Friday, February 21, 2020

ReadItDaddy's YA / Adult Comic of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2020: "Locke and Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW Publishing)

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Currently enjoying a successful run in its first season on NetFlix, I've been re-reading the excellent "Locke and Key" series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

It's not a new comic but the chance to hoover it up in a ComiXology Sale was welcome, as I stupidly loaned my print copy of this volume to someone at work - who promptly left, taking my precious copy with them (note to self: Never, ever EVER lend your precious graphic novels to anyone - I've lost more that way than through any other means or methods).

So with a hefty "This one's not for kids / parental warning" let's dig into this week's YA / Adult Graphic Novel of the week.

"Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft" sets up the story of a family moving back to their ancestral home after a horrific incident involving the death of their father at the hands of a crazed killer. The three kids and their mum in the story reluctantly move back to Key House - a crumbling gothic mansion on the coast of New England.

Nina (the mother) was injured in the tragic incident, and feels like she owes a duty to her husband to try and keep the family together. The kids (Tyler - the eldest son, Kinsey, the middle sib and Bodie - the youngest) have a mixture of feelings and emotions about being uprooted from their previous lives, but desperately need to escape the gossiping rumour-mongers. They soon find out that even in a completely new town in the middle of nowhere, those rumours aren't left behind...

The graphic novel sets up the genius core mechanic of the storyline early on. Key House is a house of secrets, and also a house where magic exists. Mysterious keys are found, that have special abilities. One key can unlock a door and take you to anywhere else in the world you've ever visited. One door can open up your head like a can of beans, allowing you to delve into your subconscious. Yet another door allows you to become an unseen ghost, drifting around to spy on those around you. There are many, and as the series unfolds, those keys and their abilities become the focus of an ancient evil, a dark character named Dodge / Lucas, who pursues the keys relentlessly, lusting after their power.

Needless to say, when the Locke kids discover the keys, all sorts of things begin to happen. Bodie innocently makes contact with Dodge early on, and promises to return any keys that he finds to this mysterious entity living in the house's old wellhouse. This unlocks a chain of events that will once again put the family in danger from the very person who destroyed their lives previously...

The graphic novel is far more grisly, disturbing and dark than the series (obviously) and though the Netflix adaptation is extremely well done in places, it doesn't quite capture the unsettling atmosphere the comic generates - nor does it satisfyingly capture Nina's descent into self-annihilation, her grief and ragged helplessness at her predicament.

Though we're talking about volume 1 here, the series has a habit of getting you used to a particular character's flaws and strengths before flipping that character on their heads to show their darker and more mysterious side, picked out with Gabriel Rodriguez' amazing gift for character design and expression that really lends a hefty weight to the storytelling.

It's rivetting stuff. Get in on the ComiXology deal and grab these while they're cheap, but if you do go for the gorgeous print versions, never lend them to anyone!!

"Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is out now, published by IDW (self purchased, not provided for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2020: "The Monster in the Lake" by Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu (Nosy Crow)

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Oh yes, we are very much "down" for this takeover of middle grade by awesome fantasy and science fiction. In fact genre stuff feels like it's finally finding a home amongst readers who are fast becoming disillusioned by reading stories about yet another posho who, along with their cute toy poodle, fancies themselves as a detective.

So thank you once again to Nosy Crow for signing up genius author Louie Stowell and teaming her with Davide Ortu for the follow-up to one of our fave middle grade romps of last year, "The Dragon in the Library".

In "The Monster in the Lake" we're once again in the delightful company of Kit - a would-be wizard who seems to have a slightly disastrous touch when it comes to performing simple magic. Spells go horribly wrong, things are never quite what they seem - and to add to Kit's life hassles there's a boomin' great big lake monster to content with this time around.

Kit, Josh, Alita and Faith (the mysterious yet magical librarian) are back for this new adventure, helping Kit to figure out what's behind several bizarre outbreaks of magic in her local snoozy town - and perhaps once again save the world in the process. But what is that strange "thing" lurking in the lake? And who exactly is behind this weird shift in the magical world?

Louie expertly delves into her deep knowledge and love of sci fi and fantasy, with a ton of nods and references in this story that just had us hooting and cheering like cheesy nerdy fanboys / girls (which, we are, of course!) Kit's the sort of character we always love to see in books anyway, but here she begins to establish herself as that rare gem - a character that kids will begin to love enough to dress as on world book day. I'm kidding, but Kit is inspirational, full of curiosity, a tinge of self doubt but a ton of ability too - and dang, we want that in our books in spades.

Congrats Louie and Davide, this is another corker!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A darkly tinged, often extremely funny but reverent homage to all things gloriously B-Movie-esque with the sort of main character we just can't get enough of, and a supporting cast that make scooby and his gang look like cardboard cutouts. Awesomeness!

"The Monster in the Lake" by Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu is out now, published by Nosy Crow (Kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2020: "Felix After the Rain" by Dunja Jogan, translated by Olivia Hellewell (Tiny Owl Publishing)

Our Picture Book of the Week this week is a truly special book.

Grief and depression aren't something that you see dealt with in children's books - yet there's an increasing need to do just that.

In the superb "Felix After the Rain" by Dunja Jogan, translated by Olivia Hellewell, the book begins with a young lad who carries around a huge heavy black briefcase. What's inside?

No one really knows - but Felix has carried it ever since his Grandma died. The case is heavy, and poor Felix never seems to feel happy any more.

But a chance meeting atop a hill shows Felix that sometimes it takes help from others to finally see the light. A young boy opens the case, and all the things inside - all the pent-up bad feelings and sadness - all escape.

Felix feels so much better - and begins to see the world in an entirely different way. Happiness breaks through the clouds for the first time and Felix can't wait to share his happiness with others, paying it forward.

A simple enough story, but so effectively woven with beautiful illustrations and a superb translation.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely important book for kids who may be experiencing depression, sadness or grief at the loss of a loved one.

"Felix Afer the Rain" by Dunja Jogan and Olivia Hellewell is out now, published by Tiny Owl Publishing (kindly supplied for review)
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Thursday, February 20, 2020

The tedious 'tecs - A Middle Grade Plague - This Week's #ReadItTorial2020

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Couldn't you just ping him on his annoying little nose? 
3 years ago we wrote a thinkpiece about emerging trends, and even back then we talked about how we were getting more than a bit tired of kid detectives.

It's now 2020, and in middle grade fiction, kid detectives are flippin' everywhere - and they're just as annoying and smug as they were back in 2017. 9 times out of ten we crack open a new parcel of middle grade books only to find that most books are based around a nosy over-privileged kid who has nothing better to do with their time than get in the way of grown-up law enforcement agencies, treading all over the evidence in crime scenes while trying to big up their own natural curiosity as some sort of detective insight.

We exaggerate of course - and as usual kid authors usually do a fantastic job of taking a well-worn trope and putting their own spin on it. We've seen kid detectives who carry out their sleuthing in hospitals their mums work at. We've seen kid detectives working their magic in creepy old hotels, and we've seen kid detectives scraping together a crime-solving gang of BFFs to bring miscreant criminals to justice in some of the great examples where the detective storyline plays out in a new and innovative way. So some detective books still make it into our "Book of the Week" slot despite us being pretty grumpy about JAKDBs in general.

But what is behind this trend? Do authors have a fondness for certain books from their own childhoods and certain detective heroes that they want to transpose into their own stories and situations?

One thing we're beginning to notice is that there's a change in the wind. My oldest and bestest genre buddy, Science Fiction, is once again becoming a rich fertile and inspirational ground for middle grade fiction authors looking to break away from "another nosy kid" books into something that - to me at least - offers a more exciting place to daydream in.

The future? Many possible futures in fact, and not all of them bright and rosy.

When I was struggling with the content of a middle grade writing course just over a year ago, I was told in no uncertain terms that science fiction / dystopia was 'a dead duck' in middle grade. No point in writing any, no one will give it a second glance.

Yet here we are in 2020 - when the idea of a dystopic setting has radically changed away from "This will never happen, but what if it did" towards "This is probably going to happen tomorrow, and here's how it'll play out".

This year, in particular, we've seen a whole brace of new science fiction / dystopia books in the middle grade market that are absolutely incredible. So much so in fact that it's becoming very difficult to pick "Chapter Book of the Week" winners each week, trying to balance out a decent set of content from the blog that doesn't go completely overboard and merely favour these books because we both like reading science fiction and dystopic stuff. No, these are great books regardless of their genre, beautifully written with breathtaking scene-setting and characters that feel relatable and believable even when you're talking about books that deal with some pretty far-out subjects, such as the colonization of other planets, or the rise and rise of AI and robotics.

To me, Science Fiction has always been about the impossible made possible, the far-off brought a bit nearer, and the terribly climactic apocalyptic made into a place where you want to spend your reading time. A neat trick if you can pull it off.

Science fiction allows you to get away with almost anything. In middle grade terms, this does not translate to being able to easily pull the wool over kids' eyes though, and your sparkly new sci fi middle grade novel will fall as flat as a well-worn-out detective novel if you treat kids like they're idiots, and don't show your working for the fantasy worlds and characters you're devising.

Now more than ever, kids are switched on to science - so in some ways you have a tougher job of writing middle grade sci fi. Your plot has to be bomb-proof. Your tech can be crazy and unimaginable but still needs to be relatable and feel like something that kids can picture in their own minds as 'working'.

But it's exciting stuff nonetheless. One thing we always try (and fail) to do when it comes to plotting book trends is to wonder what might come next, and I have a sneaky suspicion that kid detectives will still be around when we write a follow-up article to this in 3 years time (if indeed this blog still exists) but I'd love to see the rise and stellar rise of sci fi too, that's for sure.
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"Rabbit Bright" by Viola Wang (Hodder Children's Books)

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Wow, now here's a multi-coloured cure for the doldrums, but actually "Rabbit Bright" by Viola Wang gently (but very colourfully) delves into a topic that many parents will nod along to, and many kids suffer from at one point or another in their early years - that fear and uncertainty about the dark.

Rabbit feels like this but in this amazing journey across the stars, underground and under the seas, Rabbit finds many dark places that are teeming with amazing life and colour, spectacular creatures and perhaps even new friends to make.

Settling kids who are afraid of the dark (without relying on the trusty night light - we still keep ours at home for when C's little cousins come to stay) isn't always easy, but a joyful explosion of colour is just the ticket - and rabbit is such a curious and engaging character that he drives this story along until those anxieties about darkness are banished.

Let's have a look inside this vibrant book...!

"Under the sea....under the's always better...ah you know the rest!"
Also: Could Rabbit's constant pink panda companion be any more adorable? We doubt it!

"Baby you're a firework!"
Viola's illustrations are fizzingly good!

"Going underground, goin' underground..."
Sum this book up in a sentence: A super little book for titchies to help them snuggle up tight and not worry about the dark, with the most vibrant and neon-tinted illustrations you've ever seen in a children's picture book.

"Rabbit Bright" by Viola Wang is out on 5th March 2020, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"You Can Tell a Fairy Tale: Pinocchio" by Migy Blanco (Templar Publishing)

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Now here's a neat idea that's perfect for kids who are just beginning to learn to read on their own, but still rather like having a parent or guardian kicking around to snuggle up to and share a story with.

In "You Can Tell a Fairy Tale: Pinocchio" by Migy Blanco, Migy lets kids find their own way through Carlo Collodi's classic timeless story, deciding how each scene will play out.

Those of us familiar with the story will know how things unfold, but the fun in letting kids choose what Pinocchio or Geppeto do at various story points lends this retelling a brilliant new dimension.

Migy's illustrations are also superb with plenty of character and colour, making the whole package both attractive and original with plenty of read-again appeal.

So let's take a look inside at how those story branching bits work...!

What is Geppetto building? We all know the answer but it's fun to come up with some alternatives!
Kids will absolutely love the interactivity of this, and also the feeling that they're the 'boss' and what they say goes!

Where is Pinocchio off to? There's a whole other story about what he got up to in the Black Spot Inn or at Dracula's Castle!
For older kids, there's even the notion that they could actually write their own story versions where the main plot thread forks or changes. We want to read a kids book where Pinocchio ends up at Dracula's castle! That could be awesome!

Yipes! What did Pinocchio find? And how would the story have played out differently?
This is a great idea that Migy has brilliantly done before in a similar "Red Riding Hood" themed book, and it's such a great idea to come up with a fresh and enjoyable way to read and be thrilled by classic fairy tales.

Sum this book in a sentence: Put kids in the driving seat of how a story unfolds, with brilliant alternative ideas and superb illustrations in a truly fab version of Pinocchio!

"You Can Tell A Fairy Tale: Pinocchio" by Migy Blanco is out now, published by Templar Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"Viking Voyagers" by Jack Tite (Big Picture Press)

There are so many ways to draw children's natural curiosity about times past and we've seen some stunning non-fiction titles over the last ten years of book blogging.

History texts have veered away from dishing up facts in a cold, almost academic manner into something far more rich, colourful and diverse and that's a fantastic way to describe "Viking Voyagers" by Jack Tite.

You'll already have a mental image in your head of what a Viking looks like. Red haired, horned helmet, swinging an axe, looting a few chapels and setting sail in fearsome longboats. But Jack digs far deeper into their history, their culture and the amazing achievements and discoveries they made, as well as their pioneering spirit reaching out across the globe to conquer new territories.

Vikings were incredibly artistic and creative, and the rich heritage of their art and designs is also described in the book with fantastic facts and brilliant illustrations.

A Viking Longboat. A fearsome sight but a truly brilliant nautical design
Every aspect of Viking life is examined in great detail, in a book that like all the best kid non-fic stuff works just as well in school / class or at home, perfect as the basis for classroom projects.

Amazingly detailed spreads like this really bring the subject to life
Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastically detailed and gorgeously illustrated book chock full of information about the Vikings and dispelling many of the myths built up around their amazing culture.

"Viking Voyagers" by Jack Tite is out now, published by Big Picture Press (kindly supplied for review)
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Monday, February 17, 2020

"Everybody Has a Body" by Jon Burgerman (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

Another cracking slice of awesome colourful fun and hilarity from a truly original creative.

Jon Burgerman's fantastic books are brilliant for busy little ones, and "Everybody Has a Body" is no exception.

Everyone really does have a body - and your body is the most amazing instrument you'll ever own. So let Jon take you on a fun journey celebrating all the things that make us unique, in a brilliant and diverse bounce-along story.

Concentrating on Jon's characterful visuals, the story is intentionally kept minimalistic in order to show kids that no matter what they look like, or no matter what their bodies are like, they're all awesome!

One additional note. This book is also available in Welsh, which is pretty cool too!!

Sum this book up a sentence: Another superb book from a creator who manages to inject such a huge amount of energy into his books, making them instantly appealing to little ones.

"Everybody Has a Body" by Jon Burgerman is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday, February 14, 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 14th February 2020: "Max and the Midknights" by Lincoln Peirce (Macmillan Children's Books)

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We've long been interested in fab books that successfully bridge the gap between picture books and lengthier chapter-based stories, and our Chapter Book of the Week this week is a cracking example of something that could almost end up being a genre all of its own.

"Max and the Midknights" by Lincoln Peirce is almost like a mini graphic novel spliced with an early middle grade reader, but essentially the sort of romping adventure that's perfect for newly confident solo readers who want to move on from illustration-heavy / text light picture books.

This is the opposite, but features glorious monochrome illustrations woven into every page, like some of the middle grade awesomeness we've seen in books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dog Man (ironic then that the two cover quotes are from the authors of those books!)

So what on earth is it all about? A grand quest of course, undertaken by diminutive Max - who wants to become a knight more than anything else in the world.

But he's a tiddly little chap, and the adventure he's about to embark on might be too much for this little fellah - who soon realises he might need a friend or two along on a quest to defeat an evil king - King Gastley in fact.

The brave adventurers set off to free Max's awesome uncle Budrick, forming themselves into "The MidKnights", ready to rescue uncle, and restore Byjovia to its former glory, while putting King Gastley firmly in his place.

As you can see, the way the book is laid out is almost like a set of interlocking comic strips, instantly digestible by kids who are daunted by huge walls of text in their books - but with a ton of style and humour about them that makes them stand out. What a great idea!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly awesome romp for a new Knight-in-training and his gang of brave pals, tricked out in a format that makes it immediately accessible to a wide range of reading abilities.

"Max and the MidKnights" by Lincoln Peirce is out now, published by Macmillan Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).
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ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 14th February 2020: "Glass Town" by Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape PB)

Wow, what a treat for Bronte-sauruses such as us - a graphic novel that doesn't just dish up the usual stale old biography of the Brontes, but delves into their storytelling psyche in a completely unique way.

"Glass Town" by Isabel Greenberg digs into the backstory of Charlotte, Emily, Branwell and Anne. Living in a tumbledown house in the middle of a remote moor had an early effect on the adventuresome imaginations of the four children. Though their life was tinged with early tragedy and the loss of two siblings, the four developed a deep bond through their love of storytelling.

In particular their dreamed-up world where the four would often cook up narratives, plots and characters that would undoubtedly influence their later lives and in particular Charlotte and Emily's writing careers.

Isabel perfectly captures the often stark bleakness of their young lives, and how that completely contrasted with Glass Town and the world they wrote about, drew and mapped out as the four would play together.

But she goes a step further - this is Isabel Greenberg we're talking about after all, and soon the characters of Glass Town begin to seep into the real world lives of the four as the characters beg to tell their own stories.

As you'll discover once you dip in, the four (often contrasting) personalities of the Brontes fed directly into the evolution of their imaginary world, and the friendships and conflicts of the imaginary folk they populated it with.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Sumptuous, darkly delicious and gothic, and at times quite uplifting and heartwarming, this is an absolute must for every Bronte fan who's ever wondered "What if Glass Town was ever developed into a story in its own right?"

"Glass Town" by Isabel Greenberg is out now, published by Jonathan Cape PB (kindly supplied for review). 
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