Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"The Tide" by Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay (Little Tiger)

We're horribly late to the party with this one but after tracking down our lost copy (post office had somehow managed to lose it down the back of the sofa) we're glad to be all caught up with one of the most powerful and impressive books about dementia that we've ever had the good fortune to read as part of this blog.

"The Tide" by Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay taps into this tricky and difficult to describe subject with aplomb.

It beautifully describes the fantastic relationship between a grandpa and his grand-daughter. They love spending time together, particularly at the beach.

The little girl always feels safe with grandpa as he holds her hand, splashing through the tide or when they make sandcastles. But the little girl senses that there's something wrong. Sometimes Grandpa forgets things - even her name.

The little girl's mummy explains that poor Grandpa's memory isn't what it once was, sometimes things get jumbled up - and just like the ebb and flow of the tide, Grandpa's memories come and go - and sometimes they're distant and quiet, and sometimes they're near and full of life.

Where the book wins out is in the delicate way it describes not just what it's like to live with Alzheimers, but simple things that families - and in particular children or grandchildren - can do to make life a little easier for those who suffer from this horrendous disease.

As a family who have had first hand experience of Alzheimers ourselves (several times, in fact), and the effect it has on everyone, we really thought this was one of the most sensitive and thought-provoking children's books dealing with the subject, through a truly touching and beautifully observed story about cross-generational relationships between grandparents and their grandkids.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Quite rightly being celebrated as one of the best children's books ever written on the subject of Alzheimers, with the most amazing illustrations helping to reinforce the touching and sensitively handled story.

"The Tide" by Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay is out now, published by Little Tiger Press (kindly supplied for review)
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"The Worst Book Ever" by Elise Gravel (Drawn and Quarterly)

Owchers, here's a book that sets out its stall right from the front cover with a piece of self-deprecation that is, we're pleased to say, entirely unjustified. But let's hear Elise Gravel out, as we delve into "The Worst Book Ever".

This is the quirky and very funny new book from Elise who sets herself up for a drubbing from her own character creations.

You see they're fed up with the author's lack of imagination - and stage something of a book based revolt as the story unfolds around the lack of story the characters perceive.

In fact as the characters take over, with their own sassy opinions making this an even more hilarious read than intended, the author begins to let them take the narrative in their own direction. After all, it's their book, why shouldn't they be in control? Even if they are extremely rude!

In Elise's trademark cartoony style, the tale is blissfully original, turning the world of picture books and comics inside out and upside down and also highlighting just how important it is for the characters to shine through when you're devising a story.

After all, you wouldn't want to be a character stuck in a boring book - would you?

Sum this book up in a sentence: Absolutely brilliant, you'll never read anything quite as crazy as this!

"The Worst Book Ever" by Elise Gravel is out now, published by Drawn and Quarterly (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday, June 24, 2019

Dreams PS4 Early Access - The First Few Hours (A ReadItDaddy Game Review)

Creative little souls that we are here at ReadItDaddy, we're instantly drawn to anything that promises to unleash the power of our imaginations.

Though C and I don't actually get a lot of time to play videogames, when we do we're always looking for stuff that allows you to put your own personal 'stamp' on something. C is quite obsessive about MineCraft when she's allowed to spend some time with it, but I'd had my eye on Media Molecule's "Dreams" for a long time, probably as far back as when it was first announced aeons ago.

So now the Early Access version of dreams is available, and despite it costing you £24.99, there's the promise that you'll get the 'full' version once that goes live (given that the boxed cost of Dreams is currently £54.99 it's a bit of a no brainer to get it now, get in early, and get it cheaper, surely?)

So what the hootin' heck is Dreams? For those of you familiar with Media Molecule's quirky legacy, they're the studio behind the superb "Little Big Planet" series, and the mildly entertaining "Tearaway". A studio who love the power of your imagination so much, they're prepared to spend years crafting a set of tools to literally bring your dreams to life. Well, sort of...

Connie, the cone, and a tutorial level. Damn, how we miss the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry in these though!
In "Dreams" you start the game by selecting a sprite who will be your controlling character throughout the game. With this handy little scribbly pointer character you're able to control the game's various settings, creation tools, characters and menus.

Like LittleBigPlanet, it's deceptively easy to start tinkering around, making a mess as you go, but there's an extensive set of tutorials in Dreams to get you up and running with most of the creative bits and bobs you'll need to start building...something.

So what CAN you make in Dreams Early Access? The simple answer seems to be just about anything, as Early Access also includes access to the Dreams Community, and the creations of other folk who have far more disposable time on their hands than we do. C fell hopelessly in love with a game that is all about being a cat, causing as much havoc as possible in a house, before embarking on some Cat Karting! Needless to say, so much work has been put into this little game that it was well worth giving it a thumbs up (the Dreams equivalent of a "Like").

Fancy knocking up a stylish and moodily lit street scene in 3D? You can, once you master the tools!
So far we've probably spent around 4-5 hours playing with this and we've barely scratched the surface. It's like a cross between Blender, ProCreate, Little Big Planet and Z-Brush all mashed together into something that at its heart shares some of the mechanics of LBP, but more of a free-form creative pot-pourri of tools that could (and emphasis on the *could*) elicit the most amazing results.

We were buzzing with ideas that, sadly, will probably never come to pass. Not because of the sheer complexity of this once you dig deeper into the multitude of tweak menus and tools, but because even doing the simplest bit of modelling saw hours disappear as we twisted, turned and manipulated our controllers to try and beat Dreams into submission.

But for those of you who have the sort of disposable time on your hands to build Ankgor Wat in Minecraft, you're going to find Dreams almost impossible to resist. We keep thinking that this would be the ideal platform for storytelling as there are more than enough tools in there to allow you to produce totally absorbing story worlds and characters - so we'll be keeping a close eye on that aspect of Dreams for sure.

Sum this game up in a sentence: A sprawling and extensive set of creation tools allowing you to truly unleash the power of your imagination, if you've got acres of time on your hands.

"Dreams" Early Access is currently available from the PSN Store for Playstation 4. The full game will be released sometime during August 2019 (Self Purchased - Not provided for review)
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"Colours" by Anita Lester (Encounters Publishing)

Books that take you on a journey of discovery are vitally important for kids, particularly at an early age when there's so much for them to experience and to learn.

Children very quickly learn all about colours when books go the extra mile to present these simple lessons in an original and gorgeous way, and that's how it is in "Colours" by Anita Lester, a book that's a work of art in its own right.

Embark on a whimsical flight through the imagination of a young child discovering the colours in the world around her for the first time.

Vibrant sun-kissed yellows, bright fiery reds, subtle blues and purples. Her world is filled with colours, and yours will be too as you read through the book and enjoy Anita's truly amazing illustrations. Let's take a look at a couple of them...

Our favourite spread, nothing to do with the camper van, honest!
Juicy strawberries, and floating balloons
This really is a gorgeous book, each page spread is filled with gorgeous details and sumptuous colours.

You can pick up a copy of "Colours" by Anita Lester from the Encounters Publishing website here:

(Copy very kindly sent for review by Encounters Publishing)
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Friday, June 21, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st June 2019: "Geek Girls Don't Cry" by Andrea Towers (Sterling)

Our Chapter Book of the Week this week is a truly original idea for a self-help book that's chock-full of pop-culture references and characters in a book that's a hugely positive and inspirational read about a wide range of issues young folk (not just girls) go through in their transitions from tweens to teens to adults.

"Geek Girls Don't Cry" by Andrea Towers draws in a ton of fictional characters to show examples of how those characters deal with particular situations involving mental and physical health, stress, PTSD and other things that we, the reader, might experience during our lives.

It's a durned clever idea that could have gone so horribly wrong, ending up sounding rather patronising and twee - but Andrea uses solid examples and relatable fictional superhero (and not-so-superhero) characters to underpin her excellent counterpoints and advice.

Helping girls and boys deal with bullying, body positivity, isolation, grief, and depression but also dealing with more fine-grained issues that fictional characters and real-life humans like us, the book's approach steers towards a more positive tone, suggesting exercises, means and methods to use in your own life.

Let's take a look inside at this one, as it's really something special:

Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is a prime example of a character coping with adversity and toughing out horrible situations
Andrea interviews and features excerpts from character writers and creators to help show how their own lives and influences directly fed into the way they wrote those characters in comics, novels and movies.

A fantastic Q & A with Margaret Stohl, bestselling author of "Black Widow: Forever Red"
Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely inspirational read for geeks and non-geeks, helping ordinary everyday non-superhero folk to deal with situations in a realistic way thanks to some sage examples from superhero and fictional character stories.

"Geek Girls Don't Cry" by Andrea Towers is out now, published by Sterling (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st June 2019: "Secret Agent Elephant" by Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins (Orchard Books)

Our second Picture Book of the Week is a hilarious spy romp with a difference.

In "Secret Agent Elephant" by Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins, the spy isn't some suave sophisticated lantern-jawed action man. It's an elephant, and one who can barely wriggle into his stylish tuxedo, let alone cope with the rigours of a life as an international elephant of mystery.

There's a nefarious plot by an arch super-criminal to end the world, and the only Elephant for the job is a pizza-obsessed klutz who is going to need some firm but gentle guidance in the ways of becoming a spy.

Eoin and Ross offer up a great little picture book homage to James Bond (check out Elephant's poor crushed sports car, for example) before diving headlong into the giggles with a brilliant showdown with the nefarious Vincent Le Morte.

As always with picture books, I can never quite tell whether they're going to be a hit, miss or maybe with C - but she enjoyed this one. Psst, secret stuff, she was actually rooting for Vincent at the end so I hope there's a sequel planned with some sort of super-villain jailbreak involved!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant spy romp with lots of knowing nods and winks to spy movies, as well as the brilliant physical humour of a colossal klutz of an animal trying to slink their way (largely unsuccessfully) through an awesome spy adventure.

"Secret Agent Elephant" by Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins is out now, published by Orchard Books (kindly supplied for review).
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st June 2019: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie" by Ramin Zahed and various artists (Titan)

It's taken absolutely ages for us to get hold of a copy of this, and in the end it was well worth the 8 MONTH WAIT (Yes, it really has been that long since I ordered it).

It's not hard to see why "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie" by Ramin Zahed was out of stock for so long just about everywhere (we couldn't even find a copy when we visited the US recently - not that I would have fancied trying to get this hefty tome into my baggage allowance!)

Chronicling probably the best movie of 2018 with a metric ton of pre-production art, Phil Lord and Chris Miller's awesome re-imagining of Miles Morales' Spider-Man origin story was so good it even won an Oscar (quite right too!)

But the movie wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for a distinct mindset from the artists who worked on it. Given some pretty loose reins by Sony Pictures / Marvel, Lord and Miller instructed their artists to produce an animated movie like no other, using groundbreaking techniques of building out an entire Spider-World in CGI but using traditional art and comic techniques to really bring the movie to life in an eye-popping way.

Does whatever a spider can...!
As huge fans of Spider-Man, both C and I wanted to see the movie as soon as we first saw the trailer, and absolutely loved every second of it (we were very lucky to have a cinema to ourselves for a really early morning preview showing, and dang, that was a good way to see this film!)

Back to the book, and inside you'll find some utterly incredible artwork from some of the most talented artists in the business, all with that same remit - do something that will be unforgettable, perhaps even genre-defining.

Gahd wouldn't it be great to be able to draw like this!
Everyone rose to the challenge, inspired by the original comics, the newer characters and of course the delicious possibilities that playing in multiple spider-man realms would present. The rest, as they say, is history but this book beautifully brings all that together.

It's not perfect by any means. I could probably have done with a lot less scenic / interior stuff, and a heck of a lot more character artwork (characters such as Spider-Man Noir barely get a mention and there's not nearly enough Spider-Gwen in here for C - who loves her to bits!) but it's still one of the most impressive art books we've ever laid our hands on.

Some great character art but we'd have loved a lot more. 

Well worth the wait then!

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie" by Ramin Zahed and various artists is out now, published by Titan (self purchased - not provided for review). 

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Can picture books just STOP ALREADY with the "You can only succeeed if you have / make / get the help of friends" books? A ReadItTorial

"I'll be there for you...for a hundred grand a showwwwwwww"
I've finally lost count.

I have, I've honestly lost count of the number of books we've seen for review over the last few years of blogging that have had one core moral at their heart.

Sometimes that moral is delivered with all the subtlety of a breezeblock to the face. Sometimes it's intricately woven within the story and may fool you into seeing the worth in promoting the message, sure. But for us at least, most of them just make us wish picture books would move on and fixate on something else.

The subject of friends seems to be a rich fertile patch of soil that has been worked over, and worked over, and worked over again until now, for us at least, it's now a dry and dusty desert, incapable of sustaining the seed of an original idea.

There are so many ways to show how awesome it can be to be a social gadfly, popular and well loved, cared about, supported. But for kids who struggle to make friends, and for folk who are naturally anxious and a bit socially awkward (HELLO SIR!) these books can end up having the exact opposite effect to the one they intend.

For kids like C, making friends can be pretty tricky. Sometimes kids lack the confidence, the belief in themselves, and perhaps even the communications skills to instantly strike up a rapport with other kids.

Sometimes if they are only children it can be doubly tough as they do not have the experience of having an older / younger sibling at home, and thus do not learn some of the valuable life lessons that come from having a sib who either dotes on you or (in my case at least) is likely to swipe you around the head with a length of hot wheels track for a giggle.

It's easy to cast a critical eye over picture book texts that feel like they're still raking over that dusty patch of desert mentioned above, claiming that they bring absolutely nothing new to the party, but within the (sometimes horrifically predictable) picture book pattern (that I believe will end up being the death of the children's picture book industry if publishers and agents don't do something about it - and fast) these books often follow the same pattern and by GAD if I never see another while we're still running this blog, it'll be too soon.

Let's take a look at that formula. Does this sound like the premise for an exciting original book to you?

1) Central character is either happy or miserable. But could they be happier?
2) Something happens - central character is completely stuck, lost, trapped, lonely etc (cut and paste to suit)
3) They get a friend, make a friend, build a friend, stick batteries into a friend, trap a friend in a gigantic bubble machine accidentally...
4) THEY BECOME AMAZING! They achieve all their goals. All because they made a friend who shows them the true path to enlightenment

Actually I've probably made this formula sound more exciting than it inevitably ends up. In most cases the story pattern is so formulaic you could literally swap in / swap out any animal / human / robot / alien / sentient sea cucumber character and still end up with the same result.

BUT DO THESE BOOKS WORK? Do they really? Do kids read them and instantly have it dawn on them that making friends is great, and they absolutely must do that thing, otherwise they're doomed to failure? I sincerely doubt it, but I would love to hear from folk who talk from the other end of the table and can think of instances where 'friends' books have actually worked, been a positive boon to a child's well being. I do want that, I just don't want so much of it, if that makes sense.

From this year's picture book submissions (lower than most years for us, hovering around the 300 book mark) we've seen roughly 60-70 picture books that contain some or all of the elements above.

The problem is they're so interchangeable, so samey, and so immemorable that it's becoming very difficult to review them - and in fact we've dropped an awful lot of unsolicited review submissions, leaving us with a fairly skeletal schedule for 2019 - something that we're really not used to on the blog (that sounds horribly needy, but usually we're drowning in picture books, and though we do turn a fair few down that are just too young to appeal to C, we seem to be seeing fewer books in general right across the board).

So what to do? I still don't understand why picture books absolutely HAVE TO HAVE A MORAL LESSON IN THERE SOMEWHERE and reading a book creative's recent tweet about wanting to just do a book that had 'a load of meaningless but entertaining chat in it' I really do think we've got a problem that's beginning to eat the entire industry inside out, that publishers and agents really are against taking any form of risk, so play it safe with fairly formulaic and samey old themes.

I don't understand why we don't see more picture books that just want to convey a story without feeling they have to lecture you, or try to fix you, or manipulate you into being a different person than you actually are. It's possible to write those stories, but whether it's possible to sell them for a profit is the real issue I guess.

If kids need anything at the moment, they need picture books and stories that take them away from the pressures they're under in virtually all other aspects of their lives (particularly the pressure to be more sociable, friendly, and have more pals).

Ugh, totally aware that this is one of those horribly cynical groany old ReadItTorials, so apologies if you've stuck through to the bitter end and think I got out of bed the wrong side this morning, but it really is getting to the point where the market is getting flooded with this stuff.

Kids either naturally make friends or they don't - but why should their worth be measured by this?
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"Humperdink our Elephant Friend" by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander (Words and Pictures)

What would you do with the elephant in the room?

One set of nursery school kids find out in the adorable "Humperdink, our Elephant Friend" by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander.

Playtime at the nursery is always awesome, but one little girl discovers that she loves to play games that the other kids don't.

She has a daring streak and loves rough and tumble games but when Humperdink the baby elephant joins the children’s playgroup, he seems friendly enough, but it soon becomes clear that he’s not very good at the usual games the children play, like dressing up or hide-and-seek.

When he breaks the children’s favourite slide, everyone feels sad.

But with a little patience and understanding the children soon discover that Humperdink is good at some things – especially if they use their imaginations – leading to a riotously fun conclusion.

There are lots of neat little touches to this story, acceptance and learning that sometimes playing games others prefer rather than pushing your own choices can reap rewards, and maybe gain you a new friend or two (elephant shaped or otherwise!)

Sum this book up in a sentence: Sean Taylor makes storytelling look easy in this rather delightful little tale, perfectly complimented by Claire Alexander's characterful and gorgeous illustrations.

"Humperdink Our Elephant Friend" by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander is out now, published by Words and Pictures (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"There's a Spider in my Soup" by Megan Brewis (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

Yikes! Not a fan of spiders here at ReadItDaddy Towers, and definitely not a fan of finding them languishing in our food.

In "There's a Spider in my Soup" by Megan Brewis, a mischievous spider loves nothing more than energetically swinging on her web.

Despite her mum and dad's warnings, little spider can't stop swinging - but when her swinging lands her in someone's lovely tasty lunchtime comestible, it's an opportunity to make new friends and do something adventurous that the whole family can enjoy!

Time for some splishy splashy fun!!

We rather liked the message here, that sometimes the rules are there to be bent a little if not totally broken - and sometimes getting messy is a whole lot of fun.

Sum this book up in a sentence: With a lovely bounce-along story, tons of energy and gorgeous illustrations, this is rather awesome indeed!

"There's a Spider in my Soup" by Megan Brewis is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review)
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