What is Johnny Nothing? Well,it’s a book that any child would love reading. It’s also a tale that any child not yet old enough to read would love to have their Mum or Dad read to them. And finally, it’s a book that Mum or Dad will certainly finish reading secretly on their own, for their own delight long before it’s bedtime rendition is complete.
What is Johnny Nothing about? One way of answering that would be to ask how the Harry Potter plot might have played out if Hagrid had never arrived to liberate him. Like Harry, Johnny has Thoroughly Beastly Parents (or, as Probert might go on to qualify that description, I mean really and truly, THOROUGHLY, BEASTLY PARENTS!)
That’s because unlike J.K. Rowling, Probert frequently jumps out of the normal third person narrative style to talk directly to the child to make a point or deliver an admonition when a character does something nasty (don’t smoke, kids!). There are footnotes, too, and long lists of bulleted examples of things, each making the type of thoroughly atrocious pun that children delight to hear.
It’s all done in a grand, rollicking manner, with lots of that special type of British slang that can light up a sentence with it’s chummy style. While many of the words may ring strange to those from away, you can get almost all of it from context, and it further helps to create the feel of a story being related by a favorite uncle.
Children will delight especially in those elements that play to a child’s most guilty desires: suddenly being empowered to lock their parents in a bedroom for a few months, for example, forced to eat healthy meals and do their homework (can life get any better than that?) All the while, Johnny Nothing himself remains a very approachable character – he’s not Nothing, but he is, in most ways decidedly Average, at least to begin with, and that’s the point.
There is something rather unusual about Johnny Nothing, and that is the fact that it seems to be the first children’s book by an author that has produced almost everything else: scifi fiction, books on digital photography, books on boxing, a book of panoramic photos, articles for a long list of magazines, music, and much more (his author page at Amazon is here).
Moreover, his current output is prodigious: he is simultaneously posting four serial books at once at his blog. His style in those books is decidedly different: although they range from science fiction to contemporary to I’m not sure yet (given that sometimes they take unanticipated jumps), most of the plots involve violence and sex, although neither is gratuitously described. As with his children’s book, the prose flows effortlessly, and it’s hard not to envy the believability and fluidity of these first-draft chapters. You can sign up to have them delivered to you by email, and I’ve come to look forward to their arriving, usually on a daily basis.
There’s another reason to visit Probert’s blog, and that’s the extraordinary color illustrations that accompany each chapter of Johnny Nothing. On an ordinary, black and white Kindle, you can’t appreciate them at all. But at his blog (and perhaps on a Kindle Fire or iPad), they’re stunning. Even the cover image is much more impressive.
In sum, this is an author to be taken seriously. If you haven’t discovered him yet, I strongly urge you to drop by this blog. And in any event, give a serious thought to picking up a copy of Johnny Nothing. Its available on Kindle in the UK here, and in the U.S. here.