Lollies 2023: The Picture Books Shortlist Q&A

Hear from the creators of our superbly silly titles in the Picture Books Shortlist for the Laugh Out Loud Awards 2023!

Lollies 2023: Finding the funniest books!

We sat down with Angela Woolfe (AW) and Duncan Beedie (DB), author and illustrator of Agent Llama, Peter Bently (PB) and Claire Powell (CP), author and illustrator of The King’s Birthday Suit, Ross Montgomery (RM) and Sarah Warburton (SW), author and illustrator of Ten Delicious Teachers, and Clare Helen Welsh ( CHW ), author of Wee? It Wasn’t Me! to ask them all about their shortlisted works, and why funny books are so important.

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Laugh Out Loud Awards 2023! How does it feel to have your work recognised by the judges?

AW: Thank you! It feels absolutely fantastic, I have to say. Clearly the judges are very intelligent people with exceptional taste (and I bet they’re incredibly good-looking, too).

DB: It feels extremely gratifying, particularly as Agent Llama was such a labour of love for me as an illustrator. I did the majority of the illustration work throughout the coronavirus lockdown and remember spending weeks trawling through James Bond-style imagery to put together mood boards and design ideas. That, combined with Angela’s wonderfully bonkers text, probably helped me cling on to my sanity during that troubling period.

PB: I am absolutely thrilled to bits! It’s a huge privilege for The King’s Birthday Suit to be shortlisted for the only award that recognises humour in children’s books. It’s also great to be alongside such brilliant other authors and illustrators – including a few friends!

CP: When I found out I was so happy I cried! Humour is the driving force behind most of my work and The King’s Birthday Suit is one of my favourite books I’ve worked on so to be nominated for a LOLLIE is honestly a dream come true.

RM: I’m absolutely chuffed to bits! I love the Lollies and I’m always excited to see what’s going on in the world of funny books – to have Ten Delicious Teachers up there is an absolute treat.

SW: I’m also very pleased. I love the books that the Lollies recognise and to be involved with one of them is very exciting. Funny books are the best!

CHW : Thank you so much! It’s an absolute dream come true to see Wee? It Wasn’t Me! amongst this incredible collection of funny books. We can’t thank all the judges enough for sharing their love of Lenny. It feels fantastic to know our story has been enjoyed, and by such iconic judges too. I’d like to also pass on HUGE congratulations to everyone who made the shortlist. It’s such a wonderful prize and a fabulous experience to be listed alongside you all. In short, I’m loving every second!

Why do you think funny books are important?

AW: Because NOTHING is better than laughing (preferably out loud, and very long) at something you’re reading. I am a very very old person indeed (or so my daughter tells me) and I can still remember the exact feeling I got from laughing out loud at books I read when I was a kid millions of years ago, somewhere around the Stone Age. It felt BRILLIANT and I am always chasing that same feeling.

DB: As I mentioned above, humour is such a crucial tonic when times are particularly tough. Children and adults alike really benefit from having a good laugh, whether we’re tittering to some witty observation or rolling on the floor from a bit of good, old fashioned toilet humour. Books are powerful entities, but funny books can have people doubling up with the giggles just from opening up a particular page. It’s like having medicine mainlined into your soul.

PB: Simple: children love to laugh! It is scientifically proven that laughing makes them feel less stressed and helps them bond with others. Actually, a good giggle makes us all feel better!

CP: Life can be serious and scary sometimes – no matter what age you are! – and laughter is the tonic to that. Funny books make you feel good and when you feel good you’re more likely to be kinder to others, more compassionate and to see life in a positive way. The ripple effect of feeling good is huge!

RM: Funny books were the ones that got me hooked on reading and writing in the first place – whenever I talk to kids in schools, they want books that make them laugh. Don’t we all? They’re always incredibly undervalued, and very hard to write too: I love that the Lollies celebrates them properly.

SW: We all love to laugh, don’t we? Everyone needs to laugh more and having stories and characters that can bring a belly-laugh to story time just makes the whole time joyous and more engaging I think. Laughing at something that has happened to a character in a story can spark imagination off into all kinds of other places…in search of more fun!

CHW : If there’s one thing we could do with right now, it’s laughter. A sneaky snort, a good giggle, a rib-tickling chuckle… laughing makes us feel good and brings people together. I definitely need to laugh more often – life can feel so serious and worrying at times, especially at the moment. This is why funny books (and awards like the Lollies) are so important. They won’t protect us from harder times, but they help us through them.

Can you tell us more about your shortlisted book?

AW: It’s the absolutely true story of a top secret agent (who happens to be a llama) and her mission to save the Prime Minister’s underpants and, as it turns out, also the entire world. Charlie Palmer has a selection of incredible gadgets and a stunningly stylish wardrobe, and she ROCKS. There are super-villains, an evil lair, and exploding Brussels Sprouts. This book has everything you could possibly need. And the illustrations are hilarious.

DB: My earlier comment about researching James Bond was a bit of a giveaway, but Agent Llama is essentially a rollicking spy caper – with a Llama. Although the central heroine ‘Charlie Palmer’ uses the gadgets and vehicles we associate with Bond, she is very much a feisty feminine protagonist. I actually modelled her on Tilda Swinton – her long, slender neck and dramatically quiffed hair felt like the perfect character details when designing her.

PB: The King’s Birthday Suit is a retelling in rhyme of one of Hans Andersen’s most famous stories, The Emperor’s New Clothes. The fashion-crazy king needs a new suit for his birthday and it’s got to be the very best. The rascally Mitch and McTavish promise to make a suit of the most fabulous fabric in the world. In fact it’s so amazing only the cleverest people can see it … and the king is thrilled. It’s really just a big trick, or course, but when the suit is finished the king won’t admit he can’t see a thing. The other grown ups won’t admit it either – until a little girl bursts out laughing, because the only suit he’s wearing is his birthday suit (geddit?). He is STARK NAKED!

CP: The King’s Birthday Suit is a retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes, originally written by Hans Christian Andersen over 200 years ago. The vain King is tricked by two villains into thinking they are making him the ‘finest suit ever’ for his birthday but really there is no suit! Everyone is too embarrassed and afraid to admit they can’t see a thing, until a little girl points out that the King is actually parading around naked! The book took me 3 years to illustrate and was probably the most challenging I’d worked on because there’s so many people and different costumes. I spent a lot of time researching and designing clothes for all the fashion designers and party goers, as well as all the rooms in the palace, which I wanted to feel totally different from one another.

RM: Ten Delicious Teachers is the story of ten very unlucky teachers, who go frolicking through a forest because they’re unaware that it’s filled with ten very naughty (and very hungry) monsters. Absolute carnage ensues, in which the teachers get gobbled up one by one. Will any of the teachers survive?!

SW: Ten Delicious Teachers is the naughtiest book I’ve ever illustrated. Some days I feel very much like the poor tired teachers and worry about them. Other days I’m on the side of the monsters and are cheering them on. It’s a tough choice!

CHW : Wee? It Wasn’t Me! is about a ring-tailed lemur called Lenny who is on holiday in Alaska when he slips in something wet and yellow and smelly… yup, it’s WEE! And he sets off through the snow to find out who peed the puddle he slipped in. Throughout the story, Lenny meets a whole host of animals and learns piddle-tastic facts about them and their wee. Basically, we’ve created a funny but factual story filled with pee pee and laughs. I’m particularly proud of the ending – my husband would tell you it was all his idea!

Why should children vote for you?

AW: Because there are no other books on the shortlist that contain exploding Brussels Sprouts. As far as I know.

DB: Essentially, they shouldn’t – they should vote for whomever they want. Humour is subjective and we all laugh at very different things. Children should not be afraid to vote for what actually makes them laugh, regardless of what their peers might think. That said, if you like bungling villains with a penchant for smoky bacon crisps, brussels sprout stink bombs, and a story involving a global chase to track down banana-patterned underpants, then ‘Agent Llama’ is definitely worthy of a vote!

PB: Our book has got royalty, fabulous fashion, a pair of clever tricksters and, above all, a BIG BARE BOTTOM!!

CP: Because The King’s Birthday Suit has a BIG BARE BUM in, that’s why! As well as bonkers outfits (even for the cat), cunning tricksters and a riot of colour and I hope that every page is filled with something to make you laugh ands that’s what the LOLLIES is all about! Laughter!

RM: Because there is only one book about teachers being eaten by monsters, as far as I can tell, and it’s our one. I don’t know what more to tell you, guys.

SW: Ross sums it up. If you’ve ever wanted to see a small flying monster wearing your teachers little purple pixie boots, this is the story for you.

CHW : This is a difficult one because I genuinely love all the books on the shortlist. But by some minor miracle, here we are! If Lenny’s slippery, smelly, yellow adventure makes you smile and leaves a lemur-shaped hole in your heart, please consider voting for us. (Also, ring-tailed lemurs are endangered, so they REALLY need your support and exposure!)

What would you say to anyone hoping to one day write or illustrate their own book?

AW: When I was seven, I decided that I was going to write books, and my best friend Tamsyn was going to illustrate them. Tamsyn didn’t become an illustrator (she got a proper job), but somehow I managed to become an author. If I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT. So here are my top tips: Read a lot. Write a lot. Draw a lot. And if you do one day become an author or an illustrator, make sure your books are funny, because funny books are the best.

PB: Just go for it! Write what you want to write, something that you really enjoy. And don’t worry about not getting it right first time. Mistakes make better writers!

CP: My advice to wannabe illustrators is simple – draw everyday! It doesn’t matter what you draw, or what you draw with, whether you draw from imagination or copy something you see – just get into the habit of drawing daily and remember to enjoy it! Illustration is a joyful activity, so don’t get bogged down in whether what you draw is good or bad, do it for the enjoyment – let that be your guide.

RM: My number one piece of advice is… just do it! Don’ wait to be told. Don’t wait until it’s perfect in your head, because it never will be. Just write it because you have a story you’re excited to tell, and no one else can do it but you.

SW: Have confidence in yourself. Try lots of things, make mistakes, laugh at your mistakes, try something else. Copy your favourite illustrators book covers. Don’t copy forever but copying can be a good way to learn, like learning a well-known tune on the piano. Practice, practice and practice again. Don’t spend a long time rubbing out. Sometimes the smallest doodle is the gold dust!

CHW : One of the best things about writing and drawing is that there is no right or wrong way to do it, so follow your heart and do what makes you happy! We need all sorts of books for all sorts of readers. Funny, poetic, action-driven, heart-warming… there are no limits. Grab your bag of essentials and jump in!

Don’t forget to read the shortlisted books and vote for your favourites!

Cast your vote

Agent Llama
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Agent Llama by Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie

Move over, Bond! There’s a new hero in town – Charlie Palmer: super spy and fluffy llama!

Charlie Palmer is a hotshot secret agent. Saving the world, fighting goons and looking cool while she does it is no big deal for her. Right now, she’s on a top-secret mission to rescue a pair of . . . UNDERPANTS! Gadgets ready? Sunglasses on? Watch out, baddies! No villain is a match for this AWESOME llama!

A hilarious and super stylish adventure from the incredible Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie. Perfect for fans of action-packed adventures like Supertato, Secret Agent Elephant and There’s a Superhero in your Book.

King's Birthday Suit
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The King’s Birthday Suit by Peter Bently and Claire Powell

King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third had SO many clothes it was simply absurd …

So when two seemingly well-meaning fabric merchants promise to make an outfit of only the very BEST and most special cloth, King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third simply cannot resist. He MUST have these new clothes! Surely, the unquestionably charitable and not-at-all-suspicious-looking tailors are genuine, and the King won’t end up looking red-cheeked … ?

This funny and timely retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable The Emperor’s New Clothes will not only make children laugh, but also encourage them to think and speak up for what they believe.

Ten Delicious Teachers
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Ten Delicious Teachers by Ross Montgomery and Sarah Warburton

Ten silly teachers have missed the last bus home. But LOOK – a shortcut through the forest! They’ll be back in time for tea! Off they skip, unaware that in the woods a hungry horde of mischievous and hilariously goofy monsters is waiting… An irreverent and zany counting book that is gently thrilling with witty and whimsical illustrations.

Wee? It Wasn't Me!
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Wee? It Wasn’t Me! by Clare Helen Walsh and Nicola O’Byrne

A funny story, all about wee, packed full of animal facts! The follow-up to the hilarious Poo! Is That You?

Lenny the lemur is on holiday in Alaska. He’s skipping across the snow, when he slips in a puddle. It’s wet, yellow and smelly… WEE! But whose wee could it be?

Lenny is on a quest to find out… Along the way, he meets various animals and learns all about their weeing habits! But the real question is: will he find that pesky puddle-piddler?

Learn about caribou, turtles, wolves and more in the piddle-tastic Wee? It Wasn’t Me! written by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne. Cleverly interweaving facts throughout, it also contains an information page at the back of the book, with a photo of each animal.

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