WORDYSOD : Michael Lawrence                          

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'Determined readers and willing listeners will be the first to gain from The Poppykettle Papers. What a saga! What episodes! The volcano! The maelstrom! The monster! The spells and prophesies! No reader will wish to leave them in mid-saga even at the seeming end.' (Naomi Lewis, Daily Telegraph)

'A marvellous picture book for older readers, with book-length text by Michael Lawrence and extraordinary artwork by Robert Inkpen. It tells the story, reconstructed from papers discovered in a tiny trunk in Tasmania, of the final journey of the last-surviving Hairy Peruvians, an extinct doll-sized people.' (Achuka Reviews)

'I love everything about this terrific book. It has an exciting adventure-filled plot, stout-hearted little heroes and scary adversaries. It has a quest filled with peril and great hope. There are barely possible tasks to be fulfilled, and there is sorrow, and mystery, and some happiness too. Children will love this, and so will any adult with a gypsy soul and a child's heart.' (Reviewer from Appleton, WI, USA)

'Framed as a series of memoirs, this will enthral readers who enjoy tales of tiny folk whose courage is as outsized as their world.' (Kirkus Reviews, US)

'Brimming with excitement, danger, tragedy, triumph, vivid characters, and more than a sprinkling of humour, this is a book that children will read again and again.' (

'This enchanting fantasy tale about the last of the Hairy Peruvians is bound to become a classic. It is told in an engaging literary style, rich in vocabulary reminiscent of oral storytelling. Dramatic illustrations are sprinkled throughout the pages.' (Kids @ the Library, Burlington Canada)

Extract from

The Poppykettle Papers

The Terrible Cunmerrie

We climbed on, higher and higher. As the light began to fade Don Avante ordered us to make camp for the night. We lit a small fire within a circle of stones and prepared a meal from the poppyseeds we’d brought with us, and some fruit and vegetables gathered along the way. We’d hardly finished eating when the old men’s eyes began to droop. ‘We must keep watch through the night,’ Don Avante said wearily. ‘We’ll take it in turns, five short watches before dawn so that we may all get a decent rest. I’ll take first watch.’

‘No you won’t,’ Arnica said. ‘You need to build your strength for tomorrow, Grandfather. So do Astute and Andante. I’ll take the first half of the night, Aloof can do the rest.’

‘Oh thanks,’ I said.

While the rest of us settled down by the fire, Arnica clambered up onto a large boulder above us, from where she said she could see all there was to see. Night came quickly then, and soon I was the only one awake by the fire, trying to decide which was worse, the endless noise of the volcano or the fitful snores of old men. But even I must have fallen asleep eventually because it seemed hardly any time at all before Arnica was shaking me and telling me to be quiet and not wake the others. She took my place by the last of the fire while I, shivering in my cloak, climbed wretchedly up to the boulder. The stars were still bright, but there were fewer of them now and the sky was lightening low in the east, which meant that Arnica had either kept watch for longer than she needed to or had dozed off at her post. I wasn’t yet fully awake myself, and as there was nothing to do or look at drowsiness again overtook me.

I was woken by the worst sound I’ve ever heard, a nightmarish shriek that ripped the silence to shreds, scattered it upon the wind. I stumbled to my feet in dizzy alarm as a pair of vast black wings blocked out the last stars and the volcano’s fiery glow. I would have jumped down to join the others but the creature was too quick, and suddenly I stood between its dreadful talons staring up into the twin pools of blood that were its eyes. Still it screeched, so piercingly, so horribly, that I could do nothing but shriek back as the cruel beak reared open to take me.

But then something unexpected happened. Perhaps my own racket startled it, for the brute paused before striking and in that pause an unexpected movement caught its murderous eye. Distracted, the Cunmerrie blinked, then snatched up a green lizard scurrying just a little too slowly into a crevice near my feet. If I hadn’t left my wits down by the fire I would have seized that moment to roll off the boulder and tuck myself out of sight; but as the Cunmerrie propelled itself from the rock I jumped after it without thought, decision or ambition, and clung to it. My feet left the ground and the monster gave a squawk of pain as the part I gripped came away in my hands. It might have turned on me, but it did not. It had what it had come for, its terrified, squirming breakfast, and off it flew with it towards its home inside the volcano. As I fell back onto the rock, scales from the beast’s reptilian skin rained down on me.

‘Aloof?’ A voice from below. ‘You all right?’

‘I... yes. I think so.’

‘What’s that you’ve got there?’

I looked at the thing in my hands - and laughed. Then I leapt to my feet holding my trophy high above my head. Pausing only to yell some abuse after the retreating Cunmerrie, I bounded down from the rock to show off my prize. There, praise came thick and fast from all but Arnica who, examining the enormous purple feather in the growing light, wondered how a thing of such beauty and softness could come from such a devilish being. Don Avante, Astute, Andante and I had other things on our minds. The first part of El Niño’s task was accomplished! We had what we'd come for! The feather! We had the feather!

‘But what do we do with it?’ Andante said as we calmed down.

‘I think,’ said Don Avante, ‘that the best thing we can do is get it back to the Poppykettle and wonder about that later.’

There were no arguments. We gathered ourselves together and started down, with some haste.

The Story Behind The Poppykettle Papers

Until the summer of 1998, when I was invited to write this book, I’d never heard of poppykettles or a race of tiny adventurers called Hairy Peruvians. But a lot of other people had – particularly in Australia, where such things have become the stuff of legend thanks to Robert Ingpen, who not only illustrated this book but provided the mythology behind it. Back in 1975 Robert was working in Peru with a United Nations team of biologists, oceanographers and food technologists. A disastrous El Niño episode had brought the anchovy fishing industry to the point of collapse and it was the team’s job to convince the fishermen to update their techniques so that any future disaster would not be so damaging. Robert’s task was to seek out old Inca fishing stories and retell them incorporating modern fishing techniques in the hope that they would seem more acceptable to the fishermen.

While searching for material, Robert came across some Inca dolls in a museum, plus various pieces of pottery fashioned in the likeness of kettles. He also found a plaque commemorating an expedition that had set out from the headland at Calloa in the 1500s to look for new land across the Pacific. These three discoveries, and several more besides, came together like the pieces of a puzzle when, three or four years later, he was commissioned to write and illustrate a story for children. The book he produced was The Voyage of the Poppykettle, in which an intrepid band of Hairy Peruvians (descendants of sacrificial Inca dolls) voyaged out from Peru in search of a new home and, after many adventures, came to Australia. A year later he published a sequel, The Unchosen Land, which describes what happened to the Hairy Peruvians in their new country. The books caught the public imagination to such an extent that a large fountain was commissioned to mark the Hairy Peruvian landing site on the coast of Geelong (Robert Ingpen’s home town). Since then the local Education Department has set aside a day each year for a celebration of human imagination. It’s called The Poppykettle Festival.

Robert and I collaborated on The Poppykettle Papers entirely by fax, he working in Australia, me in England. This book is based on his two earlier ones but I added a fair bit of new material and told the tale in the first person, by Aloof, Arnica, and Astute the Wise (one of the three old men who set out with them on their hazardous voyage). Appropriately, the book’s launch in Australia was at the 1999 Poppykettle Festival.

The Poppykettle Papers is the tale of five Hairy Peruvians, the last of their kind, and an epic ocean journey from the shores of old Peru to a promised new land at World’s Edge. These are no ordinary adventurers, however, but ‘people of sensible size’ which to us Tall Ones is very small indeed - so small that they sail not in a boat but an earthenware pot called a Poppykettle. Three of the voyagers are old men, the others a girl, Arnica, and her young brother Aloof.

Shortly after starting out, the five learn that they’ll never know peace in the new land that awaits them unless they find a mysterious feather and a strange egg along the way. This triple quest – for land, feather and egg – leads them into great and frequent danger. Among other hazards there is the wicked wind that sings them towards willing death on the reef, the fearsome creature with eyes like pools of blood which lives in the mouth of a volcano, and the whirling ‘water devil’ which flings full-grown whales (and Hairy Peruvians) to the clouds.

As if all this were not enough to cope with, the tiny travellers bear the dreadful knowledge that the Poppykettle will carry only three of them all the way to their Unchosen Land. Which three? And what will the survivors find when they get there?