Sunday 28 January 2018

Bogey Bum Burp Fart Snot Belch and Poo by Garry Parsons

It’s winter and the weather is pretty miserable outside. It’s dark when you wake up and dark before the afternoon is out. The joys of Christmas are a long way off and there have been more than a couple of days in the past few weeks where I haven’t left the house at all except to fetch milk from the doorstep.

At least we have passed the third Monday of the year, which, according to some media, is officially the UK’s most cheerless day in the calendar  and we are no longer in the middle of January but right at the end, which is almost February, a comparatively short month anyway, which leads into March when things start growing in the garden, the clocks change, eggs hatch, birds sing and it’s SPRING!

So I had thought this post would be about picture books that look at the optimistic joys of Spring! 

"I Am A Bunny"  By Richard Scarry

A closer inspection revealed that Spring in the UK doesn’t start officially until March 20th and the clocks don't change for another five days after that. That’s fifty days away from now…fifty!

So this blog is now about bogies, smells, toilets, mess, farts and poo. Spring can wait. 

When I look back over my career as an illustrator and scan the variety of books I’ve had the pleasure to work on and all the brilliant and wonderful authors I’ve worked with, I can’t help but notice that there is a lot of mess of one form or another recurring throughout.

"The Dinosaurs Are Having A Party!" By Gareth P Jones & Garry Parsons

I am far from alone in the picture book world in creating a mess of one sort or another but there does seem to be a lot of it on my shelves.  And I sometimes get a look of disdain from adults about the Dinosaur that Pooped books I have illustrated, despite their popularity, because of the poo content.

"The Dinosaur That Pooped The Bed" By Tom Fletcher, Dougie Pointer & Garry Parsons

So my intention here is to celebrate the tradition of the ‘disgusting’ and ‘gross’ in children’s books a little, because it is an area that has been around for a long time and has a unique place in picture books and early years fiction.

"Fungus the Bogeyman" By Raymond Briggs

There is the slime-drinking Fungus The Bogeyman, or the batty old woman who swallowed a fly and proceeded to consume the rest of the farmyard, and who hasn’t enjoyed the shortsighted Mole’s journey to discover who did the dirty on his head in The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business?

"The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business" by Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch

So what is it about pirates in underpants, stinky cheese smells and animal business that kids find so amusing and why is it that some adults turn their noses up at books like these?

"The Dinosaur That Pooped A Planet" By Tome Fletcher, Dougie Pointer & Garry Parsons

My youngest son, just turned a mighty five and a lover of all things disgusting and someone who finds saying a sentence without the inclusion of poo, bum or fart virtually impossible, told me:

"Errm, poo books are naughty and stinky and dinky"
And what's your favourite part about them?

"Hey! What's That Nasty Whiff?" By Julia Jarman & Garry Parsons

I admit, some topics might lack a bit of culture for the adult reader, and let’s face it, poop and bogeys will never be particularly highbrow material (too sticky perhaps), but the unmentionable and unthinkable in books for kids can often be an outlet for behaviour that wouldn’t be funny in real life, but that is very, very, very funny to imagine doing through books. Nothing is more satisfying that seeing other people, characters or animals break the rules of good etiquette. Varp!

"Poo Bum" By Stephanie Blake

On a literacy level, we could also argue that the gross humour might well be a gateway into getting kids reading more and I for one have had feedback from parents that confirms this.

"Morris The Mankiest Monster" By Giles Andreae & Sarah McIntyre

One gross but funny book moment that has embossed itself on my memory is a scene from Daisy and the Trouble with Zoos where Daisy and her friends are taken to the zoo for a birthday treat but instead are treated to something every zoo visitor has enjoyed…or maybe not.

"Daisy and the Trouble With Zoos" By Kes Gray, Nick Sharratt & Garry Parsons

So with this image in mind I rang Kes Gray for his thoughts on disgusting themes in kids books and he told me:

"Words are the glue that hold every story together. The more words a child reads the more confident a reader they will become. Reluctant readers wade through the glue. Given the right encouragement they will skip through it.
Stories with a frisson of naughtiness can carry a child a very long way. Bogies, bums, boobies, poo, snot, farts, burps and belches may have no place at the dinner table but in a quiet corner of the classroom, at the comfy end of the sofa or under the bedcovers by torchlight they can be just the kick start an early reader needs."

(Actually, most of those do occur at our dinner table! Ask my youngest.)

"Hey! What's That Nasty Whiff?" By Julia Jarman & Garry Parsons
 So there you go. If you are feeling sniffy about reading picture books about burps, farts, bogies, poo, bums or snot, take a moment to remember yourself aged five and three-quarters and the unmentionable things that had you doubled over in the library, or clutching your stomach with laughter on a cold afternoon in January.

And in the tradition of naughtiness, here is a joke that my son claims he made up himself:
Why did the underpants go down the stairs?
To get to the bottom!

Reading lists;

My son’s disgusting reading recommendations…
Here Comes The Poo Bus by Andy Stanton & Noëlle Davies-Brock – Puffin 2011
Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake – Gecko Press 2013
The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka – Andersen Press 2010

My smelly reading recommendations…
The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith – Viking 1992
The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business by Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch – David Bennet Books 1989
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly created by Jeremy Holmes – Chronicle Books 2008.

My thanks to Kes Gray for his thoughts. Kes is the author the hugely successful “Oi” series with illustrator Jim Field, and the bestselling DAISY books, including the award-winning Eat Your Peas and Billy’s Bucket,  winner of the Red House Children's Book Award for Younger Readers. His website is brilliant.

Garry Parsons is the illustrator of the best selling Dinosaur That Pooped series of pictures books by Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter. Garry is also the illustrator of the recently published Happy Easter Toothfairy, written by Peter Bently (Hodder), which he was going to mention earlier when the blog was about Spring.


Jonathan Emmett said...

An excellent post, Garry. You're right, we need rude picture books, alongside polite well-mannered picture books, if books are to appeal to every child's taste.

I get annoyed when people equate 'rude' humour with 'crude' humour. Rude humour can be just as sophisticated as any other kind of humour. I share your son's fondness for the The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka - that's a great example of cleverly constructed rude story.

Garry Parsons said...

Thank you Jonathan. A little comic rudeness harms no one and gives us a giggle.
Fungus The Bogeyman and "What-A-Mess" (Frank Muir and illustrated by Joseph Wright) got me reading and drawing!

Unknown said...

Seeing a 5 year old cracking up with laughter, is a great joy. I shall look out for your Dinosaur Poo series. Keep it up!

Unknown said...


Paeony Lewis said...

I enjoyed reading this, Garry, even though clearing up dog poo several times a day is more than enough poo for me!

Garry Parsons said...

Nothing better than picking up a warm dog poo on a cold day! Thanks Paeony.

Enid Richemont said...

Try my "PLOP CITY", published by Franklin Watts.