What do you call someone who sings quietly to themselves all the time?
If you call them a potato animal, they will usually look at you as if to say: "You what?", or even as if to say: "Say that again and I'll hurt you."
This is because they have never read Lester and the Unusual Pet.
What is Lester and the Unusual Pet?
Lester and the Unusual Pet is - or at least was - a childrens book written and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Perhaps best known for his collaborations with Roald Dahl - such as The BFG and The Enormous Crocodile - Quentin Blake also wrote and illustrated his own stories, including Snuff1 and the Lester stories.
Who was Lester?
There were at least two Lester stories, but while Lester and the Seaside was good, it was not a classic on the level of Lester and the Unusual Pet. Both stories revolved around Lester and his two friends, Otto and Flap-Eared Lorna. Lester was a blue thing with spines; possibly some manner of lizard. He was essentially the mediator between Flap-Eared Lorna and Otto.
Lorna was a girl on rollerskates who had big ears 2. If the book was written today it would probably be banned for being cruel to people with big ears. Lorna was immensely active, fairly practical, and always keen to be on the go. Otto on the other hand, was a fat pink creature, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mr Blobby, but without the yellow spots and rather less relentlessly irritating. He was a deeply sedentary creature, whatever he actually was, and not terribly practical.
So; what's the story?
Lester and his friends are reclining beneath a tree and listening to records. They are enjoying their favourite song, Happy Feet when a dwarf called Nose runs out of the distance, messes with their stuff, honks repeatedly through his shotgun-like nose so that they can't hear the music, grabs a record and runs away. Understandably miffed, Lester and his friends decide to get a pet to help them protect their precious peace and quiet (and their record collection).
Lorna wants to get a big dog; Otto wants a fluffy cat (I told you he wasn't very practical). Lester persuades them both to take a trip to the Unusual Pet Man however. The Unusual Pet Man offers for sale a collection of weird and wond... well really just weird pets. A skinny vulture, an ill-looking snake drooped through a bird cage, and a potato. This last, the shop keeper assures them, is a potato animal, clearly distinguished from a potato by its habit of continually singing quietly to itself. As not even Lorna can make out the singing however, the friends decide not to purchase the potato animal, for fear of eating their pet by mistake. Instead, they buy a binmouth.
The binmouth seems a perfect pet, since you can feed it on any old rubbish. Unfortunately, it proves to have a habit of falling asleep on its back every few minutes, making such a clattering noise from all the cans it has eaten that the racket is worse than Nose's honking. Disappointed, they return the beast to the Unusual Pet Man, and instead are persuaded to take the String Thing; fundamentally a long piece of string with a head at one end and shoes at the other.
There follows the touching process of bonding with the string thing, the challenge of unravelling and straightening it after it gets caught up in a sock being knitted for a giant by Mrs Grimstone, the world champion knitter, and of course the final showdown with Nose.
A tragic literary loss
As near as can be told, Lester and the Unusual Pet - along with so many other great children's books - is out of print. Copies of it doubtless still float around charity shops and car boot sales, and anyone spotting one would be well-advised to snatch it up without delay, as they would any other Quentin Blake book.