Monday, March 18, 2019

"Along Came Coco" by Eva Byrne (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Here's a fabulous book about one of the most influential and important fashion icons ever to cut a cloth.

Eva Byrne's gorgeous book "Along Came Coco" celebrates the creativity and joie de vivre of this legendary fashion designer.

In a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard, along came Coco, a small French orphan with an eye for style, a talent for sewing, and a big imagination. 

Coco grew up in an orphanage run by very strict nuns, but she wasn’t very good at following rules. 

Girls were told to brush their hair 100 times until their arms were sore, Coco promised herself that one day she would snip away her locks so that she wouldn’t have to be so fussy—girls needed time for other things, and they needed some of the comforts that boys enjoyed (too right!)

Why shouldn’t girls have pockets? And why did they have to wear corsets all the time? 

How do you solve a problem like Coco? 

An exploration of Coco’s early life and a celebration of her creativity, Along Came Coco shows the ways in which Coco Chanel’s imaginative spirit led her to grow into one of the world’s most beloved fashion icons.

Cutting a dash through Paris in the finest threads imaginable!
There are so many folk in the fashion industry that C worships, fancying herself as a bit of a fashion guru but none more so than Coco Chanel, whose impact and influence is still felt to this very day, and whose enduring brands are still as sought after as ever. We really loved the illustrations in this one too, as they look like fashion drawings should. Brilliant stuff!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A glorious history of an amazing iconic woman who redefined fashion for generations of women. 

"Along Came Coco" by Eva Byrne is out on the 19th March 2019, published by Abrams Young Readers (kindly supplied for review). 

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"Fanatical About Frogs" by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books)

Here's a right ribbiting read that we're toadally in love with. Spawned from the fantastic creative mind of Owen Davey, let's take a dip in the deep dark pond of "Fanatical About Frogs".

Owen's natural history / nature books are a real treat, and we've enjoyed him enthusing about apes, going batty about beetles, and sizzling on about sharks.

But now it's the turn of one of our favourite amphibians. As a miscreant youth who used to raid a local farmer's pond for frog spawn, before bringing it home and watching those wriggling little cells develop first into tadpoles, and then into croaking frogs, I've always loved 'em and I'm glad to find that C loves them just as much too.

Owen takes a trip around the world to show us many of the fascinating species that dwell in just about every environment you can think of.

From poisonous brightly coloured frogs who nestle amongst the leaves in rain forests, to wrinkly warty jumpy little fellows that you can probably find in water sources and ponds near you.

Sum this book up in a sentence: With Owen's trademark beautiful and clean lined illustrations, and simple but informative text to keep little ones immersed in the subject, this is a real treat.

"Fanatical about Frogs" by Owen Davey is out now, published by Flying Eye Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday, March 15, 2019

ReadItDaddy's YA Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th March 2019: "The Burning" by Laura Bates (Simon and Schuster)

Now and again we love to cover cracklingly good YA books, mainly to keep an eye on what C will be reading in a few short years.

"The Burning" by Laura Bates scorches its way into our "Chapter Book of the Week" slot, using a fictionalised story derived from real-world stories and anecdotes gathered from Laura's hugely important work in schools through the "Everyday Sexism" project, speaking with authority on issues of feminism, positive self-image and toxic masculinity.

Laura was one of the first authors to strongarm the power of social media in order to begin addressing issues that girls as young as C will regularly encounter in their daily lives, right through their teens and into adult life.

The story opens with a girl called Anna who has moved to a new town, a new school and has even changed her identity.

Completely eradicating her old life with good reason, Anna wants nothing more than to make a fresh start as far away from previous troubles as possible.

The only problem is, like a fire, rumour spreads - and soon Anna's new life begins to clash horribly with her old life and 'the incident' from which she has fled.

As time begins to run out on her secrets, Anna finds herself irresistibly drawn to the historical tale of Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft centuries earlier.

Anna begins to unravel a story that has terrifying parallels to Anna’s own.

I read this, but it's going to be one of those books I tuck away for C when she's older - though sometimes the subjects covered here do actually make it into conversations both my wife and I already have with C, showing just how widespread issues of harrassment, bullying and sexism are - and how even young girls aren't immune to having this sort of execrable behaviour crop up in their lives.

As much as Holly Bourne's cover quote says "This is a book teen girls NEED to read", I would add that teen boys - and indeed parents - should also read this, as a piece of fiction that has many uncomfortable parallels with what womenfolk in their own families or social circles have, do currently and sadly will have to put up with in their own lives until mass change gathers more momentum. Books like this can only help that happen more effectively and this is a vitally important story to share from an immensely talented author.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A solidly researched, quite often harrowing but ultimately worthwhile and important read derived from Laura's extensive experience of speaking out about the issues covered in Anna's story.

"The Burning" by Laura Bates is out now, published by Simon and Schuster. 
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ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th March 2019: "How Not To Lose It: Mental Health - Sorted" by Anna Williamson and Sophie Beer (Scholastic Children's Books)

Our second Book of the Week is a really fantastic resource for children and parents, to help them navigate the minefield of mental health issues that arise as kids pass from tweens to teens, thus making it absolutely perfect for coverage on our blog.

"How not to Lose it - Mental Health Sorted" by mental health expert and presenter Anna Williamson comfortably covers a broad range of subjects in an expert and informed way.

Whereas we've seen many books that are well meaning, but not always written by folk who are qualified and experienced. As well as being a television presenter, Anna is a qualified Childline counsellor and ambassador for the Princes Trust.

Drawing on real-life cases and issues that children face, Anna has put together a fantastic book along similar lines to her "Breaking Mum and Dad" but with more of an emphasis on the increasing pressure and mental health issues that children are now facing at an increasingly early age.

Sophie's graphics help to make the book feel more friendly and approachable
The book covers anxiety, worry, depression and fear, but also covers relationships, issues around self-esteem and has loads of extra resources and external links so that kids can get the help they need.

One thing Anna does that others seem to fail to do is taking "Me" out of the equation. We've seen so many self-help guides for kids that just feel like the person writing it would rather talk about themselves or their own experiences, whereas Anna draws in cases as examples and helps kids and parents to decode and understand each issue in a really effective way.

Anna is here to help!

There are so many excellent points and observations here that it's hard to pick just one great example that impressed us, the whole book works brilliantly either as a reference to dip into, or as a cover-to-cover 'map' of the sort of things children regularly experience in conjunction with their own mental health worries or stresses.

We are all complicated, wonderful human beings and yes, we all do have mental as well as physical health to consider in our daily lives. 
Hugely impressed with this one!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A vital mental health resource from someone who really feels like they speak with friendliness, authority and experience.

"How not to Lose It: Mental Health Sorted" by Anna Williamson and Sophie Beer is out now, published by Scholastic (kindly supplied for review). 

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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th March 2019: "The Lost Book of Adventure" by the Unknown Adventurer, edited by Teddy Keen (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Our Picture Book of the Week is extremely difficult to describe without starting to sound like a gushing fanboy and fangirl for any publisher who has the sheer moxy to get behind a book of such amazing scope and breadth.

"The Lost Book of Adventure" by The Unknown Adventurer, edited by Teddy Keen weaves an air of mystery around a set of 'found journals' and sketches, lost in the middle of the Amazonian Rain Forest and rediscovered by editor Teddy.

Pulling together a story of high adventure, excitement, danger and survival amidst the backdrop of the deep and forbidding environment of the Amazon would have probably garnered our interest, if it wasn't for the fact that this book also urges you - the humble reader - to think about how you would set out on an adventurous pioneering journey of your own.

The first thing you'll notice about this book is the glorious illustrative nature of it. The second thing you'll notice is that this isn't just some "Done in 32 pages" picture book - this is a colossal tome that will keep you utterly gripped and enthralled throughout its 192 pages. Yes, you read that right, 192 pages in a children's picture book? UNHEARD OF!!!

But oh, what a journey, what detail, what an exquisite project pulled together in such an utterly amazing way. Let's take a look at a couple of excerpt spreads from this stunning, stunning book.

Wow, can you imagine what the night sky looks like from the deepest depths of the Amazon? Utterly amazing!
The presentation is just sublime, wrapping together so many amazing snippets of knowledge and information alongside atmospheric and glorious little sketches and illustrations in a journal-like style.

I can't help bursting into cackling fits of laughter about this book, that someone FINALLY "gets" that kids (and adults) absolutely love big thick content-rich stuff like this. 
We've always been drawn to outdoorsy-type stuff, and this is always something both my wife and I feel is a hugely important part of our daughter's development. But we've never quite seen anything like this, that takes the whole notion of getting outdoors and having an amazing adventure, and runs with it to the point where it truly feels like absolutely every aspect of being out in the wild has been thought of and included in here.

How to make a survival tin. As C pointed out, just needs more chocolate really
I love the air of mystery set up around this book too, made to feel like a 'lost footage' movie but in book form.

I think the most exciting aspect about this is that out there, right now, there will be kids who will read this. Maybe kids like C who love the outdoors and want to take it to the next level. Kids perhaps who are doing their Duke of Edinburgh awards. Kids who are interested in conservation, wildlife or perhaps who just want to go out there and find a new path in our huge colossal planet and boy oh boy this book will utterly blow them away just as it has us.

Frances Lincoln / Quarto have to be thoroughly applauded for this. What an utterly amazing book and "Book of the Week" just doesn't seem a grand enough reward for something this durned good.

Told you we'd be gushy about it!!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A mysterious and utterly brilliant outdoorsy adventuresome book idea that perfectly promotes something we've always believed in - that kids can cope with huge thick books that are packed with content like this - Wow, just wow!

"The Lost Book of Adventure" by The Unknown Adventurer and Teddy Keen is out now, published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday, March 14, 2019

"There is nothing original under the sun" or "How do some picture books even get greenlit?" - A ReadItTorial

We have entered the twilight zone, that time in a book blogger's "career" when their youngling has reached peak fussiness and starts to become more and more critical of certain books.

When we started out, I made a point of telling everyone that our blog was nothing without C's opinions and input, and that still holds true today. But those who have a "Tweenager" at home will know and understand what it's like when they start laying the groundwork for the concrete foundations of cynicism that will see them through their teens, and well into their early 20s.

With picture books, C has already got to the stage where they have to be nigh-on blisteringly brilliant to get more than 3 out of 5 (though we 'internally' mark books this way, we now opt to summarise our joint opinions of a book in a single quotable sentence. Marking stuff with numbers never worked for us, though it's good to see that it does for others).

So we got our post as usual, and as we gleefully ripped open the parcels (as we still do, yes even after nearly 10 years of this game it's still like Christmas Morning every time the parcel post arrives) we came across a pair of books that made us pause for a moment, and consider just how the publishing industry actually works internally.

One was a non-fiction title, one a picturebook story for younger readers.

Both books were undeniably nicely put together. Both had their accompanying press sheets claiming them to be the "next best thing" but both were, for want of a better word, hugely derivative of other titles.

C takes these things almost personally and it's cute of her to point out that in the huge number of rejections I've received for my own writing, someone somewhere read the manuscripts for these two books and thought they'd fly off shelves (or at least trickle off).

She had a quite massive, spectacular and surprisingly well informed rant about this. We talked about the books we'd had so far this year, and how many have been truly stunning and more than worthy of our "Book of the Week" slot - but there were also the 'also ran' books that would never see an awards ceremony, never sell in huge numbers, never feature in the Telegraph's children's book roundup or find themselves nestling between the pages of the Mighty Phoenix Comic in their Book slot.

With both books the real problem was that C is not exactly your average book consumer. We get sent a lot of books to review, and I had to point out that this is part of the reason she feels that certain books are not original, and just tread on already well-trodden ground. If you're relatively well read in kidlit you'll understand how the industry works a little better than C. Book trends come and go, as do book fairs, as do publishers who get non-fiction written to order to address a current topic-du-jour.

Non-fiction books arriving in themed clusters is easy to explain away then, but what of fiction?

We were really puzzled by a recent picture book which the press release claimed to be from a debut author illustrator described as "the next big thing by Bookseller Magazine". Fair enough, we thought. But diving into the book it was absolutely apparent that the story, the set-up and even a couple of cheeky art cues weren't so much of an homage, more a direct lift from a well loved children's classic.

Given that most agents will have a universal knowledge of children's books we really couldn't understand how this particular book could even get past the pitch stage.

C was absolutely furious about it and refused to have anything to do with the book until after a bit of gentle coaxing we read through, and though there are close links between this book and the well-loved classics, there's a different core message and perhaps just enough charm and appeal that someone out there will find this book, read it, love it and it will become their daily bedtime read.

That's really what it's all about, but phew, trying to explain that to C was tough. She has a very similar view with movies now (possibly my bad influence) and really doesn't get on well with the constant stream of reboots, remakes or Disney Live Action stuff that's going on at the moment while a zillion other IPs that would make stunning movies go largely unnoticed. Trying to find a polite way to phrase "This got made, and a zillion other books with better ideas than this got binned" but the upside of having C get tougher and tougher (and even more brutally honest than she was as a younger kid) is that you can bet your butts that if we praise a book, it's worth that praise.

In the industry it's all about offsetting risk and increasing sales. Risking putting a book into production that is original, perhaps breaks a few of the well-established picture book rules, perhaps has an edgy art style unlike other children's picture books - these all increase the likelihood that the book will end up as next week's Poundland shelf fillers (oh there's a whole other blog post about the stuff we see in Poundland's children's book sections sometimes by the way, CRIMES I SAY, CRIMES!!)

I think we got to the point in the end but finding picture books that really feel fresh, vibrant and original (if anything can ever be truly original) feels like it's getting tougher, or maybe it's just us with a near-ten-year-old view of the whole shebang perhaps? Anyone else out there feel similar? You know what to do, comment or tweet us @readitdaddy and share your brains!
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"When I was a Child" by Andy Stanton and David Litchfield (Hodder Children's Books)

We always love a surprise in our picture books, and the surprise in "When I was a Child" by Andy Stanton and David Litchfield stems from our expectation that Andy is great at putting together rib-tickling stuff like "Mr Gum" and who could forget "All aboard the Poo Bus".

But who knew he could also tweak at our heartstrings with a truly fabulous celebration of Grandmother / grand-daughter relationships that reminded us of C's own bond with her own grandmums.

This heartwarming story is told from the grandma's perspective as she tells her granddaughter stories about what life was like when she was little.

With utterly glorious illustrations by that uber-talented fella David Litchfield, this one's perfect for grandparents who love nothing better than curling up on the sofa with their grand-kids or great-grandkids to reminisce about their childhood, or just to tell a few tall stories.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Heartwarming and beautiful storytelling complimented by truly gorgeous illustrations, this one has "Win" written all over it!

"When I was a Child" by Andy Stanton and David Litchfield is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books. 

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"Step Into Your Power: 23 Lessons on How to Live Your Best Life" by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins (Wide Eyed Editions)

The conversation around this book began with me asking C how she would live her best life.

You can pretty much imagine a 10 year old's responses to a topic like this:

"Eat loads of junk food and never get told off for it"

"Go to bed when I like"

"Play with my toys rather than do homework"

In "Step into your Power" by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins, the awesome team behind "Young, Gifted and Black" which was a well-deserved Book of the Week for us a year ago, there's a huge wave of positive thinking and brilliant ideas gathered together in one mightily impressive volume for kids to take inspiration from.

So moving beyond the immediate needs of the here and now, Jamia and Andrea explore 23 simple lessons that can make your life feel a little more satisfying, well rounded and completely awesome.

Positive messages and mantras underpin a book chock full of amazing ideas
It's part self-help book, but also a valuable resource to bring into discussions about all aspects of children's lives, from simple messages of positivity to more structured advice on what to do about issues they might face.

Slay your fear, anxiety sufferers
We both read the book together, and for most of the ideas there is some pretty solid reasoning going on. I still think the book oversimplifies anxiety in a couple of places, and that it's not merely a case of giving yourself a good talking to for most kids who truly do suffer from crippling anxiety. But its heart is definitely in the right place, and I think it's very important for children to be hearing messages of positivity, and some simple steps and lessons on how to deal with issues like anxiety and stress from an early ages (increasingly earlier and earlier each year, it seems - as we've blogged about extensively).

Always, always be kind to yourself. No one achieves superhero status overnight. 
The majority of the book is really superb though, and there's no doubt that the huge wave of good intentions and valuable common sense that this book makes really feels like a new and different approach. Fab, and very much needed, this book!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Not preachy, just nicely written insights and ways to become the person you want to be.

"Step into your Power" by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"The Queen's Lift-Off" by Steve Antony (Hodder Children's Books)

Cor, can you believe how well travelled our Queen is? She's been around the world - twice - and now she's rocketing off into the inky blackness of space in Steve Antony's fourth book in his hilarious rib-tickling series featuring our jet-setting monarch in "The Queen's Lift Off"

With an extra-special royal rocket, and a whole host of extras, this tale takes us on a fantastic journey around our Solar System with The Queen finding out all about space and the planets we share a galaxy with.

Steve's trademark busy and super-detailed illustrations for this series are once again fantastic, with tons of clever little in-jokes and characters to spot (always keep an eye out for those aliens, who keep popping up in this rambunctuous solar-system-wide chase!

Good lord, where's the queen off to now?
Thankfully Queenie is a resourceful old soul and soon gets the hang of piloting her own rocket. Time for a bit of stellar sightseeing then!

Little known fact. Saturn's theme tune is "If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it"
The attention to detail in this fourth book is once again totally excellent, and we can't wait for littlies to get their hands on this one.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A stellar journey for an adventuresome monarch, time to join The Queen as she rules over space!

"The Queen's Lift Off" by Steve Antony is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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"Fortunately the Milk" by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell / Skottie Young (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Sometimes books just fall through the gaps in our review schedule, to nestle unread beneath the mire and dust deep in the gutter of our blog's overspill bin.

Well, that's not actually what happened with "Fortunately, The Milk" by genius author Neil Gaiman and equally genius illustrator Chris Riddell (or fantastic artist Skottie Young if you're a US reader!). You see there we were, back in 2013, all geared up to review the very socks off this fantastic book. We waited and waited, we wrote about it lots, full of anticip..........ation and joy.

But the review copy never turned up. Now, I'm not going to have a go at Bloomsbury here as they do send us lovely things to review (though only 'propah' journalists get their middle grade / Harry Potter stuff).

This one really fell through the cracks, and after recently hearing many Twitter folk describing it as a brilliant example of a time travel story for middle graders, I thought I'd just better go and flippin' well buy a copy 6 years late.

So, was it worth the wait? Here's a thing. Sometimes when you've wanted to read something for ages, you can get so over-hyped about a book that when it finally arrives it can't possibly measure up to the hype. Thus was the case with "Fortunately, the Milk" which started out OK, but took a good few re-readings before I finally "got" it.

It's the story of an ordinary family. A mum, a dad, a couple of kids. As is the norm with children's books the mum is a hyper-powered corporate suit-wearing superhero who is nipping off to a conference, leaving the slightly hopeless but well-meaning dad behind to look after the kids.

She leaves behind a long list of chores for the dad - but chief amongst them is to go and get some more milk, after all no one wants to eat cornflakes with tomato ketchup on them do they? (C: I would!)

Unfortunately,  the milk. Yes, as you'd probably have guessed, Dad forgets to buy any but the next morning, before breakfast, he nips out to the corner shop to obtain the revered cow-juice. 

But it takes him a VERY long time to get back. This book chronicles the story of why, and it's an adventure that splits realities, spans time and space, features a rather brainy dinosaur by the name of Professor Steg, some nefarious pirates, crazy tribespeople who worship The Great Splod, and some wumpires who definitely don't want any milk. Not at all. 

What happens? Well it's up to you to dig in and unpick the twisty-turny-timey-wimey-ness of Neil's romping walloper of a story that dances with the surreal, and is a timely lesson for all dads to perhaps pull their socks up a bit - oh and to keep on telling tall tales (though this can, of course, spectacularly backfire as it did with me recently after I told C that once, at a Center Parcs, we fought in a lazer quest battle alongside Little Mo from Eastenders, and she didn't believe me!)

Sum this book up in a sentence: A completely bonkers, hatstand, surreal journey across time and space to ensure a pair of cheeky kids get something to splosh on their cereal by a dad who may be ordinary but manages to pull off something quite heroic without stuffing things up too badly. 

"Fortunately, The Milk" by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell / Skottie Young is out now, published by Bloomsbury (self-purchased, not provided for review). 

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