Friday, November 21, 2014

I Am An Artist! By Marta Altes (Macmillan Children's Books)

I am an Artist!

Written and Illustrated by
Marta Altes

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

We love Marta Altes' books (check out our review of her wonderful doggy tale "No!" for instance!). They're funny, uproariously well observed but most of all they're usually quite messy.

"I am an Artist!" might be the sort of book that will have parents throwing up their hands in horror, after all you really don't want your little darlings emulating the genius would-be artist in this book. You see, the young lad just can't help being creative and sees inspiration everywhere. He can't contain his creativity, so it (quite literally) spills out, mostly all over the family home.

His long-suffering mum doesn't quite share his enthusiasm for art (though, as pointed out in the book, she's rather artistic herself!) but the young boy's passion for painting is too explosive to contain.

All through the book, Charlotte giggled and snorted as the boy daubed on the walls, painted over beloved family portraits, even dabbed a cool Salvador Dali moustache on himself.

As we said, we'll be keeping a close eye on the crayons and paints at home, lest they end up all over our pristine walls!

Awesome book, awesome fun!

Charlotte's best bit: The boy's poor cat, who always manages the perfect 'hang-dog' expression in each page spread.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Wonderfully funny, messy, creative and brilliant - Just how we love our art and our artists!

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st November 2014 - "Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum" by Zack Rock (The Creative Company)

Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum

Written and Illustrated by
Zack Rock

Published by The Creative Company

I got home, it was late and dark outside but as soon as I opened the front door I was almost knocked flat by Charlotte, clutching this book.

"Book of the week!" she proclaimed so a little later after dinner, we snuggled up before bedtime and lost ourselves in the world of one Homer Henry Hudson.

Homer, a rheumy-eyed British Bulldog is the enchanting central character of this extremely special book. It's astonishing to think that this is Zack's first children's book (and please, PLEASE don't let it be his last) but from the outset we were completely knocked out by his illustrations in this fabulous story.

We will gush on a bit so bear with us. The illustrations aren't the only thing that won us over. Zack wears his story telling heart on his sleeve as Homer Henry Hudson shows us around his amazing collection. Every object holds a story, and soon we learn that Homer Henry Hudson might look like he's past his best, but what an astonishing past he has.

HHH meticulously describes each object in his collection and delights in the way visitors marvel at the various things in his museum. Reading each tale, our hero begins to sound like an astonishing dog. Part Indiana Jones, with a whiff of Doctor Who about him (we loved his Tom Baker scarf and Fedora) HHH ventured to every corner of the world, rescued princesses and dug deep into the earth to unlock its secrets.

Zack's influences are varied and delightful, and thrummed a deep chord of recognition with me especially. In one part of the museum I loved the fact that there's a superb homage to Rene Magritte. In another scene (blink and you'll miss it) an image that took me right back to my childhood and a book I haven't read in years, Kit Williams' sublime "Masquerade" (wouldn't it be just too fantastic to imagine Homer Henry Hudson doggedly deciphering the clues of that magnificent book and making off with the golden hare!)

Of course it's easy to leap straight to the conclusion that the rich and stunning visuals in this book wowed us, dazzled us and contributed to our decision to give this our highest accolade but Zack's descriptive prose as I adopted a gruff bulldog-like voice to read Homer Henry Hudson's narrative just flows off the page like honey on biscuits. Dang it, it really is as great as it sounds, we promise you.

Lose yourself in a long luxurious read of this, and then go back in again for another, and another, and another look to spot all the glorious references and author's nudges to his influences (oh man, that Sushi museum scene just completely blew me away as soon as I recognised who the other patrons were - see if you recognise them!)

I said we wouldn't gush on too much about it but wow, just wow! You see Charlotte was right to be excited - it's a book of the week without a doubt.

Discover more about Zack's brilliant book over at his fascinating blog.

Charlotte's best bit: She loved Henry's cracked old building (and the story behind how it came to be where it was) but most of all she utterly and completely loved spotting things she recognised and also rather liked Homer Henry Hudson's diving suit

Daddy's Favourite bit: What a glorious book! You could spend a year finding tiny little details in this that'll make you smile and say "Wow, I remember that!" but you'll truly love the way this reads, and Homer Henry Hudson's gentle self-deprecating modesty at how he acquired his truly amazing collection! We absolutely cannot wait for Zack's next book. He's up there with the greats!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Zack Rock / The Creative Company)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lift the Flap Times Tables by by Rosie Dickins, Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusina (Usborne Publishing)

Lift the Flap Times Tables

Written by Rosie Dickins
Illustrated by Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusina

Published by Usborne Publishing

This is an utterly genius idea to get kids engaged with something that can rapidly become a bit of a chore. Charlotte has just started learning Times Tables in the usual 'parrot fashion' way at school. It's a dreary and boring task so anything that can help alleviate that boredom, and actually provide a better way of learning tables has got to be investigated further.

Charlotte actually brought this Usborne "Lift the Flap Times Tables" book home from her awesome school library (Hi Miss Storey! Yes that really is her school librarian's name, what an awesome name it is too!) Thankfully it was in good enough condition to allow Charlotte to dive in and start exploring.

As a lift-the-flap book, it would've already had her hooked if it didn't tie in tightly with what she's learning at home and in class for multiplication tables. It does though, and it also breaks away from the monotony of concentrating by numbers by teaching kids some of the cool tips and tricks they can use to quickly pick up and learn times tables without all that monotone repetition.

Each lift the flap section breaks out as a little 'game' encouraging children to learn and perhaps even to guess some of the answers. It's a great interactive way of learning (without resorting to the dreaded tablet or smartphone to look for an app-based solution - YAY!)

What a brilliant idea!

Charlotte's best bit: Helping a gallant knight across a perilous drawbridge with crocodiles waiting to snap him up!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fun and fantastic way of helping your child through the initial stages of learning times tables, without the dreadfully boring monotonous parrot fashion learning! Huge thumbs up!

The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight by Tony DiTerlizzi and Ralph McQuarrie (Egmont Publishing)

The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight

Written by Tony DiTerlizzi
Illustrated by Ralph McQuarrie

Published by Egmont

When I was a wee whippersnapper, I had two sci-fi obsessed uncles who introduced me to the world of Star Wars (and other cool spacey stuff beyond the stratosphere). One year my uncle Chris gave me a huge black 'folder' labelled "Ralph McQuarrie Paintings" which contained a whole stack of work by the late legendary concept artist, for the movie "The Empire Strikes Back"

These huge paintings adorned my walls between the ages of 9 to...well into my late 20s. I just couldn't get enough of Ralph McQuarrie's amazing work.

So with anticipation building for Star Wars Episode VII next year - and paying due homage to the late genius himself, Egmont have put together a fantastic adventurous book for younger Star Wars fanatics based around one of the pivotal characters of the original trilogy (and if the rumours are true, quite a pivotal character in the next few movies too!)

Luke Skywalker. Most boys either wanted to be Han or Luke (must admit I always thought Luke was a bit of a whiny brat in the original movie but changed as the movies evolved into one kick-butt Jedi master!) and here we have a rather neatly written history of Luke from his earliest years on the desert planet of Tatooine to his eventual emergence as a powerful Jedi.

The book neatly uses a stack of McQuarrie's finished paintings from each of the original trilogy movies plus a whole ton of concept art. Kids who are currently enjoying "Star Wars: Rebels" on TV will probably recognise those early depictions of Chewbacca, and big grown up kids (like me) will be utterly dazzled by the fine work McQuarrie was capable of.

It's a fantastic idea to take the (sometimes stale) art and concept books and make them more kid-friendly like this. It's genuinely good to see kids growing up still loving Star Wars just as much as I did when I was younger (and yep, still do today!)

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte loves anything with Princess Leia in it so she loved seeing the princess looking out for her brother in this.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Gorgeous paintings, an adventurous story, what better way to get your young Jedis (or, er, Sith) up and running with some Star Wars action!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Publishing)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tate Kids Modern Art / British Art Activity Books by Sharna Jackson and James Lambert (Tate Publishing)

Two awesomely inspirational art activity books for double the fun!
These two happy and delightful little books dropped through our letterbox courtesy of the awesome folk at Tate Publishing. Publishers are slowly realising that children engage with famous works of art at an increasingly early age, not just from a historical point of view but also from a technical one. How did artists produce such dazzling, vibrant and imaginative works of art? What was the process? Just how do you become a famous artist? These and many more questions are often asked and these fabulous activity books provide even more fun and inspiration as they take a look at Modern Art and British Art in separate volumes.

The books talk about each piece of art in turn, ranging from the sublime seascapes by JMW Turner to the 'acquired taste' of Damien Hurst's "Mother and Child Divided".

After examining each piece of art and the history behind it, children are encouraged to have a go themselves with a series of art challenges and activities based around the ideas and inspirations of the original work.

These books work on several levels, providing a brilliant interactive experience that parents and children can both join in with, producing their own works of art. They're also hugely informative reference books in their own right too.

We're hoping that Tate Kids are planning more volumes in the series, we're desperately waiting for the Dutch, French and Spanish editions just so Charlotte's favourite artists all get a look in (Van Gogh, Seurat and Picasso just in case you were wondering!)

Utterly awesome, what a great idea to get kids thinking about and engaging with art!

Charlotte's best bit: The superb (and quite messy!) soap-carving activities based around Barbara Hepworth's amazing sculpture work.

Daddy's favourite bit: A ton of activities and facts to pique a child's artistic curiosity. What a brilliant way to get kids interested in art at an early age! We approve!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Tate Publishing)

Star Wars - R2D2's Droid Workshop (Egmont Publishing)

Star Wars - R2D2's Droid Workshop

Published by Egmont Publishing

Surely just about every Star Wars geek must've dreamed about owning their own droid. Imagine having your own R2D2 to look after your every whim. Imagine no more, because now with the aid of this fantastic little puzzle and activity book you can enjoy a ton of puzzles and things to do, and then flick through the book for the ultimate make - create your own R2D2 with easy-to-build slot together card panels.

This IS the droid you're looking for!

The model can be a bit fiddly and tricky so younger Star Wars fanatics may need a bit of adult help and supervision to get R2 up and running. As you can see from the accompanying images, it's a huge model standing 26cm tall.

What's that R2? You've got to save the Princess? What Princess?

We had a lot of brilliant fun with the activity and puzzle book before launching into our own mini make with the model. We can't guarantee that R2 will be able to single-handedly save rebel princesses or help you fly your X-Wing safely but you will have a whole lot of fun with this innovative and supercool book!

Charlotte's best bit: Finishing the model and proudly displaying him in her room

Daddy's Favourite bit: A great mix of activities and puzzles but the model is most definitely the star! So easy to build and such a rewarding result once done. Awesome!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Publishing)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Follow the Firefly - Run Rabbit Run by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island)

Follow the Firefly - Run Rabbit Run

Written and Illustrated by
Bernardo Carvalho

Published by Book Island

Have you ever got to the very end of a book and wished that you could leap right back to the start and read it all again? Well here's a challenge for you. Get to the very end of "Follow the Firefly", an entertaining romp through a busy jungle and city, to find out what happens to a tenacious little glowbug on his quest to track down a flashing light. He meets lots of odd characters who helpfully point the way, but children will spot all the other things going on in each scene. Like, for instance, a jumping jackrabbit.

You see when you reach the end of the Firefly's adventure, the book urges you to work in reverse and unpick the tale of that rabbit, as he runs away from a gnashing dog in the other direction!

It's a neat idea and we've not seen anything like this before. Bernardo Carvalho's largely wordless story is perfect for little ones who have an eye for detail and love the fast pace of this story. There's no time to get bored as we chase there and back! Love it!

Charlotte's best bit: The big grumpy gorilla doesn't take too kindly to naughty dogs chasing his friend rabbit!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Love that cute moment at the end of the Firefly story as he meets his paramour!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Book Island)

The Squickerwonkers by Evangeline Lilly and Johnny Fraser-Allen (Titan Books)

The Squickerwonkers

Written by Evangeline Lilly

Illustrated by Johnny Fraser-Allen
Published by Titan Books

We're not exactly the world's biggest fans of 'celebrity-penned' children's books. In most cases there's always something missing that someone exposed to a lot of children's books can smell a mile off. It's that indefinable whiff of a lack of passion for the job at hand and despite the heartfelt claims of the press release that often accompanies the books, we're never quite convinced that the author's parents, kids, loved ones, neighbour's cat are huge fans of the stories and that was the driving force behind the story's publication.

With Evangeline (Lost, The Hobbit) Lilly's new children's book though, we were intrigued by the promise of something that always has us drawn in. This isn't a lurid pink fairy book, nor is it a book based on the works of a well-loved children's author, given a bit of a whizz through a word processor by someone who's more famous for whizzing down red carpets. In Evangeline Lilly's own words, this is a story that's been kicking around for a good 20 years or so - long before the lady herself was famous. She has a passion for writing that overrides her passion for acting, so we couldn't wait to find out what on earth a Squickerwonker was.

A Squickerwonker - the very name is enough to have your youngsters giggling (don't try saying it while eating a mouthful of cream crackers, we urge you). This dark little tale revolves around a little girl who, quite innocently, steals into the travelling caravan of the aforementioned puppet folk. Evangeline's original poem is spun into a story as each of the Squickerwonkers is introduced, each with their own foibles and traits. There's Meghan the Mute who is quiet and mysterious, Papa the Proud as his name suggests, a neatly turned out fellah, Lorna the Lazy who can barely stay awake long enough to cast scorn on the little girl and Sparky the Spectacles who seems to be a bit of a sleazy character if we're honest. All these and more spin out their tales, before causing one heck of an uproar by popping the little girl's balloon.

Temper tantrums, we've seen 'em and the girl explodes into a quite spectacular one to match the explosion of her beloved balloon. You see she's not quite as sweet as she seems! We won't spoil the end of the story for you because we're really hoping that this largely introductory tale is just the very first in an intended series, it really should be!

The story is reminiscent of dark children's stuff by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Jon Klassen. Casting aside the obvious lure of seeing a celebrity's hard work in book form, there's definitely more than a spark of appeal for children in darker stories (after all, aren't the very best fairy stories ever written always stories of mystery and dark magic?)

The Squickerwonkers are nicely rounded-out characters (though I am actually wondering if the cast in this story isn't too big, some characters seem a little similar in their nefarious character traits) and Evangeline's flowing rhymes are really great to read aloud. So in essence this was a rather lovely surprise, that rare thing of a celebrity-penned story that doesn't suck AND also leaves you wanting more at the end (so come on Evangeline, stop larking around with those Hobbits and Elves and sit down at the Word Processor for Book two!)

We should also mention Johnny Fraser-Allen's art. He's a concept artist and sculptor at WETA Studios (the special effects geniuses behind the amazing stuff you see in Peter Jackson's movies). Charlotte was instantly drawn in by Johnny's rather quirky and distinctly different art style which suits the story to a tee. Again it's very reminiscent of the quirky (and slightly scary) stuff you usually see in Neil Gaiman's stories, by a variety of different artists. A dark children's story needs to exude that slight air of menace, both visually and aurally and it most certainly does.

For true Hobbit nerds, there's a rather lovely set of forewords in the book written by Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and if anyone knows a thing or two about a good fantasy story, it's that sacred trio!

"The Squickerwonkers" By Evangeline Lilly and Johnny Fraser-Allen launches today, 18th November 2014 from Titan Books. Find out more about the Squickerwonkers over at Evangeline Lilly's website.

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 Titan Books)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Craft Projects for Minecraft and Pixel Art Fans by Choly Knight (Design Originals)

Craft Projects for Minecraft and Pixel Art Fans

Compiled by
Choly Knight

Published by Design Originals

Slipping through our letterbox just a little too late to be included in our Minecraft Week last week, we've been taking a look at a rather awesome crafting book. Minecrafting book to be precise, as "Craft Projects for Minecraft and Pixel Art Fans" is a cornucopia of utterly amazing 'makes' for all you pixel art fans.

Though Minecraft predominantly takes centre stage here, this 'unofficial' book shows just how fans of the game get creative in other ways outside the game itself, making all sorts of brilliant toys, outfits and artwork to compliment their favourite game.

From the book you can find out how to build amazing stuff like:

  • Your own Minecraft Steve or Creeper "head"
  • Fantastic crochet projects - You can even create your own Crochet creeper (oh if only I wasn't such a rubbish crocheter!)
  • Brilliant lamps that look like Redstone, Gold or Diamond blocks
  • Awesome full-sized Minecraft tools 
It's a truly great set of makes that (for once) are actually feasible and easy (though obviously your little ones may need a bit of parental help with some of the trickier stuff). 

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte wants to make her own Redstone lamp!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Ingenious ideas and brilliant ways to pay homage to one of the world's most entertaining games! Love this!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Design Originals)

This week (17th - 21st November) is National Anti Bullying Week. We're proud to support "Choose Kind"

R.J. Palacio's utterly fabulous "Wonder" - A fantastic standard bearer for National Anti Bullying Week and "Choose Kind"
Penguin / Random House are proud to support National Anti-Bullying Week (17th-21st November) with a fantastic campaign inspired by R.J Palacio's international best seller "Wonder"

"We launched our 'Choose Kind' campaign earlier this year and so far have had over 700 schools in the UK sign up to take part. We are encouraging teachers and pupils to read Wonder, promote kindness in their schools and show us how they did this during Anti-Bullying Week this November. The Anti-Bullying Alliance found that nearly a quarter of 5-18 year olds have been bullied at school and 45% of parents state that they are concerned about their child being bullied."

The campaign isn't purely limited to schools, and aims to inspire people to be kinder, more thoughtful, more aware of others.

There is more info on Penguin / Random House's campaign tumblr page:

We're proud to spread the word about the campaign and these fantastic resource packs. Do also take a moment or two to read our review of the awe-inspiring "Wonder" too!