Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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

Mr Miniscule and the Whale

Written by Julian Tuwim

Illustrated by Bohdan Butenko

Published by Book Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Kindly sent to us for review by Book Island)

Monday, April 14, 2014

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

The Spy Book

Written and Illustrated by
Laura Buller, Joe Fullman et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

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

The Queen's Hat

Written and Illustrated by
Steve Antony

Published by Hodder Children's Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Standing In for Lincoln Green by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Standing in for Lincoln Green

Written and Illustrated by
David Mackintosh

Published by HarperCollins Children's Books

There have been many, many children's books dealing with the sometimes thorny subject of imaginary friends. Trust David Mackintosh to come up with a wholly original approach that is a tightly knit and entertaining story, suffused with David's charming linework.

Lincoln Green is your ordinary everyday stetson-wearing kid. He's far too busy for all that tedious tidying up, horrible homework or other menial tasks. Luckily Lincoln has a secret friend who lives in his mirror, and chips in with all the things that Lincoln doesn't like doing - while Lincoln plays all day.

Trash is dutifully taken out by the mirror Lincoln. Homework dutifully finished off, and when Lincoln makes a new friend his double pitches in to play all the games that Lincoln doesn't want to.

Of course things start to go awry when the double realises what a bum deal he's getting, and rebels in spectacular fashion leaving Lincoln with egg on his face, unfinished homework and a rather teed off mum who wants to know why things haven't been done.

Can Lincoln somehow redeem the situation? We'll leave you to find out what happens in this story. If you're like us, you've lapped up David's previous books like "The Frank Show" and the sublime "Marshall Armstrong is New to our School". This tale is twice the fun!

Charlotte's best bit: Lincoln's uber-cool treehouse

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic treatment of the imaginary friends storyline, impressive in every way

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Barbapapa's Ark by Annette Tyson and Talus Taylor (Orchard Books)

Barbapapa's Ark

Written by Annette Tyson

Illustrated by Talus Taylor

Published by Orchard Books

If someone had told me a year ago that Charlotte would become a huge Barbapapa fan, I'd have probably laughed in their faces. How could a groovy 70s character have any appeal - or for that matter any relevance to the kids of today, obsessed with gadgets and TV.

The simple answer is that characters like Barbapapa, and books like "Barbapapa's Ark" are indeed very much of the time - but the issues they raise, and the core family values we admire and love when reading about Barbapapa, Barbamama and their wonderful talented children are still as big a lure as they always were.

On the 'issues' side, "Barbapapa's Ark" is a fantastic story to underline something that I remember being a huge global problem as a child and (unfortunately) is still ever-present in the modern world.

Barbapapa's lovely home is set in idyllic surroundings - but with the encroachment of cities and factories, Barbapapa's green corner of the world is threatened. The local flora and fauna succumb to pollution and fumes, and before long Barbapapa realises it's time to move on (again! Poor Barbapapa seems to lead a bit of a nomadic existence in these stories!)

Taking the animals with them, the Barba-family set up a fantastic animal refuge. But soon even this is under threat as nefarious hunters want to bag themselves an animal trophy, perhaps even the gorgeous pelt of Barbabeau!

There's really nothing for it - and Barbapapa resorts to drastic measures to escape the mean inhabitants of planet earth, building a gigantic Rocket-Ark and taking all the beleaguered animals with him.

Will the people of earth realise, all too late, that the world is a better place with all the wildlife (and the Barba-family) in it?

I remember the original Barbapapa books, and as I've said in previous reviews of Orchard's timely reprints, these are fantastic stories that are still as groovy and relevant today as they were back when the world was obsessed with flares and Raleigh Choppers (OK I'm still obsessed with Raleigh Choppers now but flares I can live without).

It's so fantastic to see Charlotte's joyful whoops of delight every time she sees a new Barbapapa book arriving! We can't wait for more!

Charlotte's best bit: Barbapapa's fantastic Ark-Rocket filled with all the animals of the earth

Daddy's Favourite bit: You seriously cannot keep a great character down, and these books are fabulous even for today's busy little bees

(Kindly sent to us for review by Orchard Books)

The Castle of Fear (Puzzle Master Series) by Patrick Burston and Alastair Graham (Walker Books)

The Castle of Fear (Puzzle Master Series)

Written by Patrick Burston

Illustrated by Alastair Graham

Published by Walker Books

I loved books as a kid, well into my teens when I'd spend an inordinate amount of time in the playground with a couple of "Choose your own adventure" books tucked into my bag.

Back before you could whip out your mobile phone or a tablet to play an immersive role playing game, these books were like a portal to a fantasy world where all the action and adventure took place largely in your imagination. Often illustrated with line art, you filled in the blanks yourself as you made your way through perilous scenarios in search of fortune and glory.

It's actually quite comforting to see Charlotte regularly picking books like "The Castle of Fear" out of the library. These large format picture books are perfect for her age group as an introduction to the more meatier text-based 'choose your own adventure' series - but the rules are basically the same. Solve puzzles, take chances and choose your path through The Castle of Fear to save a trapped prisoner, and complete your quest.

"The Castle of Fear" is just tough enough to provide a challenge, but not too difficult as to prove frustrating. As children choose their path through the game, flicking to each page number as directed, they'll find hidden object puzzles and other choices to be made.

It looks like a fantastic range which we definitely need to investigate further!

Charlotte's best bit: Finally completing the quest - I could actually hear her cheer of joy from the other end of the house!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Really glad that things like this still exist for kids who you'd think were completely wrapped up in gizmos and gadgets. Pure imagination wins out every time!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

100 Ideas for Dads who love their kids (but find them exhausting) by Willem Van Eekelen (Featherstone / Bloomsbury)

100 Ideas for Dads Who Love Their Kids (but find them exhausting)

Written by Willem Van Eekelen

Illustrated by Sarah Ray

Published by Featherstone / Bloomsbury

I have chuckled, giggled and snorted my way through this book as I can wholly identify with Willem Van Eekelen. Willem decided to write a book about fatherhood that balances being an attentive and fun dad with activities that are mini works of genius. Some work wonderfully, some may need a little effort (and 'little effort' is what we're aiming for here).

To give you a flavour of the book, imagine a typical scene. You arrive home from work, you are (to put it bluntly) so knackered that you're struggling to keep your eyes open. Your little darlings, however, want to play, want you to draw, want you to make up some stories, want you to run around with them on your back and a zillion other things when what you really want to do is curl up on the sofa and basically die.

Willem to the rescue with games to suit a range of ages, for any setting you may find yourself in ("Hey, what's that? You're stranded in a tiny cottage in the middle of Wales in a torrential rainstorm and have bored children to entertain?") that achieve the nigh-on impossible: allow you to get some relaxation while stimulating busy little minds.

We tried a couple of the games (the "Hunt the shoe" thing didn't work out very well, because Charlotte did NOT want anything to do with my feet after a hard day at the office - understandably so) and we're definitely aiming to try some of the outdoor ones next time we go "Trusting" (Spending our weekends at National Trust places).

A nifty little pocket-sized book dosed heavily with humour, and the perfect father's day present for slacker dads :)

Charlotte's best bit: Lots of fun and inventive games to try out, both indoors and out

Daddy's Favourite bit: An awesome work of genius for 'tired' dads who don't want to be boring dads!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Willem Van Eekelen)

Celebrities writing children's books - Wading into the fray...

Russell Brand. Soon to put his own spin on the Pied Piper of Hamelyn along with the awesome Chris Riddell

Here's a subject we've enjoyed seeing some hoo-ing and hah-ing about over the last few weeks. We didn't exactly help things with our April Fools story about Jeremy Clarkson writing a children's book (can you imagine it?) but one announcement on the same day turned out to be true. Russell Brand is the latest celebrity pitching himself into the children's book arena.

Russell Brand isn't anyone I give a tinker's fig about, but he's erudite (if you've ever seen him destroy a politician on Question Time, you'll know he's a clever stick and a half), he has personality, and he's a one-man PR machine that is - in essence - exactly the sort of person you'd imagine hitting the right note with an awful lot of parents who want to buy books for their kids.

Teaming up with Chris Riddell is a stroke of genius too. Riddell's illustrations are fantastic, and if anyone can dream up twisted alt-reality versions of the Pied Piper et al, Chris is the man for the gig.

If you're a writer and you've been teamed up with this guy, you're on a roll!
This isn't a ringing endorsement of all celebrities who take the 'easy option' of writing for kids though. Writing for children is by no means an easy option. Children are the toughest critics on the planet. They can make or break a brand (no not a Brand!) in the space of a morning's playtime discussion. Similarly, they can be astonishingly driven, inspirational and complimentary if they love what you do, and witheringly insultingly critical if they don't.

Some celebrities mistake endorsement by their own families or kids as some sort of a green light that their stories will be universally accepted by children. Also not the case. Any parent can tell you the number of times their child has nodded approval when shown something or had something read to them and then scampered off to Mummy (or daddy) later on to give the real verdict.

As my sage other half pointed out though, the focus on celebrity writers is always on the quality of the writing (which, in all but a few sacred (Walliams) cases, is normally universally panned or criticised by booky press) and not what it can actually lead to. Imagine all the kids that start off their journey reading "Frankie's Magic Football" and then seek out the far meatier and more satisfying Football Academy series by Tom Palmer. Imagine the kids who read the drecky Willoughby Sisters' glitter-infested fairy princess stuff, but then go on to read real inspirational "Worst Princess" by the fantastically talented team of Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie.

If celebrity writing achieves one thing of worth - engaging reluctant readers - then long may the trend continue. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mr White by Yiting Lee (Hogs Back Books Ltd)

Mr White

Written and Illustrated by
Yiting Lee

Published by Hogs Back Books Ltd

We're always on the look out for charming and original books during our visits to the local library. Sometimes books have a habit of ending up at the bottom of the book-cases, lost, unloved and rather forlorn looking. We spotted "Mr White" by Yiting Lee tucked in with a whole stack of paperbacks. There was something about it that made us want to investigate further, and I'm so glad we did.

The titular Mr White is a charming character, who lives in a monochrome world. One day there's an accident, and with a tiny splodge of colour, Mr White's whole outlook on life changes. Colour to dazzle, colour as a spectacle, colour to brighten up a humdrum day and turn the world from shades of grey.

Is it possible to have too much colour though? (If The Strolling Mum is reading this, she'll nod as she's happy to tell you that I should not be left in charge of what Charlotte wears during an average day - because it'll all be multi-coloured and it will probably all clash too!)

Yiting Lee's book feels a little influenced by authors and illustrators like Satoshi Kitamura. That's definitely no bad thing, believe us!

Seek out this tiny little hidden gem and add a splash of colour to your day - but not too much though, sometimes you need the calming influence of dazzling white.

Charlotte's best bit: Mr White paints everything, even himself!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Charming and wonderful, an obscure but gorgeous little book from an author-illustrator we can't wait to see more of

Friday, April 4, 2014

Michelle Vinall's "Hurricane Lane" iPhone / iPad story app launches today!

A journey through your imagination, take a trip down "Hurricane Lane"
For tech-savvy kids who love a good story, April 4th sees the launch of the app version of Michelle Vinall's "Hurricane Lane" (which we reviewed as part of our Indie Pen-Dance Wednesday coverage a week or two ago). Published by Story Panda, "Hurricane Lane" is an enhanced version of Michelle's gorgeously illustrated tale, the first in an intended trilogy of stories (which also include the wonderful "256 Postcards Ago").

You can find the app on the iTunes store here, priced at a very reasonable 69p. BARGAIN!

While you're there, you can also check out the Story Panda app, and also the E-Book version of Hurricane Lane.

Collect the set and delve into Michelle Vinall's colourful and imaginative world.