Sunday, July 12, 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 70: The books of David McKee (Andersen Children's Books)

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To folk my age, David McKee was always synonymous with the awesome Mr Benn, a children's TV show. It was only when C was born that I realised that this amazingly talented fellah was still going, and still producing some of the most incredible children's books including the subject of today's #Booky100Keeper entry.

There's one book that crops up again and again whenever you ask kidlit obsessives to name their favourite picture books.

"Not Now Bernard" is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, arriving all the way back in 1980 when I was too old for it - but just in time for me to read aloud to my younger brother.

Back then the message was probably way ahead of its time, and in fact the 40th anniversary edition has been updated to feature Bernard's ignorant parents doing the very thing that drives me absolutely crazy when I see it while out and about with my own daughter.

Parents on mobiles. Blissfully ignoring their kid, not giving them any attention, just like the parents in this story.

Bernard is constantly told "Not Now, Bernard" whenever he tries to talk to his mum and dad about a nasty purple monster that has taken up residence in the garden. Bernard decides to talk to the monster, and it's then that we're given a short sharp shock that feels completely at odds with anything you'll see in very few modern picture books. That 'snap' moment where the main character is done away with (in this case, scoffed up, every last bite, by the monster).

We've seen loads of well meaning but hopelessly rubbish analysis of this book over the years. What its true meaning is. Is Bernard the monster? Are his parents? Does he really get eaten? Does his mum really not realise that her son has been replaced with a monster?

Let's face it, we really don't need all that hogwash and I'm not entirely sure we needed the book to be 'messed with' for the new anniversary edition either, but as it stands - or rather as it stood, "Not Now, Bernard" is a masterpiece in subversive storytelling that delights kids every time they encounter Bernard's monstrous demise.

McKee is a bit of a marmite fellah. Some folk really love his books and understand entirely what their intent and their message is. Others go overboard in picking apart those messages, instead interpreting them as somehow menacing, subversive and harmful to children. Those folk are the sort of book folk who probably happily dictate to their child what they should and shouldn't read, and will probably never instil in their child a love of reading - or any form of that child finding their own way into books that they truly love, rather than being told to love.

Looking down the McKee books we've reviewed, particular favourites are "George's Invisible Watch" (which McKee collaborated on with his son Brett), and the sublime "The Hill and the Rock" which is a rather lovely and original morality tale that, like most of McKee's books, delivers its message subtly and rather beautifully.

More included below from this truly talented fellah, who deserves his place as a true kidlit icon.

Original Review Links: 

George's Invisible Watch by David and Brett McKee 

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 15th November 2013 - "Isabel's Noisy Tummy" by David McKee (Andersen Children's Books)

A spooky Halloween Re-Review of "Not Now, Bernard" by David McKee (Andersen Children's Books)

Big Top Benn by David McKee (Tate Publishing Ltd)

Denver by David McKee (Andersen Children's Books)

The Hill and the Rock

Not Now Bernard

Two Can Toucan

Elmer and the Hippos

The King of Quizzical Island (with Gordon Snell)

Three Monsters

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 69: "Fox and Goldfish" by Nils Pieters and Frith Williams (Book Island)

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Good morning my lovelies! How would you like to be completely and utterly emotionally destroyed by a children's picture book today? No? Are you sure?

You see "Fox and Goldfish" by Nils Pieters and Frith Williams is the perfect excuse to do your best ugly crying, in a story that's beautiful in every respect. Beautiful message, beautiful execution of that message, and stunningly beautiful to look at.

Fox's best friend is goldfish, but poor Goldie isn't feeling too well. In fact it's obvious to Fox that the poor flippery thing is on its last fins.

So it's time to do the bucket list, as Fox and Goldfish embark on one last final massive journey to do all the things and see all the things that they've always wanted to.

Children's books that deal sensitively with the subject of loss and grief are rarely done well, but when they are, they speak volumes about our ability to cope with death, our ability to take something joyful and positive away from it, particularly when it's woven into a story as touching as this one.

I mean look at it. Just look at it.

Deep breath, more please...!


Oh gawd!

The book imparts its tale with a minimalist word count yet you'll still be in floods of tears by the end, unless you have some sort of a granite lump in place of your heart. Book Island's books are a genuine pleasure to behold, and this is easily one of the most impressive of their gorgeous catalogue of blissfully brilliant children's books. Be warned though, it will ruin your makeup.

Original Review Link: 

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 29th July 2016 - "Fox and Goldfish" by Nils Pieters (Book Island)
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Friday, July 10, 2020

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th July 2020: "Monsieur Roscoe on Holiday" by Jim Field (Hachette Children's Books)

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C'est si Bon! Our second Book of the Week this week is a real refreshing sunny little treat, perfect for kids who are just beginning to learn French at school, and featuring one of the most engaging and happy little characters we've had the delight of encountering in a long time in PBs.

Meet Monsieur Roscoe, star of "Monsieur Roscoe on Holiday" by Jim Field, the super-talented illustrator behind those "Oi Frog / Dog / Log / Platypus" books.

Monsieur Roscoe is off on his summer holidays, and whenever he meets his friends, they always greet each other first in English and then in French - giving kids the opportunity to learn some key phrases and useful words in that divine language (I'm currently going through the grown-up methods of learning French and it's a language that is SO easy to fall in love with, so this book is a double delight!)

Jim's gorgeous bright illustrations underpin Monsieur Roscoe's journey as he sets off on his travels. We loved the fact that this book felt a lot 'busier' than Jim's normal work, almost akin to the fabulous Richard Scarry books I loved as a kid, and packed with lots of additional things for kids to observe and spot (see the back of the book for hints and tips on what to look for in each page spread).

So let's have a look inside. Oooh my you're in for a treat with this one...!

Introduce yourself, Monsieur Roscoe!
A whole host of animal characters crop up in the book, and we spent hours just looking at each gorgeous highly detailed illustration (plus plenty of time practicing our (admittedly terrible) levels of French!)

Even the rain won't put off our happy hound! Il Pleut indeed!
The thing that got us most excited about "Monsieur Roscoe" is that we can instantly see the potential for this to end up as a huge series. More books with more French would be ace, but we could also see Mr Roscoe perhaps being joined by other buddies speaking other languages. That would be just perfect!

Fave scene, the campsite!
It's whimsical, charming, educational and downright perfect, in fact as we already said on Twitter, this is easily our favourite thing of Jim's. What a talented chap he is!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly fantastic first book to begin a learning journey for children wanting to speak a little French with brilliant illustrations, a whole host of engaging animal characters and a ton of polish applied to it.

"Monsieur Roscoe on Holiday" by Jim Field is out now, published by Hachette Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th July 2020: "Lumberwoods: The (in)complete guide to fearsome critters" by Alec (CFComix) Anderson (Self Published / Amazon)

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We do love a spooky book, and we also love the grand oral tradition of stories about mythical creatures, and the way they become part of the cultural fabric of the folk who pass these tales on through the generations.

 All around the world every country on the planet has its own list of weird and wonderful creatures. Some end up being scientifically classified but then there are those - the cryptids - that defy classification, evade capture - and yet feature time and time again when you start to look at eyewitness accounts and bodies of evidence.

Alec's fantastic and imaginative illustrations feature throughout the book. Drunken Cactus Cat is definitely one of our faves!

Super-mystery-sleuth Alec Anderson has dug deep into the ephemera of North American, Canadian and Alaskan creature mythology, coming up with an absolutely essential modern guide to some of the weird and wonderful mythical inhabitants of the great forested areas peppering the North American land mass. 

The Tripodero - Don't get caught out, pardner!

"Lumberwoods: The (in)complete Guide to Fearsome Critters" is an exquisitely researched bestiary of wild and wonderful creatures rumoured to be rustling through the undergrowth in these areas, waiting for a weary unsuspecting traveller to end up as their next meal. 

Alec accompanies his detailed explanations of each creature with his own interpretations of them, making this book even more of a draw.

The hodag. Not a critter you want to get on the wrong side of!

What they eat, how they live, how they reproduce and even their strange and often unique 'special powers' are examined in great detail here, with an enviable host of creatures to choose from, including bizarre ball-tailed cats who beat their chests to attract mates, to the wily hoop snake - a slithery creature blessed with the perfect getaway system if an aggressor tries to attack it. 

As someone who was completely obsessed with the unexplained mysteries of our planet as a kid, I was completely hooked in by this. Some of the creatures I was fairly familiar with, but reading about ones I'd never heard of made this book really exciting and page-turningly brilliant. It made me feel like a ten year old again, discovering books like "Arthur C. Clarke's World of Mysteries" or "Strange Creatures from Time and Space" by John A. Keel. 

To think that this kid is barely into double figures, age wise! Yet he's turning stuff like this out? 

I think he's going to be one to watch, don't you?

What I particularly liked about this was that when I showed it to my daughter it instantly got her buzzing about her own book ideas. Alec's an inspiration to everyone - proving that you can take on a subject dear to your heart and with a pinch of creative magic, turn it into a truly fascinating read.

Oh dear, cry me a river poor thing!

We would very much like to see a followup volume but whatever young Alec turns his hand to, we can't wait to see what he comes up with next. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly fabulous and weird mix of strange and surreal creatures that stalk the backwoods of America, Alaska and Canada, written and illustrated by a mini powerhouse of creativity.

"Lumberwoods: The (In)complete Guide to Fearsome Critters" by Alec Anderson is available now through Amazon (Kindle version available now, with a physical version to follow soon):

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#Booky100Keepers Day 68: "Stig and Tilde: Vanisher's Island" by Max De Radigues (NoBrow / Flying Eye Books)

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I am still trying to learn French, as I have for a number of years - and one of the key reasons I have for learning this gorgeous language is my unapologetic love for all things French / Belgian when it comes to children's books and comics.

Case in point - the truly amazing "Stig and Tilde: Vanisher's Island" by Max De Radigues.

Radigues is a Belgian author whose work is well known across the Channel, but only came to our attention last year with the truly stunning "Vanisher's Island", finally translated into English by NoBrow / Flying Eye.

We've championed 'dark' children's books all throughout the last ten years of book blogging. Nothing captures a child's imagination like a story that dances between light and shadow as effectively as this comic tale of two sibs who set out on an annual summer camp expedition in their small boat, only to end up marooned on a mysterious island.

They think they're alone, and begin to make the best of their circumstances - until Tilde realises that they might not be the only ones on the island. Who is the mysterious new friend she makes, and why are they keen to scupper the twins' plans to fix their boat and escape?

This is fantastic comic making from the crisp clear artwork right down to the shivery cold fingers of dread it plays up and down your spine as you realise Tilde's plight, and what the mysterious stranger has in mind for her. It's just on the right side of a very fine line between outright scariness and 'hide behind the sofa' type frights but it's a masterful piece of work. The second volume is due to arrive in August and you know what, we will damned well come out of retirement just to talk about it, you see if we don't!

Original review links: 

ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 2nd August 2019: "Stig and Tilde: Vanisher's Island" by Max De Radigues (NoBrow / Flying Eye Books)

Our Picture Book, Chapter Book and Comic / Graphic Novel of the year winners for 2019
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Thursday, July 9, 2020

"You say you want a revolution in children's publishing? Prove it!" - this week's #ReadItTorial

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Twitter has been aflame again, all because of this bloke. Fresh from being torn a new one for Little Britain (alongside Matt Lucas), David Walliams has once again been in the firing line this week as it seems someone actually took a few moments to actually read the contents of one of his books, taking offence at the way characters are depicted.

Describing Walliams' character assassinations as cruel, borderline racist, wholly politically incorrect and unsuitable for kids, it's weird that it's actually taken this long for someone to notice that Walliams' trademark comedic writing style is hugely based around this type of stuff.

We waded into the Twitter-scrap with a couple of points made about the reasons that Walliams' depictions of working-class 'heroes' are so skewed, and there's no other place to lay the blame than at the children's publishing industry - that would happily trade a few rather unsavoury views from a million-selling author for the inevitable colossal revenues that author makes. Children's publishing isn't here to steer your kids through the moral maze of early life, it's here to make a shitload of cash - often off a few authors whose books are guaranteed to sell.

One or two authors waded into the fray bravely (as they always do whenever Mr Walliams work crops up on Twitter, though obviously not through any professional envy of his sales, or jealousy of the amount of promotion his books get - whether they need it or not - oh no!). I was quite intrigued by one person's theory that the rise and rise of just a few select authors is entirely down to the (quite frankly) pathetic amount of coverage children's books get in the mainstream media. "No one's reviewing books!" was the claim. Bit of a slap in the face when you've been reviewing them for ten years, have garnered a metric ton of regular readers and followers, but obviously don't work for a major trash rag (or newspaper as some people call them), or aren't 'celebrity' enough to talk about books to your zillion and one Instagram followers.

Publishing is so achingly middle class that it's actually almost turning into a parody. We wrote about this two years ago in another ReadItTorial - Are children's books becoming more 'elitist / classist' as publishing becomes increasingly dominated by the "Middle Class"? - A ReadItTorial - and re-reading this the points still stand. I think back then I rather over-optimistically thought that things might change for the better, and soon - but it definitely has not been the case.

Once the focus on Walliams had died down a bit, authors and book folk began to bare their teeth at others. Enid Blyton is currently being held up as 'the person who kicked off the whole problem' of market saturation by a single author. Her bigoted and quite often openly racist texts have already been subject to some rather creative editing for newer published versions of her stories, but the class thing has wholly been ignored. Blyton's working class folk are depicted as thick, lazy, often criminal in intent, and quite often the villains of her stories - so yeah, that whole class bias thing isn't exactly new in children's publishing.

Then Roald Dahl came under fire. He's already been given a thorough verbal kicking on Twitter for his anti-semitic views, but others picked out parts of his stories where racist stereotypes crept into otherwise excellent stories.

As I tweeted, I still think that a huge lack of representation for working class authors in the industry is not helping things at all. There are a few authors who've somehow managed to infiltrate middle-class-dominated kidlit, but they often struggle to stay put, often find that their core subject matter isn't what agents or publishers or commissioning editors are looking for. I remember the market being quite different when I was a kid growing up in the 70s, and it felt like there were so many more books around that featured kids like me who had a fairly poor upbringing, but could wholly identify with a central character in a book who wore torn hand me down clothes, a bit of a latchkey kid whose parents were absent not because they were gadding off on a round-the-world cruise or were wrapped up in their jobs as highly successful fashion designers / international spies / TV personalities, but because they were working every frigging hour just to put food on the table.

The entire children's publishing industry is due a reboot. Not just because children's books are suffering from the hard applied rules that new authors face, like an insurmountable brick wall, but because there really is no way for a normal everyday person to eke a living out of writing (certainly not for many, many years) - so retention of talent other than those best-selling authors just doesn't happen. The whole model is either fragile or irreparably broken from one end to the other, and I sincerely doubt that, despite the clamouring on Twitter and the insistence that the publishing industry just got a rocket up its arse, things really won't ever change and let's face it, we live in a country where the creative arts are treated like mere folly anyway, so there's that mountain to climb too.
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#Booky100Keepers Day 67: Shirley Hughes

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Sometimes, books arrive for review that are instantly timeless - or well remembered from a time when I used to read to my younger brother and sister.

In fact that's how I first encountered "Dogger" by Shirley Hughes, after leafing through it in a book shop and buying it for my brother - purely based on the fact that a kid in the book dresses up for a fancy dress contest as a Dalek (my brother was, and still is completely obsessed by all things Doctor Who - even a tiny little cameo from the tinpot fascists in a children's story book).

Shirley Hughes is an amazing talent. Her gentle storytelling feels like it harks back to an era that existed around the same time as I was young Alfie's age (Alfie is usually the main character in Shirley's stories - a young lad living a fairly ordinary but - by today's standards - totally idyllic life).

However in "Dogger" it's a boy called Dave who falls completely in love with his favourite toy, a squishy little dog called Dogger. When Dogger is accidentally lost at a church fete, Dave is distraught. Even more so when another girl buys Dogger (who ended up on a bric a brac stall and was promptly resold). All seems lost, until Dave's fabulous older sister gives up the fantastic plush bear she's just won at the fete in order to get Dogger back for Dave.

I never realised how brilliant this story was when I read it to my little brother, but re-reading it to C was revelatory. Shirley depicts love here, the love of a child for a toy that they basically cannot function without - and if there's a better definition of love than the unbearable thought of existing without that thing (or that person), then I don't think I've ever seen it.

Shirley's artwork - as well as her storytelling - is always top notch, and though "Ella's Big Chance" isn't one of her books you see being trumpeted very often, it's absolutely stunning, I mean just look at that cover...

This is the story of Cinderella, beautifully reimagined in the heady days of the roaring 1920s, with artwork that will completely knock your socks off, it's just so utterly mesmerising.

The tale begins with Ella and her father as successful dressmakers, producing some of the most beautiful dresses in the land. 

When Ella's father remarries a rather mean and crabby woman, and brings her and her two daughters into their home, things change. 

The new wife has grand ideas for their humble business and sets about turning it into a reputable fashion outlet - meaning lots more work for poor Ella! 

Her new stepmother and stepsisters treat her poorly, and her father seems to become more withdrawn by the day. Luckily Ella has a friend in Buttons, the store's busy delivery boy who always makes time for Ella and cheers her up. The rest, as they say, is history as the story cleverly changes various aspects of Ella's eventual rise, making it based on her achievements rather than those of some handsome prince coming to rescue her. It really is one of Shirley's best books in our opinion, and well worth seeking out. 

Of course we can't possibly talk about Shirley without mentioning the Alfie books...

As we mentioned above, Alfie's childhood will feel instantly familiar to kids (like me) who grew up in the 1970s and I guess that's because Shirley bases a lot of her stories and observations of what it would have been like in that era bringing up her own children. 

Alfie could almost be me as a kid - though lacking the father figure, a lot of the things Alfie goes through feel extremely comfortable and familiar - particularly Alfie's relationship with his grandmother which draws such close parallels to the relationship I had with my own Nan that it's almost eerie how similar we are. 

For kids today, the lure of Shirley's books is the distinctly unfamiliar - and the way Shirley cleverly works in aspects and elements of life that have hitherto been forgotten or pushed aside in our digital age, as kids no longer obsess about 'playing out' or climbing trees, content instead to waste hours playing videogames or making daft videos on tiktok (something we've spent a lot of our parenting time trying to avoid happening with our own daughter as you'll see from this blog over the past 10 years). 

We absolutely love Shirl, she is exactly as we described her - kidlit royalty. 

Original Review Links: 

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 66: "Murilla Gorilla" by Jennifer Lloyd and Jacqui Lee (Simply Read Books)

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Let's face it, one of the biggest trials as a parent comes when your kids are 'transitioning' between reading picture books and reading more wordy chapter-based fare.

In our experience, most 'early readers' are absolutely appalling, lathering horrid moral lessons in twee illustrations - the very point when a child is looking to maintain their engagement with reading is the point where they are totally switched off by the sort of books they're given in school or often at home (Biff, Chip and Kipper are not in our Keepers list for a reason - though I still admire the subversive streak in the art in those books and maintain that's where their true worth lies).

We were lucky though - we had these fantastic books, the "Murilla Gorilla" series by Jennifer Lloyd and Jacqui Lee as our early readers for C and I can't shout loudly about how great these still are even today.

We first met Murilla back in 2013 when C was just about to start "Big School" for the first time. Back then there weren't very many books that properly embraced the 'chapter' format, but with full colour illustrations and a completely hopeless but utterly engaging lead character, these books were worth their weight in gold for ensuring C became more interested in solo reading.

Murilla is a Gorilla, working as a Jungle Detective in the wilds of Africa. Number one in a field of one, Murilla's slightly haphazard detective methods seem to happen more by accident than design. She's a bit scatterbrained, and before each case her biggest problem is usually finding where all the bits of her detective kit have got to in her rather messy house.

With every case, Murilla is brought in by other animals to solve strange mysteries, disappearances, and even outright theft. She takes her time, is often governed by her rumbling tummy, and quite often likes a snooze in the middle of cases - much to the exasperation of her customers.

However she proves just how smart she is in the end, solving the case with a deft bit of observation and copious notes in her little notebook.

The setting for the books is gorgeous, depicting a junior view of what life might actually be like in an African township where the hustle and bustle of activity around the markets is depicted in these books quite beautifully.

The diverse animal characters are also nicely written but it's Jennifer's humour, alongside Jacqui's brilliant illustrations that mark these out above other early readers. They're genuinely funny (pant-wettingly so for their younger audience but also enough to make us cynical old adults crack a wry grin too).

I used to perform stupid voices when reading these aloud. Murilla as a slightly sonorous sleepy kind of soul, with Mrs Chimpanzee being quite loud and brash and outspoken, and the crocodiles being slightly snappy too.

I always wished these books would turn into a massively successful series (we only have three of them - and never got sent "The Missing Mop" for review sadly,  but I can't find any mention of more, which is a real shame as they're utterly brilliant!) But it's my duty while we're still here to raise their profile a little bit. Honestly, if you're looking for a far better alternative to those detestable kids in the Biff Chip and Kipper books, you really ought to seek these out, they're just fantastic!.

Original Review Links: 

Murilla Gorilla - Jungle Detective by Jennifer Lloyd and Jacqui Lee (Simply Read Books)

ReadItDaddy's FIRST Book of the Week - Week Ending 12th September 2014 - "Murilla Gorilla and the Hammock Problem" by Jennifer Lloyd and Jacqui Lee (Simply Read Books)

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 6th December 2013 - "Murilla Gorilla and the Lost Parasol" by Jennifer Lloyd and Jacqui Lee (Simply Read Books)

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 65: "The Books of Roald Dahl"

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Sometimes it almost feels rude to include such well known authors on our #Booky100Keepers list - as if we're following some herd mentality about books that aren't actually that good, just including them in the list 'because we feel we have to'.

That's not really the case with Roald Dahl. Dahl is in our list because both my wife and I have had our own copies of Dahl's books for years - way before we started reading them to, and sharing them with C.

Weirdly though the ReadItDaddy Dahl love-in didn't begin with the book you'd think of first. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" seems like the obvious go-to for anyone wanting to begin reading Dahl, but we actually found C loved the girl in "The Magic Finger" way before she had any appreciation for the mouth-watering descriptions of Wonka bars in the aforementioned best seller.

Girl's magic powers were an impossible to resist story mechanic, as was her awesome sense of social justice. So much so that when C's junior school had its first world book day, and the first set of dress-up duties we as parents would inevitably be drawn into, we had the easy and difficult task of trying to visualise Girl from the story (I mean exactly how do you 'make' a magic finger? We came up with a cardboard prop in the end and of course it didn't win any sort of class award, the kid who bought their costume off Ebay won - as they always do).

So yes we did eventually read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" - strangely subdued in its reception by the boss of this blog, but "Matilda" was an entirely different matter. A bookish girl with magic powers? Yeah we're seeing a theme. In fact Matilda lit a fire under C's imagination, probably the single Dahl book she's returned to again and again.

With a taste for the darker stuff, it also goes without saying that "The Witches" is a clear favourite.

Who can possibly resist a dark and twisted children's story where the villains of the piece - a conference of nasty witches plotting the demise of all kids everywhere - are actually the real stars of the story, not so much the young boy who ends up transformed into a mouse by these nefarious creatures.

Perhaps there's something to be said for movie adaptations of Dahl's books, as the movie version of "The Witches" is utterly brilliant - and I think is a huge reason why C loves the book so much.

Finally, well worth a mention is "George's Marvellous Medicine" - One of my own favourite Dahl books - because of a rather spirited and brilliant reading on ancient kids TV programme Jackanory by one Rik Mayall (oh how I miss that guy, and wish he'd read more books on that hallowed proggy).

I hadn't realised it at the time but I'd been channelling Rik's version of George's granny when I read the books aloud to C when she was a tiny toddler.

Dahl is an expert at producing the most irresistible baddies for his books (aided by Quentin Blake's masterful squiggly illustrations of course), and you've got to wonder how many of them were drawn from actual people he knew (the likely answer is 'most of them').

George's Grandma is a real piece of work - A cantankerous old soul who demands tea made just so (I had a Nan like that though she was lovely, not an evil old crone like George's).

George concocts a brew she'll never forget, using every item he finds around the house (as Dahl was sagely forced to write in the afterword and forewords of this book - "Don't try this at home, kids!") - which has the effect of turning his Grandma into a stretched-out monster. Finally she shrinks away to nothing - but can George perform the same miracle on the family's chickens to net them a healthy profit? It's a completely crazy story and not one that comes up in most people's fave lists of Dahl titles, but it's excellent stuff.

So many authors have been touted as "The Next Roald Dahl" (David Walliams isn't quite fit to lick the big man's boots though it's obvious who his biggest influence is).

Truth be told there will never be another Roald, the children's publishing industry plays it way too safe to allow the sort of anarchic mayhem and purely evil characters you find in Dahl's books any more.

Original Review Links:

ReadItDaddy has an absolute Dahl-ing day out at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden, Bucks

"Roald Dahl's Opposites" by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (Puffin)

Happy Roald Dahl Day! Here's our review of "Billy and the Minpins" by Roald Dahl and Sir Quentin Blake (Puffin Books)

The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl (Puffin Books)

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Puffin Books)

ReaditDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 4th April 2014 - "The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me" by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (Puffin Books)

"James and the Giant Peach" - a Special Roald Dahl Day Review (Puffin Books)

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book and Early Readers Roundup - April 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Pop-up edition) by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (Puffin Books)

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Monday, July 6, 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 64: The work of Chris Riddell

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Many of the folk fetching up in our #Booky100Keepers list are folk who can enviously wear both author and illustrator hats equally well, fantastically in fact.

Chris Riddell's books - whether he's illustrating his own writing, or helping otherwise godawful books lift themselves up a notch by providing illustrative genius - have been a mainstay of our "Book of the Week" slots since we started out back in 2010.

But it was the "Goth Girl" series that really caught C's eye - first read with me reading them aloud to her, then solo read on her own, the distinct cleverness of Riddell's drawing-in of pop culture figures fused with his glorious ink illustrations, coupled with the whole idea of producing gothic novels for middle grade, was just a huge huge lure.

Ada Goth lives with her eccentric father, Lord Goth in a rambling mansion with the most curious gardens. Riddell expertly draws us into the story of Ada and her ghostly companion, a tiny mouse named Ishmael, and the strange goings-on around Goth Manor. There's something deliciously dark about these books, drawing in influences as diverse as Frances Hodgson Burnett and Diana Wynne Jones, but underpinned beautifully by Chris's drawings (and of course his wonderful end-paper maps of Ada's amazing home).

The series goes from strength to strength, in fact they just get funnier as they go along - particularly for adults who will appreciate some of the humour that sails completely over their kids' heads.

Of course Chris is equally at home illustrating amazing books by other authors, including "The Sleeper and the Spindle" - a collaboration with Neil Gaiman, who needs no introduction at all - as one of the primary figures in fantasy fiction, and a god amongst men when it comes to spinning up amazing stories.

This one is more of a grown up fairy tale, a response to the rather antiquated views of the handsome prince rushing to save the sleeping princess from a thousand year snooze.

Woven with Chris's talent for drawing gorgeous fantasy bookscapes, but with a thoroughly modern and bang-up-to-the-minute exploration of what loves means, regardless of gender, this one is probably one to keep for when your kids are a bit older.

It's mesmerisingly good stuff though.

Chris has even managed to salvage an utter wreck of a celebrity book from being completely disastrous. Russell Brand's Trickster Tales was obviously meant to spin out into a story series, but the first book arrived to a deafeningly ambivalent reaction from the book-buying public.

That said, the best thing about "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" is the inventive way Chris draws up the characters from this rather self indulgent version of the classic fairy tale, proof positive that he can turn even a dog's breakfast into a book of the week.

Following Chris on Twitter is a joy - when he's tweeting about various book-type things or having a go at our dreadful government, his enviable talent shines through.

God I'd love to be able to draw like him.

Original Review Links: 

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury)

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell (Macmillan Children's Books)

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 7th November 2014 - "Russell Brand's Trickster Tales - The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by Russell Brand and Chris Riddell (Canongate Books)

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 23rd January 2015 - "Goth Girl - A Fete Worse than Death" by Chris Riddell (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell (Picture Puffin)

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th October 2019: "Guardians of Magic (The Cloud Horse Chronicles Book1)" by Chris Riddell (Macmillan Children's Books)

"A Kid in my Class" by Rachel Rooney and Chris Riddell (Otter-Barry Books)

A Great Big Cuddle - Poems for the Very Young by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Chris Riddell (Walker Books)

"Fortunately the Milk" by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell / Skottie Young (Bloomsbury Publishing)

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 3rd August 2018: "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

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