Author Ian Brown’s children’s picture books are a delight and his two new releases, Albert in the Air and Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home are no exception.
As every parent knows, you can never have enough good children’s books to read to your youngsters at bedtime.
There is something so joyful about finding a heart-warming story which can be cherished by both children and adults alike.
And the Albert the Tortoise series by author Ian Brown and illustrator Eoin Clarke, featuring the humorous adventures of a pet tortoise with a moral message, is one of these essential go-tos.
It’s remarkable to think that the series, which began with Albert Upside Down, only launched last year.
The story of Albert’s tortoise-specific predicament, tipping over and becoming stuck on his shell, was an instant hit.
Since then, Albert and his friends have featured in a further two books—Albert and the Wind and Albert Supersize—and have amassed a loyal global fan base which counts celebrities such as Paul Whitehouse, Jeremy Clarkson, John Craven, Julian Clary, and children’s author Philip Ardagh among them.
Albert the Tortoise has also become something of a social media star, with huge followings on Facebook and the like.
So those who are already familiar with Albert, who is actually inspired by the author’s own pet of the same name, will be delighted to hear that a new book, Albert in the Air, has just been released.
And for those new to the series, you are in for a real treat as Albert in the Air is a wonderful addition to the growing catalogue.
The story starts with Albert looking at the birds and insects flying around the garden and wishing that he, too, could soar through the sky.
He soon gets his wish after digging under the garden fence and finding himself in the noisy, polluted city beyond.
Stopping to check out some discarded food littering a street corner, he accidentally gets entwined in some balloons and is lifted aloft.
Back in the garden, the little creatures are missing Albert and conceive a plan to find and bring him back home, with them all joining forces to achieve their goal.
It all ends well, with Albert coming to appreciate, his feet safely back on the ground, that tortoises aren’t meant to fly.
The premise is simple yet is able to convey a number of good moral teachings, such as the power of friendship and teamwork, and the importance of accepting who you are.
And these are imparted with a highly enjoyable story containing good dollops of comedy and poignancy, ably supported by Eoin Clarke’s captivating artwork, which is as colourful and expressive as Albert himself.
The series is aimed primarily at three to seven-year-olds and they will no doubt find the slightly bumbling Albert engaging and appealing.
There’s also a section at the back of the book providing information about the real Albert, who is now more than eighty years young, as well as tortoises, turtles and dinosaurs to keep their minds busy after they can recite the story from memory.
All in all, Albert in the Air is a delight from cover to cover and it’s no surprise to learn that award-winning publisher Graffeg has commissioned four more adventures from Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke—a respected animation director responsible for the opening credits on TV shows including Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing and contributions to CBBC’s Operation Ouch –for release in 2023.
The publisher is also releasing a new children’s picture book series by Brown and Clarke, featuring a shambling yeti and a mountain flea: ‘Hugg ‘n’ Bugg’.
They make their debut in Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home, which comes out towards the close of this month and tells the story of how this most unlikely pair of misfits come together.
Told in rhyming couplets and packed with the same comic humour that makes the Albert series so adored, it tells of Bugg the flea’s search for somewhere warm and dry to live.
A cave of bats, and old sock, mountain goat and other potential hosts just don’t cut the mustard, but when he stumbles upon Hugg the yeti at the top of the mountain, he finds the perfect home and a new best friend in the process.
For Bugg, the top of Hugg’s giant head
Is by far the best spot to make his bed.
Plenty of space for a flea to choose
Which way to admire the spectacular views,
And just a short hop for some tasty snacks
Made out of Hugg’s own gooey earwax.
In return for providing shelter, Hugg—who had deliberately hidden himself away because he believes he is scary to behold—learns from Bugg to become more presentable, and finds his confidence growing.
It’s the perfect feel-good story for young children and the age-appropriate gags, along with the vivid, exaggerated artwork, hooks the attention from the very first page.
The duo exude personality and the clear moral messages about perseverance, companionship and confidence make for rewarding, wholesome reading.
Ian Brown is able to capture his inner child effortlessly in relaying stories, and has the nuts-and-bolts know-how to make them sing.
No doubt his glittering career as a former national journalist turned TV writer/producer, working on some of the biggest shows ever to grace our screens including This Is Your Life and Top Gear, has helped him hit the ground running as a children’s author.
And with further Hugg ‘n’ Bugg tales pencilled in for release next year by Graffeg, this new series could soon rival Albert in terms of popularity.
For now, though, every parent should grab a copy of Albert in the Air and Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home; you’ll soon find your little ones going wild for their classic comic adventures.
Both Albert in the Air and Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home by Ian Brown & Eoin Clarke are published by Graffeg Limited. Albert in the Air is out now while Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home is released on 27th October 2022. Both are available in paperback, eBook and animated eBook formats, priced £7.99 and £3.99 respectively. For more information about author Ian Brown and his books, visit www.alberttortoise.com. You can follow Albert the Tortoise on Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok. You can also follow Hugg ‘n’ Bugg on Facebook, while Ian Brown can be found on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Q&A Interview with Children’s Author Ian Brown
From working with Hollywood legends to legendary petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson, TV writer and producer turned children’s picture book author Ian Brown has enjoyed a career most can only dream of. Even so, it is perhaps the acclaimed Albert the Tortoise and Hugg ‘n’ Bugg series that are proving the most exciting projects for him, as he discusses in this exclusive interview.
Q. You worked in TV for more than three decades before becoming an author. How did you get your big break?
A. It took me about five years to break into television. Luckily, I was advised on a route and that was to do journalism first. So, I did. I studied to become a journalist—law, shorthand, typing, how government works, how courts work. Then I worked on local papers and then on the national press, and then started to get freelance work on regional TV news programmes. That led to working on current affairs shows and then I applied to a big series called ‘This Is Your Life’. It was a long-running show with big ratings. I was actually rejected. But I had nothing to lose so wrote a letter back almost saying how dare they! I felt I was perfect for the show. Fortunately, someone else they were due to take on fell out and I was given a chance. A three-month trial as a researcher led to nearly 20 years rising to be writer of the shows.
Q. After writing and producing a string of hit TV shows including This Is Your Life and Top Gear, you had nothing left to prove. Why, then, did you wish to reinvent yourself as a children’s author?
A. Writing books had been something I had always wanted to do. I tried to get published throughout my TV work, on and off between contracts. I tried with adult books, chapter books, other picture books—all sorts—and received dozens of rejections from agents and publishers. It was something I felt I had to keep trying.
Q. Albert the Tortoise has become quite the celebrity, with his own social media accounts and even a calendar. Why do kids and grown-ups alike love Albert so much?
A. It turns out there are lots of tortoise and turtle fans out there. I’ve only discovered this after starting the books and the social media with real Albert and illustrated Albert. There are many tortoise groups on Facebook and other tortoise accounts. When I visit bookshops for events, it’s also amazing how many people say they have a tortoise or used to have one—or a neighbour or relative had one. Albert has struck a chord, I’m pleased to say. Plus—and don’t tell him—he’s quite handsome in a tortoise kind of way!
Q. On a similar note, what do you think attracts readers to your books?
A. Hopefully the stories offer laughs and a little message about being kind and helping others. Also, the illustrations by Eoin Clarke are very eye-catching and memorable. You can return to them time and again and spot something new. It seems people like to re-read the books, too. We put fascinating facts about real Albert and his tortoise and dinosaur cousins in the back as well, and people like all that.
Q. You have just launched a new children’s picture book series, Hugg ‘n’ Bugg. What gave you the idea for this, and what excites you most about writing this new series?
A. This is one of those projects I felt I had to persevere with. Amazingly, I first wrote about the characters more than 50 years ago in a school project. We were given a title to write about, ‘The Himalayan Flea’. I used to love that sort of thing and went to town. Over the years I have re-worked it all, rewritten it and reshaped it, eventually hitting on a comical rhyming story. I am thrilled to be bringing these characters to life—and Eoin’s illustrations are a treat.
Q. Albert the Tortoise has been on four adventures to date, but what can we expect next, and will there ever be a crossover with Hugg ‘n’ Bugg?
A. Crossover might be tricky … Tortoises don’t like the cold too much, a bit like Bugg in the Hugg ‘n’ Bugg stories. But there is certainly more to come from all of these characters. We have just been asked to produce a further four Albert books. We are looking to have him encounter a pond for the first time and a garden shed might play a role, too. There are also to be three more Hugg ‘n’ Bugg adventures. It is all very exciting indeed.
Q. You are a former producer on Top Gear. What was it like working with Jeremy Clarkson?
A. It evolved. When I first worked with Jeremy there were no real health and safety rules to think about. Obviously, we took care and used common sense. But as he and Top Gear became such a phenomenon, the shoots, the stunts, everything became bigger—and we had to have paramedics, doctors, and air ambulances. Plus, he used to get mobbed by fans, which made filming tricky sometimes.
We don’t exactly go on dates but we always got on and he was very nice about the first Albert book, saying he liked it and the drawings.
Q. Your books are vibrantly illustrated by Eoin Clarke. How closely do you work with Eoin on the artwork?
A. Eoin and I have worked together on several projects now and we seem in tune. So I can suggest something and Eoin will know what I mean and then vastly improve on it. Probably because of working in TV so much, I see the stories as little films in a way. So we sort of storyboard the adventures. Eoin is wonderful at capturing a sense of movement in the pictures. Once it is all roughed out, he starts painting and does that solo.
Q. As well as writing the books, you also regularly give book readings and talks. Just how busy is an author’s life?
A. It certainly builds—if you want it to. I’m delighted to say a large number of emails I have sent out have started to get results. Schools, bookshops, and libraries now make contact and ask me to attend events and do storytime readings. Of course, on top of that there is publicity—running social accounts for Albert, myself and for Hugg ‘n’ Bugg, doing blogs, and running websites. If you choose to do all that, it can get busy.
Q. What is the one writing rule you always follow?
A. If you have an idea, write it down somewhere—on a piece of paper, email it to yourself, or on your phone. If you don’t, you will forget it. I keep pen and paper by the bedside—something I’ve done forever. If ideas strike in the night, jot something down to remind you.