Mighty Monkey magic for young readers
Jenny Lee chats to Newry school teacher Ian Gallagher about his new children's book about a superhero monkey, which he hopes will encourage boys to read and challenge children to find their inner strength
IAN Gallagher is a primary school teacher by day and comicbook enthusiast by night. His determination to engage reluctant readers and boys has led him to produce a set of stories which are ideal for primary school children.
Mighty Monkey marks his first adventure as a children's author. The Derry-born 29-year-old admits that as a child his mum and dad tried to encourage him to read but he confessed her "refused to pick up a book".
What made the difference and fostered his love of literature, and ultimately his career, was comic books.
"I love comic and would still read Batman, Superman and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle comic books," says Ian who has been a teacher since 2010 and works at St Peter's Primary School in Newry.
"I first got the idea of writing my own children's book when I was at university in St Mary's and our tutor Catherine Gilliland was talking about making literacy addictive for young boys and challenging us about bringing stories alive and hooking our audience.
“In the age of the iPad, it's difficult to get kids, particularly boys, interested in the printed book."
Set in a jungle overrun with villainous creatures Mighty Monkey tells the story of a young monkey who fed up with the sniggers, dreamt and prayed of one day being bigger.
A chance encounter with a mystical flower gifts Mikey The Monkey incredible power. And with these super powers comes the greatest responsibility – to defeat jungle villains.
Looking to push literacy standards within the school, Ian penned the story in rhyme, initially aimed at Key Stage 2 (ages eight-plus), but he has found it works well with primary school children of all ages.
"We left the ending open-ended on purpose to inspire creative writing, with the kids extending the plot and creating new characters," adds Ian, who is writing a trilogy and is hoping to publish the sequel to Mighty Monkey next Spring.
He is also grateful to the children of Believe Stage School in Newry with whom he shared the story during development stages.
“Their reaction spurred me on. It was tremendous to watch their enthusiasm for Mighty Monkey," said Ian of the school, which has plans to produce a Mighty Monkey stage show.
Ian wanted to make the book "as close to a comic book as it could be." He even incorporated his own hand-writing as the font for the book.
The illustrations are by Canadian-born fellow teacher and experienced concept artist and illustrator Bryan Heemskerk.
"It's designed to be very similar to the superhero movies. The front cover is based on the poster from the Iron Man movie," he explains.
As well as being used in literacy in St Peter's and in Hollybush Primary School, Derry, Mighty Monkey has fuelled many debates in the area of Personal Development and Mutual Understanding (PDMU) within the curriculum.
"Giving animals human emotions make them more powerful," says Ian, who confesses he knows of people in their 20s who have been in tears reading the book.
"When you think about it, Spider-Man and other superheroes are outcasts. I wanted to get across the message that, deep within, anyone can find strength."
:: Mighty Monkey is available via Amazon.co.uk and Buzzard Comics, Newry. It can also be ordered at Waterstones and Easons.