Friday, August 23, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 23rd August 2019: "Speccy Nation" by Dan Whitehead (Self Published)

Our Chapter Book of the Week this week is something that I'd had my eye on for a while, and picked up on a whim as a way of trying to explain to C why "Daddy" used to be completely obsessed with a cranky, often unreliable piece of gaming tech that became a huge, huge reason why a lot of folk my age ended up working in some form of computer-based job.

"Speccy Nation" by veteran games journalist and comic author Dan Whitehead might well have a few choice moments that you might want to filter out for your own kids, but it does give a rather personal view of what it was like back in the heyday of British gaming, when an entire cottage industry sprang up around geeky folk who could somehow make the Sinclair ZX Spectrum do some truly amazing things when it came to videogames.

Across the pond while Americans were still obsessing over the Atari 2600 and the NES, we were getting our teeth into typing out wobbly bits of game code from the back of magazines, or listening to the electronic screech of games loading into the black and rubbery machine via cassette tape.

Dan has drawn up an initial list of 50 games that truly defined that microcomputing era of greatness, ranging from the utterly sublime and surreal Manic Miner (a game that C has got mildly obsessed with beating, but can't seem to get past the Solar Power Generator - HAH!) through to the greats from game studios such as Ultimate Play the Game and Imagine Software.

Dan's anecdotal writing about these games mirrors my own experience of a lot of these titles, and his memories sound an awful lot like my own as well (and I'm pretty sure there'll be a lot of 50-somethings out there who will feel the same way). What I wasn't quite expecting was that C would find this book as fascinating as I did, though there were an awful lot of moments where she would shoot me the side-eye and call me an old saddo when I got that misty faraway look in my eye from remembering just how tough the phanton biker was to beat in "Wheelie" by Microsphere.

"Speccy Nation" might not be a historical book full of blow-by-blow accounts of how these games came to be, but it (and its follow up volume Speccy Nation 2) do bring back happy memories of a time when it felt like your imagination could blissfully fill in the sensorial gaps that modern games try and fill in for you, all courtesy of a machine cooked up by a true British eccentric in every sense of the word.

"Speccy Nation" by Dan Whitehead is out now. Self published (self purchased, not provided for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 23rd August 2019: "Ghost" by Kit Turley, Blaise Hemingway, Jesse Reffsin, Chris Sasaki, Jeff Turley and Pam Hsu / Illustratus (Chronicle Books)

Wait a second, this isn't supposed to happen is it?

We're constantly being told that children's books are being watered down, that we exist in some sort of weird nanny state where 'dark' children's books have fallen by the wayside to be replaced with saccharine-sweet stuff instead.

Yet our Book of the Week this week, "Ghost" by Illustratus isn't just one tale, but 13 darkly delicious and wholly spooky stories crammed into one of the most visually impressive and gorgeously presented books we've had the pleasure of reviewing this year.

The book sets out its table from the moment you see the front cover, and inside it continues to run icy cold fingers up and down your spine in 13 tales that - if you read the book in the darkness of the night - may well have you hearing more than just the odd bump or rattle of chains.

"Ghost" is perfect for folk (particularly kids) who love to think that there's more to our world than just the things we think we know. Something other-worldly, supernatural, spectral and Karen deftly plays on this with exquisite expertise in all of the writing tricks that differentiate a truly dark and mind-blowing book from just jump-scare fodder.

Stories, poems and folk-tale-like storytelling tied together by an impressive set of original illustrations from the talented Illustratus studio mark this book a cut above the rest, leaving the scariest stuff right until the very end.

If you get much sleep after this, we'd be very surprised (of course, unless, like us, you're the sort of person who yearns to spend a night in a haunted house!)

Perhaps not one for younger kids but my 11 year old absolutely ate this up. If you think that dark books are 'done' think again, this one's an absolute belter.

Sum this book up a sentence: A divine anthology designed to prickle your senses and tickle your curiosity about the supernatural, with tales brilliantly tripping deftly between the real and surreal.

"Ghost" by Karen Romano Young and Illustratus is out now, published by Chronicle Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday, August 22, 2019

"The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean with illustrations by Laura Barrett (Orchard Books)

Before all the controversy surrounding the Disney 'live action' remake of "The Little Mermaid" kicks off, let's immerse ourselves in a truly gorgeous version of the original Hans Christian Andersen story, retold here by Geraldine McCaughrean with glorious new illustrations from Laura Barrett.

"The Little Mermaid" tells the story of Ariel, a mermaid with a wanderlust and a natural curiosity about her world - and the world of humans.

When she falls in love with a prince, the little mermaid persuades an evil sea witch to replace her tail with legs so she can live on land. 

But the price demanded by the wicked sea witch is great: the mermaid's beautiful voice!

Here, Geraldine has adapted the story beautifully, using a rich seam of language that little ones may be unfamiliar with, but will love hearing read aloud to them. 

Coupled with Laura's gorgeous silhouette artwork, it's a book that does as much to engage little ones' imagination through the words as well as the illustrations. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: You're likely to see a zillion different versions of this arriving next year, so grab this version as it's out today in a stunning hardback edition, it's definitely one of the best versions of the story we've seen so far. 

"The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen is out now, published by Orchard Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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"Encyclopedia of Grannies" by Eric Veille (Gecko Press)

No matter what we call them, whether they're "Grandma" or "Nanny", "Nanna", "Grand-Mo" or simply that strange old lady who smells faintly of cauliflower, we do love our gorgeous grannies!

In the brilliantly funny "Encyclopedia of Grannies" by Eric Veille, newly translated by Gecko Press, here's everything you could possibly need to know about your grandmothers, Nannas, Grannies or Gransches.

Exactly how old are they?

What do they do all day?

Why do grannies always tell us to speak up? Why do they have creases on their faces? Are grannies flexible? How do you cheer up a sad granny?

...and one of our favourite questions (which really does need a proper answer) - Where are those busloads of grannies we always see actually heading to?

Eric explains all in such a charming, funny and completely chaotic way that we were chortling all the way through this one (particularly at the aforementioned 'things you'll find in a Granny's bed' section, which for some reason includes a cauliflower pong).

Utterly brilliant for kids to pick up before going to stay with their elders over the summer - and let's face it, we'd be absolutely LOST without grandparents who do this without grumbling or grumping, bless them! 

Sum this book up a sentence: A fantastic fact-filled fun book showing just how amazing grannies really are - they don't just knit shreddies all day, you know!

"Encyclopedia of Grannies" by Eric Veille is out now, published by Gecko Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

"Lulu's First Day" by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw (Alanna Max)

Our favourite booky girl is back, and it seems like only yesterday Lulu was getting ready to head to Nursery.

But now, like a lot of children (and in particular one of C's cousins) she's ready for big school.

In "Lulu's First Day" by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw, Lulu is wondering what school will be like.

Will it be lots of play and lots of booky fun like Nursery?

Will she make new friends?

Lulu is excited but a tiny bit nervous as well, but luckily her family are on hand to reassure her - and everyone gets up super-early to make sure Lulu's first day is a special one.

For many kids, it's quite an anxious time moving from Nursery to Pre-School then eventually to school proper, and this book beautifully captures those moments with a huge huge dose of feelgood reassurance. School is going to be so much fun for our booky little girl!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A perfect introduction to school life for kids who love reading about plucky booky girls, and Lulu is definitely one of our favourite characters in early years books. 

"Lulu's First Day" by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw is out now, published by Alanna Max (kindly supplied for review). 
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"Nits!" by Stephanie Blake, translated by Linda Burgess (Gecko Press)

It's almost impossible to hear the word "Nits!" without feeling your scalp itch. Even if, like me, you have a totally barren scalp, you still feel like the little critters are making their way through your lovely, lovely thatch.

But ah, here's a book that isn't just about nits, it's about that first crush.

"Nits!" by Stephanie Blake once again begins with Simon - but this time he's not quite the brash and effervescent character he normally is. Simon is quiet, thoughtful - and deeply and hopelessly in love.

The object of his affection is Lou, a girl in his class. She's beautiful, she has lovely yellow bows on her ears - but alas Lou is in love with Mamadou rather than Simon.

The thing is there's something else about Lou. She's absolutely lousy with nits!! Will this change the course of Simon's affections? Or perhaps provide him with a chance to prove that love conquers all, even nasty little insect infestations.

We enjoyed this, even though it's so short you can literally polish it off in 5 minutes flat before bedtime. Not as brilliant as Stephanie's other titles, but still awesome (itchy) fun.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A tender love story that will make you scratch your head furiously while reading it (or while typing up a review of it, in fact!)

"Nits!" by Stephanie Blake, with translation by Linda Burgess, is out now, published by Gecko Press (Kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics" by Colin Stuart and Zimo Abadia (Big Picture Press!)

"Oooh they've got a bit about Fibonacci sequences in here!" shouted C excitedly as she intercepted this latest book parcel.

"Fibo-whaaa?" I replied. I am number blind you see, to me, maths is one of life's great mysteries - and I'm really glad that C has not taken after her old man in this instance.

"The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics" by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadia had succeeded in its first intention then, to hook in young readers who might (like me) hear the word "Maths" and run a mile.

C is actually extremely good at maths in school though it's probably her least favourite subject. This fascinating visual dictionary of the history of mathematics stretches back through time to Ancient civilisations who first developed a deep understanding of numbers and sums, right through to the modern day and our heavy reliance on algorithms, heuristics and formulae to make the modern world function as it does.

Colin and Ximo make good use of a ton of amazing mathematical facts, brilliantly illustrated in sharp graphical style, to win your kids over. Let's take a closer look inside at some of the page spreads to see what's cookin', maths-wise.

Truly the language of the universe, there are mathematical constants, even out in space. 
Kids are naturally curious, and this book does a fantastic job of stimulating that curiosity by describing the wonders of mathematics, and how even the simplest equations have rocked our world.

Maths even plays a part in the creative world. 
It's a brilliant all-ages book, a fascinating insight into a subject that many kids may not enjoy, but will find new fascination with after dipping into this.

Triangles, triangles everywhere!
Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly fascinating and brilliantly presented guide to mathematics, produced in a way that doesn't instantly turn kids off.

"The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics" by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadia is out on 22nd August 2019, published by Big Picture Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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"Life on Mars" by Jon Agee (Scallywag Press)

David Bowie once asked about it, and we've become increasingly obsessed about it too ever since the Curiosity Rover started making its trepidacious way across the rocky surface.

"Life on Mars" by Jon Agee is a brilliantly fun book that begins in the not too distant future, when a young astronaut decides to visit the red planet to answer the question once and for all.

So is there life on Mars? He brings a box of cupcakes just in case, but after a long wander around the (seemingly) barren landscape, the astronaut loses heart.

His friends were right, there's just nothing there.

But we, the readers, are in on the gag as a huge martian creature silently and surreptitiously follows the astronaut as he wanders, gets lost, then finally relocates his spacecraft - and his box of cupcakes, and jets off for home.

But hang on a minute, there's a twist...!

We, of course, won't tell you what it is - but it's a brilliant little moment and once again it's great to see Jon's titles coming back into print courtesy of Scallywag, this is a short but sweet little book perfect for bedtime astronautics.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fab space adventure with a twist in the tale right at the end.

"Life on Mars" by Jon Agee is out now, published by Scallywag Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday, August 19, 2019

"Odd Science - Stupendous Body" by James Olstein (Pavilion Children's Books)

Bodies are amazing things, and in "Odd Science - Stupendous Body" by James Olstein, you'll get to find out just how incredible we really are. Yes even you!

So what makes us and our bodies so amazing?

There are tons of amazing facts crammed into this book.

For example, why do we get brain freeze when we eat cold ice cream?

How much energy do our hearts generate every day?

How much food will our bodies process in the space of our lifetime?

All these questions and many, many more are answered, with a cool sense of humour threading through the book, largely thanks to James' awesome illustrations.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Find out just how amazing your body really is in this fact filled and awesome book in the brilliant Odd Science range.

"Odd Science: Stupendous Body" by James Olstein is out now, published by Pavilion Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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"We Found a Seed" by Rob Ramsden (Scallywag Press)

Time for more fun in the garden, from the author of "I Saw a Bee!"

Rob Ramsden's awesome eye for colour and illustration, and his gentle storytelling encouraging kids to get outdoors once again comes to the fore in "We Found a Seed".

A little boy and girl are playing in the garden one day when they find something interesting. A tiny little seed. 

They play with the seed for a while before realising it's not going to do anything until it's planted. But what will it grow into? 

Time for a bit of tender loving care, and a lot of patience! 

But when the seed finally sprouts,  flowers and dies they're very sad - until they find it has left them lots of new seeds to plant! Hooray!

There's something quite magical about growing your own things in the garden - and this book beautifully captures that magic in a whimsical tale that's brilliant for muddy kneed green fingered kids everywhere. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A superb little book for early years kids, encouraging them to try growing their own things to see what sprouts from the soil. 

"We Found a Seed" by Rob Ramsden is out now, published by Scallywag Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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