Friday, February 27, 2015

Enter the astonishing world of Oksa Pollock by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf - Published by Pushkin Children's Books

Today we're fortunate to be included in a blog tour for a very special book series. You may not have heard of Ann Plichota and Cendrine Wolf's "Oksa Pollock" series yet, but trust us, you'll definitely want to know more if you have an eye for the supernatural, and for mighty girl characters (both things we hold close to our hearts here at ReadItDaddy!)

So who is Oksa Pollock? She's the last best hope for restoring the fine balance of a world in chaos. Through three novels we've followed her adventures as her true powers become apparent, and her family call on their own amazing qualities in order to protect her.

Oksa Pollock - The Last Hope (Book 1)
We join Oksa on the day of her birth, as her family wonder if old prophecies will be fulfilled. Oksa's future is uncertain, but with the aid of her shape-shifting father Pavel, her amazing grandmother Dragomira whose menagerie of mythical creatures are formidable opponents, and Oksa's mother who fears for her daughter's safety given her predetermined role in saving the planet.

Oksa Pollock - The Forest of Lost Souls (Book 2)
Some books beg to be read until the wee small hours as they immerse you in a tightly woven alternative reality that may seem familiar, but does its best to jar your senses by throwing you into a maelstrom of action. I devoured Book 1 in short order, though it has to be said that "The Last Hope" doesn't reveal its hand too quickly. Some may feel that these books take a while to get into, and then suddenly before you know what's going on, it's 3 AM, your eyes are practically falling out of their sockets but you can't bear not to read more.

Oksa Pollock - the Heart of Two World (Book 3)

As Book 3 opens, Oksa, her family and The Runaways must find the entrance portal to Edelfia, a parallel world where Oksa and her kind can exist in peace. New allies must be made amongst enemies, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Several reviewers have described Oksa Pollock as "The French Harry Potter" which is a little unfair, as the books only really share a fantasy genre. It's really worth pointing out that although the series has a female hero, both boys and girls are going to fall head over heels in love with Oksa and the books. If there's any justice, more people will get to know her and start to line her up alongside some of the greatest female fantasy heroes in literature. Find out more, dive into the books and be ready for fast paced, dark, immersive and totally gripping adventure!

(Books 1 and 3 kindly supplied to us for review by Pushkin Children's Books)

Don't miss the other fab booky folk joining the tour over the next few days!

Words and Pictures go together like toast and butter! A ReadItDaddy Editorial.

We always love following some of the rather fiery conversations on Twitter that rage around the subject of children's books. In particular of late, the fact that children's illustrators are often overlooked, undervalued and their hard work scarcely warrants a mention in some reviews. As Sarah McIntyre quite rightly points out on her excellent blog and #PicturesmeanBusiness campaign, professional publications often play down or omit to mention entirely the illustrator in a writer / illustrator team who have worked on a book (in extreme cases, a well known children's classic such as "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" where Michael Rosen receives endless praise for the story in some articles, with ne'er a mention of Helen Oxenbury's utterly vital illustrations in the same article. Without Helen's illustrations, the book would never have become the classic it so rightly is IMHO).

(As an aside, Helen's art is utterly mesmerising. Her line work just completely blows me away, tiny tiny gestures and strokes to convey a whole gamut of facial expressions, movements and tone. As I said, mesmerising!)

It's not the fault of author nor illustrator, but does seem to be some quite bizarre set-in rot that seems to have been seeping slowly through the children's publishing industry for a number of years.

As our staple blogging subjects are predominantly picture books, we often find that the books that consistently hit the book of the week slot are not always visually stunning and perfect, nor are they works of wordy wonder. They achieve a perfect balance of each, with innovation both in story and illustration content.

To put this to the test, try reading a selection of picture books to your little ones - purposely obscuring the pictures, or not showing them to your children as you read. Did that work out for you? I can only think of one book in our recent reviewing history that works on that level - and it's "The Book with No Pictures" by B.J. Novak - a book that works as well as a piece of performance art purely through the act of making adults who read aloud to their children look a bit daft. Genius, sheer genius.

Once again though, try another exercise. Arm yourself with a pad of post-it notes and stick them over the text in a few picture books. Just show the pictures, don't read the story. How did that work out for you? In very few cases (unless purposely designed as such), picture books don't really work that well without their accompanying words either. The balance needs to be exactly that. A balance, and some extremely talented folk are equally adept at writing and illustration, pulling off the amazing trick of balancing both with aplomb in stories that completely blow us away.

One final thought on Sarah's excellent and extremely important observations about children's illustrators. We firmly believe that an appreciation of art, and definitely an appreciation of children's books (illustrations AND writing) does not require formal training in either. Absolutely not. Reviewers can only offer an opinion but that opinion is not lessened by a sharp lack of knowledge of the art techniques of Vermeer, or the fine-tuned lingual acrobatics of Shakespeare. Does your 3-6 year old have that training? (OK there probably are people out there who will answer 'yes but in general, they don't - so does this mean they can't appreciate children's picture books nor offer an opinion on them, even if their opinion is "I don't like this book, it's poo!"

We do not claim to be expert critics by any means and in fact we rather like a healthy debate around a book if someone disagrees with us on it.

We do not get paid to do this, nor would we ever try to tread on the toes of professional bodies whose job it is to ensure the growth of the publishing industry and for that matter those who carry the responsibility of promoting the services of some of the industry's leading illustrative and literate folk. But we are the consumers of the 'product', children are who these books were made for, so don't just scrub those opinions into the food waste bin.

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 27th February 2015 - "The Really Gross Body Book" by Emma Dodson and Sarah Horne(Templar Publishing)

The Really Gross Body Book

Written by Emma Dodson

Illustrated by Sarah Horne

Published by Templar Publishing

Lift-the-flap books invariably go down very well at ReadItDaddy Towers but when they contain subject matter of a slightly stomach-churning nature, they are even more well received. Parents probably already know this, but when kids reach a certain age (say, 2 upwards and probably long into their teens), books that heavily feature farts, poo, wee and spew sing out to them like an icky siren song.

Enter "The Really Gross Body Book" at your peril because right from the first trouser-trumping spread, you're in for a fantastic (and REALLY GROSS) journey around your body, and all the less-than-lovely things it can do.

To give you an idea of how well this book was received, Charlotte basically shoved that first page spread RIGHT IN MY FACE and demanded that it was made book of the week. I am not one to argue with a tempestuous six year old but I do actually agree that this is an utterly brilliant book that is crammed with icky facts, amazing statistics and some really innovative paper-crafting to put its key points across. There are pop-up bits that are brilliant fun (how about a stinky armpit right in your fizzog?) and loads & loads of little flaps to lift up, pull out, spin round and generally mess around with - each imparting even more grim information than you can possibly stomach (watch with horror as your child lovingly peels back the layers of a scab to discover how your skin heals itself. Ewwwwgh!)

The book is humorously written but it doesn't play things too dumb either, which is fantastic to see. The illustrations though, oh boy, you really may end up feeling green around the gills as your child gleefully yanks down the notepad-shaped poo chart and delightedly describes to you their latest 'creation'.

It's not a book to enjoy over breakfast, lunch or dinner but it's utterly superb. We've been saying for years that 'lift the flap' books like this shouldn't purely be for toddlers and babies, and so it's really great to see a book for older kids using the format so successfully. A botty-burping bile-barfing bum-waggling belly-busting bogey-snarfing scab-picking book of the week without a doubt!

Charlotte's best bit: Delightedly informing everyone that vegetarian sweat is slightly sweeter smelling than carnivore sweat. Lovely!

Daddy's Favourite bit: It might well put you off your dinner but it's a fantastic fact (and fart) filled book of fun for youngsters (and yes, even adults will laugh like a drain at most of it too!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Alfie in the Bath by Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Alfie in the Bath

Written and Illustrated by
Debi Gliori

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

An adventurous bunny with a wild imagination, that was how we were introduced to Alfie with Debi Gliori's "Alfie in the Garden". Alfie is back and this time he's in the right place for washing off all that garden dirt and mud, the bath!

Naturally Alfie hasn't quite got to that age where soap dodging and a lick & a promise will do, he loves bathtime, bubbles and all his bathtime toys.

Younger readers will love how the story unfolds as Alfie splishes and sploshes, imagining an undersea kingdom and adventures in the briny (bubbly) deep. Toddlers love bathtime and older children (such as Charlotte) still find time to enjoy Alfie's fun bathtime (even the mopping up afterwards!)

A lovely second title in the Alfie series, and more are on the way courtesy of this very talented lady!

Charlotte's best bit: Alfie rather kindly helping with cleanup chores after bathtime (and even managing to turn that into an adventure too!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Bathtime can be fun!! If your kids aren't quite at the stage where they hate bathing, they will love this one!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)

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Alfie in the Garden by Debi Gliori

Dragon Loves Penguin by Debi Gliori

Hippobottymus by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey (Little Tiger Press)


Written by Steve Smallman

Illustrated by Ada Grey

Published by Little Tiger Press

We love a book that starts off slowly, then builds to a rip-roaring calamitous climax as the story unfolds. Such is the case with "Hippobottymus" by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey. A strange rumbling bubbling sound echoes across a swamp, and is easy on the ears. A small mouse suddenly realises that it almost sounds like a rhythm and adds a subtle squeak or two to the tune. Before long, the rest of the jungle animals are joining in with the bubbling rumbling squeaking squawking sound as the tune builds to a cacophonous explosion of noise and music.

Mouse takes a bow, but wait a minute, Hippo has something to say about how the tune came about. It all started with a can or two of beans....Phrrrrrt!

There's a period in children's lives that usually kicks in around 1 1/2 to 2 years old, and doesn't end...(at all?) where farts, botty burps, tummy squeaks, trouser coughs, window rattlers, cushion creepers and (in this case) swampy rasps are the most amusing and high-brow form of humour known to man & beast. Hippobottymus is a musical and riotous celebration of that fact, and is absolutely sure to have your little ones giggling and gurgling like drains!

Hippobottymus by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey is out in April from Little Tiger Press

Charlotte's best bit: Naturally, the big botty-burping reveal when Hippo lets rip!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic farty flump-fluff fall-about-funny tale! Farp!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Little Tiger Press)

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Bear's Big Bottom by Steve Smallman and Emma Yarlett

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - February 2015

The Mirror Chronicles - The Bell Between Worlds by Ian Johnstone (HarperCollins Children's Books)
It's been a packed month for us, and we've been taking a look at a huge selection of chapter books and early readers as February draws to a close. Here's a selection of some of the books that have found their way onto our bedside tables!

First up is a stunning fantasy saga from Ian Johnstone. "The Mirror Chronicles - The Bell Between Worlds" is the first book in the cycle, and in the grand tradition of C.S. Lewis and Phillip Pullman, it's a book that drags the reader into an utterly amazing world - or should we say "Worlds". Silas Tate, a young loner, is drawn into a parallel universe known as "The Other" by the tolling of a giant bell. Silas doesn't yet know that he may be the key to saving the entire universe thanks to his innate talent for manipulating nature and the world around him. Silas will find out many secrets as his journey begins, not least of all some disturbing facts about his own origins and those of his mother, who may have hailed from "The Other" herself. Book one gets off to a cracking start at a blistering pace and is going to be an absolute winner for ages 10 upwards. 

"The Mirror Chronicles - The Bell Between Worlds" is out now from HarperCollins.

School books are back! Hooray! Here's an absolute corker...

Elspeth Hart and the School for Showoffs by Sarah Forbes and James Brown (Stripes Publishing)
Charlotte has been absolutely wrapped up in this book since it popped through our letterbox. You're going to have to wait until May (boo!!) to get your hands on it but we'll let you into a few secrets about Elspeth Hart and the School for Showoffs - a brilliant new book from Sarah Forbes (with fantastic illustrations from James Brown - No, not that one!)

Elspeth is a cheeky and determined young girl who ends up living in the attic of the School for Showoffs along with her rather surly Aunt Crabbe after her parents are inexplicably washed away in a flood.

Elspeth isn't exactly treated very kindly by her aunt or the other girls but does make a special friend, a shy boy named Rory who goes everywhere in tow with his pet lizard Lazlo.

After an accident with a bonk on the head from a heavy book, Elspeth's repressed childhood memories start to flood (pardon the pun) back, leading her to believe that there's definitely more to her aunt - and the school - than meets the eye.

This is the first adventure for Elspeth, and it's been a massive hit with Charlotte - who can't wait for more books in the series. "Elspeth Hart and the School for Showoffs" is out on the 5th May from Stripes Publishing

Phew, where next? Oh my, we do love a good mystery don't we - particularly when it looks as gorgeous as THIS!

The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom by Vicki Lockwood  (Curious Fox)
We couldn't wait to find out more about Lizzie as soon as we spotted the cover of this book. Victorian London? Check. Spookiness? Check. A brainy girl hero with Sherlock Holmes-ian smarts? CHECKCHECKCHECK! Oh we couldn't resist it! "The Mysterious Phantom" won't be here until May (I know, we're such teases) but we can tell you're going to fall completely head over heels for Vicki Lockwood's new book series.

We meet Lizzie as she leads a fairly mundane existence, living with her ne'er do-well father in poverty. Lizzie has dreams of escaping the squalor she lives in, so runs off to join the circus. She discovers that amongst the charlatans and performing folk, she alone has a true talent for clairvoyance - a talent that will come in handy as she becomes embroiled in a deep dark mystery to chill the very soul!

This is the first book in an upcoming series of adventures featuring Lizzie - and we're already totally and completely hooked. It may be a little on the dark side for Charlotte but older kids from 8 upwards are going to absolutely love it!

"The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom" by Vicki Lockwood will be with us on the 5th of May 2015 from Curious Fox.

Could we possibly squeeze a couple more books in? Could we? Oh you know we could...!

Circus of Thieves - On the Rampage (Circus of Thieves 2) by William Sutcliffe and David Tazzyman (Simon and Schuster)

Sticking with the circus for a moment, here's the second book in the "Circus of Thieves" series by William Sutcliffe (Following on from "The Raffle of Doom"), with crazy and fun illustrations from David Tazzyman. Shanks' Impossible Circus is back so expect sheer lunacy, synchronised otter displays, escaped convicts and mad capers as Armitage Shank, Hannah and Granny end up tumbling into a frenetic adventure thanks to the aquatic antics of Queenie Bombazine, ringmaster of Bombazine's Ecstatic Aquatic Splashtastic Circus. Fans of Roald Dahl and David Walliams are going to love this completely crazy book so run away to the circus, as the book is published today by Simon and Schuster!

One more? Aw go on then...

The Case of the Exploding Brains by Rachel Hamilton (Simon and Schuster)

Let's do science! Join madcap Noelle "Know-All" Hawkins in this hilarious new adventure. Noelle's famous scientist dad - Professor Brian "Big Brain" Hawkins - is in prison as a result of a rather unfortunate incident with a portaloo (We've all had those, right?).

Seeking inspiration on a trip to the Science Museum, Noelle is drawn into an international mystery involving the moon, some mindreading, and an awful lot of grumpy people. But how are they all connected? Noelle, Holly and Porter are on the case. Will they piece together the crazy clues in time to save the planet? It's a fast-paced rib-tickling case that's bound to score a hit with kids from 7 upwards. "The Case of the Exploding Brains" by Rachel Hamilton is out from Simon and Schuster today!

Phew, I think we're all tuckered out after all that excitement. Join us again next month for another fabulous chapter book roundup. Don't pop your cerebral cortex in the meantime though!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Recipe for a Story by Ella Burfoot (Macmillan Children's Books)

Recipe for a Story

Written and Illustrated by
Ella Burfoot

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

We sat and thought, nay cogitated over what could make the perfect recipe for a review of this wonderful book. Take a pinch of opinion, a couple of giggles, a few choice words and some melted chocolate. What? Doesn't everything require the addition of melted chocolate? If not, why not?

Charlotte sat down to read "Recipe for a Story" by Ella Burfoot with her Auntie Mel, and it was quite delightful to hear their laughter as they made their way through the ingredients list. The story is baked to perfection, left to rest a little while before being devoured by hungry book folk such as ourselves.

We join a little girl who ponders over the perfect list of ingredients to throw into her story mix (though we both think we may have developed some sort of a food-like intolerance to certain punctuation - those semi-colons always stick in the gaps between our teeth!)

We love Ella's writing style (and we REALLY love the exquisite little details she includes in the illustrations here too). A lilting sing-song of a book that will become a huge favourite 'recipe' we'll want to cook again and again.

Charlotte's best bit: Chaotic cooking but just the way we like it!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A delicious tasty book-based read-aloud treat!

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

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Darkness Slipped In by Ella Burfoot

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wild Adventures - Look, Make and Explore in Nature's Playground by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Wild Adventures

Written by Mick Manning
Illustrated by Brita Granstrom

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

If there's one thing regular followers of this blog will already know about us, it's that we LOVE getting outdoors come rain or shine. Following our adventures through my wife's awesome Can I Walk, Mummy? days-out blog, you'll be able to follow us as we explore the countryside around us - and further afield when we get the chance too.

So Mick and Brita's new book is an absolute corker for us, giving us even more inspirational ideas to make our days out - or even playing in the back garden - loads more fun.

The book covers a multitude of subjects from den building (our favourite thing to do when we trek out to our local woodlands), camping, making an outdoor feast, tracking and signs and of course a good dose of identifying the various flora and fauna we find on our nature rambles.

We firmly believe that spending weekends outdoors hugely benefits Charlotte's development and her awareness of the world around her (and I guess we're hugely fortunate that we have wonderful places to visit around us!)

Thankfully the book does cater for a bit of urban nature spotting too, so don't worry if you're a city-dweller - you'll be surprised what can be found even on your own doorstep.

A fabulous resource to dip into again and again to give you some great ideas for exploring, making and doing outside! Pick it up because spring is definitely on the way, so there are lots of excuses for getting outside into the fresh air!

Charlotte's best bit: Some fabulous ideas to improve her den-building skills (Best tip: Don't let Daddy help!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fabulous outdoorsy resource that we'll definitely be dipping into again and again over the coming months (and for years to come, too!)

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

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The Story of Britain by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Story of Life by Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

The Story of Life

Written by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams
Illustrated by Amy Husband

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

When is the right time to introduce your children to non-fiction books? When indeed - we opt for 'as early as possible' because as much as children love stories, they're always in awe of the world around them too.
Dealing with the tricky subject of evolution and how the world around us has changed, and is constantly changing might sound like a fairly hefty and meaty subject for the very young, but handled correctly - as in this utterly brilliant book by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, with gorgeous illustrations by Amy Husband, children's natural curious streak will inevitably set them up for a lifelong love of acquiring knowledge through books.

"The Story of Life" begins back when the earth was shrouded in darkness, when volcanic ash and lava carved out our landscape long before life began. As the first microscopic lifeforms began to appear, the book takes us on a fascinating journey through earth's history showing how plants and animals adapted and evolved right across the earth's surface.

Children will love exploring this book - again one of those gorgeous non-fiction titles that just begs to be laid out on the floor so you can sprawl in front of it to explore it further. Amy's illustrations might seem quite simple but they draw you in, and there are lots of fun animal characters to engage with as the book shows us tiny life springing up and becoming huge hulking dinosaurs, before settling down into the species we share our world with today (oh and us, of course!)

For a long time now we've been seeing dramatic strides and improvements in children's non fiction titles, and it's really fantastic to see a title aimed at the very young that will inevitably become a keepsake, something for them to explore for years to come. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

Charlotte's best bit: The arrival of the (very naughty and quite cheeky) apes!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A really thorough and wonderfully immersive introduction to the evolution of our planet, a book that will completely capture the imagination and inquisitiveness of little ones from cover to cover.

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 20th February 2015 - "Alfie and Grandma" by Shirley Hughes (Red Fox Picture Books)

Alfie and Grandma

Written and Illustrated by

Shirley Hughes

Published by Red Fox Picture Books

We have a huge huge HUGE soft spot for the Alfie books in our hearts. Shirley Hughes is an absolute superstar and you're probably very used to seeing us telling you so. Some of Shirley's 'Alfie' books are being reprinted in new softcover formats, so it's time to fall in love with these timeless and gorgeously observed little stories all over again.

In this tale, Alfie and Annie Rose are off to Grandma's house for a visit. Grandma lives in a lovely house in a picturesque village. Alfie and his little sister can't wait to go off exploring, but the rain pours down leaving no choice but to stay at home.

Kids landlocked inside on a rainy day? Even Alfie's amazing Grandma might find that a little difficult to cope with so it's on with the rain gear and out into the lovely countryside for adventures to see what they can find!

This story is nicely broken up into several mini stories so we get to explore and join in the fun. There are lost tortoises to be found, naughty sheep to round up - all told in Shirley's gentle style and gorgeously illustrated with her expert observational eye.

We always love any book with a good map in it too, and this has an absolute corker! Don't miss it!

"Alfie and Grandma is out on 26th February 2015 from Red Fox Picture Books

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting the naughty runaway tortoise along with Alfie, and loving exploring Alfie's Grandma's village with the gorgeous map at the back of the book

Daddy's Favourite bit: Beautifully observed, timeless and brilliant stories with the most gorgeous illustrations. No wonder we can't get enough of Shirley's books!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Red Fox Picture Books)

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