Author–illustrator dream team Nick Falk and Tony Flowers have joined forces again for a hilarious new junior fiction book, Vognox the Viking and the Island of Skeletons. This rollicking adventure story entices struggling readers through visual storytelling techniques, informed by Tony’s PhD studies in visual literacy. Here, Tony shares how he and Nick devised this engaging interplay between the illustrations and text.

Vognox the Viking started out as a crazy idea that author Nick Falk and I tossed around at the Byron Writers Festival in 2017. By the time we left the festival, we had nutted out the narrative concept and rough character sketches. Nick had even penned a few chapters to get the feel for how the writing style would work with the illustrations.

Our aim was to create a book where the reader becomes part of the story: our character, Vognox, talks directly to the reader, who can also see Vognox interacting with the author.

A key inspiration for the Vognox visuals was the classic 1953 Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Amuck, where Daffy breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience and the animator of the story. When thinking about how this might work for a modern junior fiction book, I cast my mind back to one of my own childhood favourites, The Monster at the End of This Book by the writer and producer of Sesame Street Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin. This classic Little Golden Book stars Sesame Street’s Grover who warns the reader that there is a monster at the end of the book, and begs and pleads with them not to turn the page.

Vognox is another reluctant hero who pleads with both the Awful Awfa and the reader to get him out of this adventure story. As a result, readers feel like they are involved in the book. This is the perfect way to engage struggling readers: they feel invested and welcomed as Vognox’s story develops.

Vognox is so busy complaining that he misses clues and problems around him, and situations often unfold while he remains oblivious. The illustrations are designed to both guide children through the story if they struggle with the text and add an extra layer to the narrative.

Nick and I wanted to make a story full of fun and adventure and sprinkled with nonsense and danger. Most of all, we wanted to make a book that kids want to read again and again.

Catch Tony Flowers at the Byron Writers Festival on Friday 2 August.