New independent publisher on the block Nosy Crow have recently launched their Mega Mash-up series aimed at boys of 7+. The look and feel of the books mirrors other short series publications like Astrosaurs or Spy Dog. What’s new is the ‘draw your own adventure’ aspect and the brazen repeated combination of everyone’s fave character types. You like Roman gladiators and dinosaurs? Here they are in the same book. You like robots and gorillas? That’s book two. And the latest book in the series? That harks back to 50s B-movie heaven: aliens, mad scientists and an undersea location. What more could a young boy want?

Even before you open Aliens v MAD Scientists under the ocean, you know this is a book not just for you – but by you, with an invitation to add your own name to that of the author and illustrator on the cover. Look inside and every page is packed with opportunities to participate in your own ‘sketching adventure’.

Moving on from the sticker book genre, this is a well-structured and supportive environment to boost kids’ creativity.In particular:

  • It’s a great setting, with lots of opportunities to create scenes and creatures under the sea.
  • The paper is high enough quality that it should survive even the thickest of felt tips.
  • The existing drawings look child-like enough that you feel welcome to add your own.
  • There’s useful advice at the start about choosing your drawing tools and producing textured patterns.
  • There’s a good mix of directed instructions (“he looks well shocked” pointing to a small blank face) and more open-ended tasks (“what else is lurking in the murky depths?” next to plenty of white space for you to fill with fantastical sea creatures).
  • A picture glossary at the back of the book includes sample drawings you might like to copy. I have to admit, in true sticker book mentality, I had a strong urge to cut these pics out and stick them on to some of the pages. Sadly they are printed back to back so you would need to copy them to do this.

The story itself is simple enough for kids to read themselves, though phrases like “rebalanced the quantum flux on the magnetizer” or “are they genetically modified?” might cause some confusion. And you can also read it without drawing any of your own pics. However, since all good picture books tell some of the story through images, if you take part you can actually shape what happens (within some specified parameters of course). With this in mind I was slightly surprised not to find an entirely open spread at the end of the book – I personally wanted to draw the final scene or epilogue, a bit like the feasts that take place at the end of every Asterix book… This approach would also give the reader full power to resolve and complete the story.

The series is supported by a website where you can access more glossary images, find out about the books and also share your own drawings, thereby providing an output for all that creative genius. This is nine-year old Alfie’s drawing from book two:

Overall, this is a great innovative series which shows the publisher’s forward-thinking approach to this age range. Having met Nosy Crow MD, Kate Wilson when she gave a masterclass at Kingston University last year, that’s no surprise. Kate talked then about a company philosophy built around the concepts of curation, connection and creativity, with three simple rules:

  • Communicate with consumers in a language they like,
  • Allow them to connect with you, and
  • Create content from scratch.

The Mega Mash-up series certainly fulfills each of these and I’d recommend the books to any 7+ boys (or girls!) I know.

My one criticism is that, despite use of contemporary terms like ‘mash-ups’ and ‘genetic modification’, the content of the book is firmly stuck back in the world of that 50s B movie. The scientists are all, as is clear from the title, ‘MAD’ – with names like ‘Batty’, ‘Nerdy’, ‘Egghead’, ‘Crackers’ and ‘Daft’. They all wear white coats, and glasses of some incarnation. And they’re all male – or at least I think they are. I know this is probably the language and imagery the reader expects and likes (going back to Kate’s first rule above) but it seems sadly stereotypical from such a contemporary and forward-thinking team. So next time you feature science, Nosy Crow, please take a more modern perspective!

Mega Mash-up: Aliens v MAD Scientists under the ocean by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson is out on June 16th. The next book in the series, Pirates v Ancient Egpytians in a haunted museum publishes in September.