Friday, February 24, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th February 2017 - "Marge in Charge" and "Marge and the Pirate Baby" by Isla Fisher (Piccadilly Press)

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A double header for this week's Chapter Book of the Week winner, in fact both books were a huge hit with Charlotte...
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ReadItDaddy's Book(s) of the Week - Week Ending 24th February 2017 - "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volumes 1 and 2" by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marvel)

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Our Book (or books) of the week this week collect together the first 'modern era' 8 issues of one of the greatest superheroes ever to nibble a filbert...
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sugar Free February - or "Why the HELL do they put SUGAR in THAT?" - A ReadItTorial

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For the last few weeks we've been attempting to follow "Sugar Free February" - an idea kicked off by Cancer Research UK and picked up by the Chris Evans Radio 2 show, but also endorsed by health experts as a way to live a little better.

Food is something of an obsession for kids, and for folk in children's publishing, whether they be authors, illustrators or cake-scoffing PRs (c'mon, we know who you are!)

Let's face it, no one can quite read through a copy of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" without salivating at Roald Dahl's deliciously scrumdiddlyumptious descriptions of the various treats that Mr Wonka makes in his factory, and what book launch goes unaccompanied by a huge book-shaped cake? But is there really any way to treat treats as treats and live a better way?

We try to maintain a fairly healthy lifestye at ReadItDaddy Towers, mixing exercise and a good diet (being non-preachy non-smug vegetarians helps a little bit with the latter) but the no-sugar thing has been a startling revelation in so many ways.

The toughest bit was working out decent nice-tasting alternatives to the stuff we normally eat. Take your breakfast for example. Think you're eating a lovely healthy cereal just because it isn't dotted with hundreds and thousands or laden with chocolate? Think again because even the humble weetabix is stacked with added sugar (and if you are like I used to be, you can't eat that horrible stuff without adding even more sugar to it).

We started to eat porridge, purely because it seems to be one of the few breakfast staples that A) fills you up and B) doesn't have a truckload of extra sugar added to it (but of course you need to make that from scratch, which is huge fun when you're already stretched for time in the morning on a normal school day - YAY!)

Then lunches. The next big challenge was to find enough to eat, because anyone knows a tiny little salad pot really isn't going to cut the mustard in the middle of a working day. We kept the salad, opted for wholewheat pittas (again try finding THOSE without any added sugar, you can but you've got to looked DAMNED hard as virtually every single bread product has - yep you've guessed it - well over a gram of added sugar for every 100g).

One of the toughest changes - coming up with an alternative for this stuff!
Again we managed to do a mix of pittas, salad, low fat cheese, eggs and nuts (no added salt) to keep the nibbles away.

Dinners weren't a problem - the easiest way to cut sugar out of your dinner diet is to make everything yourself from scratch (I say the easiest way but again, who the hell has time to do all that in the few scant hours they get in the evenings after school / work?)

We've trialled lots of quick meal ideas and somehow we're not starving to death. Avoiding ready meals is a key change to this because again they're all flipping laden with added sugar, regardless of what you go for.

The effects have been quite startling though. Losing 8 lbs in the first couple of weeks meant that I had to reel in my belt a lot (coupled with HIT sessions and the usual exercise regime of making sure we walk our socks off at the weekends and always take a good screen break for a walk during the day helps keep the spare tyre down).

Weirdly also I noticed my skin was changing. Not quite so horrible grey and sallow, not quite so dry (though stuck in an office atmosphere it's extremely difficult not to get dry skin), almost glowing in fact (even my wife noticed, which really was the strongest indicator that there'd been some sort of a change as she's the poor unfortunate person who has to stare at my fizzog day in day out, poor woman!)

It's had an impact on Charlotte too. All the rubbish you've always been fed about needing sugar for energy (mostly by well-meaning grandparents who say that sort of thing as a good excuse to stuff you full of junk) really is rubbish as she's got just as much get up and go as she's always had (more so in fact) and aside from the usual school-induced tiredness, she's weathered the no-sugar challenge quite well with only a few blips (worst thing about no-sugar February? Having two birthdays in February where you really do have to fall off the wagon - particularly as birthday this year involved a visit to Cadbury World!)

The real overall aim is not to become one of those horrid whiny preachy diet bores, but to slowly but surely factor in a lifestyle change so that sugar (if we eat it at all) becomes a rare thing, not an everyday thing. It has meant we've turned into label-staring zombies when we do our weekly shop but the health benefits are real, measurable and surprisingly become apparent very quickly indeed.

You can find out more about No Sugar February through the Cancer Research Campaign Website here:
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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering (Walker Books)

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Goodness me, this one's going to take you on a real rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows...!
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Zeki Can Swim by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson (Alanna Books)

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Awww, how could you resist that gorgeous little smiler on the front cover of this endearing book!
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

That's Not a Daffodil by Elizabeth Honey (Allen and Unwin)

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Kids absolutely love growing things, but sometimes it's difficult to be patient when all you're looking at is a big brown pot of soil...
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Monday, February 20, 2017

Mary Hoffman and Jackie Morris's new book range tells the stories and fables of Jesus (Otter-Barry Books)

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Two beautiful new books relating the stories of Jesus have been added to the gorgeous range available from innovative publishers Otter-Barry Books.

"Lost and Found" gathers together 8 parables from the stories of Jesus including A Tale of Two Houses,  Neighbours,  Lost and Found,  Fair Pay,  The Jealous Brother, Sowing and Growing,  Come to the Party and  Forgiveness.

Mary Hoffman retells the eight parables showing how Jesus used storytelling to explain God’s idea of truth, fairness and love.

With beautiful, atmospheric illustrations by Jackie Morris, this is a perfect introduction to the teachings of Jesus.

Also in the range is "Walking on Water: Miracles Jesus Worked"...

Once again Mary retells stories such as Water into Wine,  A Netful of Fish,  Weathermaster,  Through the Roof,  The Biggest Picnic in the World,  Is it a Ghost, Remote Control,  Saying Thank You and Back from the Dead. Some stories will be familiar to children, but some may also feel new and fresh.

The nine stories of the miracles Jesus worked, when he overturned the laws of nature, life and death to show God’s great love for humanity, are gorgeously presented in this luxurious book - again with beautiful illustrations from Jackie Morris. 

Whether you have any faith of your own or not, these are fantastic books for children, introducing them to bible stories in a surprisingly non-preachy way.

Even if (like us) you treat them as story / fable books, they're utterly gorgeous. 

"Lost and Found" and "Walking on Water" by Mary Hoffman and Jackie Morris are out now, published by Otter-Barry Books (kindly sent for review).
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Friday, February 17, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th February 2017 - "The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters - The Jolly Regina" by Kara LaReau and Jen Hill (Amulet Books)

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This week's Chapter Book of the Week contains all the sass, spice and influences of some of our favourite book series, but sets sail beautifully on its own tack. Meet The Bland Sisters...!
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th February 2017 - "The Hamster Book" by Silvia Borando (Minibombo / Walker Books)

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Awww, look at this adorable little fellah. Doesn't every kid want a hamster at some point in their lives? This week's Picture Book of the Week is "The Hamster Book"...
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Charting book trends or "How are we suddenly flooded with the same type of book from a multitude of different publishers?" A ReadItTorial

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One of the things that constantly surprises (and sometimes delights) me is the subject of this week's ReaditTorial. Trends. Those weird mystic patterns of consumer behaviour that apply to just about anything you can spend your hard earned cash on, that feel like they're born of some mystic set of mathematical equations, or some amazingly complex marketing exercises involving truckloads of media exposure across just about everything you cast your eyeballs over.

This applies to children's books too of course, and over the years of writing this blog we've been quite often overloaded with a certain type of book which leads us to muse how interconnected the children's publishing industry and the network of commissioning editors, agents and publishers really are.

At the moment (hence the header image of "Harriet the Spy") it's all about the kid detective, the snoop, the curious child who just can't help sticking their nose into a mystery. We've seen many, many titles arriving this year all in a cluster, across both picture and chapter books and it certainly seems to be a white-hot topic for middle grade titles in particular.

There's actually nothing wrong with this, the majority of the books we've seen have been absolutely scintillating stuff - showing that at least the authors and illustrators behind the books aren't just stamping out a set of variables from a well-established mould. Each brings their own nuances to the kid detective / mystery genre, but we're definitely seeing a lot of commonality - for example (and again, I must point out that these are NOT bad things to see in kid books):

1) A huge huge upsurge in female lead characters as opposed to male. Picking a selection of books I'd guess there are around 80% that feature a plucky young girl as the main hero in the story

2) Again a huge rise in the number of historical detective tales, predominantly England / Scotland in the Victorian era / turn of the 20th Century being 'the place and time to be'

3) Most of the mysteries are beautifully intricate tales that keep you guessing. Very few are dry moral tales (hooray!)

4) There is a rise (but a woefully small one) in the number of young detective / mystery books featuring characters of colour rather than the usual staid boring white middle class cliches.

5) There is also a very small rise in the number of central characters in young detective / mystery books NOT being well-to-do. Working class or poor characters are featuring in greater numbers and this is hugely important for a lot of reasons - not least of all that children's books in general could seriously do with a class overhaul to avoid becoming too 'elitist' (but that's a subject for another ReadItTorial!)

These books are a huge hit with Charlotte mostly because girls and Victorian England feature in them (despite all our efforts to ensure that genre isn't an issue and to encourage her interest in other periods of history) but also because they are books that keep their cards pretty close to their chest until the very end in most cases - and this is great because it keeps her reading them until she's finished, something that's pretty difficult when you've got the distractions of new books arriving almost daily.

As we've 'grown up' with the blog, and passed through all the other trends (remember when you couldn't move for pirate books? Princess books? Books about kids and friendships?) we're always waiting on tenterhooks to find out what the next big blossoming trend will be. For the moment though we're happy that the world's obsession with Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie is subconsciously leeching into the world of children's books in a truly positive way.

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