Friday, February 15, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week ending 15th February 2019: "Against All Gods" by Maz Evans (Chicken House)

So here it is. The final book...and our Chapter Book of the Week this week, the stunning "Against all Gods" by Maz Evans.

Book lovers everywhere will know what it feels like when you are holding in your hand the final book in a series that has wormed its way into your heart, and become such a firm favourite that you know the minute you're done with this, you'll want to go right back to "Who Let the Gods Out" and re-read the entire series all over again.

That's how it is with us. Each of Maz' brilliant books has slid with ease into our Chapter Book of the Week slot, and this is no exception.

It wasn't a foregone conclusion though. As C gets older she gets tougher, and when this arrived she grabbed it with a 'whoop' and what followed was a couple of days of agonising questioning until I could comfortably get her opinion on it.

"It's good" she said simply, quietly, almost with reverence, and a tinge of sadness...

So what are you in store for? Well, if you have been following Elliot's escapades across all four books (and if you haven't WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING, MORTAL?) you'll know where things stand at the start of this book.

Elliot faces his darkest period yet. Having vanquished unearthly foes, narrowly avoided losing his home, then suffering from the highs and lows of amazing triumphs and horrid losses, Elliot's final quest could decide the fate of mankind.  

Luckily Elliot isn't alone, though with a bunch of misfit gods to help, it's a wonder the world hasn't been hurled into a dark abyss before now. 

Every single chapter in this book feels crafted, as once again Elliot is on the trail of the fourth and final chaos stone, with gods such as Zeus, Hermes (our fave character, BOSH!) Aphrodite and of course Virgo, the wayward constellation all 'helping' in their own particular ways. But as the story winds to a close, Maz keeps you guessing right until the very end (which we, of course, can't reveal! We're mere book bloggers after all, not immortal Greek gods and goddesses!)

Suffice to say that you will not be disappointed in the least, and like us you'll be wondering what Maz will get up to next. Having crafted such a funny, heartfelt, brilliantly observed and hilariously pop-culture-referencing piece of anarchic greatness as this series is, we can only gasp in awe at her talent as a writer and hope that it won't be too long before we find out what Maz got up to next. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly brilliantly written finale to a series that has been consistently fantastic, and whether you're a fan or a new reader of "Gods" you are in for a solid treat. 

"Against All Gods" by Maz Evans is out now, published by Chicken House Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReaditDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th February 2019: "A Story about Cancer with a Happy Ending" by India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer with translation by Solange Ouellet (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Sometimes I think we're emotionally unprepared to run a children's book blog, when you get books like this that utterly destroy you emotionally with just a few words...
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ReadItDaddy's First Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th February 2019: "The Wall in the Middle of the Book" by Jon Agee (Scallywag Press)

Our first Book of the Week this week probably should find its way onto the desk of a certain Brillo-Pad-Haired President...
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Battling with anxiety and discussing children's mental health - Huge, sprawling, complex and nothing to do with snowflakes. A ReadItTorial

This week's ReadItTorial is probably a bit of an ironic thing to post on Valentine's Day, but revisits a topic I've touched on before, and something that I've tried to write about in children's picture book texts more than a few times.

With our own experiences as parents of a naturally anxious child we've found time and time again that this is something that will touch most kids' lives at one point or another.

The problem is that not everyone 'grows out of it' - and I'm not even sure if it's something that can easily be shrugged off. I know this, and speak from bitter experience.

Anxiety is - quite frankly, and excuse my language - absolutely shitty. It manifests itself on a daily basis, sometimes in innocuous (sometimes even laughable) ways, but quite often in ways that will prevent you from achieving things you dearly want to do.

I recently went along to the fantastic "Sketchbook Social" event held at The Story Museum in Oxford. Whenever I go to any events, even something that's really informal and pretty low key, I have to practically beg my inner voice to just STFU, stop overthinking things, and almost enter some sort of weird 'autopilot' mode in order to be able to sum up enough courage to attend. I imagine that most folk check out the time and place an event is going to take place at. Maybe even set a calendar reminder. Then when the time comes they just leave the house, make their way to the place and take part in whatever it is.

For me, it's like a one-sided conversation that takes place entirely in my fizzing brain and for a lot of anxiety suffers it's like we're trying to pre-plan and predict every facet of what might happen in the hours to come.

It's ridiculous really. Every single time I've actually made it to any event I always meet really nice folk, all with a common interest (usually creative but we'll come back to that) who love to talk or better still, get involved in drawing, cooking, painting or other awesome pursuits.

Anxiety is a fickle beast. The whole overthinking thing (which our poor daughter seems to have inherited from us both, though more from me, I fear) and this busines of our brains trying to map out every eventuality just makes no discernible sense at all.

It can't be shut off though as it tries to predict the sort of people you will meet. It may also try to offer exit strategies, get-out clauses, may hold you up while it engages in constructing elaborate excuses for non-attendance. If you don't give it an audience it then turns to sneakier methods of subverting you. You'll sweat or shake, absolutely convinced that your body is turning against you. Your limbs will feel stiff, your brain goes from racing like a high-end sports car to trundling along at a snail's pace once you get under way, fighting that damned inner voice as you go (and trust me on this, it is a fight).

I have various means and methods that I try to use in order to combat anxiety and these are the ones I've also tried to share with our daughter as she suffers in similar ways (even now, even if she's going somewhere with us or if she's about to sit down to dinner, she needs to be fed as much detail about what's coming up as possible and we've had screaming fits on the doorstep if we've stubbornly tried to hide a day-out destination from her, or have refused to reveal what we're about to eat).

For me, the most common method is to try and 'mask' it. Adopt a persona that does not seem naturally anxious at first or second glance. Perhaps try and present some sort of normality. Again though my sneaky brain looks for elaborate ways to subvert this and I'll often say the most inane and stupid things simply because I'm sitting there trying to cope with a situation where the absolute concentration required for maintaining a mask is being chipped away at by a screaming inner voice demanding attention.

I know, right. People are probably reading this and thinking "Dear boy, you are quite mad". Trust me, I'm not mad, but I'm damned mad about this.

So back to a typical evening out and of course once the event is finished, your brain once again starts up in supercar race mode, raking over absolutely everything that's happened during those couple of hours or so, a mental post-mortem, kicking you in the arse to remind you of stupid things you might have said or done, or mapping out what your brain or imagination feels folk who were 'unfortunate' enough to encounter you during the event would be going away and saying about you. Even putting forward the notion that you had no business being there, and were actually butting in.

How absolutely *&!%£% rubbish is that?

It has been interesting reading some of Matt Haig's tweets and posts recently about anxiety too, highlighting just how misunderstood - if understood at all - the whole thing really is, not just by folk who don't suffer from it, but even from folk who do.

In children, I truly believe it's becoming more and more commonplace because kids are under colossal amounts of pressure that we really didn't have ourselves as kids (certainly not in my generation at least).

There's immense pressure at school to perform well, there's immense pressure from some parents for kids to 'do their best' when really the parents are mapping out their child's near-future, perhaps with the goal of University in mind, or securing a good job, being mentally and physically well, being happy. Imagine either consciously or subconsciously being on the receiving end of a barrage of expectations from all directions when really all you want to do is sit in a pile of Lego and build stuff, or draw unicorns riding clouds, or play with your friends, or a zillion other things kids should be doing other than studying, doing homework or being force-fed reading materials they really have utterly no interest in.

Add social media and the internet into the mix later on, and the heightened sense of a need to 'belong' to a particular clique, mindset or set of friend-driven ideals - and of course the further erosion of childhood as kids are put under intense pressure to grow up as soon as they hit their teens (and have all the physical and hormonal changes to pile onto their teetering set of anxieties).

Mental health is a huge, huge topic to try and tackle in the space of a blog post but for me, anxiety is absolutely not something to dismiss lightly. Sometimes the very processes of the modern world seem almost conspiratory towards this stupid imagined ideal that we can merely 'toughen up, grow up, deal with the adult world' but it's not merely as simple as that - and I'm sure I'm not the only one who goes through this sort of stuff every time they see something they really want to be involved in, right?

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Feeling the BOOK love on Valentine's Day with a selection of gorgeous cuddly titles.

Awww, Valentine's Day. Love it or hate it, it's the perfect opportunity to pour on the book love with a selection of cuddly, smoochy and loved-up books from awesomely creative folk.

First up is a real "HUG" in book form, in fact it's called "The Hug" and it's by Eoin McLaughlin with glorious characterful illustrations by Polly Dunbar.

In the spirit of "Guess How Much I Love You" you'll meet a cute Hedgehog and a wrinkly tortoise.

Both are feeling very sad because they can't seem to find a hug anywhere. Each animal they encounter shies away, but when they find out that it's because Hedgehog is too spiky, and Tortoise is too bony, perhaps all they need to do is find each other!

A beautiful little book which comes in a large paperback format, or a cuddlesome and cute tiny hardback edition. Lovely!

"The Hug" by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar is out now, published by Faber and Faber. 

Our perennial fave characters, those awesome Mr Men and Little Miss characters from the creative minds of Roger and Adam Hargreaves are back with a very special book all about love.

The Mr Men and Little Miss Folk will help you show that special someone just how much they mean to you with this warm and witty celebration of love and friendship.

Following the bestselling My Mummy and My Daddy, this delightful book pairs Roger Hargreaves classic artwork with affectionate and humorous new text to help children and adults share the love on Valentine's Day or at any time they want to say I love you.

We've loved the Mr Men and Little Miss books for years, so don't miss out on this very special new book that's perfect for the book lover you know (or just as good as a special treat for yourself!)

"Mr Men and Little Miss: Love" by Roger Hargreaves is out now, published by Egmont.

Another brilliant lovey-dovey book from Egmont now. "Love from Pooh" couples lovely little verses and prose taken from A.A. Milne's classic books, coupled with the gorgeous line art of Pooh's world from the pen of E.H. Shepard.

It's the perfect gift for Valentine's day. Wear your heart on your sleeve with this lovely gift book featuring words of love from Winnie-the-Pooh. 

When you are Pooh, honey is your first love, and your best friend loves you despite you being a Silly Old Bear. 

Bet you never thought of saying it with "Pooh" rather than flowers. 

"Love from Pooh" by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard is out now, published by Egmont. 

Last but not least in our loved-up quartet of brilliant books is one of our all-time favourites. 

Hunt high and low for a copy of this one as it's absolutely brilliant at any time of year, not just Valentine's Day. 

"Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone" by Frieda Wishinsky and Neal ("Emily Brown") Layton is a true work of genius, coupling a hilarious rhyming story with the budding hearts and flowers of first love. 

A young lad is annoyed by the fact that his new classmate Jennifer Jones really won't leave him alone. When she's not buying him hearts at the store, she's doodling little messages to him and really isn't backwards in coming forwards. He thinks she's a complete pest - until the fateful day when Jennifer Jones leaves for good...and the boy realises he really misses her like mad (men eh? Can never make their blimmin' minds up!)

It's just so funny on so many levels, and of course it goes without saying that the combination of Frieda's perfect sing-song rhymes and Neal's brilliant characterful illustrations make this a complete win. I hope it's not out of print, because it's an absolute belter. 

"Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone" by Frieda Wishinsky and Neal Layton is out now, published by Picture Corgi. 

Here's hoping you get lots of cards and pressies on Valentine's Day! Big booky love from us!

(All books kindly provided for review purposes). 
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Bagel in Love" by Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik (Sterling Publishing)

Even baked goods like to get their groove on and in "Bagel in Love" by Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik, you'll meet the most adorable pair of characters ever.

Bagel loves to strut his funky stuff, but for some reason he really struggles to find a partner.

With the annual dance contest coming up fast, poor Bagel sits on the sidelines, coming to terms with the prospect that he may never get to shine in front of an appreciative audience.

But wait, there's a certain little cupcake who might be able to help him fulfil his dream. From a sad bagel to Fred Eclair (oh we can't resist a bun-shaped pun or two!)

The story is adorable and should tick all the boxes for mini "Strictly Come Dancing" fans.

Helen's illustrations are also utterly sublime, and dare we confess that it's almost impossible not to suffer from chronic sugar cravings while reading this book?

Super stuff for tinies!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A glorious little underdog story with the cutest baked characters you'll ever see strutting their funky stuff.

"Bagel in Love" by Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik is out now, published by Sterling (kindly supplied for review). 
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Three brilliant ways to play with new gorgeous games and publications from Laurence King

Never undererstimate the importance of play in your child's life.

One of the things we've really enjoyed is seeing C playing, now that the slight pressure of entrance exams and the snowball of homework has shrunk a bit, it's just good to see her easing off the throttle and just being a kid again.

Normally she loves nothing better than tucking herself away with a good book when she has spare time, but with a trio of brilliant new items from Laurence King, we've been rediscovering our love of games.

First up is "Super Happy Families" - a colourful and brilliantly designed card game from Aidan Onn, illustrated by Kirsti Davidson.

You're probably familiar with the old card game Happy Families, but imagine what it would be like to play a version where everyone has superpowers!

Team up magnetic Maggie and anti-gravity Felicity from the Quantum family or unite Fiammetta and Lolly Elemental. Collect illustrated cards of 44 super-powered goodies and baddies and place them into superfamily groups. Whoever gets the most groups first wins! It's quick to master, but very competitive and fun for 2-4 players. 

"Super Happy Families" is available now from Laurence King. 

More games please! We do love a game of Dominoes, but why should tiny tots be left out...!

"Dino Dominoes" with illustrations by Caroline Selmes is a great fun simplified version of the well-loved tabletop game. 

Instead of matching up numbers, kids can enjoy matching up different types of dinosaurs (and if they're VERY clever, they can have a go at naming them as they do so!)

Dinos and Dominoes! What a great mix!
Super-colourful illustrations and sturdy domino pieces are perfectly made for younger players, and this is a fab fun game for 2-4 players - yep even adults can join in!

"Dino Dominoes" is out now, from Laurence King. 

Last but not least, a gorgeous book with a ton of excellent play value...

"Fairy Tale Play by Julia Spiers is more than just a storytelling book, it's a pop up book with 10 different scenes - and 100 cardboard characters to use in each scene to make up your own stories. 

Children really love toy theatres and interactive storytelling play, and this book offers zillions of possibilities for taking well-loved fairy tales and acting them out, or doing what we love doing, mashing them all together in a truly brilliant and chaotic mix of different fairy tales all clashing hilariously!

The pop-up sections are really nicely done, sturdy but not too fussy for smaller hands. 

The card characters are also brilliantly recognisable and beautifully illustrated, perfect for storytellers everywhere to put on their own productions for mum and dad. 

"Fairy Tale Play" by Julia Spiers is out now, published by Laurence King. 

(All items kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs" by Fiona Robinson (Abrams Young Readers)

One thing we've hoped and clamoured for in 2019 are more books that uncover hidden historical figures.

We're more than used to seeing those 'fantastically inspirational' books that seem to feature the same folk again and again, but this rather beautiful story hails one of the unsung heroes of photography and botany.

"The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs" by Fiona Robinson is an utterly beautiful and stylish historical account of a young girl whose early life was tinged with tragedy, but who went on to achieve greatness in her chosen fields.

After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins (1799–1871) was raised by her loving father - who (like me) loved sharing the magic of science with his daughter.

In the early 19th century, the world was changing rapidly as new discoveries were made, hailing an unprecedented period of great achievement and scientific innovation.

Anna's father made sure that his daughter received a scientific education, which was highly unusual for women and girls in the early 19th century.

Anna loved to spend as much time as possible drawing and painting plants but always wondered how she could capture their beauty in even more detail. 
Fascinated with plant life, Anna became a botanist and loved recording various plant species for posterity in her own journals, with glorious illustrations and engravings.

In 1842, a massive innovation in photography had a profound impact on young Anna. The invention of Cyanotype photography allowed Anna to use new techniques in order to catalogue plant specimens—a true marriage of science and art.

Anna's father ensured she received a scientific education, unusual in the early 19th Century for women. 

In just under a year, Anna had mastered the new photographic techniques and published the book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with handwritten text and cyanotype photographs. It was revolutionary, the first book of photographs ever published - and testament to Anna's passion for her subject.

How to capture the beauty of a poppy in hues of blue?
This utterly fascinating story of Anna and her life is a piece of art in itself, picked out in the trademark blue hues of cyanotype, with masterful and glorious illustrations complimenting the details of Anna's lifelong love of plants. The book even shows you how you can make your own Cyanotypes (you'll definitely need an adult to help if you go down the route of using chemicals described in the book, though Cyanotype paper is fairly widely available and very easy to use - just wait for a sunny day!)

Sum this book up in a sentence: A beautifully written and illustrated history of one of the most passionate pioneers of early photography and botany, thoroughly fascinating work from Fiona!

"The Bluest of Blues" by Fiona Robinson is out now, published by Abrams Young Readers (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday, February 11, 2019

Celebrating iconic musicians and fantastic scientists with a pair of glorious new books from Wide Eyed Editions

We absolutely love Wide Eyed Editions' superb series of books celebrating iconic and inspirational men and women.

Two new titles in the "Inspiring Icons" series have been released and the first is an absolute doozy.

"Black Music Greats (40 Inspiring Icons)" by Olivier Cachin and Jerome Masi lists some of the most influential, inspirational and downright funktastic performers on the planet, past and present.

From Kanye to Beyonce, From The Supremes to Tupac, you'll find all these amazing folk and many, many more tucked within the pages of this amazing book.

With tons of interesting facts about their music and achievements, it's a huge resource of information on some of the world's most amazing performers who have become mega-successful million-selling artists, and have gone on to shape the course of music for decades.

"Black Music Greats (40 Inspiring Icons)" by Olivier Cachin and Jerome Masi is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions. 

If science is more your thing, then there's also "Super Scientists (40 Inspiring Icons) by Anne Blanchard and Tino lists 40 of the most inquiring minds in science.

Collected together in a fantastic volume of the series, these inquisitive and innovative men and women are waiting to showcase their big ideas.

Find out how these scientists spent their lives asking questions and making leaps and bounds in the world of science and technology.

From Marie and Pierre Curie to Albert Einstein, from Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, they're all in here, and so is a huge range of information about these super-brainy folk.

Perfect for the budding scientist!

"Super Scientists (40 Inspiring Icons) by Anne Blanchard and Tino is also out now, also from Wide Eyed Editions. 

(Both books kindly supplied for review). 
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"The Light in the Night" by Marie Voigt (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Children's irrational fear of the dark, and comforting books about how to allay those fears are as popular as ever, and in our time on this blog we've seen quite a few.

But there's always room for another truly beautiful one, so step forward Marie Voigt's utterly gorgeous "The Light in the Night".

The story introduces Betty, a little girl who loves her night-time stories, especially the one about Cosmo the bear. 

Cosmo isn't just an ordinary bear. Cosmo is afraid of the dark!

One night something magical happens, and Cosmo comes to life - the start of a magical adventure giving Betty the perfect opportunity to help Cosmo overcome his fears and show him the beauty of the night.

Taking a lantern in one hand and Cosmo’s paw in the other, Betty and Cosmo embark on a truly amazing and magical adventure that's perfect as a snuggle-down bedtime read. 

Gorgeously illustrated, lilting and soothing, it's a fab snoozy read with a great little message. 

Sum this book up in one sentence: Dreamy, magical and beautiful storytelling helping kids over their fear of the dark. 

"The Light in the Night" by Marie Voigt is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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