Friday, May 22, 2015

The irony of describing Science Fiction as "Childish" is not lost on us - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

"Zita the Spacegirl" - Ben Hatke's fantastic sci fi romp is a rare bird indeed...!

The whole of geekdom got all in a tizzy this week as one of its most beloved Geeks, Mr Simon Pegg, seemed to roundly stick the boot into the very genre that provides him with a comfortable living through various involvements with Star Trek and Beyond.

You can read his retraction (which had a whiff of "Oh DANG, I'm in danger of persecuting the very folk who provide me with that livelihood" here).

Warning, it's very sweary and not for the eyes of children. Read it like you're reading about a man backpedalling furiously to avoid falling into a deep crevasse.

As much as "The Peggster" has some valid points to make about huge corporations cashing in on our love of extending our childhoods well into adulthood (which isn't really a new thing, it just feels like it as geek culture wholeheartedly embraces "the pursuit of things" for people with disposable income and not much to spend it on other than the pursuit of things they perhaps couldn't afford as kids), he has made a slightly odd statement along the lines of science fiction being 'childish' that really didn't ring true.

If you discount Star Wars, Marvel, DC and Star Trek, kids are sold a pretty raw deal when it comes to science fiction. Proper science fiction that is, not action-led space operas that endlessly churn out the same trite storylines, space battles and good vs evil tropes.

Proper science fiction, in fact, that makes you want to get into science, to make real the things you've read about depicted as fantasy. Stories, in short, that inspire children to look to the future to see what they can do about it and how they can be a huge part of it.

We kicked off this article with a fantastic cover image from "Zita the Spacegirl" by Ben Hatke. Ben's fantastic action hero shows that you can write engaging, deep and brilliant science fiction for children (and hey, it's durned good stuff for adults too) - but why are books like Ben's not more commonplace for children? And why does it always seem that, until you hit the rich heady YA genre that is very sci-fi heavy, there's very little to pick and choose from when it comes to sci fi stories that don't arrive in comic or graphic novel form for the 3-8 year old age group.

Is it that science fiction has become synonymous with big branded franchise stories more or less taking over from clever and original stories and characters, as "The Peggster" describes? Now that would make a worthy rant!

Personally, being initiated into geekdom at a very early age by two sci-fi loving uncles who introduced me to Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars (all of which are still hugely popular with kids today) but who didn't stop there, letting me read the likes of Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Moorcock (probably wholly unsuitable reading for an 8 year old, to be fair), I quickly grew to realise that there was a lot more to science fiction than just making up stories about robots, spaceships and space damsels in distress.

Clarke's highly knowledgeable and 'technical' approach to Science Fiction was attractive for so many reasons. It all felt possible, believable. It all felt as if Clarke was writing about a future that was tomorrow rather than aeons from now. Other authors chose to enhance my appreciation of science fiction by describing the most alien and surreal future imaginable. In Asimov's case, his characters imbued the important lesson that even despite humankind's successes in harnessing the elements to make our lives easier, the same human frailties often led to our undoing (and ditto for Heinlein who had a knack of reflecting society and culture of today in stories about tomorrow).

From there, it was easy to start absorbing books written more for my age at the time by geniuses such as John Christopher, John Gordon and John Wyndham (must be something about the name "John" that instantly makes you an expert at writing tight and sometimes horrific sci fi dystopia stories that grip you from the front cover to the back) and of course discovering the scintillating future worlds in comics like 2000AD and Starlord (amongst many many others).

Kids are OK for science fiction comics, as we've already mentioned. We've shouted long and loud about the fantastic Phoenix Comic, which does not shy away from mature and gripping science fiction stories (Troy Trailblazer is just one example of a science fiction story that doesn't treat its intended audience like dumb actioneers, it deals with some pretty astonishingly mature concepts for a children's comic story - almost hard-fi for kids).

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that for younger children, science fiction is a relatively unexplored frontier. There are some books - but they're usually fairly low impact (though Jonny Duddle's sublime "King of Space" is a notable exception and the perfect example of a children's picture book with sci fi themes that works absolutely perfectly on a number of levels - we love it!) It would be fantastic to see less "Johnny and the Rocket to the moon" type stuff where the science fiction backdrop is incidental (and quite often interchangeable).

Simon Pegg's interview rant may have been taken the wrong way by a number of folk, and his retraction felt like it could've been a lot shorter (A simple sentence like "I made a huge generalisation, and I'm sorry, Science Fiction and Fantasy ROCK and SO WHAT if it keeps us thinking young!) but the sting for me was hearing science fiction described as childish when kids seem to get the raw end of the deal when it comes to stories from the future that aren't branded in some way.

ReaditDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd May 2015 - "Azzi In Between" by (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Azzi In Between

Written and Illustrated by
Sarah Garland

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

This is one very special book, and though I first read it when Charlotte was possibly a bit too young to appreciate the story and the message it conveys, we were lucky enough to be sent a copy in time for the book's recent softcover reprint (re-released on 7th May 2015 so available in all good indie bookstores now!)

"Azzi In Between" is the story of a young girl (Azzi) who at first seems to live a fairly ordinary and happy life. But her country is gripped by war. Soldiers march outside her house, helicopter gunships cruise overhead and though Azzi's life continues fairly normally, one night her father receives a phone call that will change the whole family's life forever.

Quickly bundling Azzi and her mother into the family car, but painfully and sadly leaving Grandma behind to look after the house, her father embarks on a perilous journey to try and catch one of the last refugee ships leaving for a new country. With Azzi hidden under her grandma's blanket, they make their way past roadside checkpoints, and soon have to join the chaotic struggle to find a place on the boat before it leaves.

They make it by the skin of their teeth, destined for the unknown.

Azzi's new country is different, the family find a new place to live but it's uncomfortable and shabby. Azzi's father won't be allowed to work to earn the money they need, so the family face lean times. Thankfully Azzi manages to enrol at a new school, but wonders how she'll fit in when she has nothing in common with her classmates and can't even speak their language.

Azzi's story is simply told but its impact is colossal, particularly for its chosen audience who (like Charlotte) may not be much younger or older than Azzi but also may never have known the fear and the hardship that many refugee children will know during their early lives. From an adult perspective, the terrifying prospect of being displaced from your home and country by war is something that is largely lost on folk who live a comfortable and safe existence.

Charlotte was (quite rightly) gripped by "Azzi In Between" from start to finish. I won't give away the end of the story but to have your child come running up to you when you come home from work to tell you (joyfully) how much they loved a book is rewarding and fulfilling, but having your child want to discuss the story's meaning and what happens to all the other children like Azzi is vital and important and equally fulfilling too.

"Azzi in between" has deservedly won a ton of awards and humbly we add it to our roster of hugely important books that have made a gigantic impact on us during the course of writing this blog. It should be on every shelf in every children's home or in every school or local library.

Charlotte's best bit: Azzi's reunion

Daddy's Favourite bit: A vital, emotional and impactive book that will be read, re-read and celebrated as one of the most important children's books of all time

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The London Activity Book by Esther Coombs (Button Publishing)

The London Activity Book

Written and Illustrated by
Esther Coombs

Published by Button Publishing

This fun-packed and excellent activity book is all about one of our favourite destinations! The big smoke, the capital of capitals, London! We often visit as it's not too far away from us, but oh for something interesting to do on the long coach / train journey!

Having "The London Activity Book" to dip into, armed with colouring pencils and pens, there's a ton of things to do for busy and inquisitive kids. Colour in some of the capital's most famous landmarks from the Tower of London to "The Gherkin", and engage in brilliant mind-bending activities like escaping the twisty turny confines of the Hampton Court maze.

There are 22 activities in all, and the book is nicely chunky enough that little ones can rest it on their lap and doodle away to their hearts content.

"The London Activity Book" by Esther Coombs is out now from Button Publishing.

Charlotte's best bit: Finding her way into (and out of) Hampton Court Maze

Daddy's Favourite bit: A brilliant set of fun activities, perfect for a day trip to the capital!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Button Publishing)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

We tie ourselves in knots with the "Bright Paracord Kit" from Leisure Arts

Bright Paracord Kit

Distributed by Leisure Arts

How trends move quickly! It seems like only yesterday that the world was obsessed with tiny little circles of elastic in all the colours of the rainbow. Loom Bands seem to have fallen out of favour of late, but we still love making things with them from time to time. But what can we move on to if we want a slightly "knottier" challenge.

Paracord kits aren't that new, they've been around a while now but Leisure Arts are producing handy tub-sized starter kits to introduce you to a whole new obsession - making Paracord bracelets and other accessories.

Paracord is an immensely strong bonded cord that is used in parachute cords (hence the name!). Its strength and flexibility means that it's suitable for all manner of crafting projects.

The "Bright Paracord Kit" from Leisure Arts features lots of interesting cord designs and colours, that can be used singly or in conjunction with each other to make all sorts of designs.

You can get some inspiration for your own maker projects from the package itself, or dive onto your computer or tablet and check out, a great site with a huge range of 5500 projects from the very very simple up to the extremely complex.

Deft and strong fingers are required and with a little adult help, Charlotte was soon weaving her first bracelet. You don't have to stop there though, you can make a range of items like phone cases and models - once you've learned a few basic knots, you'll be completely addicted. Paracord kits are reasonably priced so hunt around for the best bargains!

Charlotte's best bit: Weaving a cool dayglo bracelet

Daddy's Favourite bit: Tricky to master at first but once you learn a few knots you're up and running in no time, creating cool designs to wear and use

(Kindly sent to us for review by GMC / Leisure Arts)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cheer up your Teddy Bear, Emily Brown (Re-Review) by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton (Hodder Children's Books)

Cheer up your teddy bear, Emily Brown

Written by Cressida Cowell

Illustrated by Neal Layton

Published by Hodder Children's Books

Way back in 2012 we took a look at the third "Emily Brown" book and I think we'd been a bit burned out on borrowing both "Emily Brown and the Thing" and "That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown". We gave it 3 out of 5 stars and said that the idea was wearing a little thin. What meanies.

Now the Emily Brown books have been re-released by Hodder, it's the perfect opportunity to take a look at them all once again, to see if 7 year old Charlotte loves them as much as 4 year old Charlotte did.

In "Cheer up your teddy bear, Emily Brown" we meet the world's weepiest bear. Emily Brown and Stanley are pitching a tent in the Australian Outback one day, when they hear a faint 'plip plop' noise coming from the toybox. It's the sound of teddy tears, and a lonely little teddy bear who plaintively sings a little song of woe.

Emily Brown and Stanley decide to take the little teddy on their adventure, but not even the prospect of bouncing with kangaroos or making friends with emus can cheer the poor thing up.

They fare no better in Yellowstone Park despite the presence of brown bears, grizzly bears and cuddly little baby bears. Teddy just can't be consoled! What's worse is that the teddy's morose mood is rubbing off on the usually effervescent Emily Brown and Stanley! NOOOOOOO!

Is there nothing that can cheer the poor little soul up?

We got into a deep discussion about this book. We love the first two, we haven't yet 'met' "Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency" (which has also been re-released, hooray!) but it's that teddy, that poor little sad little teddy bear who we really can't seem to 'gel' with. Emily Brown and Stanley really try their best to befriend the little bear but she's inconsolable until other teddies turn up.

One of the delights of re-reviewing this was getting Charlotte to read it to me (whereas last time we read it, it was the other way around). She's slowly learning how to read stories with gusto and great characterisation, so it was actually a genuine delight to hear her giving the sad little teddy a squeaky heartbroken voice as she 'sang' the little teddy song with each bit of repetition.

As ever, tight writing and a nice little heartfelt message helps bring the story up a few notches thanks to Cressida Cowell's enviable writing expertise, and we still can't get enough of Neal Layton's art style, scribbly and chaotic but infinitely attractive and perfectly fitting for the Emily Brown tales. Charlotte rather loved the fact that she thought the Gold Bear (From "That Rabbit belongs to Emily Brown") made a cameo appearance at the end of the tale, and I'm sure we spotted Pooh Bear too!

Charlotte's best bit: The perfect teddy bear's picnic!

Daddy's Favourite bit: The Emily Brown books are deservedly described as modern classics. This isn't our fave but it's still an entertaining read, and your tinies will love the excuse to dig out their teddies and recreate the closing scenes themselves!

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

Like this? We think you'll love these too!

That rabbit belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

Emily Brown and the Thing by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

Monday, May 18, 2015

If I Were You by Richard Hamilton and Babette Cole (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

If I Were You

Written by Richard Hamilton

Illustrated by Babette Cole

Published by Bloomsbury Children's Books

We love finding books we've never seen before when we visit our awesome local library. Nestling amongst the stacks, Charlotte quickly grabbed this book by Richard Hamilton and Babette Cole - mostly because she is completely in love with Babette Cole's work and couldn't wait to find out more about a book featuring a tutu-wearing dad, and a rather cheeky little girl.

Richard Hamilton's rhyming life-swap story, illustrated in Babette's glorious trademark inky washy style, is really right up our alley. A dad and daughter book with a difference, with a daft dad (like me) and a cheeky daughter (like Charlotte) imagining what it would be like to swap places for the day. The good (like being able to bounce on beds or stay up way past bed time), the bad (like having to do housework or eat what you're told to) and the downright ugly (have you ever seen a 47-year old trying to squeeze into a baby buggy when it's walkies time? While wearing a leotard and tutu? It's not a pretty sight!) are all described in this lilting and lyrical tale that made us very very glad we are who we are and don't ever, never, EVER swap roles.

That said, I can definitely see the appeal of bouncing on beds wearing tutus. Yes indeed!

Charlotte's best bit: Cuddling up for storytime with the three bears (before nipping downstairs to watch late night telly! Bliss!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Taking a cuddly kangaroo to bed then waking Charlotte up in the morning by bouncing up and down on her bed shouting loudly (just like she does!)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ten children's picture book story types that we'd really love to see more of - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

"Zephyr Takes Flight" by Steve Light. More like this please!

Remember that fun time we talked about the children's story types and tropes that need a long summer holiday?

We thought it would be fun to flip the coin. You see we don't want to give you the idea that we're all sad and grumpy about children's stories, quite the opposite - and it was great to hear from folk who read our last article and (quite politely) disagreed with us on some of the story types listed. So with that, we promised to do a list of ten children's picture book story types that we'd dearly love to see more of.

In no particular order...

1) "Mighty girl" stories that work for both girls AND boys.

We love stories that feature mighty girls, but creating a female hero that works for both boys and girls is a neat trick if you can pull it off. It's an even neater trick if you can make the hero of your story (whether male or female) appealing to both girls and boys without having to wade in with wellies on to create "strong female characters" or "boys who are in touch with their sensitive and emotional side". Some children's stories have woven sheer magic with characters who aren't specifically designed to push the point at all. Take Luke Pearson's utterly awesome "Hilda" - She's a girl, she's mighty, she has the most incredible adventures but boys and girls can enjoy her stories equally (and 47 year old grown ups also rather like them too!) See also the utterly brilliant "Zephyr Takes Flight" by Steve Light, which is another book with a female central character that we often mention whenever discussions of awesome female-led books crops up on Twitter. We also couldn't let this point pass without mentioning "Pirates of Pangaea" - a fabulous comic strip that runs in The Phoenix Comic, adored by girls and boys alike and with an utterly brilliant girl protagonist right in the thick of the action.

2) World Stories

Thankfully these are slowly becoming more and more commonplace as western tastes wake up to the fact that some of the most incredible myths and legends, traditional folk tales and children's stories from across the globe will work equally well for our imaginative and story-hungry kids. We have seen something of a renaissance in recent years with fabulous tales being translated and respun by glorious publishers like Tara Books and Gecko press. There's always room for more though, so keep 'em coming!

3) Ghost stories (for slightly older kids, obviously!)

Slightly controversial this one but I'd love to see a return of the amazing Pickwick and Puffin ghost anthologies I grew up with in the 1970s (most of which were written in the 1960s and were very well thumbed in our school library). 'Dark' books are by no means 'new'. Just look at some of the covers of these, books that often cropped up in our school book choice newsletters from various publishers...

These were brilliant and creepy. Perhaps in an age where children have become desensitised to dark stuff, they'd feel a little twee now but with recent brilliance by the likes of Jonathan Stroud (The Lockwood and Co Books), there's room for a few more supernatural books on our shelves.

4) Science Fiction for kids

Similar to the plea for more ghost tales, I'd love to see more sci fi for kids (particularly young kids). We're fairly well served for brilliant comics (again a huge nod to The Phoenix for producing some of the best sci fi heroes in recent kid comic history) but we very rarely see children's picture books that swap dragons, wizards and princesses for spaceships, robots and space heroes. Would particularly love to see kids books brave enough to set out their table with a futuristic (non dystopian) setting too!

5) Diversity and 'realistic' kids

This is again a thankfully rising trend in children's stories. Diverse and inclusive books, with characters from all walks of life, every creed, every colour and every ability, represented in children's books. Our children can learn from stories where diversity and inclusivity become the norm rather than the exception, and can more readily identify with stories featuring kids they're likely to encounter during their own lives. All children deserve to be represented in stories that are meant for them and brilliant organisations like The Letterbox Library are leading the charge ensuring that kids can always find themselves in a story when they find their nose in a book.

6) A dose of the surreal.

Sometimes it feels like children's stories play it relatively safe. Are kids now immune to nonsense? Are books that are a little on the 'surreal' side a bit too 'out there' for modern kids who increasingly find it difficult to suspend their disbelief when jumping into a new story? We miss surreal kids books, and harking again back to my childhood when crazy characters like Barbapapa and Ludvig were some of the milder examples of children's characters who were really off the wall and fresh-feeling, there's a trick missing and a distinct trend to avoid slightly trippy and weird characters and stories. We love them though, and we particularly adore nonsense poetry!

7) Books that break the rules.

Having fallen down several deep holes when working on my own stories and book ideas, I can safely say that the dizzying rules and requirements for children's books can feel a little offputting. Books driven by ancillary requirements for page counts, formats and layouts to adhere to fairly rigid frameworks can surely only ever feel 'samey' so we love it when it's obvious that certain books have broken those rules. Longer stories for children that may need more than one bedtime reading to polish them off, but don't go over the top length wise. Stories that use a double page spread to great effect, disposing of the usual text and picture mix for something that still maintains a story flow but feels like it's kicked free of the page. After all, if "The Book with No Pictures" by B.J Novak can prove the point that books for young children can break a lot of rules but are still riotously entertaining, there must be room for many more books along similar lines that take the rule book and tear it up with their teeth.

8) Reader interaction.

This is a tough one to describe, but you may well understand what we mean without a deep description or a ton of examples. Those books that wrap you up in the story to such an extent that you truly feel like you're part of the cast. We're not merely referring to 'name' books here (though there are some utterly fantastic examples of these now available - see "The Girl / The Boy who lost her / his name" for instance) but books that involve the reader as much more than a mouthpiece are something we'd really love to see more of. Imagine children's stories that are designed for more than just cuddling up at bedtime to read, but stories that send readers on a (real world) quest, encourage 'acting out' of scenes and characters. For example, we love the fact that "We're going on a Bear Hunt" works wonderfully as a performance piece as you act out all the different parts of the book where you need to clamber across the squelchy squirchy mud or whistle through the swishy swashy grass. Now do you know what we're getting at?

9) Books that don't 'punish' introversion or cast it in a bad light

This is something that I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about. Children's stories are often geared around turning a shy retiring wallflower into a crazed chaotic effervescent bundle of energy, but is introversion really that bad? As a self-confessed introvert there are always going to be times when I'd love to conquer my shyness and Charlotte must feel the same (believe me, we've been through the mill quite a few times when Charlotte's shyness stops her doing things we know she'd really love to). Only one or two books have successfully dealt with this hugely sensitive subject in a way that struck a chord, and actually put across the message that "Hey, it's OK to be shy, quiet, reflective" - We would so dearly love to see more and really welcome stories where the shy kid doesn't need to become like a reject from an X-Factor tryout to somehow win the day.

10) Books about books and bookish folk

We never tire of reading children's stories that not only celebrate the joy of reading (it goes without saying that there are many, many books that extol the virtues of learning to read and the worlds you'll discover) but there's a vast untapped market for books about books and bookish folk. It struck me when we were reading and were thoroughly engrossed in Martin Salisbury's utterly wonderful "100 Great Children's Picture Books" that we really don't see enough books like that and we very very rarely see books designed for children that could act as a taster for more wonderful book and story discoveries. Similarly, now that children's authors and artists are so hugely celebrated and well recognised by kids, how about a range of books where children could read about and find out more about their book heroes. A "Desert Island Books" range? Biographies of authors and artists designed for a young audience? Idea!

So there you have it, more book and story types that whet our whistle and there are probably squillions more you could add - if you've got any really good ones, please do drop a comment in the section below, we'd love to hear about them!

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th May 2015 - "Poppy Pickle" by Emma Yarlett (Templar Publishing)

Poppy Pickle

Written and Illustrated by
Emma Yarlett

Published by Templar Publishing

New Emma Yarlett books are always greeted with a huge ripple of excitement here at ReadItDaddy Towers, and when we first heard about "Poppy Pickle" - a little girl with a HUGE imagination, we couldn't wait to meet her.

Charlotte immediately identified and fell in love with Poppy, an extraordinary little girl in a fairly ordinary family with an ordinary mum, ordinary dad and three ordinary (and hugely cute!) cats.

Whereas most people's imagination levels teeter and totter around toe level, Poppy is filled up to the very BRIM with imagination. She daydreams of wild and crazy things and one day after being sent to her room for letting her exuberance get the better of her, something astonishing happens.

Poppy's imagination comes to life!!

All the things she thinks about pop instantly into existence, and at first this seems like the most amazing and incredibly brilliant thing ever. But when Poppy starts to imagine things like girl eating crocodiles or gigantic hot dogs, the situation soon gets out of hand.

With Mum and Dad stomping up the stairs to find out what all the fuss is about, can Poppy somehow imagine all those imagined objects away? A giant eraser doesn't help, and mum and dad are at the door, EEEEEK!

We knew we'd love this one, after all Charlotte and Poppy are extremely alike (just sitting Charlotte down with a bucket of lego or a sketchpad and coloured pens and letting her let rip with her imagination is a joy to behold). Any book that celebrates the seemingly endless and colourful imagination of a child will always get a huge thumbs up from us, and with Emma's amazing artistic talents and knack for exciting and thoroughly original tales, we just could not resist Poppy Pickle! (Oh and bonus points for managing a sneaky cheeky reference to Michelle Robinson's "How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth" into this story too!)

Charlotte's best bit: The giant hot dog telling the three little pigs that he was "once like them" (I think we both laughed out loud at that bit!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Emma's imagination is as brilliant as Poppy's. Truly gorgeous illustrations that give Oliver Jeffers a run for his money, brilliant storytelling but best of all a truly inspirational mighty girl hero for little girls like mine to look up to! Awesome!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)

Like this? We think you'll love these too!

Sidney, Stella and the Moon by Emma Yarlett

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Royal Society Young People's Book Prize Shortlist - Come and spot some truly dazzling science books for inquisitive minds

Hugely exciting news for fellow Science buffs! The Royal Society has today announced the six inspiring science books that make up this year’s Young People’s Books Prize shortlist.

Publishers across the UK have submitted their best recent science books for young people to the 2015 Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize and now an expert adult judging panel has narrowed them down to six carefully selected books.

The winning book will now be selected entirely by groups of young people from over 100 schools and youth groups across the UK. These groups will judge all the shortlisted books and choose the final winner.

The Prize celebrates the best books that communicate science to young people aged up to 14 and Professor John Burland FRS, Chair of the judges said:

“It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience reading all of the books entered this year. We think the shortlist has enough in it to interest young people from all sides. These books will definitely make science accessible to people who might feel that it’s not. It was important to the judges that the shortlist cover the full spectrum of science and exemplified what makes it so exciting – the shortlist definitely delivers on that aim. It’s now over to the young judges to select what they think is the top book!”

The six books shortlisted by the judges are:

365 Science Activities, Various Authors (Usborne)

The judges said: “Children are hard-wired to do experiments, to handle things with their own hands, to get a feel for how things work and why they work. This book is a wonderful resource for children who want to create their own experiments and find out more about how everything around them works.”

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs (Amulet)

The judges said: “It’s a great balance of English and Science and if you are interested in either of those things, this is really the book to read this year.”

Jake’s Bones, by Jake McGowan-Lowe (Octopus Books)

The judges said: “This book has a wonderful personal feel. It’s the story of one boy’s collection and his own fascination with bones. It will push children not just to learn from a book but also to go out and explore the countryside.”

Night Sky Watcher, by Raman Prinja (QED Publishing Inc.)

The judges said: “Night Sky Watcher is a great introduction to stars and will definitely get you out looking for them. It introduces you to well-known stars and constellations like The Plough and Leo and then encourages you to star hop to planets and galaxies you may not have come across before, all the while explaining our amazing universe.”

Tiny: The Invisible World of Microbes, by Nicola Davies (Walker Books)

The judges said: “You might not have even heard of microbes before reading this book however it brings to life beautifully what they are and why they are so important. It’s also an absolutely gorgeous picture book.”

Utterly Amazing Science, by Professor Robert Winston (DK)

The judges said: “It’s a lovely book. The pop-ups beautifully illustrate a whole wide range of science from atomic science to volcanic eruptions. We also think the hand-on experiments it suggests will be very popular with a young audience.”

The winner will be announced in November 2015.

The judges on the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize panel this year who selected the six shortlisted books are:

Professor John Burland FRS– Emeritus Professor of Soil Mechanics, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London

Dr Stephanie Schorge – Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Institute of Neurology, University College London

Katie Thistleton – Television presenter and host of the CBBC Book Club

Dr Shaun Long – English teacher at Royal Society Associate School, Bodmin College, Cornwall

Julia Eccleshare – Writer, broadcaster and lecturer, and the Guardian's children's books editor

More information about the prize can be found at:

What the Jackdaw Saw by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt (With support from Life and Deaf children's charity) - Published by Macmillan Children's Books

What the Jackdaw Saw

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

The hugely important Life and Deaf Children's Deafness Charity gathered together a children's workshop with deaf children and ex-children's laureate and superstar author Julia Donaldson to collaborate on this fantastic story book. "What the Jackdaw Saw" written with help from deaf children, and illustrated by Nick Sharratt, is a brilliant book that introduces sign language along with a story that really piques a child's curiosity.

Jackdaw has decided to throw a party, and as he flies around town and country, he spies all his friends going about their daily business.

"Come to my party!" shouts Jackdaw, but instead of replying, other animals look at Jackdaw and touch their heads. What on earth is going on?

Again and again Jackdaw meets animals doing the same strange thing. As we bounce along to Julia's perfect rhymes, it was brilliant to see Charlotte really trying to puzzle out what was happening. "Why ARE the animals doing that, Daddy?" she kept asking. I wouldn't reveal anything until the end, when a frustrated and flustered Jackdaw encounters the very reason why all the animals are looking alarmed and touching their heads. We'll let you find out the answer yourselves because we don't want to spoil the surprise!

Once children have finished the story (and have demanded it read again and again, mark my words!) they can have a lot of fun practicing their sign language just like the animals in the story and learning new ways to communicate with children with hearing problems.

Julia Donaldson (herself a sufferer with hearing loss) has pulled out all the stops to produce a thoroughly engaging, thrilling and somewhat mysterious story here that is complimented by brilliant illustrations showing us exactly how to 'sign' some of the things we'll find in the book.

You can find out more about the book, and the Life and Deaf organisation on Macmillan's website for the book:
Charlotte's best bit: Charley's visit to the dentist. Rinse please!

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

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