Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Booky Advent Calendar - CHRISTMAS EVE! - "Father Christmas Goes on Holiday" by Raymond Briggs (Picture Puffin)

Father Christmas Goes on Holiday

Written and Illustrated by
Raymond Briggs

Published by Picture Puffin

Our final Booky Advent Calendar entry (final because you'll hopefully be FAR too busy tomorrow to read our blog, right?) is an absolute christmas cracker, featuring our all-time favourite book portrayal of Father Christmas.

It's still impossible not to read this in the late great dear departed voice of Mel Smith - as he did the voices in the sublime animated version of this and "Father Christmas" by Raymond Briggs.

We do absolutely love both but this was the one that entertained Charlotte the most, simply because you see Santa as he is for the rest of the year. Santa plans his summer holidays more or less as soon as the last present is dropped off. Sitting at his kitchen table drinking hot cocoa and fending off the sniffles, Santa decides on a grand tour to take in all the sights and sounds all over the world that he usually only gets to see in passing.

Briggs' portrayal of Santa is as a slightly curmudgeonly fuzzy old grumpus, but with a certain joie de vivre and willing to try anything once. He's the epitome of "Brits Abroad" - clad in his handkerchief hat, no suntan lotion but still baking in the hot midday sun.

Santa's holiday adventures are hilarious - and in this largely wordless book the dialogue is purposely kept sparse so you can be entertained thoroughly by Briggs' amazing visual style - still as fantastic now as it was when it was created almost 30 years ago.

An utterly brilliant book to round off our series of Christmas recommendations. From all of us at ReadItDaddy - from me, Ali and Charlotte we wish you a Merry Booky Christmas and a Story-Filled New Year!

Charlotte's best bit: Santa's terrible case of tummy trouble, brought on by one too many fancy French dishes

Daddy's Favourite bit: Love love love this, so much fun to read aloud (in a really bad impression of Mel Smith's sublime mockney accent). Fun to find out what happens when Santa lets his hair (and his beard) down!

The Really Abominable Snowman by Valentina Mendicino (Walker Books)

The Really Abominable Snowman

Written and Illustrated by
Valentina Mendicino

Published by Walker Books

It's the night before christmas, and all through the house - not a snowman was stirring, not even wait - that's not how it goes! If you're heading out to your local book emporium today for that last minute gift, it might be time for a book that neatly sidesteps the usual seasonal epithets but still feels like it belongs in anyone's winter book collection.

Step forward The Really Abominable Snowman. Now, I'm not sure what you've heard about Yetis, Sasquatches or Bigfoot but the Really Abominable Snowman has a terrible reputation. He eats children, he smells like stinky cheese, and his table manners leave a lot to be desired.

Only that's not strictly true. The Really Abominable Snowman is really called Milo, and he's rather partial to a cherry cupcake or two (and he bakes like Mary Berry too, bless him!)

He definitely doesn't pong either because he bathes every day with lavender soap. As for eating children? Wouldn't dream of it.

So why can't Milo find a friend? Why do people run screaming into the trees every time this personable, fuzzy and cute Abominable Snowman comes calling?

Milo feels sad, but soon it looks like the answer is at hand. Helpful woodland animals are on hand, and point to social networking as a way of making new pals. Poor Milo isn't exactly a successful tweeter (we can give him lessons!), he can't find any friends in that weird "Face Book" - and his makeovers are a disaster (to be honest though, we thought his punky street look was brilliant!)

In a local paper, Milo spots that a party is being thrown for strange creatures - so Milo decides to join in. Again though, everyone runs screaming leaving poor Milo behind all alone - everyone except Sophie - who is the biggest most beautiful creature Milo has ever seen.

We'll leave you to discover more about Sophie when you read the book yourself. Valentina's entertaining and original story (with the cutest fuzziest cakiest artwork) is a joy, and this heartwarming tale might not be christmassy but it's a wintry and wonderful story that warmed our hearts.

Charlotte's best bit: Milo's sumptuous and luxurious cupcakes look good enough to eat!

Daddy's Favourite bit: An endearing character and an utterly fabulous wintery tale. Not all snowmen are abominable!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Walker Books)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Santa's Beard by Matilda Tristram, Tom Duxbury and Nick Sharratt (Walker Books)

Santa's Beard

Written by Matilda Tristram and Tom Duxbury

Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Published by Walker Books

There's always time to sneak in a few more books just in case you (like me) are a last-minute christmas shopper in search of some brilliant inspiration for your children's christmas book pile or stockings.

What a belter this is too, a novel take on those wonderful fuzzy books for toddlers that have tactile bits that are fun additions to an entertaining story. This is quite original, fun and cheeky - just the way we like our christmas books.

It's Christmas, and Santa is about to make his rounds - but his mischievous beard is looking for a new place to dwell. Off it flits, giving Santa a rest but looking for the perfect fizzog to attach itself to.

Here's where the novelty kicks in - that lovely fuzzy beard on Santa on the cover can detach, a nifty piece of velcro on each page gives you a new place to put Santa's facial fungus - with hilarious results.

Though the book is technically aimed at younger children, Charlotte spent the entire book cackling with glee as Santa's beard came to rest on a beautiful princess, or a gardening granny - or even on a little baby!

Finally it lands somewhere very cheeky indeed - but at least it's picked the right big red bottom to land on - as that bottom belongs to good old St Nick himself.

What an utterly brilliant idea for a christmas book (and don't worry about losing that beard, it's rather handily attached to the book via a piece of ribbon which should stand up to even the most enthusiastic tugging - which is more than you can say for the Santa at your local garden centre's beard!

Charlotte's best bit: Hooting with laughter at the baby with the beard! (We named him Pubert!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: What a hilarious and original christmas book - destined to cause mirth and merriment for kids of all ages!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Walker Books)

Booky Advent Calendar Day 23 - "The Nightmare Before Christmas (20th Anniversary Edition)" by Tim Burton (Disney Editions)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (20th Anniversary Edition)

Written and Illustrated by
Tim Burton

Published by Disney Editions

It's not often you get a story that comfortably covers two glorious celebrations - both of which we absolutely love to bits. Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" gets a good solid airing at Halloween but also at Christmas, and this 20th Anniversary Edition of the original story is perfect for reading at bedtime as we get closer and closer to the big day.

If you're one of the handful of people who has no idea who Jack Skellington is, or has no idea what happened when the two holiday seasons of Halloween and Christmas clashed together so spectacularly in Tim's story and the utterly gorgeous movie that it spawned, then treat yourself to the book and the film and tuck into a glorious festive tale.

Jack Skellington is the big cheese in Halloweenland. Each and every year, Jack and his ghoulish crew plan Halloween celebrations and festivities. But Jack is becoming jaded, tired of dreaming up new ways to spook and scare people.

By chance, Jack discovers a magical forest filled with mysterious doors, portals to other holiday words. Drawn to the sparkliest and most colourful door, adorned with a tree and baubles, Jack accidentally falls through and finds himself in Christmas Land.

Caught up with the festive preparations, Jack falls hook line and sinker in love with the idea of becoming Santa for the year, and putting his own dark spin on Christmas! Time for Santa to take a holiday (or rather be kidnapped and put in a big sack by Lock, Shock and Barrel, three of Jack's most fiendish cohorts) and for Jack to take over!

But will Jack's perfect vision of a gruesome Christmas come to pass?

It's quite interesting seeing the original story that spawned the movie. Tim Burton re-drew sections of the tale and this celebratory anniversary edition shows off the rough and scribbly style that was so masterfully transformed into the glorious stop-motion movie that we all know and love. Nevertheless, despite its rough appearance it's a timeless story full of amazing characters - and good old St Nick himself to save the day. We love it!

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte absolutely loves Jack's ghostly dog Zero, and the bit where Zero and his glowing pumpkin nose takes his place at the head of Jack's skeletal reindeer sled

Daddy's Favourite bit: I've lost count of the amount of times I've seen this movie, I even have a pair of Jack Skellington slippers at home (and several mugs, and goodness knows how many times I've drawn Jack and Sally myself too!) - A hugely appealing story full of dark and gothic charm and this book captures it perfectly!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Disney Editions)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Booky Advent Calendar Day 22 - "Stick Man" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Alison Green Books)

Stick Man

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Published by Alison Green Books

We couldn't really have a Christmas roundup without one of our all-time favourite Christmassy books. In fact, I think this is actually our favourite Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffler collaboration - yes we prefer this to both "The Gruffalo" and "The Gruffalo's Child" (which might be tantamount to children's book heresy to state in public, but there it is!)

So why is it the perfect christmas tale?

Oops! Santa never makes the most graceful entrances does he?

It ticks all the right boxes, featuring adorable characters, Santa, crisp freshly fallen snow - and it tugs at the heartstrings a bit. The story of a noble stick man who is separated from his family by accident, and spends almost an entire year trying to get back to them by hook or by crook. Stick Man falls foul of nasty drooling dogs, and even ends up as the arm of a snowman!

Does he make it back in time for Christmas?

For all the effort put in to the marvellous TV adaptations of both Gruffalo books, it stuns me that Stick Man didn't get similar treatment as it really is a magical tale with a goodly dose of festive cheer. We don't get to read it nearly enough as it can really make me quite tearful but then I am a big softy.

Charlotte's best bit: Stick Man's perilous journey on the river, eeks!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Sublime story with a touch of christmas, and almost a tear jerking end that had me reaching for my hankie. Delicious!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Booky Advent Calendar Day 21 - "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, Lesley Sims and A. Marks (Usborne Publishing)

A Christmas Carol

Written by Charles Dickens and Lesley Sims

Illustrated by A. Marks

Published by Usborne Publishing

Charles Dickens' classic christmas tale deserves a place on anyone's Booky Advent Calendar, but the original story can be quite a hard sell to kids. It's very wordy and unapproachable for younger readers so it's great to see a fantastically edited and illustrated version from the Usborne Young Readers range.

The tale itself is so well known, the story of mean old Ebenezer Scrooge who pinches pennies and lives in a constant state of avaricious misery, inflicting misery on others too. A thoroughly nasty and unchristmassy chap!

On the night before Christmas, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his late departed business partner Marley, who warns him that he will be visited by three spirits, the ghosts of christmases past, present and future. Scrooge scoffs at the warning but the first ghost soon arrives hot on the heels of Marley to show Scrooge the error of his ways.

The ghost of christmas present shows Scrooge what he's missing out on, and even though Scrooge is mean to his employee Bob Cratchit, the poor fellow manages to scrape together a christmas for his family and his young son Tiny Tim all the same.

The ghost of christmas yet to come has the most chilling message to impart. Scrooge is dead, and no one mourns him, no one is sorry that he has gone, no one misses him - the most tragic message of all. Is it too late for Scrooge to change his ways?

You'll know the rest - and though this book heavily edits down a fairly hefty story into just a few pages, it's nonetheless an effective and lovely version of a well loved classic, perfectly rekindled for children to love and enjoy.

Charlotte's best bit: Tiny Tim having a shoulder carry from a newly reformed Scrooge! Hooray!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A lovely version of a well loved Christmas classic, perfect for introducing children to the wonderful works of Dickens.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Booky Advent Calendar Day 20 - "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey" by Susan Wojciechowski and Patrick Lynch (Walker Books)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Written and by Susan Wojciechowski
Illustrated by Patrick Lynch

Published by Walker Books

Oooh this is such a lovely christmas tale, the booky equivalent of a gorgeous mug of mulled wine and a fruity mince pie. This heartwarming story may start out feeling a little less than festive, but like all good christmas tales it's guaranteed to melt your heart.

"The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey" introduces us to Jonathan himself, who is a bit of a loner, always seems gloomy (the villagers nickname the poor soul "Gloomy Toomey") but no one quite knows the secret of the old woodcarver, or the real reasons for his self-inflicted solitude.

His reputation as an expert woodcarver brings him to the attention of a young widow and her son. New to the area, they solicit the services of the woodcarver to carve a very special set of animals and characters for a christmas Nativity scene.

At first, Jonathan Toomey is gruff and grumpy about the task at hand, but when the young widow becomes a regular visitor, and her son shows an interest in Jonathan Toomey's wonderful work, a special bond begins. As the work draws to a close, Jonathan Toomey begins to realise just how much he'll miss his house guests once the commission is completed. But this is a christmas tale, so we'll leave you to discover the rather lovely heartwarming ending to this particular tale.

At first glance you wouldn't mark this out as a christmassy book because it doesn't really scream Christmas at you! But it is such a lovely tale we couldn't resist it.

(Definitely don't be fooled enough to seek out the movie based on the book though, it's absolutely dreadful!)

Charlotte's best bit: Jonathan Toomey's glorious carved angels

Daddy's Favourite bit: A cuddly heartwarming story that's sure to be a favourite for reading while tucked up under a blanket next to the warm fire. Lovely and atmospheric

Friday, December 19, 2014

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th December 2014 - "Please Mr Panda" by Steve Antony (Hodder Children's Books)

Please Mr Panda

Written and Illustrated by
Steve Antony

Published by Hodder Children's Books

We couldn't resist sneaking in just one more book of the week before we take a bit of a break over Christmas (but don't worry, articles and reviews will still be popping up between now and January so stay tuned!)

Steve Antony has established himself as a bit of a superstar this year. His second book "The Queen's Hat" rocked our socks off back in April, with a wonderful celebratory mix of crazy chase antics, regal tomfoolery and a lovely touristy whirl around our beloved capital.

It's been really great to see other folk loving the book as much as we have - and they're going to fall in love all over again with Steve's latest book.

Put it this way, we knew we were going to love it from the moment we saw the star's dour and quite serious expression on the front cover of the book. Mr Panda may look slightly grumpy but he's a stickler for good manners. So when Mr Panda decides to offer a huge tray of (quite mouthwateringly delicious) donuts to his friends, you'd expect there to be a bit of a bunfight.

"Manners maketh the man" said my wise old Nan, and she was right - but it seems that none of Mr Panda's friends have ever been taught about good manners and politeness. They're rude, grabby and they're definitely NOT going to be sampling Mr Panda's fare with an attitude like that.

It takes an utterly adorable lemur to show people how it's done. In fact the rather delicious moment when Mr Panda hears a please, and a thank you caused us to cackle with glee - largely due to Steve's utterly fab way with expressions (Mr Panda is a deadpan superstar, we LOVE him!)

We read this again, and again, and again (and as it turned up first thing in the morning we ended up in a mad rush to get to work and school - but hey, some things are worth being late for!)

So Steve effortlessly cruises into our Book of the Week slot once again, this book is an absolute hoot but more importantly it's something of a rarity - there really aren't enough books around that encourage politeness and good manners, and certainly none that deliver their core message in such an utterly brilliant way. Hooray for Steve and Mr Panda!

Charlotte's best bit: Lemur's look of blissed-out sugar-fuelled satisfaction after a ring-donut feast! (She adored the fact that he could thread all the donuts onto his tail and just scoff them at leisure)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Steve is swiftly establishing himself as a children's book superstar, comparisons to Jon Klassen are justified - with the tiniest tweak of his pen he can imbue the characters in this story with huge personality, none less so than Mr Panda himself! Love his deadpan expressions and utterly love each reaction to animal rudeness. Thoroughly well deserved as one of our final book of the week winners of 2014

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

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th December 2014 - "Minecraft Blockopedia" (Mojang / Egmont)

Minecraft: Blockopedia

Minecraft created by Mojang

Published by Egmont Publishing

Like a super-exploding box of TNT this absolutely STUNNING book exploded through our letterbox and caused a huge amount of fuss. Egmont's "Minecraft: Blockopedia" is no ordinary Minecraft book, it's a block in itself and has to be a real contender for "Book Design of the Year".

Clad in a black monolithic box that screams Stanley Ku-brick (see what we did there?) at you, it's a real treat for the eyes before you've even opened the cover (and the whole forced perspective design has royally messed with your senses.

So what's inside? A block-by-block breakdown of the world's most popular game. Kids love it, adults secretly run off and play it when the kids are asleep, and it's become something of an obsession as the game has spawned merchandise, Lego (which is a real head flip - a game about building spawning a bunch of sets for building things with) and of course lovely lovely books.

Open up this fantastic book for deep knowledge about Minecraft's world. Ice? Nice!

There are two schools of thought when it comes to learning all the intricacies of Minecraft (and it is a game that looks deceptively simple, don't be fooled by the graphics - inside the game beats the heart of a living breathing world that's just waiting for you to shape it in whichever way you choose). Some folk stick to learning their 'craft online, with the various wikipedias, youtube videos and other sources of info. That feels a bit too much like cheating to us. So with the Blockopedia you'll get the inside track on every type of block and material in the game, plus a few you may not have even encountered yet (so be warned, there may be spoilers ahead but they're well posted!) but won't necessarily be shown the best methods of how to short-cut the game (aside from one tiny instance of learning a very quick way to make stone which is absolutely ingenious!)

We'd never even seen a daylight sensor before. Now we know what they're for and how to use them!

Charlotte seized this book and that was the last I saw of it for a while, as she'd tuck herself up in bed at night with it (and her torch - though thankfully not the Minecraft 'flaming' kind) teasing nuggets of information the next morning that 'silly old daddy' won't know. I was petrified that the book might get damaged as the hexagonal pages are a bit tricky to get hold of as you're flipping through, but the book is beautifully presented and made of sturdy stuff so it'll last a lifetime if treated right.

Really though, it's all about the detail in this - it's exhaustive, knowledgeable and authoritative, a real "must buy" for your own little Minecraft obsessives. Perfection comes at a price though, but hunt around for a good deal on this one and you'll find lots of retailers lopping a tenner off the hefty £30 RRP. Put it this way though, it's not just a book it's a real collector's item in its presentation box, so if you want something that's going to really up your game as well as be something that looks utterly gorgeous laid on your coffee table fooling people into thinking you've left a real life minecraft block there, then this is definitely for you!

If you'd like to see more from Egmont's amazing Minecraft book range, do check out our Minecraft Theme Week for more!

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte is obsessed with The Nether at the moment, and loved learning about the best ways to stay alive in that particularly inhospitable environment thanks to this awesome book!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Utterly amazing, beautiful, stunning - we almost ran out of superlatives for this one. It's like "The Knowledge" for Minecraft fans, wrapped up in a truly jaw-dropping book design. Whoah!

(Kindly sent to us for review by those awsome folk at Egmont UK - our deepest thanks!)

Booky Advent Calendar Day 19 - "The Stone Lion" by Margaret Wild (Little Hare Publishing)

The Stone Lion

Written and Illustrated by
Margaret Wild

Published by Little Hare Publishing

Though this isn't strictly a Christmas tale, it's the sort of heartwarming story we cannot possibly resist at this time of year. As soon as we saw the cover of Margaret Wild's "The Stone Lion" in the Library we knew we wanted to investigate further. Inside, is the meltingly gorgeous story of a proud stone lion who lives outside a local library. This Lion is magical, and is aware of the things going on around him although he doesn't always know the reason why certain things happen. A young orphan girl and her tiny baby brother often drop by to visit the Stone Lion, to cuddle him and both secretly wish that he could come to life.

A wise old gargoyle who also lives at the library tells the Lion that something magical must happen to bring that Lion to life. It takes a single spark of imagination for the lion to be able to run wild, be free, and breathe.

Day after day the young orphan girl and her baby brother visit, but their condition begins to deteriorate. They're hungry, freezing cold and as weak as kittens and the Lion looks on, powerless to help.

But we all know that magic is never far away and just as all seems lost, the Lion seizes his chance to grasp gasping at life, to save theirs.

I'll warn you now, if you hunt this book down (and it's a bit of a delicious rarity) be prepared to grab a box of tissues because you'll feel like sobbing your heart out, first with sadness then happiness as the tale gently unfolds. It's so atmospheric and just draws you in. The artwork is stunning and sumptuous and it's such an original tale. Do try and find it, even if you're the sensitive weepy type (like me!) It's well worth it.

Charlotte's best bit: When the Lion comes to life and roars for help in the library! Awesome!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A heartwarming heart-melter of a book that might not be christmassy but is utterly perfect for this time of year.