NEWS & EVENTS

HOW TO WRITE A FUNNY PICTURE BOOK

My latest picture book is about new friends, unwelcome predators, and a packet of very noisy biscuits. It’s NATTERJACK TOAD CAN’T BELIEVE IT! (illustrated with panache by Kathryn Durst.) And to celebrate its arrival, I’ve come up with some tips on funny writing for young readers. You’ll find the tips one by-one on Instagram (here). Or you can read the whole shebang below…

There are seven rules for writing a funny picture book. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.

Like a lot of jokes, the above has truth running through it. There won’t ever be a set of instructions for doing funny writing for young readers. You can’t treat it like assembling a chest of drawers. And if you tried arriving at comedy from a set of instructions, it would work against the spontaneity, unexpectedness, and (you might say) wildness which often sparks what’s funny.

The British writer and comedian, Barry Cryer, summed this up nicely by saying, “Analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog. Nobody laughs and the frog dies.”

So is there any help I can offer to those who want to write funny (or funnier) picture books?  

What I can do is look back at NATTERJACK TOAD CAN’T BELIEVE IT! now the book’s written, and try to spot some of the things going on in terms of the comedy. Read on for those things. And here’s hoping they’ll provoke creative (and funny) thoughts of your own.

[1] EXAGGERATION

The water sparkles with pleasure.

Lakeside reeds that sway in the breeze like friends on a climbing frame.

This isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. But I’m exaggerating the imagery right from page one. It establishes an engagingly tongue-in-cheek narrative voice. And because everything is exaggeratedly perfect, when the trouble comes (as it must, in some way, in a story) it’s all the more comical.

[2] LANGUAGE

There’s humorous delight in the language here. It’s in the music of all those crunchy CH sounds. And there’s linguistic funniness in pastiching the ubiquitous language of advertising, with its catchy/corny slogans.

[3] SLAPSTICK DISASTER (physical or otherwise)

This isn’t Stan Laurel being hit on the head by a falling ladder, but it’s the emotional equivalent. Everything is fine. Everything is even finer than fine. Then it comes crashing down. Children find that funny. We all do (probably because we recognise it as one of life’s ever-repeating dynamics!)

[4] REPETITION

We’re in the middle of the book now. The comic patterning of the opening spreads is repeating for a third time. And I’ve written the exaggerated imagery LARGER each time it comes around. So both the funniness and the expectation that something’s going to happen are growing as the text repeats and the pages turn.


[5] STRONG EMOTIONAL REACTIONS

In the silent movies of the 1920’s (my favourites are the ones made by Buster Keaton) the slapstick incidents themselves are hilarious. But watch carefully and you realise there’s almost as much funniness in the strong emotional reactions of the characters. It can be wonderfully comic, seeing someone consumed by love, hilarity, pain, frustration or, as here, anger!

[6] TROUBLE

Natterjack Toad is doing what he’s been warned not to do! So we have a strong sense of trouble coming. I’ve mentioned two classic elements of slapstick comedy: the disaster and the strong emotional reaction. Here’s a third: the anticipation of trouble. It’s another thing that can make children fall about laughing.

[7] QUICK-WITTEDNESS

And there’s comic delight in a main character outfoxing a fox (or, as in NATTERJACK TOAD CAN’T BELIEVE IT!, out-hungry-forest-hogging a hungry forest hog.) The plot twist that sees a much-loved protagonist make a smart escape may lead to a warm sort of laughter. It’s the laughter of resolution. We recognise quick-witted escapes from trouble as one of life’s repeating dynamics, just as we recognise falling off a bicycle into a duck pond.

There you are. Have I named the seven rules for writing funny picture books, AFTER ALL?

Not likely! What I’ve come up with aren’t rules. They’re just seven comic writing elements that I can spot, looking through NATTERJACK TOAD CAN’T BELIEVE IT!. Someone else might read the book and come up with a whole different set. Pick up other picture books, and you’ll probably soon have 777 other comic writing elements that work as well.

And maybe it’s daunting to be told there’s no neat set of rules for writing a funny picture book. Or maybe it’s freeing to know it’s a dance you can do in umpteen different ways!

OSCAR’S BOOK PRIZE 2024

WHEN DINOSAURS WALKED THE EARTH has won this year’s Oscar’s Book Prize, for the best UK book for young readers published in the past 12 months.

It’s a story for 3-to-6 year-olds, with uproarious illustrations by bright-eyed Zehra Hicks.

Smallasaurus is a dinosaur with a plant-based diet. She’s after some sweet and juicy ferns for breakfast. But Badasaurus is after a dinosaur with a plant-based diet for breakfast. And what does Worseasaurus want?!


Oscar’s Book Prize is awarded in memory of Oscar Ashton, a boy who loved stories and who died aged just 3 years old. It’s a great way to honour a boy who loved books.

These are times of much talk about creating artificial intelligence, but we know reading books creates REAL intelligence. So here’s to the memory of Oscar Ashton. And here’s to giving children lots and lots and lots of HAPPY READING!

TagsBest picture booksOscar’s Book PrizeWhen Dinosaurs Walked The Earth

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A BOOKSHOP NEAR YOU?

My newest picture book, WHEN DINOSAURS WALKED THE EARTH, launches on the 6th of July. And I’ll be doing bookshop signings in London, Surrey and Bristol.

Join me for riddles, rhymes, a reading of the new book, and the chance to buy a signed copy!

NOMAD BOOKS, 781 Fulham Road, London, SW6 5HA. 11am Saturday 1st July 2023. WITH THE ILLUSTRATOR, ZEHRA HICKS.

WATERSTONES EPSON, 50 High St, Epsom KT19 8AJ. 11am Sunday 1st July 2023. WITH THE ILLUSTRATOR, ZEHRA HICKS.

GLOUCESTER ROAD BOOKS, 184 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7 8NU. 9am Saturday 8th July 2023.

MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE!

Hold tight! Monster’s thirsty … and he’s off on another wild ride!

Hot on the heels of last year’s hit picture book MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE! comes a bright, bold, laugh-out-loud new story featuring our hilarious little hero.

Launches 5 Jan 2023.

Vibrantly illustrated by Fred Benaglia and perfect for all monsters aged 2-6.

‘Vividly imagined … highly entertaining’ ― Julia Eccleshare on MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE!

‘A shouty, colourful picture-book romp, begging to be read aloud with gusto’ ― The Guardian on MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE!

‘A high-energy read’ ― The Observer on MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE!



THE DREAM TRAIN

The first book I published, back in 1992, was a collection of poems for adults. Now (30 years on) a second book of poems has arrived…

THE DREAM TRAIN contains 30 poems for bedtime, written for children aged 3-8. The poems range from the cosy to the funny, and from the musical to the magical.

Each captures something about night-time, sleep or dreams.

Described as “a keep-forever hug of a book”, THE DREAM TRAIN takes readers on a journey into dreamland and beyond, and showcases the warm, inviting artwork of Anuska Allepuz.


I’m looking forward to sharing poems from the book at a number of family events in the months ahead.

You can catch me at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday 9th October. Details here.

And I’ll be at the Wokingham Children’s Book Festival on Sunday 16th October. Details here.

THE DREAM TRAIN

Can you hear the dream train coming?

CHUGGA! CHUGGA!

CHOO-CHOO-CHOO!

Can you hear it, right on time,

coming down the tracks for you?

Can you see the dream train stopping?

CHUGGA…….CHUGGA……….

CHOO-CHOO……..……CHOO!

Now’s your chance to climb on board

and find out where it’s going to.

Can you feel the dream wheels turning?

CHUGGA! CHUGGA!

CHOO-CHOO-CHOO!

Off you go, into the distance,

on a dream train, just for you.

BRISTOL BOOK SHOP FUN

What a treat to host a crowd of young readers at Bristol’s Storysmith Bookshop on Saturday.

We had songs, riddles, stories and poems about night-time, sleep and dreams from my new book THE DREAM TRAIN.

And what’s more, after a reading of MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE! the children came up with this poem…

THE HUNGRY TUMMY

Here comes the monster

and he’s feeling very hungry.

It’s time for his lunch

and he wants to fill his tummy.

He wants a soft, banana-tasting, yellow, monster-sized banana!

He wants some cheesy-weezy, jelly-margherita pizza!

He wants a crunchy, crispy, crazy-cranola bacon sandwich!

Lovely musical language … and some word-inventing (cranola ?!?) too!

POETRY IN BRADFORD

It was great to see Waterstones in Bradford bursting with young readers all day on Saturday – and to join the fun with events around MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE! and WHERE THE BUGABOO LIVES.


Here are two poems written by the bright-eyed young readers who were there with me…

WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?

Here comes the monster

and he’s feeling very hungry.

It’s time for lunch

and he wants to fill his tummy.

He wants some saucy, crispy, spicy, hot pizza!

He wants some stretchy, stinky, orange, square cheese!

He wants some munchy, crunchy, gooey, tasty MONSTER MUNCH!

FEATURES OF SPRING AND AUTUMN

Down the spring path

there are big bluebells,

red, orange, black and blue butterflies,

birds flying, tweeting and chirping.

Down the autumn path

a strong wind is whistling.

The leaves are swishing and swirling

and they are orange, brown and red.

We will choose the spring path.


If you get the chance, give the one and only Bradford Literature Festival a try.

It’s a treat to be a part of this warm-hearted, inclusive festival, in this warm-hearted, inclusive city.



BRADFORD LITERATURE FESTIVAL

If you’ll be in or around Bradford on Saturday 2 July 2022, please join me for one of the family events and book signings I’ll be doing as part of the city’s Literature Festival.

Both events will be at Waterstones (The Wool Exchange, Hustlergate, Bradford BD1 1BL.)

From 9.45-10.30am there will be lots of lively picture book fun for children aged 3+, and I’ll be reading and signing my latest book, MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE!.

Full details and how to book, here: https://www.bradfordlitfest.co.uk/event/monster-hungry-phone/

Then from 12.45-1.30pm I’ll take young readers (if they’re feeling brave enough) on a lively, laugh-out-loud journey into my interactive book for 5-9 year-olds, WHERE THE BUGABOO LIVES.

Full details and how to book, here: https://www.bradfordlitfest.co.uk/event/where-the-bugaboo-lives/

STORYSMITH BOOKSHOP BRISTOL

Calling all book-loving Bristol families!

Come and join me for some Saturday morning picture book fun at the welcoming Storysmith Bookshop at 236 North Street, Bristol BS3 1JD.

On Saturday 23rd July from 10am, I’ll be reading and signing my latest picture book – which features a very noisy but very loveable monster.

Age 3+. FREE but you need to book a space. All details here: https://storysmithbooks.com/product/sean-taylor-monster-hungry-phone-event/

PAPERBACK TRAILER

Sunny days are on their way. HOW TO BE COOLER THAN COOL is out in paperback. And here’s our trailer…

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‘HOW TO BE COOLER THAN COOL by Sean Taylor is a reminder that the coolest thing is to be yourself.’ ― The Daily Telegraph

‘This 3 year old thought this book was hilarious! Before we read it together, she sat down and looked at the pages on her own and giggled away loudly at the pictures … When I asked her what she liked best she said ‘the silliness’. It’s a wonderful book.’ — Parent on Toppsta

‘Taylor and Jullien’s joyful, zingy and high-colour graphic picture book is brilliant fun for reading together – the high contrast and thick black outlines as well as the nice clear font make it super accessible while being stylish and silly with plenty of great phrases to copy. There’s also a lovely message about enjoying yourself and not worrying what other people think.’ ― BookTrust

POETRY MASTERCLASS

Young people across the UK are spending Saturday mornings at their local university, college or museum discovering subjects they love.

Saturday Clubs are open to 13–16-year-olds of all abilities and are free to attend.

I was pleased to run a Poetry Masterclass for the ‘Writing and Talking’ group at London Metropolitan University this year.

We had a memorable, creative morning. Some beautiful poems were written.

Joining a National Saturday Club is a way of learning new skills, making friends, and finding out more about further education and careers. If you are interested in finding out more, follow this link: https://saturday-club.org/ .

MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE!

My latest book is about a monster who wants something to eat. What’s more, he wants it in a hurry. So he picks up his phone.

But what happens if you’re in such a hurry, you keep on dialling the wrong number?!

I remember writing MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE! – almost as an afterthought – when working on other picture book stories back in 2018. It’s only 177 words long.

So it’s a treat to see how it has caught the imagination since it was published, by Bloomsbury , in January 2022.

Waterstones have chosen it as one of their Children’s Books You Need to Read in 2022: https://www.waterstones.com/blog/the-childrens-books-you-need-to-read-in-2022 

It’s Julia Eccleshare’s Pick of the Month at @readingforkids. She says: “MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE! The three words…brilliantly capture the wit & simplicity of this vividly imagined story.’

The Guardian calls it: ‘A shouty, colourful picture-book romp, begging to be read aloud with gusto.’

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jan/28/childrens-and-teens-roundup-the-best-new-picture-books-and-novels

And follow this link for a delight-filled review from Picture Book Snob!

https://www.picturebooksnob.com/post/monster-hungry-phone

I loved working with French illustrator Fred Benaglia on this title. His dynamic, vibrant illustrations perfectly match the text.

And I can reveal that MONSTER! HUNGRY! PHONE! is the first in a series. So our very noisy (but very loveable) monster is going to be back before long, with more comic adventures…