Friday, November 30, 2012

ReadItDaddy previews "The Cautionary Tale of the Childe of Hale" by Rachel Lyon and Vanina Starkoff (Released 31st January 2013 by Maverick Books)














Now here's something decidedly different from Maverick Books. An eye catching and truly beautiful book from Rachel Lyon and Vanina Starkoff, based on the true story of The Childe of Hale, an actual giant that lived in the Liverpool area a long long time ago (his portrait (see below) hangs in Brasenose College) and you can find out more about him here. 

The gentle giant, the Childe of Hale has a fairly ordinary and sometimes miserable life. He's so tall that his legs stick out of the windows of his humble little cottage (and get soaking wet when it rains). He can't find trousers that fit, or shoes, but he's a marvel to all who meet him.

When the king comes to town, the Childe of Hale is dragged to meet him by his best friend, and the king is so impressed that he begs the giant to come back to London with him to meet the Queen.

The lure of the big city, and the chance to rub shoulders with royalty prove too much for The Childe of Hale, and soon he's speeding towards the capital in a carriage.

Life takes a different turn, and for a while the finery and furnishings turn the Childe of Hale's head to what the good life must really be like. But is their happiness in his future? You'll have to read the book and find out when it arrives on shelves on 31st January 2013.

It's such a gentle, delightful and really different looking children's book. The artwork almost feels like medieval illuminated manuscript work (which goes quite neatly with the original portrait) but it's the story and the rather touching relationship between the giant and the Princess who befriends him that gives this children's tale a quite unique approach.

Look out for it, it's definitely shaping up to be something special.

Charlotte's best bit: The giant's feet sticking out of his windows. Poor giant!

Daddy's favourite bit: The book triggered a voyage of discovery to find out a bit more about John Middleton, the actual Childe of Hale. Quite a fascinating read.

(provided to us as a preview PDF by Maverick Books. We may review this properly again when it is released)

ReadItDaddy previews "Tabitha Posy was Ever So Nosy" by Julie Fulton and Jona Jung (Maverick Books)














There's a mighty fine line between being inquisitive and being downright snoopy and in the sleepy town of Hamilton Shady (which, you may recall, is only just recovering from an incredible exploding woman!), young Tabitha Posy regularly crosses that line again and again.

At home she's a pest, at school she's a fidget and when teacher decides to take the class on a trip to the zoo, Tabitha's curiosity gets the better of her and she ends up in a rather sticky (and slimy) predicament.

We're so pleased to see another in Julie Fulton's "Ever So" series, and so happy to be back in the crazy town of Hamilton Shady with another bold and brash children's picture book character. Jona Jung's fabulous colourful artwork is brilliant (we particularly loved the little snail who crops up from time to time to pass comment on what's going on in the bigger picture - oh and the sad looking bear standing next to the 'do not feed' sign!)

It's the rhyming sing-song text that makes this a huge amount of fun though. Tabitha Posy learns a valuable lesson or two along the way and you'll have to wait until February 2013 to find out if she comes to a rather explosive sticky end like Mrs Macready. Suffice to say that this is more brilliance from Fulton and Jung, and we can't wait to see how the book is received when it arrives on the shelves.

Charlotte's best bit: The sad forlorn looking bear at the zoo. Someone at least throw him a bun!

Daddy's favourite bit: The poor poor folk of Hamilton Shady. Property prices must be dipping there by now! What on earth are they going to have to put up with next?

(We were given the opportunity to look at a preview version of the book not the final product, hence we may review this properly when it arrives in print)


ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week Part 2: Charlotte's Choice - "My Big Shouting Day" by Rebecca Patterson (Jonathan Cape Ltd)














So here's Part 2 of our double 'Book of the Week' nomination for this week, and it's a book that had both Charlotte and I laughing out loud (and shouting out loud) at how utterly well observed the little girl is in this book.

Bella is not happy. Bella is having a big shouting day which kicked off when her absolutely adorable little brother, Bob, came into Bella's room and started licking her jewellery (don't you just HATE it when that happens?)

Bella's day goes from bad to worse. Every little thing sets her off, from a yucky breakfast to a prim and proper play-date going horribly horribly wrong.

Charlotte and I made poor Mummy's ears hurt because it's impossible to read Bella's dialogue without shouting (though we did try not to shout too loudly). Charlotte fell hopelessly in love with Bob ("Because he's SO cute!") and as the story progressed she loved seeing Bella's meltdown turn into a full on dizzy shouty tired ranty temper tantrum (funnily enough, I rather enjoyed Rebecca's absolutely pin-sharp toddler meltdown observations, which are spot on and then some!)

As you can imagine, nothing will cheer up this fiery little minx. A trip to the supermarket just makes matters worse, school ballet turns into a sulk-a-thon and every time poor little Bob (bless 'im) tries to help, Bella just explodes like a landmine in a little red dress.

It's incredibly easy to see why this was the Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner this year. It's brilliant for both children and parents. You will have to read the book yourself right to the end to find out how Bella's Big Shouting Day ends, but we urge you to seek out this and Rebecca's other brilliant books, they're uproariously funny from start to finish.

Charlotte's best bit: What Bella does to Bob later on in the book. The horrors, the horrors!

Daddy's favourite bit: The fact that this book so gleefully captures (and almost celebrates) the stunning spectacle of a toddler meltdown so utterly perfectly. I love the fact that for most of the book, Bella's expression is like a big black hole with a pair of eyes and typically scruffy toddler hair slapped on top of it. Brilliant, brilliant (and let's shout the last one) BRILLIANT!

(Kindly supplied to us for review by Jonathan Cape PB Ltd)

ReadItdaddy's Book of the Week Part 1: Daddy's Choice, "When it Snows" by Richard Collingridge (David Fickling Books)














It's another week where so many books could easily have slid into our "Book of the Week" slot that we  feel honoured to (unofficially) be involved in children's picture books at such an amazing time. Both Charlotte and I talked about the many books we've read this week, and two books stood out. We both love them but I nominated "When it Snows" by Richard Collingridge.

You've probably already seen me talking about this on Twitter, you've probably even checked out the absolutely amazing trailer (which surely deserves turning into a fully-fledged christmas animated short film), and by now you should definitely know who Richard Collingridge is because you're going to hear an awful lot about him in the future.

A young boy and his teddy friend look on as the world grinds to a halt under a thick layer of ice and snow. Trains halt, cars are frozen to the spot but the boy soon discovers there are so many other fantastic ways to get around.

With teddy in tow, the young boy escapes into the snowy landscape to discover the wonders and delights of this time of year. Snowball fights, gigantic snowmen, santa and his elves and the wondrous orangey skies that signify fresh snow will soon be on the way.

Every page spread is filled to the brim with amazing detail, virtually leaping off the page into your lap. I'm loathe to compare it to anything else because it's so fresh and unique, but if you like the works of Raymond Briggs and Chris Van Allsburg and can imagine what they'd look like if they met the works of Shaun Tan head on, this is the sort of atmospheric and absolutely amazing artwork you can expect from "When it Snows"

It's not just all about the art though, the story is magical, spurring a child's imagination in the most wondrous ways. Some of you may know the ending to this book already but the message is clear and it's a love letter to the very thing that drives us to write this blog week in week out.

The only criticism I'd have about this book, and it's a tiny one, is the title which seems destined to lose itself in a blizzard of other very similarly named snowy books. So this is why I will probably keep talking about 'When it Snows' long after Christmas has come and gone, and the last sneaky mince pie has been scoffed along with the last of the mulled wine. If you're looking for a christmassy snowy book that goes further than just introducing you to a host of cute creatures gambolling in the snow, this is the very best place to start. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don't want to take our word for it though, just watch this stunning trailer below:



Charlotte's best bit: The wonderful scene of elven faces staring up at the little boy as his snowy journey continues.

Daddy's favourite bit: The incredible snowman scene and the gigantic lighthouse-like snowman. Also the utterly gorgeous use of light and dark, and a fairly reduced palette make the artwork truly atmospheric and remarkable.

(Kindly sent to us for review by David Fickling Books)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Five tips for making your children's e-book or storybook app more engaging than tablet games


This christmas, one in five parents are considering purchasing a tablet PC either for themselves or for their children. With those figures, it's never been a better time to get involved in the e-book or storybook app marketplace if you think you've got a good solid idea that would work well as an e-book. 

Consider this though before leaping in with both feet. You are up against some serious competition, not just in the e-book or storybook app world, but you're also competing against all those other little distracting things that are available (often for free) on the app stores. 

So here are five crucial tips from recent experience that can help you ensure your e-book or storybook apps zip, kapow and ka-boom!

1) Work on your story and visuals. 

This might seem a no-brainer but the bar is being raised on a daily basis even with individuals and most certainly with independent developers who are opting to self-publish directly through the app stores. 

Engaging visuals are always the key to drawing a child's interest away from animated games put together by teams who may have worked in other fields (web design, game design, production animation and illustration) before working for app developers. If your visuals aren't up to scratch, even if you're planning to put your app or e-book out for the lowest price possible on an app or e-book store, you may need to think again. 

2) Sound is optional but if you're going to use it, make good use of it!

Storybook apps and e-books are absolutely perfect for hearing impaired children, even those that can't read yet. Specific book apps are designed to include hearing impaired children, children with learning difficulties and there are even some really innovative apps for visually impaired children that use sound in interesting ways.

If your story or app uses sound or music, please don't be tempted to just slap on any old midi tune or mumbled text. Seriously consider your intended audience, ensure all speech is clear and matches the text of an app exactly, and please also consider including a mute button on music so that children can enjoy the story without the added distraction of a looping (and sometimes really annoying) soundtrack. 

3) Animated discussions. 

We have some of the greatest animators in the world working in the children's e-book industry who have worked in various other disciplines before moving to children's story book apps and e-books. They know their craft, and they know the best way to take a static book and turn it into something that can engage a child's curiosity and interest. 

We've seen some brilliant print books turned into e-books, horribly let down by ropey (and sometimes downright lazy) animation and then released at a premium price. With the high standards in apps, these stick out like a sore thumb even if they're works that are universally acclaimed and well loved in print form. 

Children are exposed to stunning animation in movies, on TV and in games and we're just beginning to see some real innovation in children's e-books and apps too. If your app cuts and pastes static art together lazily it's going to look naff and will put off your potential customer base. 

4) Think outside the book, control wise.

Time and time again we see brilliant apps horribly let down by utterly confusing and poorly executed user interfaces. Tiny buttons, buttons that are immovable  and placed too close to other tablet screen controls (seems to be a common thing at the moment to place e-book controls far too close to the alerts popup on iOS) and controls that are unresponsive and laggy. If you think you have no patience when you hit a web page that takes more than a couple of seconds to load, imagine what a child thinks when they press a button or touch a control in your e-book or app and have to wait until the app wakes up and does something. 

Many storybook apps and e-books play it safe by using book-like 'page flipping' or on-screen controls to good effect but again, think about the net worth of sticking in a convoluted piece of page animation that can interrupt the flow of a story. 

Likewise, aim for consistency in your storybook apps if you're going to work on a series. Make the control methods match, make them slick and above all make them interesting for children to use. 

5) Break the fourth wall, get them involved!

Some of the best storybook and e-book apps on the market are hugely successful because they not only involve their readers, they immerse them fully in the imaginary world. With more and more tablets arriving on the market every month, more feature front and back facing cameras, more feature powerful processors, and more have the ability to allow a developer's imagination to truly soar. Use the very best aspects of modern tablets to your advantage, particularly when involving children in the story you're trying to tell. Allow them to record their own voices, take snapshots of themselves in the story, even doodle patterns and shapes for characters to wear on their clothes.

As the e-book and app industry matures and starts to run parallel to some of the more interesting and innovative things going on in other media types, it'll be great to see more of the above, and less soulless cash-in stuff hitting the market. We're truly entering a golden age of more visual and interactive ways of telling stories, let's see 2013 truly emerge as the year e-books and story apps get more good press than bad. 

Further Reading

Here's Helen Dineen's excellent article on how to avoid falling into the Powerpoint trap!


The Jelly that Wouldn't Wobble by Angela Mitchell and Sarah Horne (Maverick Books)














Ahhhh jelly! It's fruity, it's fun and it's wobbly. Or at least it's supposed to be so imagine Princess Lolly's dismay when on her 89th birthday, her favourite food is presented with not a quiver, not a shake, nor a wobble in sight.

Quite understandably, Princess Lolly is not impressed so calls for her head chef to explain himself. But the jelly is a master of self preservation and begins to explain precisely why it's better not to wobble if you're a jelly and you want to be around in time for the princess's 90th!

Various characters pitch in to help the jelly get back its wobble, but it takes a tiny child to point out the best way to get the quiver back.

This fun and amusing tale is brilliantly told and illustrated, and Princess Lolly (though 89) is very reminiscent of a temper-tantrum toddler on a sugar rush high.

Top quality from Angela and Sarah. What's your favourite flavour of jelly? Let us know below!

Charlotte's best bit: Awww, feeling actually quite sorry for the jelly! (favourite jelly flavour: Raspberry)

Daddy's favourite bit: Loved Princess Lolly's tantrums! Not a lady to argue with, just like a certain other jelly-obsessed person I could mention! (favourite jelly flavour: I can't eat it, it's made of really bad things!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by the rather splendid moustachioed Giles Paley-Phillips at Maverick Books)

Shelter under "The Magic Oak" - a fantastic book produced in aid of the Motor Neurone Disease Association


A beautiful looking book for a very worthy cause? We can't resist shouting from the rooftops about "The Magic Oak" by James Springham and Maria Brzozowska. James had motor neurone disease, and frustrated that he suddenly couldn't do the things he used to be able to do with ease, penned this book in aid of the Motor Neurone Disease Association. 

Published by Springham Publishing and available from the Magic Oak website for the irresistible and extremely reasonable price of £3.50 (plus postage), it looks gorgeous - almost like an Eric Carle book. 

Please stop by the website and read more of James' story, and more details on this magical book!

You can follow the magic oak on twitter @magic_oak

Harry and the Dinosaurs make a Christmas Wish by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds (Puffin Children's Books)














Charlotte's been a fan of "Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs" since preschool, I think she secretly liked the books because two boys she really liked at preschool were completely obsessed with Harry and his adventures.

In "Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Christmas Wish" we find out what happens just before christmas when Harry gets to play with baby ducklings (awwww) and the dinosaurs are so impressed with how cute they are, they wish as hard as they can that Santa will bring them one of their very own ("do dinosaurs have their own Santa, or do they share ours?" asked Charlotte! Good question!)

As the days slowly tick by towards christmas, the dinosaurs get an egg to look after. But what's inside?

You'll have to read the book and find out, of course. It's so easy to see why Ian Whybrow's "Harry and the Dinosaurs" books are so immensely popular with both boys and girls. Great characters, engaging artwork (and some lovely little cameos / in-jokes while harry is shopping for christmas presents) and every child gets to pick their favourite dinosaur. Perfecto!

Charlotte's best bit: She absolutely loves one particular dinosaur (and it's always the one she draws when she draws dinosaurs, quite frequently) but I can't tell you which one otherwise it might spoil the book :)

Daddy's favourite bit: Bit of 4th wall breaking stuff as Harry is shopping for presents and completely misses the fact that there's "Harry and the Dinosaurs" merchandise on the shelves in the shop :)

The Biggest Thing in the World by Kenneth Steven and Melanie Mitchell (Lion Hudson Publishing)














If I asked Charlotte what her favourite animal was, she'd immediately say "Polar Bear". This is despite watching them recently scoffing seals and generally being very uncuddly on wildlife programmes! Thankfully the beautiful cuddly bears in "The Biggest Thing in the World" are just the sort that Charlotte would love to snuggle up to.

After sleeping for exactly 97 and a half days, an inquisitive little polar bear cub wakes up to the crispness of winter and the big wide world.

Parents will identify with little snow bear's constant questions, and soon he gets onto the subject of the biggest thing in the world.

Is it the sea? Is it the mountains? Is it that rather portly walrus over there?

Mum knows best (as mums always do) and in this delightful little tale you'll find out too.

Such a beautifully illustrated and snuggly book absolutely perfect for wintry bedtime reading and that anticipation that as the temperatures drop, we might get some snow (c'mon, bring it on!)

Charlotte's best bit: Little Snow Bear - "He's so cute, I want to cuddle him!"

Daddy's favourite bit: Such an atmospheric and truly lovely story with beautiful furry bear illustrations and a crisp white world to explore. Sublime!

(Kindly sent to us by the wonderful Harriet (and Polly and Leo, of course!) at Lion Hudson)

Scruffy Bear and the Lost Ball by Chris Wormwell (Jonathan Cape Publishing)














Chris Wormwell is the genius behind one of our favourite children's books, the divine "Eric!" and so we couldn't wait to dive into 'Scruffy Bear and the Lost Ball'.

Chris has a knack of imbuing his animal characters with a brilliant range of emotions and facial expressions. Scruffy Bear and his friends are wonderfully drawn and soon you're wrapped up in the story of the (rather mischievous) Scruffy Bear and what happens one day when a big red ball unexpectedly drops on him, seemingly from nowhere.

Being a bit of a naughty little chap, Scruffy Bear does what pretty much any of us would do. He toe-punts the ball as hard as possible, unfortunately getting it stuck in a tree.

Momentarily, the red ball's real owners turn up and wonder where it has disappeared to. Scruffy Bear doesn't own up but at least helpfully offers to retrieve the ball from the tree for his rabbity pals.

We loved the fact that as Scruffy Bear begins to ascend the tree, each turn of the page builds up tons of tension till the surprise on the next page (absolutely brilliant for making Charlotte jump! Am I rotten, hehe!)

We'll let you discover what happens in "Scruffy Bear and the Lost Ball" yourself. It's a brilliant book packed full of adventure and surprises with some of the nicest artwork around.

Charlotte's best bit: Don't want to spoil the surprises, so we'll just say if you read this the right way it's great for making children jump :)

Daddy's favourite bit: Scruffy Bear and his friends are so beautifully painted in a nice update of the winnie the pooh / beatrix potter art style. Superb.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Jonathan Cape Publishing)


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Le Visite De Petite Mort by Kitty Crowther (Lutin Poche)














Finally, FINALLY we've managed to get our own copy of this rather delightful little French paperback that tells a cute story all about Death and...

Wait just a second. Did you just say "cute story" and then "Death" in the same sentence there? You did didn't you!

Yes that's right, you see Death is a delightful little child-like figure in Kitty Crowther's darkly delicious tale. My french skills are pretty poor and of course if you're directly translating a children's picture book from french into english when reading it to your child, it'll lose a little of its pace and flow so be warned, you may need to improvise (or hope that your child's french skills are better than yours!)

Death comes to visit folk and of course they're not always welcome. Most are scared witless by Death. Most feel the chill of cold down their spine but when Death drops in on a rather lovely girl one day, she's like a breath of fresh air.

She's not scared, she doesn't feel cold and she gives Death a new joie de vivre (oh the irony) as they dance, play hide and seek and have fun.

Nagging at the back of Death's mind is the feeling that something's wrong. This girl is so different. Why does she not fear Death as much as the others did?

I'll leave the absolutely beautiful twist in this story for you to discover, suffice to say that if you feel you're up to dipping into the sometimes quite harrowing world of french children's picture books, this particular story is an utter delight. Kitty Crowther's artwork is also a treat, absolutely beautiful - not quite what you'd expect from a book that's predominantly about...well...death!

It's a pretty rare book and goes in and out of stock on Amazon regularly, but if you ever spot it and have enough skill to translate it (google translate can be your friend but the results are probably a bit stilted, but it's an option I guess) then really do treat yourself to this, it's fabulous.

Charlotte's best bit: Elsewise the girl, so beautiful and happy and when Charlotte found out why, she was overjoyed.

Daddy's favourite bit: That rare example of a book that immediately sticks in your mind and nags at you until you hunt it down and read it for yourself. We borrowed a copy and had to have our own. It took quite a while to get one but it was absolutely worth it. Brilliant, dark and a great insight into why french children's picture books are definitely worth investigating if you've got the language skills to enjoy them.

My Own Little Christmas Story by Christina Goodings and Amanda Gulliver (Lion Hudson Children's Books)














As the Christmas shopping mania kicks in, it's very easy for children to lose sight of what Christmas is truly about, and to miss the stories behind why we celebrate on December the 25th. As Charlotte learns about the nativity at school (and is about to star as an angel in the school nativity play, wowsers!) it's great to be able to show her the story in books and even learn a little bit about the historical times and places the nativity is set in.

"My Own Little Christmas Story" is a nicely presented little book for younger children who are just finding out about the story of Jesus' birth and the nativity story. Thoughtfully illustrated by Amanda Gulliver and nicely retold by Christina Goodings, this book is perfectly priced (and sized) as a nice little stocking filler to hopefully give children a flavour of christmas that isn't tainted by crass commercialism and brand-led merchandising.

We're not particularly religious (my wife is slightly more in tune with a belief system than I am, I'm about as religious as your average garden rock) so it's going to be interesting as time passes to see what discussions come about from books like this, and the nativity story in general. Lion Hudson do produce some of the best nativity books on the market though, and this is particularly good if you're looking for a book for children to be able to relate to.

Charlotte's best bit: She really loved Amanda Gulliver's animal illustrations. Not too fuzzy or cuddly, just nicely done.

Daddy's favourite bit: Thoughtfully retold nativity story, immediately approachable and digestible by very young children. Fab!

(Kindly sent to us for review by the lovely folk at Lion Hudson)

The Snow Bear by Holly Webb and Simon Mendez (Stripes / Little Tiger Press)














It's difficult to imagine how beautiful our locale looks when covered with a thick blanket of snow. At the moment we're surrounded by water, and the skies are grey and horrible but Holly Webb's "The Snow Bear" cuts through all that, instantly putting us in the mood for snuggling up in front of a log fire, mulled wine (or in Charlotte's case, hot chocolate with marshmallows) in hand, with a really good book.

"The Snow Bear" is a chapter book and it usually takes us a little longer to work through these but it was worth it. Setting such an atmospheric story out, it's the tale of a young girl called Sara who builds an igloo and a snowy little polar bear in her garden with her grandad as the first christmas snows fall.

As darkness falls, Sara settles down to sleep but is woken in the middle of the night. She looks out of the window to find that the garden has completely transformed into an icy landscape, the igloo has gone and her snow polar bear has come to life!

Nothing is as it seems as Sara embarks on a journey to find her way home, with polar bear cub in tow...

We really loved the illustrations in the book and these just add to the wonderful wintry atmosphere. If your child is just getting into chapter books, progressing from children's picture books then Holly Webb is definitely one of the most important authors producing work like this.

A book to take your time with, snuggle up and enjoy even if the snow hasn't quite arrived yet!

Charlotte's best bit: The way Sara loves her grandad as much as Charlotte loves all her grandparents (who are all awesome by the way, just in case they're reading this!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Holly Webb's luscious descriptive prose is superb, love the atmosphere of this book - akin to christmassy greats like The Snowman. Perfect for this time of year

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

Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball by Giles Paley-Phillips and Gabriele Antonini (Maverick Books)














Back in the mists of time, Giles Paley-Phillips (who is easily one of the nicest chaps you could ever converse with in the book business) let us take a sneaky early peek at one of his books, "Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball". We're still a bit techno-luddite-ey here at ReadItDaddy Towers so it was great to take a second look at the book in paper form rather than flicking through the preview PDF when Giles kindly sent us a copy recently.

Quite rightly, "Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball" has been receiving rave reviews from bloggers, journalists and parents and it's not difficult to see why.

Telling the story of Tamara Small whose blissful sleep is interrupted by a monster one night, you might mistakenly think the book sounds a little bit sinister at first but it's a fantastic and joy-filled zany look at what monsters get up to when they're not prowling the neighbourhood roaring, eating things they shouldn't eat, and generally nestling under people's beds or in their wardrobes.

Understandably, Tamara Small is a little scared at first but when the monster whisks her off to the premiere social event of the monster calendar, the Monster's Ball, she's soon grooving with ghoulies and ghosties, spinning on her head with werewolves, and having a monstrously good time.

As regular blog visitors will already know, we love a good monstery tale here at ReadItDaddy and along with 'Fearsome Beastie', Giles and Gabriele are fast becoming the dream team for toddler-friendly monster books (Still not entirely sure about that axe-chopping bit in Fearsome Beastie myself but it doesn't phase Charlotte in the least so maybe I ought to take a leaf out of her book!)

Fantastic, fun-filled and utterly groovy. If you haven't already got a copy, what on earth are you waiting for?

Charlotte's best bit: Unsurprisingly it hasn't changed, she still wants a lime-green cake for her 5th birthday next year.

Daddy's favourite bit: Great rhyming text, fantastic illustrations and I love the subtle way the story changes part way through from something that appears initially a bit sinister and dark, to a complete chaotic zany party! Brilliantly uplifting!

(Kindly supplied to us for review by Maverick Books / Giles)

The Alphabet Friends and their Animals by Sue Pavey (Austin and Macauley Publishing)














Here at ReadItDaddy, we have seen a lot of alphabet books and often they follow a fairly rigid format. The most common seem to be alphabet books based around animals (though it's always fun to see what people are going to do with X!) but Sue Pavey's "Alphabet Friends" is designed to be a series that introduces a diverse gang of characters that each represent a letter, and have fun exploring their wordy world.

We're taking a look at "The Alphabet Friends and their Animals". Having gone through the book (in PDF form) myself, and then taking Charlotte through it, I could pretty much guess straight away she was going to fall completely in love with Daisy (the Letter 'D' girl, naturally) and her frog.

Charlotte's busily working her way through sounding out and phonics work at school and at home, so Sue's book was great for her. She enjoyed reading out the nice bold clear text (and of course giggled at some of the funnier animal antics!) and the illustrations are nice, plain, simple and unfussy - absolutely perfect for children who are just beginning to recognise letters and words.

Read out loud, the book gives me the opportunity to put on as many daft voices as I can muster (do you do this with your children when you read aloud to them? If not, why not!)

All in all a rather pleasing and satisfying little alphabet book. You can grab "The Alphabet Friends and their Animals" from the following links:

Amazon

Waterstones

WH Smith

Charlotte's best bit: Kiki has a little ant :)

Daddy's favourite bit: Harry's gerbil is very fat!



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Picasso's Trousers by Nicholas Allan (Red Fox Picture Books)














When children's books are at their very best, they spur your child on to find out more about their subject matter.

We love Nicholas Allan's cheeky homage to Her Majesty (in The Queen's Knickers) and Cinderella (in Cinderella's Bum) but for Picasso's Trousers, he tones down his cheeky schoolboy side for a book that opens a child's mind to the world of art.

Now Charlotte is beginning to read, books like "Picasso's Trousers" are brilliant. They don't overcook the text, they use repetition in a way that engages and helps the book and the subject to really stick fast in their inquisitive little minds, and the effect is dazzling - as were the questions this book prompted.

"Who was Picasso, Daddy?" We looked at Nicholas Allan's homages and choices of Picasso artworks to include in the book (big nod of approval from me too!) We talked about why some of Picasso's paintings look dazzling and realistic, while others look almost child-like.

Best of all though, I could dust down some of my big fat Taschen art books and show her more Picasso works, and more works by other artists who (I secretly hope) one day she'll come to adore just as I do, and in fact just as Mr Allan does himself!

There are a lot of brilliant books that gently introduce children to the sometimes complicated and always fascinating world of art but this is easily one of the most approachable and satisfying we've seen.

Charlotte's best bit: "The Heavy Lady, she's beautiful!" and shouting "No, No Picasso!" and "Yes Yes!" at the top of her voice. Superb!

Daddy's favourite bit: You can feel Nicholas Allan's admiration for the great man seeping from every page. Lovely characterisations of Picasso, beautiful fold out (and lift-the-flap) pages, a top notch introduction to the world of art from someone who knows how to speak the right language to children.

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

Look out Larry! (iPad App, Wasabi Digital)














The lovely folk at Wasabi got in touch with us to tell us all about their storybook apps and as soon as we saw their ethos, we instantly wanted to find out more.

Wasabi sing from the developer song sheet of providing engaging content-rich apps that don't fleece parents for micro-payments but still retain high production values and reasonable prices.

We took a look at "Look out Larry!", a great little story where a lizard tries to get through his adventure-packed day in one piece.

Interaction is the key with Wasabi's story apps, and young readers are encouraged to join in and help Larry escape the various animals in the outback that would like to eat him for lunch, dinner and tea.

Listening to the utterly lovely lilting australian of the lady who reads the story, I could quite happily have listened all day! Charlotte loved helping Larry escape and there's a rather delicious little twist in the story at the end. I'll leave you to find that one out for yourselves.

The app features a match pair game for a bit of extra fun, but it's really all about the story and the great painterly visuals and atmospheric sound production lift this a notch above the ordinary everyday storybook apps that seem to be flooding the app store. We love Larry!

Check out the Wasabi website and the app store for more great preschool apps and stories.

Charlotte's best bit: Poking Larry and listening to him squeak! Poor Larry!

Daddy's favourite bit: That lovely Australian accent, and lovely painted visuals.

(Kindly supplied to us for review by Wasabi Productions)



Angel's Great Escape: A Christmas Story (And So We Begin) - iPad Version tested














Thanks to And So We Begin, we've had a chance to take a closer look at their fabulous new story app "Angel's Great Escape: A Christmas Story" on iPad (there's also a version for Android tablets / Kindle Fire).

More and more parents are switching on to the power of modern tablet PCs and their capabilities. As prices drop, they're really becoming a viable platform to offer additional features and goodies that books can't. Even though we're fairly luddite when it comes to books, stories like 'Angel's Great Escape' are great examples of interactive story apps that show some publishers and developers are more than ready to show us just what modern tablets can do.

With the dulcet tones of Alan Titchmarsh to read the story, 'Angel's Great Escape' tells the festive tale of some unwanted christmas decorations, doomed to be thrown away by a very mean pair of humbug-scoffers (and their rather nasty little moggy!)

The decorations hatch a plan. They want to live with a loving caring family who will put them on their tree and display them proudly. It's time to escape!

As the snow crunches underfoot, Angel and her friends bravely venture out on a journey to find a new home. Unfortunately, the nasty scratchy moggy is in hot pursuit!

We'll let you discover the rest of the story yourself. We thought it was a marvellous little tale with great artwork and high production values. It looks like 'And So We Begin' are app developers to watch closely if their debut is any indication of the quality to expect from them in future.

Charlotte's best bit: Without a doubt, she adores Angel. "She's me!"

Daddy's favourite bit: Nice mix of touchable illustrations to add more interaction to the story, great characters and Alan Titchmarsh of course! What's not to love!

iPad Version (on iTunes)

Android Version (on the Google Store)

(kindly supplied for review by Kirstie Rowson / And So We Begin)

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Dear Santa" by Kathryn White and Polona Lovsin (Little Tiger Press)














Now here's a brilliant idea. Mix a fantastic christmas story with a superb letter writing kit (that's not just handy for those long, long, LONG lists to Santa, but can also be used to thank all those lovely relatives that spoil you rotten at christmas with a lovely festive letter) and you've got 'Dear Santa' from Kathryn White and Polona Lovsin.

When a christmas letter goes astray and is found by a cuddly little bear, an adventurous journey begins to make sure the letter finds its way to Santa Claus in time for christmas.

Bear enlists the help of his best friend Rabbit, and soon they're crunching through the snow on their ambitious mission.

Polona Lovsin's illustrations are absolutely perfect for this time of year, and Kathryn White weaves a tale of high adventure, keeping things suitable for a range of ages, particularly the very young.

Really great idea this, and yet another top quality christmas book from those lovely tigery folk.

Charlotte's best bit: She's completely head over heels in love with Rabbit. Awww.

Daddy's favourite bit: What a stroke of genius! Great little notelets and envelops perfect for letters to santa (oh and mum and dad, grandma and grandad, nanny and dodo and everyone else too!)

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

The Fox's Tale by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen (Lion Hudson Children's Books)














Lion Hudson publish some of the best nativity books for a children's christmas stocking but we think this is the best of the lot. A rather unique look at the nativity story, from the perspective of a rather sly and inquisitive fox who discovers that there's far more to the world when out hunting one night.

He spies a speckled lamb lying in a field, bleating plaintively for its mother but before he can steal it away, the field is filled with light, and the mysterious presence of 'men with no scent' - Angels, who come down to tell a tale of a new born king to the shepherds as they tend their flocks.

The fox wants to see this new born king for himself, so begins a journey that pads velvety-footed through the Nativity story until we meet Baby Jesus himself.

Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen's warm and novel take on the nativity is marvellous for children of all ages, and though at first the fox seems a bit of a bad egg, we warm to him in the end as the story unfolds.

The greatest story ever told, given a rather neat makeover. Brilliant stuff!

Charlotte's best bit: Seeing the baby speckled lamb with Baby Jesus. Awww!

Daddy's favourite bit: We've seen so many nativity stories, but this one really is truly special, even if you're not particularly religious or filled with the true spirit of what Christmas is about.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Lion Hudson and the fantastic Harriet, Leo and Polly!)

Bob and the Moontree Mystery by Simon Bartram (Templar Books)














For years now, artists working in children's picture books have been raising the bar so high and wowing the world with their work. Often we encounter books that are full of such utterly amazing illustrations that it's no exaggeration to say that you'd proudly display them on the wall (or in an art gallery, for that matter).

We've previously told you how Templar Publishing seem to have a knack for attracting the very brightest and best artistic talent working in children's books today and Simon Bartram is no exception. With amazing almost glowing illustrations that always remind me of the superb stuff in classic 'Eagle' comics, Bartram's 'Man on the Moon' books are much loved and 'Bob and the Moontree Mystery' is the latest adventure for intrepid spaceman Bob and his cyclopean doggy sidekick Barry.

Bob finds a mysterious glowing seedy pod thing when tidying up the dark side of the moon. The seed bounces away from Bob and ends up in one of the deepest darkest craters. Thinking the seed is lost for good, Bob thinks nothing of it and heads back home just in time for tea (and the big match).

The very next day, something quite extraordinary happens on the return journey to the moon. Bob's rocket ship crashes into the vast canopy of a gigantic tree. A moontree no less!

Join Bob for the rest of the adventure in this sumptuously presented book, marvelling at just how fantastic Bartram's storytelling and illustrative abilities are.

Charlotte's best bit: Finding the various aliens (which Bob denies even exist) on each page spread, and also counting Barry's legs (at least with six legs, you'll never be short of something to scratch with!)

Daddy's favourite bit: I could spend hours looking at Simon Bartram's fantastic illustrations. We've loved 'Dougal's Deep Sea Diary' and his stunning artwork on Pumpkin Moon. Spaceman Bob books are just as brilliant and should be a hit with any space-obsessed kids (and their parents!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Books)

Sticker Dolly Dressing - Princesses (iPad App - Usborne Publishing)














The iTunes app store is awash with dress-up apps and most of the time these 'free' apps are thinly veiled purchase-driven cash ins that soon frustrate children (and parents) as they realise the majority of the content needs to be paid for separately to get the full benefit.

Thankfully, Usborne's Sticker Dolly Dressing - Princesses app is absolutely packed to the gills with content so once you've paid the app price (£2.99), there's a huge amount to see and do.

Based on Usborne's popular "Sticker Dolly Dressing" range of sticker books, the app version features the same colourful and engaging artwork but of course once your child has finished their creations, they can start all over again.

First, you can select your favourite princess and then pick a scene to include them in. Then you can really go to town dressing the princesses in a vast array of costumes and accessories.

It doesn't end there. Once your princess is suitably dressed for the ball (or any of the other scenes), you can add extra items, characters (including some very cute pets) and decorations into the scene.

Because there's so much content in this, it kept Charlotte occupied for ages and it's quickly become one of the apps she always dives for whenever she's allowed on the iPad. With easy to use drag and drop controls, and (blissfully) no repetitive tinkling music to drive parents absolutely crazy, it's definitely one of the better dress up apps on the market. Some parents might be slightly put off by the £2.99 price tag but for the sheer amount of content and features, it's definitely worth looking at for any princess-obsessed children who just can't get enough of dress-up apps.

Charlotte's best bit: She loves adding items into each scene and tweaking the dress patterns / hair colour

Daddy's favourite bit: Hooray! No repetitive music and chock full of content, unlike a lot of 'free' dress up apps that are just thinly veiled purchase-driven hollow shells.

Bored Bill by Liz Pichon (Tiger Tales / Little Tiger Press)














Bill the Dog leads a fairly charmed life really, yet he's totally, utterly, completely, mind-crushingly bored...bored...BORED!

Food bores him. Being brushed by his loving owner bores him. Even exciting walks in the park or karate lessons bore him to pieces. All Bill wants to do is laze around the house all day, bored.

So what on earth could possibly shake Bill from his torpor? A very windy day, a storm and a trip to space might just be enough to convince Bill that life's not all bad after all.

If you've ever experienced the long school holidays and heard the plaintive cry "We're bored, mum / dad!" you'll probably love Liz Pichon's wry observations and who couldn't love Bill as he mopes around at the start of the book.

Great illustrations accompany the text and Bill's effervescent go-getting owner Mrs Pickle is a complete laugh-out-loud hoot.

Fun, adventure and a nice tale about appreciating every moment of life that you can, Bored Bill is anything but boring!

Charlotte's best bit: Yucky alien food, ewwwww!

Daddy's favourite bit: Mrs Pickle, the karate expert - Haiiii-YA!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Angel's Great Escape hits iTunes and Android devices with perfect timing for Christmas


Who is this rather beautiful angel? Well she's the shining star of a new app that arrives courtesy of the fabulous Kirstie Rowson at "And So We Begin".

"Angel's Great Escape" is a fantastic app and story narrated by none other than Alan Titchmarsh (I had to rein myself in from typing in 'Sir' there, surely by now he must be that much of a national treasure he's due a knighthood?)

The release of the story app couldn't be better - it's bang in time for Christmas and you can now go and nab it for your iPad / iPhone or Android device via the links below.

Please also stop by and visit the And So We Begin website for more news.

Here's a video of the app in action.  How brilliant does this look? THIS brilliant!!!

Angel's Great Escape (on iTunes) (On Google Play) Visit the And So We Begin Website

Spotlight on Wasabi Publishing, developer of superb children's apps














Well hello there little lizardy fellow! What are you up to?

This is Larry, and he's one of the stars of a brace of new children's apps from Australian publisher / developer Wasabi. For quite some time now we've championed the cause of app developers who clearly 'get' that parents will quite happily pay for apps that don't nag about in-app purchases, are put together with great skill (and love), and can drag children away from the slightly less educational side of owning a family tablet.

So let's take a look at what they're up to?

Visiting the Wasabi website is a treat for the eyes and you'll soon get to find out about Wasabi's range, and some of their in-house 'stars' like Larry - the lizard staring out at you from the header of this very article.

Larry stars in several of Wasabi's apps including:

Lost Larry (on iTunes) (On Google Play)

Lazy Larry Lizard (on iTunes)

Look Out, Larry! (on iTunes)

If lizards aren't your thing, why not take a look at Ten Giggly Gorillas instead! (on iTunes)

Looking at the production values of these, and also Wasabi's ethos which sounds like a wishlist for the kind of apps we really like to talk about, it's definitely worth taking a closer look at what Wasabi are up to. In fact we're going to do just that in the very near future so keep 'em peeled.

In the meantime, please visit the Wasabi website to find out more. It's hot stuff!

ReadItDaddy gets its first "Good Read" on Tots100. Wowsers!

Tots100 Best Blog Posts by Parent Blogs





Our piece on Child's Play International's fantastic range of traditional children's stories has made the Tots 100 Good Read. 

Take a look!


(Answer: Yes indeeed we do, particularly these lovely books!)

Book of the Week - Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes (Walker Books)














Our local library, Abingdon Library, is wonderful and they have a great Twitter feed if you fancy following it. Thankfully there's only one lion in there though, and he's a nice (slightly grubby) cuddly lion that likes to join in with the story time and singalong sessions.

A bit like Library Lion, the subject of our book of the week. Wandering in one morning to have a mooch around, Library Lion alarms the regular library goers. Mr McBee, the library assistant, is not impressed but the Head Librarian allows the lion to stay as long as he doesn't break the rules. No roaring and absolutely NO running.

Library Lion soon begins to enjoy his new surroundings and even takes to helping out. He's a whizz at the dusting with his fluffy-ended tail. He's great at putting books away, and he's a very useful cushion and backrest in the children's story corner.

Alas one day, Library Lion breaks the rules and knows what he must do. Leave the library forever!

Everyone begins to miss him, it's just not the same without their favourite cuddly cushion and helper-outer!

What happens next? Of course you'll have to read the book (or better still, borrow it from our library then read it like we did!) but you'll soon find out that sometimes rules are made to be broken.

A delicious discovery and a great story with some brilliant retro-style children's picture book art from Kevin Hawkes.

Charlotte's best bit: Lion roaring at Mr McBee

Daddy's favourite bit: A gentle almost old fashioned (but in a very good way) children's book that celebrates how great libraries are and - of course - how great lions are!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bear on a Bike by Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter (Barefoot Books)














That moment when you realise that you've borrowed a book from the library about 50 billion times, and have never reviewed it? Yep that. I frantically searched through the blog earlier, absolutely convinced that we'd looked at "Bear on a Bike" before, even made it Book of the Week (as it probably should be but something just a smidgeon better nudged it aside this week!) but nope, couldn't find it at all.

So here we are then, a book that Charlotte has loved since she was tiny - and still loves now. Barefoot Books publish some of the most colourful and delightful children's books and the "Bear" series by Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter deserve a place in anyone's children's book collection (including ours, something we'd better remedy as soon as possible methinks in case we wear Abingdon Library's copy of this out!)

"Bear on a Bike" is a singsong tale with the friendliest bear on the planet and his friend, a young boy who is always included in his adventures. When I first started reading this to Charlotte, I played it straight and just read it. As the years have passed by, the little boy has somehow transformed into "Small" from Big and Small (complete with that slightly annoying high pitched brummie voice) and Bear is a plummy, quite loquacious fellow who dreamily describes his current mode of transport, and where he's going on it.

Debbie Harter's illustrations are utterly mesmerising, eye catching for younger children yet still packed with exquisite detail for older children. Stella Blackstone's rhyming text weaves the tale beautifully and feels like it should be set to music.

We like what Barefoot Books do (we're still somehow hoping that Santa will drop one of their fantastic illustrated atlases down the chimney for us this christmas) and this is deservedly one of their best known and best loved books. Bear on a Blog. As Happy as Can Be? Where are you going Bear? Please write for me!

Charlotte's best bit: The ball! Oh my yes, the ball - and the method of transport the bear uses to get there.

Daddy's favourite bit: A beautiful book that is such massive fun to read aloud, and will wow kids right from the beginning of their book journey. Utterly perfect.

Maggie and Rose: This Book is Totally Christmassy! By Maggie Bolger (Walker Books)














We like our christmas 'make' books big, bold, brassy and most importantly BUSY! That's exactly what the excellent Maggie and Rose "This Book is Totally Christmassy!" book is like. Crammed to the gills with brilliant ideas so when we spotted this at Abingdon Library it was a must-borrow!

Set out with story panels nestling in amongst the (slightly chaotic) makes, Maggie and Rose and their creative gang of friends dig into their bits boxes to come up with some cracking christmas makes ranging from simple christmassy decorations, through to some scrumptious recipes and special handmade gifts to give to someone special.

The "Maggie and Rose" range also includes great books like "This Book Is Totally Rubbish" (which is actually about recycling!) and also "This Book Totally Makes Things Grow" which will give your green-fingered busy little bees plenty to do in the garden (when the weather is better, hopefully!)

Chock full of secret tips, great ideas and just enough mayhem to keep things interesting, it's smarter than your average make book. We love it!

Charlotte's best bit: The cool christmas stocking hanger thing.

Daddy's favourite bit: Naturally I'm going to have to say the scrummy recipes of course, particularly those christmassy cookies.






The Friendliest Ballerina by Timothy Knapman and Jimothy Oliver (QED / Quarto Publishing)














QED has a rather impressive range of books that are designed to teach children about a subject very dear to my heart, good manners. Well not just manners but generally being a bit nicer to everyone. Yep even that kid over there who can't take his finger out of his nose. The "Marvellous Manners" range centres around the same notions of pastoral care that a lot of schools are embracing wholeheartedly, as a means of ensuring that children don't bully, are polite, and generally behave better at school (and hopefully at home).

So in "The Friendliest Ballerina" we learn how two new children joining a ballet class are taken under the wing of the star ballerina.

Once she was a bit of a diva, ignored those in her class and in her shows because she was the star and she was the centre of attention. But after the show, when other children started to avoid her, she began to wonder why she felt so lonely.

Helping others, making friends and showing the new children the ropes helped her understand that being a bit nicer to others would mean they'd be a bit nicer to you.

Other titles in the range are:

Cowboys can be kind

The pirate who said please

Princesses love to share

All available through the QED Website

Charlotte's best bit: The new children giving the star ballerina a hug at the end of the performance.

Daddy's favourite bit: A great way of introducing good manners and polite behaviour to children through easily identifiable (if a little cliched) characters. Well written and nicely illustrated.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What's that coming over the hill? New books from the monstrously brilliant Maverick Books in 2013














Excellent moustachioed chap Giles Paley-Phillips got in touch with us to let us know that new shiny books are coming from one of this year's standout indie publishers, Maverick Books. We've absolutely loved Tamara Small and the Monster's Ball, The Fearsome Beastie, Grandma Bendy and Mrs Macready was Ever So Greedy so we jumped at the chance of a sneaky look at their release schedule.

First up, the talented team of Julie Fulton and Jona Jung are back with another fabulous "ever so" book from the sleepy (and slightly dangerous) town of Hamilton Shady. "Tabitha Posy was Ever So Nosy" tells the story of a young (and rather curious) girl called Tabitha Posy. Her sticky beak gets her into all sorts of scrapes and squeezes, but you'll have to wait until next february to find out whether Tabitha comes to a sticky end!

If you loved "Mrs Macready was Ever So Greedy" (we certainly did, giving it 4 out of 5 stars) then you're going to love this!

Next February also sees the release of a book we also really cannot wait to dip into. "The Cautionary Tale of the Childe of Hale" reads like a fairy tale but there's a twist, it's actually based on a true story and has a bit of a local connection for us (but we'll leave you to find out what that is!) Did giants once roam the earth? Find out in this beautiful looking book by Rachel Lyon and Vanina Starkoff.

We'll be taking a closer look at both books very soon so look out for our previews!


"Ten Shiny Snowflakes" by Russell Julien (Caterpillar Books / Little Tiger Press)














We're back on the trail of super little festive books to pick up in time for Christmas, and this lovely little book from Caterpillar Books / Little Tiger Press is perfect for fidgety and curious little youngsters who are just beginning to count.

A family of bears looks out at the snowy landscape and can't wait to get out there in the snow and play (I know exactly how they feel! C'mon, we've had enough rain now!) As children turn the pages, the bright shiny bumpy snowflakes magically disappear, encouraging children to count down and try and guess which snowflake will disappear next!

With lovely snowy illustrations and text by Russell Julien, it's fun and tactile and children can't resist the snowflakes. Great for a range of ages but absolutely perfect for the really tiny who are looking for something cooler than the average chewable board book.

Charlotte's best bit: Guessing which snowflake will disappear next (She's sneaky though and kept cheating!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Beautifully made, really sturdy and touchable. Absolutely perfect for tiddlers!

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

"Ginger and the Mystery Visitor" by Charlotte Voake (Walker Books)














It's always rather superb when our planned reviews are topical, or segue nicely with something that's being tweeted about. As the excellent "Play by the Book" discusses the secret lives of cats, we were putting the finishing touches to our thoughts and impressions on Charlotte Voake's excellent 'Ginger and the Mystery Visitor'.

Charlotte is an absolute master of peeking into the psyche of our feline friends. As we're absolute dyed-in-the-wool cat people, we love it when someone precisely nails cat-like behaviour in their books.

Ginger and the Kitten live rather a charmed life. Always warm, always well fed, and they enjoy each other's company (very rare for cats!) so when a mysterious visitor peeks through the window at them one day, they wonder who the newcomer is.

The rather cheeky so-and-so goes one step further when one day Ginger and the Kitten find the miscreant lovingly licking their cat bowls clean.

Ginger and Kitty's clever owner comes up with a plan. She attaches a note to the cat's collar and sends it off on its merry way. The note says "Do I belong to Anyone?" and they wait patiently to see what happens next with the mystery moggy...

The rest of the story is yours to discover. There's so much charm and so many knowing nods to cats and cat owners in this book. I loved the expressions that Charlotte uses (the cat staring through the window, absolutely spot-on) and the book's a brilliant demonstration that even something that looks fairly classical and (some might even rudely say) old-fashioned can be utterly absorbing, entertaining and loved to bits by today's children (the book's only 2 years old btw - it just has the look and feel of the sort of books I remember as a child, a really nice touch and it works beautifully here).

Charlotte's best bit (apart from recognising her name on the cover): Kitten. But she asked why kitten didn't actually seem to do much except snuggle! (Answer - kittens do that, a lot).

Daddy's favourite bit: The cat facial expressions are so perfect, they almost make me giggle out loud. Charlotte Voake absolutely nails them every time!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

When Will It Snow? by Katherine White and Alison Edgson














Imagine what it must be like to never have seen snow or galloped around in the lovely crunchy white stuff? I distinctly remember the first time we had real proper snow and Charlotte's reaction to it, one of those childhood expressions that can only be brought about by something as wildly different to a youngster's perceived view of the world as a fall of snow.

The little bear in "When Will It Snow?" pesters his mum about it until she reveals that as winter comes, bears must think of hibernation, tucking up snugly until spring. But little bear just wants to stay awake with his friends, to learn what snow is really like.

He stares to the sky and wishes, but all too soon it's time to go - and the poor little bear worries that his friends will forget all about him while he sleeps.

What happens in spring? You'll have to read the book to find out, of course.

Fitting in nicely with our festive round of reviews, "When Will It Snow" delights youngsters with a gentle story of wonder and friendship and how the world changes once the first snow arrives. Once again we tip our hat firmly to Alison Edgson (who doesn't in fact have 8 arms, just two very fast-working ones - or so she told us on Twitter!) and to Kathryn White for weaving such a cuddly tale perfect for those chilly winter nights.

Charlotte's best bit: The end of the book (which obviously we don't want to spoil)
Daddy's favourite bit: A story that deliciously describes friendships and how even a break from those you love and cherish doesn't change how they feel if they're true friends. Lovely!

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

Build your own Stable by Juliet David and Christine Tappin (Lion Hudson Children's Books)














"So Today we're going to build a barn!"

It's not often a humble daddy blogger gets to utter those words but the superduper folk at Lion Hudson sent us one of their innovative 'build it' titles with a christmassy theme.

"Build your own Christmas Stable" combines the nativity story with a press-out-and-play barn.

The good thing is that no glue, scissors or fussy crafty bits are required (though sometimes that can feel a bit disappointing for children, who love any excuse to get covered in glue, paint and messy glitter).

As your child reads the story, you can start to build the stable piece by piece. Younger children might need an adult helper to extract the barn pieces but it's nice and chunky and durable, so anyone with sharp nails should manage quite nicely.










We've taken a look at several nativity scenes before (even some excellent Lego and Playmobil ones) and what we rather liked about this one was the fact that all the bits slot back neatly into the book once you've finished playing with them or once Christmas is over. Very good idea that!

The traditional story of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, and finding shelter in a stable where Baby Jesus is born is quite magical for children even if (like us) they're not particularly religious. The story is dealt with quite sensitively and in a way that isn't overtly 'bible-ified'.

Charlotte particularly loved the animal characters, and of course the star to stick on the roof of the barn too.





The only real criticism we had was that sometimes the slots for each piece are a bit tight. I don't know if you can see it well enough in our photo of the completed stable but we had real problems fitting the roof on, and in the end we had to flip it and fit it with the straw facing inwards and the boards facing up! Not really too much of a problem as it still looked great, but it would've been quite difficult to get things to fit without perhaps enlarging the slots or risking damaging the pieces.

As you can see though, once it's all together it looks great and there's even a crib and baby jesus to use with the set.

Charlotte also discovered that it was the perfect size for her Playmobil figures and (rather irreverently) decided that her families of Playmobil folk would rather like to set up home in the stable (and a Playmobil baby would like Baby Jesus' crib more than he would! Eeeek!)


"Build your Own Stable" is nice and sturdy, with an attractively presented story, great illustrations and of course the thrill and challenge of putting together the puzzle-like pieces to build something 3-dimensional that can spur a child's imagination to tell the nativity story, and make up stories of their own.

Charlotte's best bit: Kidnapping the Stable and moving Playmobil families in!

Daddy's favourite bit: Aside from a few bits (like the roof) the stable slotted together beautifully and looks great when built.

(Kindly supplied for review by Lion Hudson Children's Books)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Harry's Cafe by Michael Rosen and Richard Holland (Candlewick Press)














Michael Rosen is something of a legend in Children's books, so it's a bit odd to feel a bit 'meh' about his latest book. Don't get me wrong, it's got a smooth jazzy vibe running through it, with tons of energy and fun but it also felt a bit like watching an improv play. So what's going on at Harry's Cafe?

Harry is a big smiley bear, a soup-meister of some repute and his animal customers just can't wait to rush to his cafe to sample his delicious legendary soup.

Harry cooks up a batch and as usual he is heaped with praise. But one customer is not happy. "The soup is no good" says a rather disgruntled Matt the Cat.

What on earth could be wrong with the soup?

It's a higgledy piggledy story backed up by Richard Holland's brilliant cafe poster style artwork, and children will absolutely love joining in with the crazy song and the pace of the book. It left me feeling a bit like I'd heard a bum note in a Dizzy Gillespie number but Charlotte utterly loved Harry and his effervescent style.

Charlotte's best bit: Jo the Crow, she's not slow, she's on the go!

Daddy's favourite bit: Love Richard Holland's art style, faaaab cafe, man!

Friday, November 16, 2012

One of the best sounds in the world...

This morning, as the usual hustle and bustle of getting ready for school was well under way, The Strolling Mum was upstairs getting ready and I was busy in the kitchen packing lunches, tidying dishes away and generally trying to pack an hour's worth of activity into the 5 minutes we had left before the mad rush to school.

I was putting my lunch away in my bag when I could hear Charlotte talking in her room. No hang on a sec, not talking but reading - or rather sounding out and trying to read one of her books on her own, completely unprompted.

Regular readers of this blog will probably know what a big emo softie I am but as I stood there listening to her sounding out, putting into practice all the recent phonics, word exercises and things she'd been learning at her school (who have managed to do so much in the space of 6 weeks, hats off to them!) it was a beautiful moment and one I felt I'd love to halt time for a while for, just so I could stand there a little longer and enjoy that sound. One of the best sounds in the world.

Charlotte has been using the fantastic Oxford Reading Tree books from Oxford University Press at her school and they work beautifully, with great contributors such as Julia Donaldson and one of our recent fave author illustrators, Ross Collins as well as many many others.

The books work, and I'd also hope that we're helping too - we read to her every night (have done since she was a tiny tiny baby), you all already know how much she loves books and it was just such a beautiful moment to hear her doing that this morning, knowing that she SO wants to read and will even do it completely unprompted.

I'd put out a plea to all parents (particularly dads, because it seems dads are missing out on reading to their kids which to me just seems completely insane) to read to their kids, don't do it because you feel you have to - do it because you want to and because through your enthusiasm and encouragement as well as your school or library's excellent books, children will really reap the rewards and start to enjoy something that truly will have a massive impact on their lives in more ways than you can imagine.