Friday, October 21, 2016

On Your Bike by Sir Chris Hoy and Clare Elsom (Piccadilly Press)

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A fabulous book for bike-mad kids, from none other than Sir Chris Hoy himself. Time to get "On Your Bike!"
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ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st October 2016 - "The Dragon Keeper's Handbook" by Katie Haworth and Monica Armino (Templar Publishing)

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We still love a good dragon book and this one is very special indeed! Our Second Book of the Week this week is "The Dragon Keeper's Handbook"...
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st October 2016 - "The Pharaoh's Fate" by Camille Gautier, Stephane Vernet and Margaux Carpentier (B Small Publishing)

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This week's first book of the week made us both utter a hugely awed "Whoah!" when we flipped open the covers...
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Falling back into the 'horrid' videogaming habit - A ReadItTorial

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Klonoa 2 - Lunatea's Veil (PS2) - 'Retro' gaming at its finest
Despite my best efforts, I've fallen back in love with videogames and Charlotte's also starting to find out what all those mysterious boxes tucked under the telly are really all about.

I've been 'in it' since the days of those 'blip blip bleep' sports games you'd hook up to your old black and white TV (yes folks, we weren't posh enough to have a colour set until way into the 1980s), then worked up through the lovely old 'wooden-veneered' Atari 2600 - through to the heady days of typing

10 Print "Hello Bogeyface"
20 goto 10

...on all those demo microcomputers in WH Smiths.

The interesting thing about seeing videogames through a fresh pair of eyes are that Charlotte doesn't automatically have any of that cynicism I've developed, nor any of that slight snobbery when it comes to older retro games. Whereas most modern videogame discussions get caught up with the ridiculous willy-measuring (pardon the phrase but that's pretty much what it is) about which console is the most powerful, and why PC gaming is still the 'elite' just because you can drive games to eye-numbingly ridiculous resolutions if you spend the equivalent amount of cash that a small family car might cost you, from Charlotte's point of view games need to do two things.

1) Be fun. Be an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two. Not feel like a waste of that time

2) Tell a story

The last bit is very interesting. I'm dutifully trying to introduce her to the classics before letting her loose on more modern fare (though she still loves Minecraft and would - if we let her - spend all day building crazy structures or mating animals or aimlessly wandering the blocky wastelands in search of goodies).

I picked out Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil recently - a game that by anyone's standards really defined that perfect era where platform games were brilliantly puzzling, taxing and achingly beautiful to behold as well as being wonderfully playable. Namco's weird dog-cat-thing was never better than in this game, but to Charlotte the most interesting parts were the story bits (the bits I, er, usually skip through very rapidly to get through to the actual gameplay with my usual hoary old gamer impatience).

She wanted to know what happened to Klonoa before he was washed up on the mysterious island he then has to work his way through. Why his two helpers chose to aid him in his quest. What he had to do, and why he had to do it.

"WHY!" - We all know how kids are once they get a questioning frame of mind going. Alas, I couldn't really offer much assistance other than to wonder whether other parents notice that their kids fall into one of two categories (oh humans, how we love categorisation!)

Those that play for the sake of playing, and those that want to be entertained with a story.

The reasons I've started to slip back into the whole kit and caboodle (in a slightly less obsessional way than when I was a complete game-head at the height of the 80s, 90s and 00s) is - admittedly - partly because of the completely different way Charlotte approaches stuff I now realise I've been taking for granted, and partly the lure of something new - Virtual Reality.

The Playstation Virtual Reality headset (PSVR) aims to bring VR to 'consumer level' gamers for the first time. VR isn't new, and it's been sitting with PC gamers for a while - wowed by what systems like Oculus Rift and Vive can do if attached to a PC gaming rig that could, if left alone for long enough, probably become sentient and destroy the planet.

I've used VR stuff at work before, mostly just to see big 3D extrapolations of CAD drawings or in limited use in research groups but beyond monkeying around with Google Cardboard a while back, this is the first time I've properly had a go at anything VR-flavoured for gaming.

The results - well, they were pretty jaw dropping to be honest. The PSVR is far from perfect, but the sense of immersion is eerie, entrancing and in some cases horrifying (remind me never EVER to play that Kitchen demo from Capcom when I'm in the house on my own. I'm not quite ready for PSVR horror titles just yet!)

Most of the games I found alluring weren't the usual shooty-bang or driving games, but games I know Charlotte will love when she's older. "Wayward Sky" is one such game...

It probably doesn't look 'all that' to most seasoned gamers, but having a story unfold that literally feels like you've got a tabletop in front of you, with animated figures walking around on it and that weird VR feeling that you're actually THERE really affected me in a way I hadn't expected.

I also loved Tumble VR:

Like a weird puzzle game hybrid of Jenga and block-stacking, it again makes you feel like you're sitting right in front of a table full of shapes, able to pick each one up and place it delicately to build a tall tower, or in other puzzles, to direct the path of a laser to its goal.

Of course, these aren't the games you'll hear lots about in any PSVR teardowns but they are games that (along with the PSVR itself) made a cynical old gamer into a true believer that there are still surprises left in store with videogames.

Now all that remains to be seen is whether children's games can evolve past being as dumb as a box of rocks (that's a subject for another day methinks). Could the videogames industry start to learn lessons from children's literature and stop talking down to kids, treating them as curious and clever little people in their own right? We shall see!
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Fiona Ross, Author of Hyde and Squeak, shares her favourite (or least favourite) monsters with us - a groovy guest post!

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A groovy Halloween blog post from Fiona Ross, author of "Hyde and Squeak"? Well, we don't mind if we do. Take it away Fiona!

Top 10 Monsters with Fiona Ross

This was really tough! I love anything and everything monstrous (think I needed at least a top 20!). So in no particular order:

1: Animal (from the Muppets) He’s just plain bonkers and loves music, how could he not be on this list?

2: Oddbod (from Carry on Screaming) Oh my, Oddbod used to scare the pants off me as a child.

3: Bowser (aka King Koopa from Super Mario Bros) I’m a huge Mario fan and still play Super Mario Bros. Bowser’s aim is to kidnap Princess Peach and triumph over Mario, in my opinion that’s downright dirty!

4: Beetlejuice (from Beetlejuice) This film blew me away when I first saw it, I can’t help but delight in his unpredictable, selfish, over bearing ways - he’s really gross!

5: Godzilla - I love Godzilla films and comics, it’s always a good feeling when you can root on the side of the monster.

6: Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (from Ghostbusters) A big, bouncy, giant, comical marshmallow that looks cute, but I wouldn’t want to risk getting on his bad side though!

7: Audrey ll (from Little Shop of Horrors) I had to include a monster from a musical! 

8: Gorgon/Medusa - Just the thought of the Gorgon turns me to stone. I could’ve chosen numerous monsters from Greek mythology but for me this one is the most terrifying visually. I’m a big admirer of Hammer Films and Ray Harryhausen, and both have successfully and brought this character to life.

9: Cybermen (from Doctor Who) Watching Doctor Who was a ritual growing up so I was spoilt for choice with monsters, I picked the one that I used to like looking at in my brother’s Doctor Who annual - I still remember the haunting black and white image.

10: Dementors (from Harry Potter) These are horrific and I can’t think of anything more horrendous and frightening.

"Hyde and Squeak" by Fiona Ross is out now, published by Little Tiger Press. 
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Disney's "The Art of Zootropolis" by Jessica Julius, Byron Howards, Rich Moore and various artists (Chronicle Books)

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These books are ridiculously addictive so every time they dip below a certain price, we nab them.

"Disney's The Art of Zootropolis / Zootopia" (depending on whether you're on this side of the pond or the other) is a real feast of concept art and finished character and scenic work from the latest animated smash from Disney Studios.

The story of Judy Hopps, a determined bunny who wants to be a cop in the big city, and Nick Wilde - a shady character with a heart of gold - has gone on to become a huge box office success.

Watching it recently at home, it was one of those rare occasions where we really wanted to watch all the bonus material about the 'making of' the movie, and this book helps to compliment the bonus content on the Blu Ray perfectly.

Within, you'll find artwork by Disney's incredibly talented team of illustrators, modellers, storyboarders and animators (including my own personal Disney illustration hero Cory Loftis), showing how the characters evolved and how the teams came up with the incredible settings and designs that populate the throbbing animal world of Zootropolis.

Judy and Nick (art by Cory Loftis)
There are so many tiny little details that you may have missed in the movie, but are squeezed into this book...

Did you know Clawhauser has a tiny little "Mickey" shape in his cheek spots? Neither did we!
We've both got favourite characters but every single time I see these vogueing tiger dancers I nearly wet my pants laughing. They're just the BEST!

C'mon honey, strike a pose!
The book is like all the other Chronicle "Disney" art books, absolutely stunning and chock full of fascinating insights into the movies.

Do what we do, keep an eye on the prices and snaffle them up as soon as they are cheap enough (which isn't for very long usually!)

Disney's "The Art of Zootropolis" by Jessica Julius, Byron Howards and Rich Moore is out now, published by Chronicle Books. 
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Hyde and Squeak by Fiona Ross (Little Tiger Press)

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Make way for a scary mouse in this ticklishly brilliant tale ripe and ready for Halloweeeeeeeeeen! SQUEAL!
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It Starts with a Seed by Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber (Words and Pictures)

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The story of a sycamore tree is brought to stunning life in this new book from Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber.

"It Starts with a Seed" is a gentle tale of a tree's lifecycle, from the very moment the seed begins to germinate and take root, right through the stages as the tree grows up and becomes a hugely important habitat, source of food and source of shelter for many different animals and birds.

Fascinating lyrical storytelling is complimented by the most amazingly detailed illustrations as we discover just how important trees are, and how one tree can be such a pivotal part of the ecosystem.

For us, it's a familiar story as we spend a lot of our weekends out in the countryside, slowly building up our own knowledge of the flora and fauna we can discover almost on our own doorstep.

It's a really beautiful book though, gorgeously presented as you can see from the illustrations below...

As the tree gets older, even more animals and plants come to rely on it as a place to shelter or a resource for food
We particularly loved the limited palettes, perfect for this Autumnal time of year.

Charlotte's favourite animal - foxes!!
"It Starts with a Seed" by Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber is out now, published by Words and Pictures (Kindly supplied for review). 
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How to Save a Superhero by Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

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Albie is back! The adventuresome little boy's imagination takes flight once again in an all new tale of excitement and action...!
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford and Tim Bowers (Moondance Publishing)

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There are certain songs that cause spontaneous dance-offs at ReadItDaddy Towers...
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