BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
We are delighted to be able to host a Q&A with Alex Milway, whose new book Hotel Flamingo is a fun-filled early chapter book perfect for fans of Claude and Isadora Moon.
Read on for a review of the book followed by an exclusive Q&A in which we ask Alex all about his book, his inspiration as a writer and his take on children's literature.
Book Title: Hotel Flamingo (available here)
Author/Illustrator: Alex Milway
Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Publication Date: February 2019
Most Suitable For: Years 1-3
Here is a fantastically imaginative new addition to the growing bank of illustrated chapter books available to newly independent readers, perfect for fans of Alex T Smith’s Claude books and Harriet Muncaster’s Isadora Moon series.
Anna Dupont arrives at the dilapidated Hotel Flamingo after inheriting it from her Great Aunt Mathilda, who left it to her in her will. Shocked at the state of the “sunniest hotel in town”, Anna is disappointed to see dirty floors, cracked windows, broken doors and layers of old cobwebs. Having been empty of guests for the last few years, the only employees left at the hotel are T Bear the doorman and Mr Lemmy, the lemur who runs the front desk.
A determined and optimistic protagonist, Anna decides to restore the hotel to its former glory and sets about the enormous task of cleaning, fixing, planning and hiring. As she pools her resources and brings together a team of animal staff, Anna begins to knock the hotel into shape. Her new staff include a handy-giraffe for maintenance jobs, a highly opinionated porcine chef called Madame Le Pig and the cleaner Hilary Hippo, who just happens to be allergic to dust. Finally, the hotel is ready for its opening night (with a vibrant troupe of dancing flamingos ready to mark the occasion).
Restoring the reputation of an old hotel is no easy challenge, and soon Anna and the team face a host of challenges, including rival hoteliers, strange dietary requirements from the animal guests and a visit from a hotel inspector. At every step, Anna keeps her focus on teamwork, inclusion and good old hard work and soon the hotel is celebrating the kind of success it deserves.
I enjoyed the delightful cast of characters, the positive values promoted by hotel owner Anna and Alex Milway’s appealing illustrations set in pinks and greys. I particularly loved the way that the hotel was ready to welcome creatures, like cockroaches, that other hotels in the area were unwilling to accept and there was a clear message that the hotel was a better place because of its warmth and diversity.
Imaginative, accessible and little bit wild, Hotel Flamingo is a fabulous early chapter book that will appeal to readers aged 5-8. I look forward to reading more of Anna’s adventures in the rest of the series.
Click here to see a video trailer for the book.
with Alex Milway, author of Hotel Flamingo
What was the inspiration behind Hotel Flamingo?
I watched my daughter roleplaying with a number of her toy animals, putting them to bed and feeding them - basically treating them like her guests - and it really resonated with me. She was suddenly the adult, taking control of the situation, and I thought it was a brilliant starting point for a story. Here was a headstrong, entrepreneurial young girl taking matters into her own hands. I didn't want to have the story be about a zoo, which would be the most logical conclusion, so the idea quickly transformed into a more fantastical idea of a young girl running a hotel for animals.
Hotel Flamingo is perfectly pitched for early readers who are enjoying their first chapter books. What was behind the decision to write for this audience?
My daughters are both around this age, and I've written slightly older - and younger. It's great to have a captive audience at home! But also this age really suits funny, fully illustrated work, and that excites me as a creator. I love getting to create a visual, immersive novel!
Inclusion is a major theme in Hotel Flamingo, which features a young hotel owner who harnesses the positive power of being welcoming to all different kinds of animals (even the ones that other hotels won’t let inside) and sees how the hotel becomes a better place because of it. Can you tell us more about why you chose this theme?
I live in London, which couldn't be more accepting of different races and cultures. It's an incredibly inclusive city, and every day is a chance to meet new people from all over the world without travelling very far at all. The planet feels much smaller and more welcoming when you live in a place like this, and I suppose Hotel Flamingo is my attempt to show the positive aspects to inclusivity and diversity in a children's book.
Have you always been an animal lover? Do you have a favourite animal?
Yes! Always. Lemurs are my favourite animals - and I was so excited to put one in the book.
If you could run any hotel in the world, where would it be and what would it be like?
I would love to run a hotel - I love serving things and having guests over. I think a beautiful art deco hotel on the French Riviera would be the best! And probably 100 years ago, if that's possible. Please!
Which of the customers from Hotel Flamingo would you most like to meet? Which one would you find most difficult to cater for?
I would love to meet Mrs Turpington, the tortoise. I think she'd be wonderful. And probably crocodile guests would be tough! Where would they sleep? In the pool? EEK!
In the story, Anna faces criticism from characters who are not keen on her way of doing things in the hotel. From your experience, what is the best way to deal with negative feedback?
Oh! That's a tough question. I used to work in customer service at WHSmith, so I have the attitude that the customer is always right! I would probably take note, apologise and then consider if I could have done things better. If I decided I'd thought everything through thoroughly, and done my best, I would be ultimately happy and not worry too much.
In the past few years we have seen an explosion of wonderful illustrated chapter books for younger readers to choose from. What advice would you give to newly independent readers when they are choosing what to read next?
I love illustration in books - I'm very much of the opinion that more is better. I think it works well at this age of reader because so many young children enter books through pictures. First and foremost, I would opt for the books where the pictures inspire some emotion in you - are the pictures exciting or funny? Or does one of the characters resemble you? I'd pick a book for those reasons.
In the book, Anna inherits an old hotel and turns it into something glorious. Can you think of a time when you have seen new life brought into something old and run down?
I do a lot of DIY and building. I like lugging stuff about and chopping trees. We own a little bit of woodland, which hadn't been managed for about 40 years when we took it on. Since then, we've coppiced and cleared, and it's slowly coming back to life, with plants, birds and animals returning to the wood. It's been a long process, but I've definitely seen the change.
What inspires your illustrative style?
I studied fine art, and I was taught to be expressive and free. I think I draw quickly, which isn't always good for being detailed and considered, but hopefully my illustrations are full of energy and character. That's what I aspire to! I've loved the Studio Ghibli films from a very young age, so Japanese cartoons, not to mention Nintendo and computer games, have always been inspiring to me!
We are so excited to hear that there are three more books in the series. What is next in store for Anna and the hotel?
So much! The Hotel is on the up, and the King and Queen Penguin decide to visit for their holiday. Obviously this is big news, but the penguins are staying in summer, and keeping Antarctic inhabitants happy in the middle of a heatwave is no mean feat! And of course, Mr Ruffian, owner of the Glitz Hotel is up to no good, wanting Anna to fail in front of royalty!
For more from Alex, follow @Alexmilway on Twitter at or visit www.alexmilway.com.
Many thanks to Alex for answering our questions and to the publisher for sending us a review copy.