Albert in the Air and Hugg 'n' Bugg Finding Home by Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke
As reviewer Gwyneth Rees reveals, the Albert the Tortoise series is something to shell-ebrate, and new entry Albert in the Air is no exception, delivering everything you could hope from a children’s picture book.
Author Ian Brown’s new series, meanwhile—Hugg ‘n’ Bugg—will soon have its own legion of adoring fans thanks to its warmth, humour and stunning illustrations.
By Gwyneth Rees
It is rare to find a children’s author whose books appeal to young and old alike, but Ian Brown is one of them.
His acclaimed Albert the Tortoise series has adoring fans across the world, from the three-to-seven year-olds they are aimed squarely towards, and their parents, to tortoise lovers and celebrities including Michael Aspel, Jeremy Clarkson, John Craven, Julian Clary, Paul Whitehouse, and children’s author Philip Ardagh.
And the titular real-life Albert, Ian’s family pet, is so popular that he can be considered a celebrity in his own right, with thousands of followers keeping up with his every move (or should that be shuffle?) on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.
Remarkably, the Albert series was only launched last year but in that time there have been three children’s picture books released— Albert Upside Down (where Albert gets stuck on his back), Albert and the Wind (where poor Albert’s food blows away), and Albert Supersize (where he dreams of being a dinosaur).
Now the chirpy chelonian is back in his latest adventure, Albert in the Air, which sees him leave the safety of his garden out of curiosity, wondering where his flying friends go to.
Suddenly finding himself alone in a noisy and dirty urban environment, it is up to his garden pals to rescue Albert, just as they have done so before.
It’s my first encounter with the Albert series but I instantly understood why these comical adventures of a pet tortoise with a moral message are so beloved.
Firstly, the plight of Albert, especially when he manages to get himself tangled in balloons and takes to the air, will touch every young child’s heart.
Secondly, the humour, replete with a fart gag (completely tasteful, I assure you), doesn’t fail to put a smile on your face.
Thirdly, the accompanying artwork by acclaimed animation director Eoin Clarke is bright, evocative and charming, arresting the eye on every page and adding to the richness of the story.
Fourthly, the subtle messages about the importance of friendship, teamwork and kindness, among others, will delight every parent.
For the little creatures of the garden are a terrific bunch, all missing Albert (as he does them) and pulling together to bring him back home safe and sound, from the birds surveying the skies for signs of a floating tortoise to a bee whose assistance will be essential to get him back down to the ground.
The ever-popular Albert the Tortoise returns in author Ian Brown’s new book Albert in the Air. These celebrated children’s picture books are all instant classics.
It shouldn’t, however, be a surprise that the story hits all the marks as Ian is a veteran, starting out in journalism before transitioning to TV, where he served both as writer and producer on some of the biggest shows of recent decades, including the fondly remembered This Is Your Life and Top Gear.
He has worked with a who’s who of celebrities, from Harrison Ford and Pierce Brosnan to Simon Cowell and Ant and Dec, in a glittering, celebrated career, but it’s wonderful to learn that of all his achievements, it is becoming an author that he prizes the most.
And he credits the real-life Albert, now getting on for 80, for kick-starting his new career as a children’s author, being inspired to pen the first of the series after seeing his pet tip onto his back and wondering what would happen if he hadn’t been around to put him right again.
If you like Albert in the Air—and let’s be honest, who won’t—then the good news is that further stories are planned for release next year, again to be published through Welsh publishing house, Graffeg, and no doubt once again capturing the tortoise’s clumsy yet winning personality to great comic effect.
As a bonus, each book also has ‘Fun Facts’ in the back about the real Albert, other tortoises, turtles and dinosaurs, so young minds will learn as well as be entertained.
The other new release from Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke, Hugg 'n' Bugg Finding Home, is also coming out through Graffeg and marks a confident start to a brand new children’s picture book series.
Swapping the centre of suburbia for the chilly heights of the mountain peaks, it is a comical rhyming story about an unlikely pair of misfits who make a great team.
Bugg the mountain flea is cold and seeking somewhere warm and dry to call home, and no surprise for …
He has chattering teeth and knocking knees.
And now and again a very loud sneeze
Hugg ‘n’ Bugg is a hair-larious new book series from the creators of Albert the Tortoise, author Ian Brown and illustrator Eoin Clarke.
The premise is delightfully zany and the rhyming couplets a joy to read aloud, such as the description of Hugg the yeti:
Some men of science call him a yeti.
They don’t let on he has hair like spaghetti.
I’m not giving away any spoilers to say that Bugg finds his snug new residence within the fur of Hugg, who seems scary at first sight but actually feels lonely because he’s aware how he frightens people.
Not Bugg, though, who in a nice twist offers to look after the yeti, cementing a firm if unusual friendship.
Humour is once again at the fore, with Bugg happily chomping down on Hugg’s earwax among other things, and the moral messages are simple yet powerful: the importance of teamwork and finding your place in the world.
The ending has a great pay-off, with Hugg finally coming out of hiding, and all thanks to a tiny flea. How wonderful that one true friend can make such a difference.
Animator Eoin Clarke, whose work has included the opening credits on TV shows including Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing and contributions to CBBC’s Operation Ouch, once again delivers superb illustrations to provide the total package.
Hugg ‘n’ Bugg will return next year but, for now, go out and pick up a copy, as well as Albert in the Air. They’re instant classics and more than deserve a place on every child’s book shelf.
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
After a glittering three-decade career in TV, writing and producing for some of the UK’s best-remembered shows including This Is Your Life and Top Gear, Ian Brown has added another string to his bow, becoming a celebrated children’s picture book author. To mark the twin release this month of Albert in the Air and Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home, we caught up with Ian to find out more, including how becoming an author is the realisation of a long-standing goal.
Q, You have had ambitions to be an author for more than 30 years. How does it feel to finally achieve this long-standing goal?
A. It is great—genuinely a dream come true. I have had so many rejections from agents and publishers over the years for so many different projects, so to be doing this now is wonderful.
Q. What has attracted you to writing children’s picture books?
A. Before the Albert books, I had an idea for some other garden-based characters. I’d been looking after my mum through an illness. After her death, I started going on long walks and one day this idea came to me. Writing it helped me and, in a way, cheered me up. I started to research the world of picture books and when the idea for Albert came along, it felt right to be a picture book. I particularly enjoy the mix of words and images.
Q. You often visit primary schools, libraries and bookshops for readings and talks about Albert the Tortoise. How do children (and parents) respond to the books?
A. So far, so good. There’s been some amazing response. Of course, part of that is down to the real Albert—our pet tortoise who inspired the books. I introduce people to him and his world as well. Fortunately, the comedy in the books and the little messages about being nice and kind—and how working together can be a good thing—appeal. A picture book is nothing without the pictures and the illustrations by Eoin Clarke are proving a big hit, too. People revisit the pictures and re-read the books, which is wonderful to know.
Q. How do you get the ideas for your Albert stories?
A. They are genuinely based on things that really happen with the real Albert. With the first book, Albert Upside Down, Albert really does flip over on his shell sometimes when he overreaches in the garden or climbs a rock. Normally, we rush to him and gently put him the right way round but I got to thinking, what if the other little garden animals had to overcome little differences and work together to help Albert.
With the next book, Albert And The Wind, Albert loves eating salad—salad leaves, green beans, dandelions—but if he doesn’t eat quickly then, on a blustery day, his food blows away. Normally we get him a new meal but I wondered about the garden creatures rounding up his meal and then him saying a special thank you.
And with the third book, Albert Supersize, where Albert dreams he is a dinosaur, scientists did a study on tortoise brains while they have their winter sleep (also known as hibernation or ‘brumation’) and it seems their brains are quite active. So, it’s thought they might dream. The real Albert sleeps for around five months and I thought a sleep that long is going to involve a big dream; a supersize one with dinosaurs and all sorts.
And that brings us to the latest adventure, Albert in the Air. The real Albert used to escape from the garden a lot. Tortoises are good at digging and he would tunnel under fences. That’s the starting point of the story with illustrated Albert digging in and heading off into the world beyond the garden.
The real-life Albert, author Ian Brown’s family pet, has become a celebrity in his own right, with a worldwide following.
Q. Your Albert picture books are also popular with adults around the world. Why do you think he’s become such a celebrity?
A. I now know that there are tortoise fans all over, and people who are trying to help tortoises and turtles and their environments. Amazingly, real Albert has become UK Ambassador for a couple of turtle and tortoise rescue and aid organisations in California: the California Turtle and Tortoise Club (Valley) and Sofa Cushion Challenge (a fun way to raise funds). Aside from that, it seems there are lots of people who have tortoises or who have relatives or a neighbour with a tortoise. Real Albert is a little bit cheeky on his social media, too, and that seems to appeal to a lot of people. Through all that, people have discovered the books and I’m thrilled to say they like them too—the comedy, the illustrations, and little life lessons. The feedback has been wonderful.
Q. What was the inspiration for Hugg ‘n’ Bugg?
A. It started more than 50 years ago with a school project. We were given a title, ‘The Himalayan Flea’, and were told to write anything we wanted. That is when I first wrote about the characters.
They have gone through many, many changes since, with all sorts of reworking and re-writes. Then I settled on comical rhyming books. It seemed right to have a bouncy rhyme like the hopping of the flea. It is a project I have persevered with for years and years. I am thrilled to have it all come to fruition.
Q. What is the secret of being a good children’s author?
A. I wish I knew! All I can say is don’t write down to children. Certainly, for picture books, let the pictures do a lot of the talking. If you can see it, you probably don’t need to say it. For the first Albert books, a lot of the work was cutting words. I also think children have a good sense of humour so illustrator Eoin Clarke and I like to put comedy in all our books.
Q. Prior to becoming a children’s author you worked as a writer and producer on television for many years, rubbing shoulders with a who’s-who of celebrities. What is your proudest achievement from those days?
A. Not getting fired? There are a few things. Certainly, getting everyone home safely from some of the Top Gear filming trips. Also, shows I worked on in Hollywood. For the big red book tribute show This Is Your Life we would visit Hollywood now and then and it was amazing to be writing for such big stars. Even more, going to their homes to meet with them and talk through what they might say. Legends like James Stewart, Harrison Ford, and Janet Leigh. I’m also super proud of writing for The Simpsons and having my lines done by Homer Simpson—in a tribute show for Simon Cowell.
Prior to becoming an author, Ian Brown worked as a writer and producer for hit shows including This Is Your Life and Top Gear. Here, he is pictured with former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson.
Q. You were the writer of cherished classic TV show This is Your Life up to its end in 2007. What do you think made it such a popular programme?
A. In its day it was a rare chance to meet celebrities’ families; to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their lives. This was before Instagram and TikTok and before magazines like Hello! and OK! which would feature famous people’s lives off-camera. Now, you almost know everything about famous people—or it seems so. The thing most viewers liked was the surprise at the beginning when people were presented with the big red book. That was a major element of the shows.
Q. What can readers expect from you next?
A. I’m pleased to say MORE! More Alberts—Eoin Clarke and I have just been asked to produce four more Albert picture books—and also three more Hugg ‘n’ Bugg books. It is very exciting indeed. Fortunately we have some nice ideas, we think. We can’t wait to share them.
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