Danny Dreadnought Saves the World is illustrated by Martin Chatterton and is and my first book for Egmont's Bananas series.
Little Danny Dreadnought is fearless. So much so that his parents are worried about him and decide that he must learn to be afraid. But no matter what they try – skydiving, swimming with sharks, spending the night in a haunted house – Danny remains unshaken. Fortunately, when Earth is invaded by the fearsome Bugulons, Danny's fearlessness saves the day.
The story was inspired by the German folktale The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, which was included in the collections of the Brothers Grimm. In that story a fearless youth sets out to learn how to shudder. After various adventures the youth spends three nights in a haunted castle and drives out its evil occupants, earning himself great riches and a princess’s hand in marriage. At the end of the story the princess finally makes the youth shudder by pouring a bucket of cold water, filled with fishes, over him.
Richard Wagner reinterpreted the story in Siegfried, his operatic retelling of the Norse myth of Sygurd, but gave it a far more satisfying ending. In Wagner’s opera, Siegfried finally learns what fear is when he mistakenly thinks that his sweetheart Brünnhilde is dead. And a similar ending was used by scriptwriter Anthony Minghella for Fearnot a 1988 TV adaptation of the Grimm’s tale for Jim Henson’s excellent Storyteller series. The Storyteller is one my family's favourite TV series. If you've never seen it, here's a clip.
I thought the plot could make a great picture book and set about adapting it to into a contemporary setting with the youth’s role being taken by a little girl, Daisy Dreadnought. My early drafts of the story were quite close to the Grimm original, with Daisy spending the night in a creepy castle, haunted by a trio of spiteful aristocratic spooks. The romantic Wagnerian ending wasn’t appropriate for such a young heroine, but I wanted an ending that felt similarly satisfying so, after banishing the ghosts from the castle, Daisy returns home to find her parents aren’t there. Thinking they’ve abandoned her, Daisy finally feels afraid, before her parents return home and allay her fears.
I sent this draft to several picture book publishers, but none were interested. One editor commented that the haunted house setting made it seem like a Halloween story, which would limit its appeal for the rest of the year. I still felt the story had potential so I did another draft. Bearing in mind the Halloween comment, I replaced the family of ghosts with an army of alien invaders – the fearsome Bugulons. I showed this revised version to publishers and, while none wanted it as a picture book, Egmont took it as a first reader for their Bananas series.
Adapting the story into a first reader was relatively easy. One of the nice things about the Bananas series is that, like picture books, they have full colour illustrations on every page. And, while the pages are smaller than those of a picture book, there are twice as many to tell the story in. One thing I had to change was Daisy’s gender. Editor Hannah Sandford explained to me that there were already lots of Bananas books featuring plucky heroines, so it would be nice to have a story with a plucky hero for a change – so Daisy became Danny!
|A crestfallen Bugulon|
Martin is also illustrating another story that I’ve written for the Bananas series, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with that.
Here's a trailer for the book.
And if you're feeling particularly daring, you might like to try your hand at Danny's Scare Search puzzle.
|Click the image to download the puzzle|