. I can pretty much guarantee ever kid in your life will enjoy it and it is definitely going into my gift-giving arsenal for the future.
The Forgetful Knight (author: Michelle Robinson, illustrator: Fred Blunt, publisher: Dial Books) is scheduled for release on July 5th, 2016.