Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Early Reader Roundup - Check out a trio of treats from OUP and Little, Brown

Charlie Merrick's Misfits by Dave Cousins (Oxford University Press)

Now Charlotte's making the transition from picture books to "big and propah" readers, we've truly got the pick of some absolute smashers at the moment. They might take us a while to chip away at, but our reading pile is increasing. So here's a quick look at a tasty trio to tempt you with. 

First, for the footie mad girl or boy in the family, check out Charlie Merrick's Misfits, written and illustrated by Dave Cousins. The Misfits are a multi-race multi-sex group of footie-mad kids, and stars of an adventure story with a kick. Meet Nathan, Sam, Oscar, Charlie, Miko, Jas, Donut, Gerbil, Mole and Jack ready to do battle in Fouls, Friends and Football. 

The book is brilliantly designed, a cornucopia of kickabout chaos - Charlotte dug in and started hooting with laughter after about a page or two - Obviously a good sign. I really liked the fact that the illustrations and comic layouts (and brilliant "top trumps" style insets) broke up the walls of text nicely, perfect for kids like Charlotte who are making the giant leap from more pictorial content. 

Catch up with Charlie Merrick's Misfits on 1st May 2014 from Oxford University Press - and more books are planned throughout 2015. Cool!

Next, here's something completely different...!

Ever After High - The Unfairest of them All by Shannon Hale (Little, Brown)
Delving deep into fairy story mythos and finding out just what happened to all those well loved story characters when they grew up, got married and had kids of their own. "Ever After High" is the hugely popular story series from Shannon Hale, and we catch up with Book 2 and Apple White (Snow White's daughter) and Raven Queen (The Evil Queen's offspring) who pick up pretty much where their parents left off! 

Ever After High is slowly building up a cult following, and it's a brilliant transition series for your princess-mad girls (and boys of course!) who want to discover a whole new story universe for themselves. 

"The Unfairest of them All" is out on 8th May 2014. Catch up with the series now!

Last but by no means least, let's armageddon-it!

Disaster Diaries - Aliens by R. McGeddon and Jamie Littler (Little, Brown)
Disaster Diaries - Aliens by R. McGeddon (interesting name!) with illustrations from Jamie Littler is a rollicking supernatural adventure. We've seen the crazy crew of Sam, Arty and Emmie survive a zombie holocaust but what happens when visitors from another planet decide to invade? 

This insanely funny series will appeal to children who love books like "Gangster Granny" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Join the gang as they defend their sleepy little town (and its slightly dozy grown-ups) from insane nefarious alien dudes from a planet beyond Uranus!

"Disaster Diaries - Aliens!" by R.McGeddon and Jamie Littler is out from Little, Brown on 8th May 2014. 

We'll be doing a few more 'big book' roundups soon, so watch out for them! Happy reading, dudes and duderinos. 

(Books kindly sent to us by Little Brown and Oxford University Press)

The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art by Rosie Dickins (Usborne Books)

The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art

Written by Rosie Dickins

Published by Usborne Books

Phew! After Usborne's brilliant "My First Sticker Art Gallery" I wasn't sure how they'd produce a child-friendly guide to modern art. With roots in controversy, and the aim of provoking a reaction, "Modern" art is usually something to tiptoe around.

Usborne's "Introduction to Modern Art" once again proves that they know their onions, and know how to make a book engaging and interesting, while at the same time cramming as much detail, information and substance as possible between the covers.

Through various "grown up" books I've shown Charlotte works by some of my favourite modern artists (Liechtenstein, Magritte, Dali, Ernst) but here you've got a masterful collection of works that stretch right back to the very beginning of the era now defined as falling under the umbrella "modern art" term.

In more detail, artists, their work and the movements that influenced them are explored and discussed. Though I'd readily admit the book is probably for an age range slightly above 6, Charlotte still wanted to read and learn about the stories behind great works of art, why artists produced them, the history of what was going on at the time (particularly poignant in passages of the book that discuss art produced during times of conflict).

Exquisitely detailed and illustrated, this is a fantastic book that really fascinates Charlotte, and one I keep sneaking off with to brush up on a bit of art history and to try and get a little inspiration for my own scribblings. A really brilliant introduction to modern art, an often unapproachable and difficult subject but deftly and expertly dissected here in this wonderful book.

Charlotte's best bit: The surrealists, such as Dali and Magritte

Daddy's Favourite bit: Love the pop art, particularly Liechtenstein and Warhol

(Kindly sent to us for review by Usborne Books)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Very First Sticker Art Gallery by Sam Lake and Carles Ballesteros (Usborne Books)

My Very First Sticker Art Gallery

Written by Sam Lake

Illustrated by Carles Ballesteros

Published by Usborne Books

As a bit of an artsy fartsy type (if you'll pardon the expression) I'm always looking for ways to introduce Charlotte to the fabulous works of art, and fabulous artists dotted throughout history. Ancient to modern, all styles and mediums. Unfortunately these days our gallery visits tend to be along the lines of "How fast can Charlotte whizz through each of the displays before hitting the shop or the cafe?"

Ho hum - At least we try. Though there are better ways to engage children with art, no better way than giving them something fun and interesting to do while learning about the world's greatest masterpieces.

Here's Usborne's fantastic "My Very First Sticker Art Gallery", a nice thick and beautifully produced sticker book crammed with over 260 stickers. Children can explore everything from Picasso to Hepworth, from Seurat to Salvador Dali - and find out a little bit more about the styles and movements that shaped art and influenced artists throughout the ages.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the book - and this isn't something we find with a lot of sticker books - is that once all that frenetic sticker-ing is over with, you're left with a dazzling colourful art reference that can be dipped back into again and again (it's come in very useful over the last week or so, as we've been exploring art both ancient and modern during our week off in various forms - not least of all with last week's fabulous Book of the Week, William and the Missing Masterpiece).

Usborne reign supreme when it comes to producing books on weighty grown-up subjects that are made interesting and engaging for children, without any dumbing down or needless babying. A fabulous activity book that might just encourage your little one to pick up their brushes and have a go themselves, or at least slow down a little bit next time you find yourself in a gallery or a museum!

Charlotte's best bit: The Upside Down Fruit Face (Arcimboldo's Fruit Bowl!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: So many gorgeous works of art to share with Charlotte, a really fascinating and interesting book

(Kindly sent to us for review by Usborne Books)

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Tip Tap Dancing Cat by Joanna Boyle (Pavilion Children's Books)

The Tip Tap Dancing Cat

Written and Illustrated by
Joanna Boyle

Published by Pavilion Children's Books

If ever there was a book that would instantly prove a hit with Charlotte, it's any book that combines "Strictly Come Dancing" style moves, with the world's slinkiest cat. Joanna Boyle's "fahhhh-bulous darling" book (endorsed by none other than Strictly's Mr Nasty Craig Revel Horwood and choreographer extraordinaire Arlene Phillips) is a bouncing, fleet-footed celebration of dancing (and cats, yay!)

Oscar is the main character, who is an ordinary everyday house cat. But as soon as his owners depart for work, Oscar leads a double life. Oscar is a dance superstar!

Name any dance style and Oscar can perform it with ease. Teaming up with a cute kitty-cat of a partner, Oscar cuts a deft wave through his neighbourhood and is often the star of the show.

Cuban, Salsa, Foxtrot, two-step, Oscar can do the lot but there's one type of dance Oscar cannot resist, above all others. Can you guess what it is?

It's quite something to see a six year old completely absorbed in a book, but it's quite something else to see her up and dancing around the room STILL clutching the book as she tries to replicate Oscar's moves, beautifully rendered and so full of vibrancy and movement - showing Joanna Boyle's innate sense of being able to capture the world's most fabulous dances on the static page.

Forget any official glitter-encrusted "Strictly" tie-ins, this truly trounces the lot!

I asked Charlotte for her official score and she held up a resounding "10!"

Charlotte's best bit: Oscar's energetic Jive

Daddy's Favourite bit: Brilliant fun for tiddlers, beautifully illustrated and told

(Kindly sent to us for review by Pavilion Children's Books)

Friday, April 18, 2014

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 18th April 2014 - "William and the Missing Masterpiece" by Helen Hancocks (Templar Publishing)

William and the Missing Masterpiece

Written and Illustrated by
Helen Hancocks

Published by Templar Publishing

It's a hard life sometimes, being an international cat of mystery. One plans a holiday but before one can even pack a pair of kipper slippers, one's special services are required.

Helen Hancocks has an uber-sharp wit, a fabulous eye for a canny pun or two and in this cheese-fest of a story, William - the aforementioned detective cat - is called upon by Monsieur Gruyere to solve the most dastardly crime of the century, the theft of the Mona Cheesa.

Monsieur Gruyere is at his wits end, but William jets to Paris to get right on the case. It's not long before he realises that National Cheese Week, a mysterious stranger and an art contest are all somehow tied in with the theft.

We've had quite an arty week, soaking up Helen's fabulous reworkings of famous paintings in this book (The wonderful Book Sniffer let us in on a secret - lift up the flyleaf cover of the book for a surprise!) It was actually great fun diving onto the Internet to show Charlotte the real paintings that Helen based some of her mogtastic versions on (particularly loved the cat version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and a rather nifty homage to fromage in her version of "Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe")

Back to the case and William decides on a stake out, with an eye on the art contest, surely the dastardly thief is sure to show his or her colours. Will William solve the crime and be back home in time for a brie baguette?

Everything about this book tickles our fancy, from the brilliantly funny story to the cheesy works of art. Charlotte also loved the various cameos by a certain black-and-white flippered chap (You know who we mean!) and I had a ball spotting the myriad art references Helen has worked into the story (see how many you can spot!)

Utterly, completely brilliant, and actually a really nice jumping off point if your child is interested in art, enjoys the story and wants to discover more. By the way, we think the real William is as dapper as his book counterpart - and we hope Book William is ripe for more cheesy adventures in the not too distant future.

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting all the different cameos by a very well loved character from Helen's other book (no spoilers!)
Fave cheese: Big fat Mozzarella!

Daddy's Favourite bit: So many giggles and guffaws, and absolutely loved all the classic art reworked in Helen's own style. Dare I say "Brie-lliant!"
Fave Cheese: Shropshire Blue on a nice crusty sourdough roll

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bing and Nero by I.L. Williams and Inci Alper (Northern Phoenix Books)

Bing and Nero

Written by I.L. Williams

Illustrated by Inci Alper

Published by Northern Phoenix Books

Charlotte loves Robots. Charlotte has the sort of love for Robots that gladdens this geek-dad's heart and though I'll readily acknowledge that I probably have a lot to do with this robotic obsession, it's quite cool to have a 6 year old daughter who can instantly recognise R2D2, C3PO and even Bender from Futurama.

So we're always on the hunt for books about robots, and here's one that cropped up and instantly caught our eye. "Bing and Nero" is the heartwarming story of a boy called Bing who longs for a special friend. He has a cat, but cats are hardly the best playmates around when you're bored. Bing would like a dog, or maybe even to just have a friend over from time to time - but Bing doesn't make friends easily.

He has a fantastic idea though. Looking around his room, Bing comes up with a plan. He WILL make a friend - literally!

And thus Nero is "born", expertly constructed from scavenged materials, Bing soon creates a very special friend indeed - a huge robot called Nero.

Dogs are cool but imagine all the things that a robot can do. Can dogs make popcorn in their tummies? Naw of course they can't! Can dogs jet through the landscape on a pair of rocket powered legs? No way! Bing absolutely loves his new found friend.

There's lots more to explore, and a ton of robotic fun to be had if you stop by and check out the further adventures of a boy and his awesome robot!

Also don't miss the rather cool book trailer below!

Charlotte's best bit: Popcorn time! Now that's a cool super-power to have!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fab story, with bold colourful illustrations and a nice read for children just starting out reading on their own.

(Kindly sent for review by I.L. Williams)

Charlie Dog by Sue Pavey and Eleni Demetriou (Red Heart Books)

Charlie Dog

Written by Sue Pavey

Illustrated by Eleni Demetriou

Published by Red Heart Books
We're squeezing in a review of a rather groovy book for younger children. Author Sue Pavey has come up trumps with this charming tale of a cheeky Westie called Charlie Dog.

Designed for children just learning to read, with easy flowing rhymes and big bold illustrations by Eleni Demetriou, Charlie Dog is sure to find his way into your hearts. But what does a Westie get up to in an ordinary average day? As you read the tale you'll find out that Charlie (like most dogs) loves playing, loves eating but best of all loves turning that lovely white coat a darker shade with the aid of some cooling soothing mud!

You can check out Sue's brilliant story, and her other books on the Red Heart Books website, and pick up a copy of Charlie Dog.

Charlotte's best bit: Charlie Dog doing what dogs do best - getting very muddy indeed

Daddy's Favourite bit: Fab, cute and cuddly, that's Charlie Dog

(Kindly sent to us for review in digital form by Sue Pavey / Red Heart Books)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mr Miniscule and the Whale by Julian Tuwim and Bohdan Butenko (Book Island)

Mr Miniscule and the Whale

Written by Julian Tuwim

Illustrated by Bohdan Butenko

Published by Book Island

Legendary Polish poet and children's author Julian Tuwim wasn't a name I was familiar with until Book Island's reprint of one of his best-loved children's poems hit my doormat. Julian Tuwim was predominantly known for sharp and humorous satirical poetry, but he was also a very well loved children's author who had a knack for tapping kids on the funny bone.

Winner of the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature, Tuwim's "Mr Miniscule and the Whale" has now been translated and reprinted with fantastic illustrations by Bohdan Butenko.

Mr Miniscule by name, Mr Miniscule by nature - but our hero's aspirations are gigantic. Mr Miniscule has done many things in his life, but above all else, he wants to see a whale. Face to face, nose to nose, Mr Miniscule sets out in a tiny walnut boat, packed to the gills with all his explorer trappings.

The sea is wide and deep, and it's not long before the tiny Mr Miniscule realises the scale of his expedition. Will he ever achieve his ambition?

Fetching up on a mysterious (blue) island, Mr Miniscule gets more than he bargained for!

Tuwim's verse (even translated) flows and is fun and witty. Butenko's detailed linework is fabulous, effective. This is a real treat of a book from a publisher who is fast gaining a reputation for publishing and re-introducing the most fabulous stories.

Charlotte's best bit: Mr Miniscule's fabulous explorer equipment. Everything except the kitchen sink is packed into his gorgeous little boat

Daddy's Favourite bit: A really fabulous story, wonderfully reproduced, making me want to go off and discover more of Tuwim's work. Another winner from Book Island!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Book Island)

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Spy Book by Laura Buller, Joe Fullman, Ben Gilliland and Jim Pipe (Dorling Kindersley)

The Spy Book

Written and Illustrated by
Laura Buller, Joe Fullman et al

Published by Dorling Kindersley
Charlotte is drawn to any books about spying. This is a slightly worrying thing for a 6 year old to be obsessive about, but as a kid who grew up with those cool little spy kits (with a REAL camera, plastic binoculars and probably a gun that fired dangerous little plastic pellets at unwitting relatives) I can understand the lure.

We've been previously wowed by Usborne's superb Knowhow book of Spying and here's Dorling Kindersley's big fat spy book, which Charlotte could not resist when she spotted it at our local library.

Packed with historical accounts of spying antics, practical demonstrations on how to set up your own 'dead drop', and even a fascinating spread on real-life historical figures that inspired the fictional spies we know and love, it really is a weighty book (with a rather eye-catching X-Ray lenticular cover that's bound to make your youngsters' eyes boggle with excitement).

Dorling Kindersley are past masters at producing big fat fascinating books like this and with brilliant illustrations and photographs throughout, this is bound to keep your spy-obsessed little ones happy for weeks. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm sure that photograph on the wall just blinked at me...

Charlotte's best bit: Codes and ciphers (which might help when the next series of Gravity Falls arrives later this year!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A meaty tome full of spy goodness. I keep sneaking this off for a quick read as well!

Friday, April 11, 2014

ReaditDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th April 2014 - "The Queen's Hat" by Steve Antony (Hodder Children's Books)

The Queen's Hat

Written and Illustrated by
Steve Antony

Published by Hodder Children's Books

Inspired by a news story about our beloved monarch nearly losing her hat on a blustery day at Grandson William's helicopter base in Anglesey, Steve Antony's fantastic debut for Hodder Children's Books is exactly the sort of riotous celebration of royalty - and London - that we absolutely can't resist.

From the eye-catching cover design (challenge your little one to count all those bearskins on the Queen's Royal Guards!) to the fast-paced story, we knew we were going to end up reading this book again and again. What I hadn't quite expected was that Charlotte would take this everywhere, as I mentioned to awesome Steve Antony on Twitter, "The Queen's Hat" has barely left Charlotte's side while on her easter hols (and has been dutifully shown to grandparents who also love it to bits).

The Queen is off to visit a very important person one day, and as she leaves Buckingham Palace her hat is caught by the wind, and whisked off her head.

So begins a rip-roaring chase around the capital's greatest landmarks, with The Queen (a sprightly octagenerian) dashing after her windswept headgear.

The beauty of this book is the way that it unfolds. A few guards gamely keep up with Queenie, and after a while the entire company of the Royal Guard join in, until there are hundreds of them dashing all around London to retrieve that hat.

I'm trying not to ruin too many bits for you, because the book made us smile at every single turn of the page (don't you love books that you have to twist this way and that in your lap to get the most out of? We certainly do!)

So many tiny little details are worked into Steve's illustrations (look out for the politicians sharing a cab - they look familiar!). There's a real vibrant energy at work here, and that's something that children will be able to tap directly into. Every single reading of this book has met with fizzing enthusiasm from Charlotte.

There is one scene though, and it's an absolutely brilliant spread as The Queen dashes through London Zoo, pursued by her guards, her corgi, a very tired looking butler - and an absolute TON of Zoo animals all joining in the pursuit. This scene actually held us up quite a bit in every subsequent reading and re-reading as Charlotte loved identifying all the different animals (and I couldn't help giggle about the poor corgi, clinging to a guardsman's trouser leg as he swings through the zoo). Needless to say, she sagely pointed out that the monkeys probably weren't actually helping, more hindering the chase!

I've no idea how long it must've taken Steve to draw all those guards (and if you look at them, they're all subtly different! No copy and paste jobs here) Pardon the pun but hats off to him, this is a truly wonderful, sometimes cheeky but absolutely essential children's book, a joyous thing indeed - and all that effort was worth it because it's a front runner for Charlotte's favourite book of the year so far (high praise indeed!)

"The Queens Hat" will rock your world on May 1st 2014, from Hodder Children's Books.

Charlotte's best bit: The naughty monkeys 'helping out' in the Zoo scene, which is such a fantastic illustration

Daddy's Favourite bit: We have read and re-read this so many times. Eagerly awaiting Steve's next book because if this is anything to go by, he's going to be big, big news and this book is going to win awards by the megaton!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hodder Children's Books)