I’ve been looking forward to this post all month. It’s my stop on the blog tour for You Can’t Take an Elephant on Holiday by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman and I am so excited to be sharing an interview with Patricia!
You Can’t Take an Elephant on Holiday is the fourth instalment in this laugh-out-loud series. You can read my review of the previous books, You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus, You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger, You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency here. Each book starts with – as the titles suggest – an elephant causing calamity by taking on an unlikely task. What follows is spread-after-spread of rhyming genius brought to life by David’s trademark illustrations.
The books read like a list of the worst animals to attempt the activity, in this case, holiday makers! My daughter found the armadillo building a sandcastle hilarious. You just never know what crazy scenario Patricia and David will come up with next! You Can’t Take an Elephant on Holiday was the perfect edition to read during the pandemic, when holidays have been cancelled – I was utterly swept away in the holiday mayhem!
You Can’t Take an Elephant on Holiday is a real page turner, bursting with humour and surprises. Every book in this series has put a smile on our faces. I am in awe of how Patricia and David keep each book feeling fresh and with even wackier, crazier scenarios than the last. And so, I am delighted to share my interview with Patricia, who reveals all on how she wrote this wacky and marvellous series…
Hi Patricia, thank you so much for letting me interview you. We are huge fans of the series. Could you tell us how it came about and the inspiration behind it?
One day my three-year-old granddaughter, Izzie, suddenly said to my husband, “You can’t take an elephant on the bus, Granpops…” I don’t know what gave her this idea, maybe she had just realised how huge elephants are compared with her toy elephant but for me it was the flash which said to me – picture book.
Every spread in this series features a wacky scene, bursting with humour – how do you come up with the ideas?
Having imagined the gang of silly animals, I just look for absurd situations into which I can drop them. It is the way they always want to help but never quite manage to, which creates the havoc and thus the humour. The first book centred on vehicles after which it was a question of simply linking their silly activities loosely to a theme; emergencies, holidays et al.
Is there any character from one of the spreads in the series that you think could have the potential for its own spin-off picture book?
I hadn’t thought of this! I think it would have to be the elephant. My wonderful illustrator David Tazzyman has drawn him with such a soppy, cross-eyed look that he really is a character (and one who thinks nothing of doing poos all over the workmen!) that could easily set off and have adventures of his own. I try to introduce new animals in each book, but a few do reoccur; the elephant is a constant.
Do you have a favourite childhood holiday memory?
Yes, my parents and I (I was the standard, nose-in-a book only child) went on a number of camping holidays, which I loved. I was a bit of a tomboy. I especially remember going to Scotland and picking wild raspberries which my mother made into delicious jam on the campfire. Later we went abroad on motoring trips through France, Switzerland and Austria. For these we did not camp and on arriving in a town in the evening, I would be sent to find a cheap hotel for the night. Excruciatingly embarrassing but good for my French and German!
Can we expect to see more in the series and/or further collaborations between you and David?
Yes, I have more or less finished writing the next one and I am happy to say there are more in the pipeline!
I love the fact that you say on your website you’ve been a writer since you were aged 10. Alongside picture books you also write articles, non-fiction, novels and plays. How do you find balancing all your different writing streams? Do you have a favourite?
Until the pandemic struck, I combined travel writing assignments and articles on plants and gardens easily with writing picture book texts. Although writing rhyming texts is more work than you’d think, writing a book which doesn’t need months of research leaves time and space to embark on other projects. The last adult book I wrote before returning to writing children’s books was the history of a flower, the auricula, which at one time was collected by enthusiasts in the same way as the tulip. This is a very ‘niche’ subject (which means it will never make money) especially as few people know what an auricular is. It involved two years of research plus travelling all over the place, translating botanical latin, old French and Italian. Not only are children’s books less onerous but they are much more fun. Writing them is definitely my favourite occupation. That being said I shall not give up travel writing completely for it does greatly enrich my life but even though restrictions are easing, I do not feel that now is the moment to travel. I am therefore concentrating on children’s books which I enjoy doing.
What advice would you give to someone trying to write a humorous picture book?
Laughter is a great way to connect with young children. In the case of the Elephant series it was finding the right authorial voice, a bit bossy and nanny-ish with all those ‘You cant’s’, ‘don’ts’ and ‘I wouldn’ts’ which help to create humorous tension. It also gives me the opportunity to introduce the odd ‘difficult’ word as I do believe in expanding a child’s vocabulary. My agent bet me that I wouldn’t get away with the word ‘conveyance’ in a picture book text – and there it is at the end of You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus.
What makes young children laugh are absurd, impossible situations (a whale on a bicycle, a bison on a pedalo, monkeys in a shopping trolley.) They also love slapstick, nonsense, turning the world upside down and adults looking silly. Another sure way of making them laugh is something a bit disgusting – the animals weeing, pooing, farting and being sick.
If ever you’re trapped in a deep, dark cave…
Don’t ask an anteater to be brave.
He’ll only whimper and wet his pants
and console himself by eating ants.
Of course, what makes young children laugh and what makes adults laugh are different things. Very young children don’t really get irony, but some writers and illustrators manage, without losing the funny elements which appeal to children, to sneak a bit of black humour in for the benefit of the adults who may have to read the book dozens of times. Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back and David McKee’s Not Now Bernard achieve this.
Thank you so much for talking to me and for all that wonderful advice! We will eagerly await the next books in the series!
You Can’t Take an Elephant on Holiday is published by Bloomsbury, 27 May 2021
A little bit more about Patricia
I wanted to be a writer from the age of ten. I began with plays in which I made my friends act. I can also remember a detective story about someone who stole watches and was caught because he strapped them all up his arm.
When I left school, I went to Paris and studied at the Sorbonne. To pay my way I worked in a lovely family of seven children, helping the older ones with their English and looking after the youngest, a 4-year-old. It was for him I made up a long serial story about little people made of string, La Famille Ficelle.
Years later this became The String Family, my first children’s book. When my own children were young I wrote 14 more children’s books but when they grew up I turned to writing adult non-fiction books, some about life here on our country smallholding with all our animals. I then began working as a travel journalist, something which enabled me to see the world. I also wrote 2 radio plays, compiled several features for BBC radios 3 & 4 and wrote a stage play. It was my granddaughter Izzie, who brought me back to the magical world of picture books which I enjoy so much that I don’t want to leave…
David Tazzyman is the bestselling illustrator of the Mr Gum books, which have won a multitude of awards, including the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. David grew up in Leicester and studied illustration at Manchester Metropolitan University. You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus, You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger and You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency are just three of his picture books for Bloomsbury and have sold over 200,000 copies. He lives in Leicestershire with his partner and their three children.
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.