Saturday, December 3, 2016

Booky Advent Calendar Day 3 - "Robin's Winter Song" by Suzanne Barton (Bloomsbury Publishing)

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Our third entry in the Booky Advent Calendar has a lovely wintry feel and features our favourite bird, the adorable Robin...
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Friday, December 2, 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Santa Claus is coming to town (or is he?) - A ReadItTorial

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For our final Read-it-Torial of the year (and the first of December, which is when the Christmas floodgates truly open) I thought I'd go for a thorny subject that's cropped up this year. In fact it seems to be EVERYWHERE at the moment - which is weird because I'd actually started this editorial way back at the start of November but must've had a rare moment of seasonal insight into what would be all over the internet around this time of year. Amazing!…/parents-urged-stop-pretending…/

Yes yes, I know that there are regular blog readers who are inwardly groaning at the prospect of a christmas-related ReadItTorial ahead of a whole month of Booky Advent Calendar joy (it will be a joy, honestly) but bear with. I'm pretty sure my wife and I aren't the only parents who face this particular sticky wicket this year.

Oh - Spoiler Warning! 

It might be time to shoo your little ones out of the room - just in case they spot the theme of this editorial - I really don't want to end up compared to the fellah in our header image after all!

So, Santa. He doesn't exist. But for an increasingly fleeting period of time, parents get to truly enjoy this time of year and the thought that their kids have a complete unshakeable belief in a supernatural being who somehow manages to organise himself to distribute presents around the globe all in the space of one night.

When Charlotte was younger it was so easy to maintain the illusion that the strange beardy fellah was as real as you or I. We met excellent Santas who really got into their roles, actually believing they were Saint Nick and managing to wholly convince Charlotte that they were too. Christmas Eve we'd usually watch the NORAD Santa Tracker avidly, watching Santa's progress across the globe as he whistled down the chimneys around the world, faster than the speed of light.

She's a smart cookie though, and nearly every single year for the last three or four she's applied her razor-sharp logic to the logistics involved and we have put on our best poker faces as parents to try and dismiss any of her doubts. Last year was the toughest of all when she played us like a poker shark.

"If Santa doesn't exist" she said quite straightfacedly, "I do need to know because one day I will grow up and have kids of my own and I will need to be able to tell them the truth"

It actually came up again even as recent as last night when Charlotte came up with the idea of "setting up a video camera in the living room so we can see if Santa really does eat the mince pie and feed the carrot to Rudolph".

Ow. Really, ow. I mean in both cases that was the parental equivalent of having a pair of clothes pegs applied to your nipples - that got us RIGHT in the feels but amazingly, once again, my wife and I managed to head those off with some wishy washy half-answer that sort of covered our backs a little bit. But only a little. Smart cookie is smart.

This year it's going to be even tougher. Kids at school who've long since grown out of the whole Santa thing will pour scorn on her rather cute belief that he exists. As we struggle to find presents for her that fit into the middle grade age and aren't boring practical stuff like clothes or shoes (which she always seems to need) and are still fun but not childishly fun, it regularly hits us both that she's growing up - and sadly some of that glorious magic associated with maintaining the illusion of Santa being a real person will slowly disappear. Once again I'm reminded of Chris Van Allsburg's utterly brilliant "The Polar Express" which, to date, is the best children's picture book dealing with the thorny subject of believing in Santa (and it's always one we read at this time of year without fail).

I did a quick straw poll at work to see when colleagues fessed up to the whole santa thing. We've obviously left it a lot later than most folk as most seemed to say that they didn't bother maintaining the pretence past their children's 5th birthdays. One even told their kid at the age of 3 with the justification that they would rather their child knew rather than be lied to during their formative years (I just couldn't agree with that at all but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of parents now who've opted to go down that route). I've also seen messages from other parents who claim that the 'lie' damaged them so irreparably, that they started off right at the very start without Santa - which must've been a fun logistical exercise whenever friends or family with kids came around and asked what their cousins or friends were getting from Santa. Still, each to their own I guess.

The moral ins and outs of lying to your kids (can you, as a parent, really truthfully stand there and tell me that you've never even told a single little white lie to your kids at one time or another - if for no other reason, surely one or two to spare their feelings in a situation where things are entirely out of your control, and you have a straight choice between 'damaging your kid' by letting them hear the truth or glossing over things with a fairly low-impact fib? Tough choice, kiddo.

There's also another aspect to all this - if you are vehemently determined to take Santa away from your kids, does this mean you also want to do away with all the other fantasy characters they could grow up with? Bye bye to the Easter Bunny? Kick the Tooth Fairy to the kerb? Are you also going to take away every other element of fantasy or mythology from your children - preferring that they deal only in cold hard scientific fact?

I feel sorry for your children if so. Genuinely sorry. I really can't imagine what childhood would be like if all you had to look forward to was non-fiction (as much as we love non-fiction stuff on the blog there's absolutely no WAY we'd relegate ourselves to only reading non fic - not when there are so many amazing stories to be read and enjoyed!)

I'm sure your little one would grow up to be an academic genius, a high wage earner, perhaps the next nobel prize winner, but at what cost? If we can't indulge in fantasy and magic as children, there will never be another (better) time to get any of that back.

Back on topic and rants aside, assuming 'it' happens this year, or next, or maybe the one after that, it really is going to be a strange Christmas without Santa.

We're entirely playing it by ear this year and we'll see what happens. I mean it's not like kids don't need a little magic and fantasy in their lives, and the loss of a belief in something that - on the surface of it - is a bit ridiculous and crazy but underpins the whole of Christmas for us (we're not religious you see, definitely don't get me started on Santa Vs Jesus!)

I think it's a pretty horrible enough world without kids having that beautifully innocent belief that there is still a little magic in the world, and stuff that can't just be explained away by cold hard science or psychology. I for one will miss the beardy old gent when he's 'gone'.

OK the little ones can come back into the room now. An early Merry Christmas from us, I really hope you enjoy our yuletide book suggestions this year and that your stocking (whoever delivers it) is full of lovely lovely books!

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Our Booky Advent Calendar kicks off on day one with "Nuddy Ned's Christmas" by Kes Gray and Garry Parsons (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

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We're kicking off our Booky Advent Calendar for 2016 with a book that shows a lot of cheek - and (almost) quite a few other bits too!
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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Two fantastic artistic prompt books from awesome author Brandon T. Snider. Draw it out, Write it out! (Sterling Publishing)

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If there's one thing slightly daunting about being of a creative mind, it's being faced with the blank page...
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - November 2016

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Welcome, welcome to November's awesome chapter book roundup and we've got a bumper bagful of truly awesome books to share with you, perfect for stuffing in stockings before next month's festive craziness! Let's get straight on with 'em!

First we're back with a fantastic series from author Andy Seed and his hilarious horror creation Prankenstein. In "Prankenstein on Tour", Soapy Thompson's dad wins a world cruise for a family of five and Soapy convinces his parents that best friends, Arvo and Loogi should come along to stop him going mad with boredom.

As they cruise past the East coast of Africa there is a great commotion in the dead of night and Soapy discovers that pirates have boarded the ship and taken two hostages - his parents - and are demanding a MEEELION quid in cash for their safe return.

Obviously Soapy doesn't have that sort of spare cash in his piggy bank so there's only one thing for it - Soapy knows that his only hope is to unleash Prankenstein, his prank-crazed alter-ego. Can he save the day, save mum and dad, and thwart the nasty piratical meanies? Something tells us he's going to need a mess of help!

The series is brilliantly original, inventive and hilarious and if you've been clinging to the edge of your seat waiting for Prankenstein Book 3, wait no more.

"Prankenstein on Tour" is out now, published by Fat Fox Books. 

Next up, we're deliriously excited - Caroline Lawrence has a new book out and that can only mean one thing...

"The Roman Quests: The Archers of Isca" is the second book in Caroline's new fantastic "Roman Quests" series. No one writes about the Romans like Caroline. She's not only a brilliant writer but one heck of an authority on Roman history and that's a period of history we just can't get enough of.

In "The Archers of Isca" we follow the path of a young soldier, joining the Roman Army at the tender age of 15.

Fronto craves to find his place in the world, and showing a natural aptitude for the bow, he soon finds that life as a roman archer is far more palatable than being a slave.

But when Fronto's younger sister Ursula is captured by a terrifying Druid called Snakebeard, he must make an impossible decision. Desert the Roman Army, face certain execution and rescue his sister, or stay put. What would you do?

Once again this is utterly spellbinding and immersive stuff from Caroline. We have loved her "Roman Mysteries" series very much and "The Roman Quests" is just as compelling and brilliant. 

"The Roman Quests (Book 2): The Archers of Isca" is out now, published by Orion Children's Books. 

Next out of our book sack for November, Book 5 in Lauren St John's amazing "White Giraffe" series...

"Operation Rhino" once again follows the series' theme of building amazing stories around our most endangered species. 

When Sawubona's white rhinos are attacked, the poachers leave devastation in their wake - and also leave behind a terrified calf.

Determined to help, Martine and Ben agree to take the rhino baby to a sanctuary near the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

But the sanctuary is hiding a precious secret - one that must be guarded from the poachers at all costs. When the secret gets out, Martine and Ben find themselves in the fight of their lives to save one of the rarest animals on earth. But who can they trust?

This is a gripping, heartwarming and magical tale that animal-loving children will adore. The White Rhino is one of the animals on the 'critical list' of highly endangered species, and this story of hope and preservation is a really brilliant read and had Charlotte utterly hooked (and determined to read the rest of the equally brilliant series). 

"Operation Rhino" is out now, published by Orion Children's Books

Digging deep into our review pile once more, time for some fun!

Book 2 of "The League of Unexceptional Children" is out now, written by Gitty Daneshvari. "Get Smart-Ish" follows on from the brilliant first book, with twelve-year-olds Jonathan and Shelley just recruited to join the League of Unexceptional Children. 

This covert spy network is comprised solely of kids who are so average and nondescript that they are utterly forgettable, and who makes a better spy than a kid no one remembers?

To everyone's surprise, Jonathan and Shelley saved the day in Book 1, and as a result they have been loaned to MI5: the United Kingdom's leading spy organization. 

The kids' mission is to recapture a missing vial of LIQ-15, a virus that makes people lose IQ points. Relying on only their complete lack of skill, Jonathan and Shelley must once again stop an evil plan in its tracks.

In a sequel that gives readers more of the spy tricks and adventure they love but that can stand on its own as a complete mystery, Get Smart-ish is a laugh-out-loud story starring two exceptionally unexceptional characters that kids will easily identify with (and laugh along with). 

"The League of Unexceptional Children: Get Smart-ish" is out now, published by Little, Brown. 

Let's have another dig down into our book sack...for something a little darker!

Book 2 in the "Soul Hunter" series by Alex Marlowe sees the fantasy and frights continue in "The Last Immortal". 

Picking up where the first book leaves off on a cliff hanger, Luke is now a member of The Immortals - a superhuman imbued with amazing abilities and a vast array of amazing gadgetry to defeat evil with.

Alas for Luke, immortality doesn't make him indestructible. When corpses turn up in London's backstreets, the crime-fighting Immortals descends into a dark adventure. testing Luke and the others to their limits as they track an ancient evil to the swamps of Louisiana. 

There they will battle their greatest foe yet: Draka, the Soul Hunter.

The book comes with an awesome comic strip setting the scene, tucked inside the covers...

Alex Marlowe's "Soul Hunter - The Last Immortal" is perfect for fans of fantasy and mystery. The book is out now, published by Little, Brown. 

OK skip down a few lines...

A little further...

Further still...

You know you can do it...come on, carry on...

OK you're here. What's next? Well let's have something completely contrasting from our last book choice!

Well, it's no surprise to find that the latest book in the "Secret Princesses" series - "The Snowflake Sisters" was a big hit, with character names like Charlotte and Mia. 

Charlotte loves stuff like this, so join in with the fun as trainee Secret Princesses Charlotte and Mia must grant the Christmas wish of two sisters, Holly and Ivy. 

But will horrid Princess Poison ruin their family Christmas?

A sparkly seasonal spectacular, with a lovely wintry feel, "The Snowflake Sisters" is perfect for girls and boys who love a bit of glitzy christmas fun.

A perfect stocking filler in fact and there are two tales in one, so plenty to keep you busy till boxing day. 

"Secret Princesses: The Snowflake Sisters" by Rosie Banks is out now, published by Orchard Books. 

More you say? And why not...

Something a little different now from Holly Webb, hugely prolific and talented author whose animal stories have been part of Charlotte's reading journey since forever. 

In "The Maskmaker's Daughter" Holly takes a decidedly different tack in this tale of a young girl called Colette. She lives with her mother, making beautiful dresses for the rich women of Venice. 

Colette has never known her father, and her mother won't speak of him - but Colette's embroidery moves and dances, and she's sure that there's magic in her blood. Does it come from her father? Her mother? What is the secret!

Soon enough Colette discovers the truth: her father is a famous maskmaker and a powerful magician. But when he's ordered to create a mask that will bend others to its will, the magic becomes too strong for him to resist. 

Can Colette, with the help of a talking alley cat called Max, save him?

Dark, mysterious and magical with more than a touch of The Brothers Grimm about it, this is Holly at her storytelling best. 

"The Maskmaker's Daughter" is out now, published by Orchard Books. 

Room for one more, from a legendary children's storyteller no less. 

You have undoubtedly heard about Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" and "Secret Seven" but have you ever heard of "The Find-Outers"? This book series for younger children was first published all the way back in 1943 and has now been reprinted with all new covers, and still the amazingly gripping and suspenseful set of stories Enid originally wrote - presented here in their original form. 

Someone has set fire to Mr Hick's cottage, but who could it be? Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets and Buster the dog have their very first case to solve. 

But it's not easy being detectives with policeman Mr Goon telling them to "clear orf". 

The Find-Outers are determined - they have to solve the mystery before Mr Goon does!

The first book in the series is full of thrills, chases and all the staples that made Enid Blyton such a well-loved author.

"The Find Outers: The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage" is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books. 

Abi Elphinstone is a bit of a hero of ours, and she's the curator of a fantastic wintry seasonal collection that's sure to warm the cockles of your heart...

"Winter Magic" collects together an absolutely astonishing array of authors, in a magical and enchanting story anthology that will keep your children entertained all the way to Christmas and beyond. 

Gorgeous and magical short stories are included, from acclaimed children’s writers such as Michelle Magorian, Berlie Doherty, Lauren St John and Katherine Woodfine.

Dreamsnatcher’s Abi Elphinstone heads up this gorgeous collection of wintery stories, featuring snow queens, frost fairs, snow dragons and pied pipers. 

Grab yourself a huge mug of hot chocolate, wrap yourself in your favourite slanket or snuggly onesie and dive into this glorious wintry classic in the making. 

A compendium of cool and an unmissable, enchanting treat of a collection, do not miss "Winter Magic" - out now and published by Simon and Schuster. 

Next up, we have a special abridged "Junior" version of a fantastic best seller. 

"Able Seacat Simon" by Lynne Barrett-Lee is an adaptation of Lynne's 'grown up' novel, a story with huge child appeal and one that's sure to be a hit with fans of Michael Morpurgo. 

Inspired by real events, "Able Seacat Simon" is the tale of an orphaned kitten, discovered in the Hong Kong docks in 1948 by a British sailor.

Smuggled onto HMS Amethyst and named 'Simon' by his new friends, the little cat quickly gets used to life on the seas and appoints himself chief rat-catcher.

When tragedy strikes, Seacat Simon keeps spirits up - but it's a long and dangerous journey back to England for the heroic kitten and his crewmates . . .

It's a scintillating page-turner with a ton of 'aww' moments, and we'd warn to you keep a box of tissues handy - you may need them!

"Able Seacat Simon" by Lynne Barrett-Lee is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books. 

Next, a real treat and one of the most attractive books we've seen in a very long time...

"The Secret Horses of Briar Hill" by Megan Shepherd with illustrations by (gasp!) Levi Pinfold is an astonishingly moving, immersive and atmospheric story.

It's December 1941 and as war rages across Europe and beyond, a young girl called Emmaline has been evacuated away from the bombs to Briar Hill Hospital in Shropshire. 

Emmaline takes a while to get used to her new surroundings but when she discovers an astonishing secret almost too magical to comprihend, she must keep it. It's a secret not to be shared, not to be told to anyone, even her friend Anna. 

But Emmaline shares her secret with us, the reader. There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill and Emmaline finds that she can move between our world and theirs with ease. 

Exquisitely illustrated by Levi Pinfold (author and illustrator of the truly stunning "Black Dog" and winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal), The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a book that will live on in the memory long after you've tucked away that last page. 

"The Secret Horses of Briar Hill" by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold is out now, published by Walker Books. 

Now something for the cricket-mad little person in your life, and the perfect book to engage reluctant readers...

The "Glory Gardens Cricket Club" series by Bob Cattell is a long-running series of novels with plenty of cricket action and engaging characters for kids to identify with.

In "Return to Glory" the team are in Australia, facing the challenge thrown down by their arch rivals, Woolagong CC.

The tour gets off to a testing (I like what you did there) start and, as Christmas approaches, captain Hooker Knight is battling to motivate his players for the vital ‘Ashes’ game.

Will Glory Gardens return to England humbled or triumphant?

A great series for cricket-mad girls and boys. Though Cricket is really not 'our thing' it's certain to win over fans of the sport.

"Glory Gardens Cricket Club: Return to Glory" is out now, published by Charlcombe Books. 

Room for one more? G'wan then...!

Now this is very much our cup of tea! A brilliant book celebrating some of the most amazing though not necessarily well known women who have made history...

In "Wonder Women" by Sam Maggs with illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino, you'll learn about women who have made their mark in science and research, in politics, in espionage and in exploration.

For example thre's the story of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered highly dangerous? 

Learn about German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world s first scientific expedition? 

How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China? 

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn't always get the credit they rightly deserved. 

In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stick-to-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.

"Wonder Women" is out now, published by Quirk Books. 

That just about wraps up November. Tune in next month when we do a slightly earlier Chapter Book Roundup before things go completely crazy for Christmas!
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Two stunning books from yesteryear brought back to life by Bodleian Publishing

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We've long been champions of brilliantly reprinted classic children's books on the blog and there seems to be a huge surge of interest in books that you, your parents or even your grandparents remember from their childhood being shared with a whole new generation...
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Master the Art of Speedpainting: Digital Painting Techniques by various artists (3DTotal Publishing)

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With the various art challenges I love taking part in every day, it's sometimes a struggle to unpick other artist's work and figure out just how they can work so quickly, and produce such amazing pieces...
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Two new books to keep your Pokemon champions happy, published by Orchard Books

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Who could've predicted that one of the biggest revivals of the year this year in videogaming would see Pokemon Go not just being talked about by game-heads, but just about everyone else on the planet too.

Pokemon Go hit the headlines in grand style (not always for the RIGHT reasons) and it's scored a huge hit with kids who now have even more of an excuse to bury their noses in their phones and tablets.

If you can pry them away for a second or two though, they might just enjoy a bit of stickering or colouring with two fantastic new titles coming from Orchard Books.

"Pokemon Creative Colouring" gives you tons and tons of busy scenes to colour or paint. A brilliant mix of characters and backgrounds are depicted within, so grab your best colouring pencils, pens, crayons or felt tips and give Pikachu and pals a colourful new coat.

Honestly, I have no idea what on earth is going on here!
If stickering is more their thing, then there's also this fantastic sticker book...

The "Pokemon Sticker Book" features over 130 stickers and loads of gorgeously colourful backgrounds to stick them on.

Once again you can find Squirtle, Meowth, Pikachu and Jigglypuff nestling within this book, ready to be stuck into an action-packed scene.

These would make great stocking fillers for Pokemon-obsessed kids (and adults - yes we're talking about you Grandma, we know you've been sneaking out to try and catch 'em all down at the local Pokestops!)

"Pokemon Creative Colouring" and the "Pokemon Sticker Book" are both out now, published by Orchard Books.
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Step Aside Pops by Kate Beaton (Walker Books)

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Kate Beaton's second fiendish collection of hilarious comics mashes together superheroes, feminists, STEM notaries and historical figures into a superpsychedelic mix of laugh-out-loud snorts and sniggers that's definitely not for kids...
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