Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat (Book and CD Edition) by Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake (Bloomsbury Publishing)

The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Standing on the shoulders of literary giants is no easy task. Julia Donaldson is well established in her own right as a fantastic children's author with a wonderful gift for spinning the most amazing storyworlds from her rhymes. So it comes as no surprise that she's a huge fan of Edward Lear and his awesome mix of nonsense poetry and amazing characters.

We've recently reviewed "The Owl and the Pussycat" with a foreword by Julia, and illustrated by the hugely talented Charlotte Voake, and it was so good to be able to familiarise Charlotte with the original poem, so brilliantly reprinted by Bloomsbury.

So in a slightly disjointed turn of events, this book came out first but we're reviewing it second (now that a special edition with storytelling CD - read by Julia herself - comes with the book) and it's a sequel to the original poem? With us so far? Nope I'm completely lost too.

"The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat" reintroduces us to Owl, Pussycat and a cast of characters popping in for cameos from Edward Lear's other amazing nonsense poems (which we've recently been enjoying through Lear's brilliant poetry collections).

The story concerns the theft of the Pussycat's wedding ring, which was carefully tied around her tail - but stolen by a naughty crow. The Owl and the Pussycat once more set off - this time in a beautiful green balloon - to track down the wedding ring, on a high adventures across land and sea - to the Chankly Bore and beyond!

The new treatment works wonderfully in all but a few places, where the repetition taken from lines in the original poem doesn't quite 'fit' for us, and seems to jar a bit when reading aloud.

It is inventive stuff though as you'd expect from Julia, and Charlotte's illustrations are wondrous. It's also rather nice to be able to sit back and let Julia read the story to us in her wonderful rumbling tones full of excitement and passion for the poem and her own treatment of it.

Charlotte's best bit: The wonderful tea party to round off the tale

Daddy's Favourite bit: The dong with the luminous nose!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)

Enjoy some Shaun the Sheep colouring sheets to celebrate Aardman's new Shaun movie

Shaun the Sheep stars in a new movie from the awesome Aardman Animations
If your little ones are getting fidgety and running out of things to do, why not download and print a couple of awesome Shaun the Sheep colouring sheets to celebrate the release of "Shaun the Sheep: Christmas Bleatings" on Monday 3rd November.

Here are some links to the sheets...

Colouring Sheet 1

Colouring Sheet 2

Stop by the Shaun the Sheep website for more details on the movie!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Children's Activity Atlas - An Interactive and Fun Way To Explore Your World by Jenny Slater and Katherine Wiehle (QED Publishing)

Children's Activity Atlas

Written by Jenny Slater

Illustrated by Katherine Wiehle

Published by QED Publishing

Here's a great demonstration of how a children's non-fiction book can compete with the world of apps on an equal footing, providing a fantastic and fun reference tome that is interactive and positively encourages your little ones to explore and let their imaginations fly.

In "Children's Activity Atlas - An Interactive and Fun Way to Explore Your World" we take a trip around the globe with a truly gorgeous book packed with activities and facts. Children get their own passport in the pack, as well as over 250 stickers to use throughout the book. We've seen very similar books from Usborne and from Barefoot, and this is equally as good.

As children start to learn a little more in geography lessons at school, this book dishes up tons of interesting things to see, fascinating facts about each country, and helps children really dig into the subject in great detail.

We've mentioned before how blissful it can be when your child tucks themselves away with a book like this for hours on end, and you'll certainly enjoy hours of fun if your little one lets you join in too :)

Charlotte's best bit: Having her own passport to mark off her journeys around the booky world!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A really fantastic learning resource but more importantly a hugely fun book to help explore our planet

(Kindly sent to us for review by QED Publishing)

Alfie in the Garden by Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Alfie in the Garden

Written and Illustrated by
Debi Gliori

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

I must admit, I am allergic to gardening. I have the kiss of death for plants, and the only time I've ever managed to make a success of anything in our tiny patch is growing herbs - which I rather like because at least I can eat them afterwards.

Charlotte loves gardening, for all the same reasons as the pint-sized green-fingered hero of Debi Gliori's latest story "Alfie in the Garden" does. It's the chance to enter another world, a leafy lush world filled with plants, insects, animals - and of course wonderful squishy mud.

Alfie lets his imagination fly as he imagines his garden as a lush tropical jungle, or an unsurpassable mire.

Debi's lilting storytelling and utterly delectable illustrations make for a cosy little read that is perfect for snuggle times!

Charlotte's best bit: Mama Bun, the perfect hugger!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Loving the way the story unfolds along with Alfie's imagination. Such a great little cuddly read!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stuff and Nonsense! How to get your little bookworms loving poetry and verse - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

The late great Spike Milligan - a new literary hero for Charlotte

Children can't resist cleverness. Whether it's the subtle twist in a children's story, or the devil in the detail in a piece of illustration, kids can't help but admire folk who write and draw children's books. 

Of course, it goes without saying that they also develop huge respect for folk who can twist, turn and manipulate the English language to make them giggle and chortle, particularly in rhyme. 

During our latest library visit, Charlotte was really worked up about locating a book she'd spotted at school. "It's called 'The Works' Daddy" she exclaimed insistently, like I'd instantly have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all books called "The Works". 

Her second clue was more helpful though. "It's the book with the Ning Nang Nong in it!"

My poor addled brain could remember the Ning Nang Nong poem but I'd temporarily mixed up my nonsense poets and mistakenly thought it might be an Edward Lear poem (thank goodness mum was there to help us find a big fat Lear anthology, which we eventually borrowed even though it wasn't really what we were looking for!)

Charlotte digs into a fantastic Edward Lear anthology before breakfast!

I had Spike Milligan nagging at the back of my brain and of course most folk will know that Mr Milligan the Milligoon himself had penned "Ning Nang Nong" and other hilarious rib-tickling poems for children. Alas we came home empty handed but did at least find said poem on the internet later on.

Nonsense poetry is truly a fine art and though Charlotte turned her nose up at "Twas Brillig and the Slythy Toves", we enjoyed digging through the poetry books at home to find the finest works of such literary poetry luminaries as Milligan, Lear, Lewis Carroll and our fave Twitter superstar chum Colin West (do drop by his website, it's absolutely chock full of gloriously funny poetry). 

As soon as children discover that they can come up with their own rhymes, they take to poetry like ducks to water. Even the most hardened book-dodging adults if pressed will be able to name (or even recite off by heart) a favourite rhyme, which shows how fantastic poetry is for engaging readers at an early age and keep them reading well into adulthood. 

Lear's amazingly inventive bird illustrations. Gorgeous!

It's not too difficult to nurture a love of poems and rhymes, after all, there's a huge number of children's picture books that resort to rhyme to carry a story, so the chances are you're already halfway there! 

So what else can you do? How about some of the following...

  • Limericks (though keep 'em clean, obviously!) - Edward Lear discovered the joys of limericks and came up with some corkers during his literary career. 

  • Word Clouds - Get a piece of paper and draw a huge cloud on it. Get children to shout out words that rhyme so you can write them down, or if they can write themselves encourage them to get their coloured pencils out and write their own suggestions!
  • Rhyming Names - This one is slightly tricky, get children to draw pictures of their friends with their names alongside, and then draw a rhyming object to go with the name (Jane - Plane, John - Scone) - A great variation on this is to come up with names for animals (Debra the Zebra, Jake the Snake)

For more ideas, here's a collection of links to poems and resources we've enjoyed on the blog previously. Dig in, there's truly something for everyone!

I Wish I'd Been Born a Unicorn by Rachel Lyon and Andrea Ringli (Maverick Books)

I Wish I'd Been Born a Unicorn

Written by Rachel Lyon

Illustrated by Andrea Ringli

Published by Maverick Books

Rachel Lyon's second book for Maverick (the first being the rather excellent "The Cautionary Tale of the Childe of Hale") takes an entirely different tack and deals with a rather tricky problem.

Ponginess. Well it's not an easy subject to broach with someone is it, if they're a bit whiffy.

In "I Wish I'd Been Born a Unicorn" a horse has more than a slight odour problem. In fact he downright pongs to high heaven but is happy with life, rolling in mud and gadding about with scarcely a thought of baths or showers. It does get a bit lonely when you're a bit smelly though, and the poor horse truly believes that life might've been completely different if only they'd been born a unicorn.

Unicorns are popular, unicorns are well loved, everyone wants to prance and play with unicorns?

Seeing the poor horse's dour mood, his friends decide to help. Armed with the means and the method to make a radical change, overnight they transform the whiffy pony into something quite magical.

The whiffy steed becomes amazingly popular, but with dark clouds looming on the horizon and rain threatening to undo his disguise, will life as a unicorn be a fleeting thing?

We loved this, it's such an original idea and beautifully flows as we read aloud together. Teaching valuable lessons that someone's inner worth isn't dictated by personal appearance (or ponginess), it's a great little story!

Charlotte's best bit: The magical reveal as pongy tatty horse is transformed into shimmering white unicorn (with a little help from his friends)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Superbly written and illustrated, wonderfully original and entertaining!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Maverick Books)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Something about a Bear by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Something about a Bear

Written and Illustrated by
Jackie Morris

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

At one point or another, children are going to end up owning a bear. Be it a scruffy hand-me-down from mum and dad, or a cuddly fluffy creation fresh off the shelf of the local toy store - or best of all, a hand-knitted bear that a relative or friend has poured their time or their love into.

Children love bears and they most certainly love finding out more about real animals so it's been a privilege to be able to take a look at Jackie Morris' new book celebrating bruins and browns, grizzlies and panda. There truly is "Something about a Bear"

Jackie's books are works of art in their own right, so we don't just get to learn a little more about bears, we get to gaze at their splendour through her utterly gorgeous illustrations and gentle lilting words. In this luxurious book, children will absolutely identify their favourite bears early on and will love diving to the end of the book to see where they live, what they eat and what they get up to during their daily lives. It's a real pleasure to read, from the striking cover to the end-papers at the back.

Definitely a keeper this, and one that you can see your children hanging on to, to hand on to their children one day too.

Charlotte's best bear: It was a very close call between the Polar Bear and the Panda in this book, both are absolutely wonderfully depicted.

Daddy's Favourite bear: I've always been a real sucker for a spectacled bear myself (possibly a lot to do with Paddington books from childhood). What an utterly glorious book though, bear-illiant in fact!

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

The Phoenix Presents - Gary's Garden Book 1 by Gary Northfield (David Fickling Books)

The Phoenix Presents - Gary's Garden Book 1

Written and Illustrated by
Gary Northfield

Published by David Fickling Books

Have you any idea what goes on at ground level in your garden when you're not looking? If you did, you'd probably run screaming into the trees but take a trip with us between the blades of grass in Gary's Garden.

Gary Northfield that is, owner of the Supreme Beard D'Honour, model for an exclusive range of Gary Northfield-shaped Lindt Chocolates (not really), but certainly a keen observer of garden life whether it be microscopic and insect-like, or feathery and bird-brained.

Gary's Garden runs as a regular strip in The Phoenix Comic and is always keenly observed and bang-up-to-the-minute topical. We've giggled as insects enter talent contests, we've hooted with laughter at dappy clubs like "Club for people who own stones shaped like faces Anonymous" and we both love the complete chaos and insanity of it all, imagining Gary working hard in his studio dreaming up new and crazy ways to spin stories of garden goings-on.

Collected together here in Book 1 as part of The Phoenix Presents range, this is awesomely rib-tickling stuff. Get on down to the garden with Gary today!

"Gary's Garden Book 1" by Gary Northfield is out now from David Fickling Books.

Charlotte's best bit: Who knew that caterpillars led such interesting (and farty) lives!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A machine-gun gardening hoot-a-minute!

(Kindly sent to us for review by David Fickling Books and the awesome Phoenix Comic crew!)

Friday, October 24, 2014

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th October 2014 - "The Colour Thief - A Family's Story of Depression" by Andrew Fusek-Peters and Polly Peters, illustrated by Karin Littlewood (Wayland Publishing)

The Colour Thief - A Family's Story of Depression

Written by Andrew Fusek-Peters and Polly Peters
Illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Published by Wayland Publishing

Not to be confused with Gabriel Alborozo's awesome book, "The Colour Thief - A Family's Story of Depression" deals with one of the hardest subjects to broach for younger readers. It's also a very tough book to review without sounding slightly ham-fisted about the subject, but we will try our best.

Andrew Fusek-Peters and Penny Peters have written the story of a young boy who sees his father's behaviour and whole outlook on life radically change as he begins to suffer from depression.

The story, along with accompanying illustrations from Karin Littlewood, caringly and touchingly describes how the dad changes, subtly at first but more pronounced as depression takes hold - and reinforces the point that the boy may feel that he's somehow to blame (but obviously isn't).

Powerful allusions are made, comparing depression to feeling like being trapped in a block of ice, with life on pause though obviously life goes on.

The book's illustrations change in tone from colourful and happy, to dark and cloudy. Showing that help can be sought and that it takes a long time sometimes for that help to become effective, it answers many of the questions children might have but perhaps can't seek from their family members directly involved.

We've only seen one other book on the blog that touches on this most sensitive subject (Shaun Tan's "The Red Tree" also makes reference to depression in many ways), but "The Colour Thief" more directly maps to real-life situations that children can perhaps more readily and clearly identify with.

A hugely important book, expertly developed and written and something that would be a huge huge help for children struggling to understand the symptoms and the changes that depression can cause.

Charlotte's best bit: The slow transformation for the dad as he gets the help he needs, and slowly but surely heads on the road to recovery

Daddy's Favourite bit: An expert and sensitive treatment of a hugely difficult subject to put across in understandable terms for children, but a book that will be a real help to children in families where a member suffers from depression. Important, and deserving of a gigantic amount of recognition.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hachette / Wayland Publishing)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Why we can't help pigeonholing books" - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

I doubt even pigeons really like living in tiny little compartmentalised holes...
It's never really 'sat' well with me that so many things are neatly categorised, compartmentalised - or for want of a better word pigeonholed. In the world of books, this sort of thing is widespread and though there's a fair justification for ensuring that age inappropriate stuff doesn't get into children's hands, there's one aspect of this that impacts this humble book blog more than any other.

"Why don't you show age ratings against your book reviews?"

It's a fair question, and it was something that was initially planned when we kicked this whole thing off in 2010 when Charlotte was 2. Back then, we read and enjoyed a whole range of children's picture books from the extremely simple but effective board and baby books, right through to books that Charlotte still enjoys regularly today. 

Age ratings on books fall into a few categories. They can be applied by the publisher, or the marketing team, even by bigger and better book reviewing folk than ourselves or perhaps by various awards agencies, book trusts and collectives. 

Books don't have the same system as movies or games (understandably) and as children get older, you can understand that some folk might want tighter controls over the sort of books children are exposed to (for instance, would you feel comfortable about your 12 year old reading certain YA novels that are more adult in scope and nature?)

I remember reading James Herbert books as a wayward 12 year old simply because no one told me I couldn't (and of course reading "The Rats" as an impressionable pre-teen was a bit of an eye-opener to say the least). That's not to say that I would approve of a ratings system that slapped a big fat "15" on the cover (or back cover) of your favourite reading material. 

So I guess the question to raise is "should we age-rate books or issue our own guidance ratings?" - We could but then are we authoritative enough to do so? After all, Charlotte's own reading tastes swing wildly from lift the flap and board books (if they're entertaining enough for her) right through to things that she would probably be ideally reading in a year or two's time (not YA of course but she's itching to get cracking on the Harry Potter books and I'm not sure I could comfortably let her loose on the later ones).  If we did so we'd have to attach all sorts of caveats to our recommendations so would there really be any point?

It's a topic ripe for debate - and if you do have any views, I would dearly welcome a comment or two below.