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The Book Family Robinson

illustrated by Sam Caldwell

The book-loving Robinsons set out on a sailing holiday, but a storm leaves them shipwrecked on a deserted island. 

With the help of their books, they find a way to survive — and a hoard of pirate treasure! Unfortunately, the pirates are far from happy that their precious plunder has been dug up. 

Can the Robinsons read their way out of walking the plank? 

“This is the kind of book where you continually pour over the pages with your little reader to revisit your favourite moments and pick out new ones. It’s detailed, smart and funny as well as beautifully illustrated.”
Eleanor Lawlor, CHILDREN’S BOOKS IRELAND

“Bound to be a hit with younger children. The quirky details in every picture are a joy for children to seek out and spot. … This is great fun and highly recommended.”
PICTURE BOOK OF THE MONTH – MARCH 2022
Tom Tolkien, SCHOOL READING LIST

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UK Paperback
ISBN-10: 1800781318 • ISBN-13: 978-1800781313

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Author's Note

The Book Family Robinson takes its name and inspiration from The Swiss Family Robinson, a novel about a Swiss family that get shipwrecked on an island, written by Swiss author Johann David Wyss and first published in 1812. Although TV and film adaptations have named the family “Robinson” the family’s surname is not given in the novel – the “Robinson” in the title is a reference to Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s adventure story about a shipwrecked sailor, which inspired Wyss’s book.

I got to know the story as a child through some of its many TV adaptations including the late sixties science fiction version Lost in Space (recently remade by Netflix) in which a Robinson family struggle to survive in the depths of space. So this is a story that has been retold and adapted many times.

I didn’t set out to write a story inspired by Wyss’ novel. I’m a big fan of Allan Ahlberg’s Happy Families books, many of which feature families who share an interest or characteristic, and wanted to write a similar story about a family that loved books. However, once I’d come up with the title The Book Family Robinson, it made sense to give my story a similar plot and have the characters shipwrecked on a remote island.

In my version of the story, the Robinsons are able to survive thanks to the knowledge stored in the huge book collection, which is also washed up on the island. Many of the books the family are seen reading allow them to solve important problems, like how to build shelter or which fruit are safe to eat, but it’s a running joke that the only book the youngest Robinson, baby Charlie, is interested in reading is a seemingly silly board book called Funny Monkey Goes to the Toilet. I thought it would provide a good twist at the end of the story if this was the only book that was capable of saving the family’s lives when they face seeming certain death at the hands of a crew of angry pirates.

Illustrator Sam Caldwell has done a terrific job of bringing the Robinson’s book-crammed world to life. His illustrations of the Robinsons and the pirates have heaps of character – I particularly like the way he’s made Mr Robinson look like a young Louis Theroux. One of my favourite spreads is the one shown above, where the family and their book collection is caught up in the terrible storm that wrecks their ship. Another favourite is the cross section near the end of the story (shown below). A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about my love of cross sections and cutaway drawings and I’m always looking for opportunities to sneak them in to my picture books. There are so many quirky details to spot in Sam’s cross section of the floating library. Can you spot all three of the ship’s cats or the pirate sitting on the toilet – and where has baby Charlie got to?

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Reviews

“When a book-loving family run their floating library aground on a remote island, they soon realise they are not alone. There are pirates! With diverse characters with wonderful expressions and engaging and vivid illustrations, this is bound to be a hit with younger children. The quirky details in every picture are a joy for children to seek out and spot. There are clever book author names, a pirate who sucks his thumb and a shark with a sparkling overbite. This is great fun and highly recommended.”
PICTURE BOOK OF THE MONTH – MARCH 2022
Tom Tolkien, SCHOOL READING LIST

“Perfect for any eagle-eyed readers who love sea and pirates themes. The brightly coloured illustrations are full of hidden details for extra fun and enjoyment. This is the kind of book where you continually pour over the pages with your little reader to revisit your favourite moments and pick out new ones. It’s detailed, smart and funny as well as beautifully illustrated.”
Eleanor Lawlor, CHILDREN’S BOOKS IRELAND

“Book yourself in for a treasure island adventure as author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Sam Caldwell let their imaginations take flight on a fun-filled picture book. Featuring a clever twist on the classic tale of Swiss Family Robinson, Emmett brings us a ‘bookish’ family Robinson who are shipwrecked on a treasure island, only to be plunged into a face-off against a fearsome pirate crew. …  Stories – and books of course – really do conquer all in this charming, madcap adventure which puts the pleasure of reading at the top of everybody’s wish list!”
Pam Norfolk, LANCASHIRE EVENING POST

“Funny clever story, fantastic illustrations full of humour. … It promotes a fabulous passion for books and sharing books through libraries. This is definitely a book to gift to any child be they a book or pirate lover.”
HAPPY LITTLE READERS BOOKS

“Vibrantly illustrated with lots of little details to spot, and SO much fun to read aloud, this is a brilliant swashbuckling adventure and a homage to the power of books being the answer to almost anything.”
THE LITTLE LITERARY SOCIETY