Toppsta - Childrens Books – Reviews

Billy and the Mini Monsters

2nd June 2017

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We asked author Zanna Davidson about the inspiration for her new series, Billy and the Mini Monsters, part of the Usborne Reading Programme

And you can enter our giveaway to win and review Billy and the Mini Monsters in the Dark (UK & IE only, closes 18th June 2017) here.

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What would it be like to have tiny pet monsters, small enough to fit in your pocket?  This was my starting point for ‘Billy and the Mini Monsters’.

I imagined the monsters as mischievous and troublesome but with the very best of intentions. Where would they sleep? I wondered. In a sock drawer, snuggling down in little sock sleeping bags

Mini Monsters in Socks

At the same time as I was mulling over minuscule monsters, Usborne asked me to develop an original fiction series for their hugely successful Usborne Reading programme. To date, the programme has 350 titles, both fiction and non-fiction, and has sold 18 million copies worldwide. It produces easy reading texts right through from very first phonic books to longer stories for newly confident readers.

But this time, Usborne were looking for something that could help bridge that tricky gap between picture books and series fiction. There’s a time when children are ready for longer, more complex stories, but still want full-colour illustrations and are put off by too many words on a page. With this in mind, we set out to create original fiction that had pages packed with pictures, and a framework in which the pictures and words still worked closely together.

Before we could really begin, I had to get to grips with my characters. At the heart of each story is Billy, an ordinary boy with extraordinary pets, who is facing the usual challenges of growing up – fear of the dark, facing up to the school bully, moving house, making new friends, having a swimming lesson, going to birthday parties. And at his side are five mini monsters: Captain Snott, Gloop, Fang-Face, Trumpet and Peep.

Billy and the Mini Monsters Names

I wanted each of the monsters to clearly stand out from each other and have their own distinct personalities: Captain Snott is the sensible one and the self-appointed leader of the gang. Gloop is warm-hearted if a little slow to realise what’s going on. Trumpet is pure mischief, always on the hunt for cheese and capable of terrible cheese-powered parps. Fang-Face is loud and bold and Peep is his opposite, very quiet and very shy.

After developing the storylines, it was then important to write the book so that there was plenty of scope for the pages to be as visually appealing as possible, packing in maps and plans and speech bubbles to break up the text. I also added comic strips at the end of each chapter as another way to add a strong visual element to the story.

Mini Monsters Map
Mini Monsters Comic Strip

It was at this point that I handed over the text to the Usborne team – firstly the editors, Lesley Sims and Becky Walker, who helped build up the characters and the flow of the stories. We also had a trusted reading expert on board, Alison Kelly, former Principal Lecturer at Roehampton University, who helped advise on word counts, sentence structure and tricky vocabulary.

Once the text was approved, it went to the designers, Reuben Barrance and Brenda Cole, who focused on making the books as visually fun as possible. They played around with the fonts, pulling them out, experimenting with different fonts on the page as well as working out the best places for the pictures to go.

After that, we were on the hunt for an illustrator. After trying out a number of people we came across Melanie Williamson, the illustrator behind the hugely popular Pirate Pete’s Potty. We loved the sense of fun in her work, its naivety and warmth. Even more importantly, when we briefed her on the characters, she really brought them to life. Melanie was brilliant to work with, bringing great dollops of humour to the stories and her fantastic sense of colour to make the books really zing.

So far, we’ve done six titles, the first two out in May this year and the others coming out between now and November. Going into schools, it’s been really rewarding to see children respond to the Mini Monster characters and enjoy the books, whether they are having the books read to them, or gaining the courage to read them on their own. My favourite activity in the classroom is to ask the children to create monster characters of their own and then secretly note down their ideas for future use…

Zanna Davidson (author)

Book pages Placeholder Book

Billy and the Mini Monsters Monsters in the Dark

Billy is trying to stay awake so the SCARY creatures of the dark won't come. But then he hears a squeaky little voice and notices some tiny purple footprints. Not only that, SOMETHING has ATTACKED his cheese sandwich. What could it be? Does Billy dare find out? The Billy and the Mini Monsters series is an exciting addition to Series Two of Usborne Reading Programme, introducing children to original, illustrated fiction with easy reading texts. Series Two is for readers who are growing in confidence.

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