Karen McCombie on Granny's Little Monsters and grandparents in children's literature
The book our Parakeet subscribers are reading this month is a fun, family adventure starring two cheeky (and very relatable) cousins and their lovable Granny Mo, who is on the hunt for the perfect pet. It’s got all the ingredients we love in an early middle grade story and inspired some super fun activities in our accompanying activity pack. We asked author Karen McCombie to tell us all about who inspired the book’s brilliant characters and which are her favourite grandparents in children’s literature.
What inspired you to write Granny’s Little Monsters?
I’m mad about animals, so it’s always fun to write books featuring animals of one kind or another. Even strange mud-monsters! And I’m also mad about history, but not the sort about old kings and queens so much. I’m totally fascinated by everyday, ordinary history that gives little glimpses into the lives of everyday, ordinary people like us - who just happened to live a long time ago! And when I read about mudlarking - finding old, small treasures that have been dropped in rivers over the years - I thought it would make a great story.
Did you go mudlarking while you were researching the book? What did you find?
I haven’t been mudlarking myself because in London, where I live, you need to have a special permit to go mudlarking by the River Thames. That’s because it’s a busy river with strong tides and can be dangerous. But all through my life I’ve collected odds and ends - things that have been dropped, lost or given away. I even have a display cabinet full of found stuff!
Is Granny Mo inspired by anyone in particular?
Actually, Granny Mo is the sort of granny I’d like to be in the future! My own granny - Nana Jeannie - was a lovely person, but when I was young, grannies tended to dress in boring, same-y clothes and all seemed to have the exact same hairstyle. It was like a grandmother uniform! I like it that nowadays people can just dress however they want to, whatever age they are. So yes, I’d like to be like Granny Mo in years to come. But I think I’ll stick to having my cat and dog as pets. A mud monster sounds like way too much hard work!
Why did you decide to make Zac and Essie cousins (rather than siblings)?
There are plenty stories featuring siblings, but not so many about cousins. And that’s a shame because lots of people are only children, like my own daughter. And they can have great relationships with ACTUAL cousins (the children of aunties and uncles) or NEARLY cousins (the children of family friends).
Do you have a favourite place to write?
My unofficial ‘office’ is the local garden centre cafe, but I haven’t been able to go there since before the whole Covid pandemic! I used to pack my laptop, walk through the park and settle myself down at a table surrounded by plants and flowers. I also loved it because it was a dog-friendly cafe and I could get doggy cuddles whenever I went to the counter to order another coffee. I can’t wait till the cafe reopens, as I have a puppy of my own now and want to take her to work!
Why did you choose to write books for children?
I really connect with children and young people. They can be so much more fun than adults! In fact, after years working as a magazine journalist, I nearly re-trained as a primary school teacher, but then I wrote my first book, got published and became an author instead. But I still love going into schools to do book talks.
What was your favourite book as a child?
It was a series of books called The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is still available in shops and libraries now. They're the true-life adventures of a girl growing up in America in the 1800s. I still adore those books and re-read the whole series every few years.
Who are your favourite grandparents in children’s literature? Do you have any other book recommendations for our subscribers?
I’m going to be cheeky here and say the granny from my own St Grizzle’s School series! Dani is a girl who gets sent to a boarding school when her zoologist mum goes on an expedition to Antarctica. Dani's Granny Viv is an old punk and is furious that Dani’s mum doesn’t trust her to look after Dani in her absence. Granny Viv doesn’t quite manage to stay away from her granddaughter or her new school…