Friday, January 17, 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th January 2019: "The Cure for a Crime (A Double Detectives Medical Mystery)" by Roopa Farooki (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

It's fair to say that we have a very tough choice on our hands when it comes to middle grade fiction, separating out the also-rans from the truly stunning books that we know are going to be a huge hit with C.

When it comes to detective fiction our work is doubly difficult - it feels like there are SO MANY wannabe detectives running around in middle grade, all solving crimes, righting wrongs, and generally doing so in a fairly similar (some might even say tedious) way.

SO it's good to report that "The Cure for a Crime" by Roopa Farooki punts all those notions of 'sameyness' into the reeds, setting up a fantastic first book in what we truly hope becomes a hugely successful series, featuring twins Ali and Tulip.

Their mum is a successful surgeon, and both the twins have picked up loads of her knowledge of first aid, medicine and anatomy, becoming familiar with the hospital environment and the daily struggles and triumphs around making people better and saving lives.

But something's amiss. Their normally sharp-eyed sharp-witted mum seems to be suffering from a mysterious illness that is making her sleepy and forgetful. Mum's new boyfriend is instantly placed under suspicion, and it's up to the twins and their awesome Gran to get to the bottom of this tricky case, using all the medical knowledge and skills at their disposal (plus a good dose of wisdom from Gran too!)

Roopa's storytelling is slick, fast paced and completely engrossing (C read this through twice and was totally hooked on it, which in itself is unusual given the number of books she has on her review stack at any given time). Praise in itself for a superb novel that bucks the trend for 'boring' middle grade detective fiction, giving it a vital life-saving shot in the arm (and dang, you could almost put that on the back of the book, right?)

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly brilliant slice of awesomeness, a detective tale that feels instantly engaging and original, with a brilliant pair of characters and a compelling first case which we hope becomes a huge series for Roopa.

"The Cure for a Crime" by Roopa Farooki is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week: Week Ending 17th January 2020: "A Giant Dose of Gross" by Andy Seed and Claire Almon (QED)

Our fantastic non-fiction Picture Book of the Week comes from an author who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty when it comes to some truly gross things, and a talented illustrator who managed to turn us a little green around the gills as we read through this one.

"A Giant Dose of Gross" by Andy Seed and Claire Almon shines the spotlight on animals that you normally don't see in more prim and proper natural history books. Those animals who look pretty grim, have some of the most disgusting habits, and use some pretty stomach-churning ways of staying alive.

Not one to be read over breakfast (as C discovered as she leafed through this one while enjoying a healthy bowl of porridge), Andy and Claire dig through the more unsavoury side of the animal kingdom, uncovering a plethora of farters, pukers, slimers, bleeders, ploppers and piddlers.

From puking vultures and farting goats to stinky opossums who pretend to be dead, this book gathers them all together in a fascinating volume for those of us who don't mind uncovering nature's less salubrious side. 

Kids (particularly boys) will absolutely adore reading - and repeating to their horrified parents - all the grim facts on offer in this fantastic book.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fascinating glimpse at the seedier (pun intended) side of the animal kingdom, and some truly grim, gross and yet strangely adorable creatures who use every means necessary to survive. 

"A Giant Dose of Gross" by Andy Seed and Claire Almon is out now, published by QED (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

That ol' "Book to Screen" thing raises its ugly (and beautiful) head again - This Week's #ReadItTorial

Oh Mrs Coulter... (sigh)

When the winter months arrive, the incumbents of ReadItDaddy Towers find themselves snuggling up on the sofa together to watch a bit of seasonal telly. There's usually something we agree we can watch together (though most of the time I find myself needing to disappear whenever stuff like "Strictly Come Dancing" comes on).

But before Christmas we were treated to the latest round of dramatisations from the BBC, adapting classic books for screen with varying degrees of success.

I've long loved "War of the Worlds" by H.G Wells - and still believe that the closest anyone's ever come to adapting it for the screen was a fantastic animated version that (unfortunately) arrived in the same year as Tom Cruise's truly awful blockbuster. Completely overshadowed, it's all but disappeared, but if you hunt around enough you'll find it on DVD.

The BBC had been trumpeting their new version for a long time, taking the story away from modern times, back to the Victorian era depicted in the original novel (hooray!) with a stellar cast (hooray!) and what looked to be a fairly decent effects budget (hooray!)

Then it arrived as a three parter. Straight away there was a problem. Initially it looked to be pretty faithful but then it started hopping around in the story's timeline, effectively jumping from the moments before the Martian invasion, to the aftermath of a world devastated by the war machines. As the episodes unfolded, this continued until the whole thing became an unwatchable mess, spending more time shoe-staring than actually dealing with the themes the book did so well to convey, that we may think we're top of the pecking order but when we're confronted by an apocalypse, we go to pieces when our technology (and capability for destroying things) fails us (kinda topical but...nah, just nah).

Hot on its coat-tails, into 2020 now and "Dracula" was also adapted by Messrs Moffat and Gatiss - upgrading the influential character, modernising him, camping him up (though - let's face it - Dracula has ALWAYS been pretty damned camp, even in the original novel) and producing another three episode drama that fired a scattergun at a beloved classic, annoying and delighting viewers in equal measure (I watched the first episode which was OK, dipped into the second which just completely slid over my eyeballs making no impact whatsoever - I bailed on the third).

YET for all these so-so adaptations, the BBC and HBO had us utterly gripped with "His Dark Materials" - Splicing together parts of Philip Pullman's first two novels in this series, playing between Lyra's escapades in Alt-Oxford and the frozen north, and a more modern-day setting for the second book.

Though there were scenes that we felt were badly handled and poorly realised (still cannot forgive 'em for essentially stuffing up one of the most important scenes in the first book, where a poor abducted urchin is separated from his Daemon and is found hugging a dead fish in a freezing hut), and a lot of criticism was levelled at the fact that the show obviously couldn't afford to budget for Daemons for every character. But the performances were stellar, with Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy acting their socks off to good effect, leaving us dangling on a cliffhanger and wanting the next series to hurry up and get here.

Elsewhere with more grown-up fare, Netflix's adaptation of "The Witcher" also boasts super-high production quality, and somehow manages to take the fairly toothy and 'not for the faint hearted' books (and for that matter a good dose of what made the games pretty special) and turn them into an amazing series. You see, it can be done - even with material that you'd swear was completely unfilmable.

Picture book wise, there was also a truly wonderful adaptation of "The Tiger Who Came to Tea" on over Christmas, perfectly honouring the memory of Judith Kerr's most well-known and celebrated book, in fact I don't think this got nearly enough love and plaudits on my timeline on Twitter. It really was wonderfully done.

Which is more than can be said for the BBC's version of "The Snail and the Whale" - For goodness sake give Magic Light something more decent to work with than stale Julia Donaldson books, PLEASE!

Adapting books isn't always easy - but sometimes, with the sheer amount of truly amazing stuff out there in kidlit (particularly in picture books) I'm left wondering why it always seems to be the 'safe' choices that make the leap from page, to script, to screen. We've said it in previous ReadItTorials and we'll say it again - there are many, many more authors out there whose works would make the perfect Christmas (or ANY time of year) movie or series. Give these folk a shot - and more importantly INVOLVE them in the project. No one wants to watch some producer / director's 'unique vision' for a story that stands up very well without any additional creative muddling.
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Out Today - "Fearless - How to be your true confident self" by Liam Hackett and Mike Perry (Scholastic)

Parents don't have all the answers. That's something both my wife and I have been brutally honest about with our daughter as she grows up, and though we can impart wisdom based on our own experiences, sometimes kids need a little bit more than that - they need to hear from other kids, and some sage advice from experts to help them find their way in an increasing mental and physical minefield as they rapidly approach their teens.

"Fearless" by Liam Hackett, with illustrations by Mike Perry is bang on the nail for my daughter's age group. Liam - founder of the "Ditch the Label" organisation, supporting anti-bullying strategies and working with kids and teens, has curated a fantastic book filled with a ton of advice on a huge range of subjects, mostly dealing with how stereotypes creep into young people's lives at an increasingly early age, and sometimes in the rush to conform or fit in, they lose a little bit of their own identities in the process.

Here then is a book that helps them claw some of that back with tons of amazing anecdotes and case studies from kids like my daughter, ordinary kids who may be dealing with extraordinary situations in work, at home and in their social lives.

Each chapter deals with a particular worry or fear kids might have, from the fear of being yourself, fear of failure, fear of not fitting in or expressing yourself - with plenty of amazing advice from Liam and his team of experts, as well as real life cases - many of which (sadly) my daughter has already encountered as she enters the next phase of her life.

The book is extremely strong on advice surrounding bullying in particular, in whatever form it takes from physical and emotional intimidation through to cyber-bullying and peer pressure, dealt with and discussed in a level-headed and mature way to ensure children do not feel alone in dealing with this nastiness, and giving them plenty of help and advice on who to turn to, and what to do.

This is absolutely superb stuff, it does the things it needs to do without talking down to kids or treating them like they were born yesterday.

"Fearless" by Liam Hackett and Mike Perry is out today, published by Scholastic (kindly supplied for review).
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"The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral" by Stephanie V.W Lucianovic and George Ermos (Sterling Kids)

Now and again a children's book comes along that makes you think "Well, that's a new one on me!"

So far I can't recall ever seeing a children's picture book that takes such a quirky, charming and original look at a subject that we go to great pains to avoid.


In "The End of Something Wonderful" by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and George Ermos, a fairly tricky subject is injected with a dose of slightly macabre (some might even say inappropriate) humour to help kids over the loss of a beloved pet.

So far we've managed to avoid this particular part of C's formative growing up, mostly because we don't have any pets or haven't had any. But what happens when a child's best furry (scaly, swimmy, or perhaps even tortoise-shelled) buddy dies?

It's time for a funeral - a right royal send off for the poor little critter. But how, and where do you even start with something like that?

We probably sound a bit down on this, but quite the contrary, and perhaps we find it funnier because we are petless. But it has a dark sense of humour running through the story, something that is sadly missing from children's books. Stephanie's text coupled with George's fantastic illustrations make this a real departure from the staid and boring, and dare we say rather 'safe' choices often made for subject matter when it comes to children's stories.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A quirky, charming if somewhat irreverent look at the loss of a beloved pet, and what to do next, brilliantly realised by an extremely talented pair of creatives.

"The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral" by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and George Ermos is out now, published by Sterling Kids (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shuing helped unlock the secrets of the Atom (People Who Shaped Our World)" by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang (Sterling Kids)

To most people, the name Wu Chien Shiung is completely unknown, but in "Queen of Physics" by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang, it's time to raise the profile of this astonishingly accomplished physicist, rightly placing her name amongst other more well known and easily recognised figures such as Oppenheimer and Fermi.

When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. 

But her parents felt differently. Naming their daughter Courageous Hero, they encouraged her love of learning and science. 

This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism at home and racism in the United States to become what Newsweek magazine called the Queen of Physics for her work on how atoms split. 

Wu Chien Shuing became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honours.

Sum this book up in a sentence: This book offers a fascinating glimpse at Wu Chien Shuing's life, and is a hugely positive and inspirational piece of work, showing that girls can achieve whatever they want to once the obstacles of prejudice and sexism are removed (as they should be!)

"Queen of Physics" by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang is out now, published by Sterling (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Two awesome new activity books to kick off the new year from Button Books

We do love anything that involves masses and masses of stickers. There's definitely something soothing about sticker books but in two new releases from Button Books there's more to the activities within than just stickers.

Let's kick off by taking a closer look at "The Magical Underwater Activity Book" by Mia Underwood.

With a superb underwater theme, chock full of mermaids, mer-cats (did you know there was such a thing? You do now!) and a whole host of familiar and unfamiliar sea creatures, this is perfect for kids who love to imagine what life is like under the waves.

There are plenty of awesome brain-taxing challenges such as word searches, mazes and papercraft.

Perfect for busy little kids, "The Magical Underwater Activity Book" by Mia Underwood is out now, published by Button Books. 

Also out now, the awesome "Roman Adventure Activity Book" by Jen Alliston, for kids who like a bit of history.

There are more stickers (over 100 to be precise) plus a whol host of Roman-themed makes and puzzles, activities and jokes perfect for kids who are covering the Roman Empire in lessons at school.

Kids will learn tons about Roman times while they're tackling all the fun things to do in the book, with brilliant characterful illustrations showing the type of people who lived in Ancient Rome and what they got up to!

"Roman Adventure Activity Book" is also out now, published by Button Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday, January 13, 2020

"Twelve Days of Kindness" by Cori Brooke and Fiona Burrows (New Frontier Publishing)

Stories that help children fit in and also demonstrate kindness are much needed right now, in our modern world where it feels like an uphill struggle to help kids develop tolerance, understanding and explore friendships with others.

In "Twelve Days of Kindness" by Cori Brooke, Fiona Burrows, Holly realises that the new girl in her class is struggling to make friends.

With the help of their football coach Holly and Nabila come up with a plan.

Can their school football team bring them together, and expand their friendship group?

As the two friends bond over a common interest, the story beautifully explores how kids can learn the moral at the heart of the story, and even pay it forward in their own lives, at school and at home. The story is gentle but nicely written, with kid-friendly illustrations helping to put the message across effectively.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A great little book for helping kids understand how to make friends outside their own social / cultural circles, and how tolerance, kindness and friendship can make a huge difference when new folk feel uncomfortable and like a fish out of water.

"Twelve Days of Kindness" by Cori Brooke and Fiona Burrows is out now, published by New Frontier Publishing (kindly supplied for review).  
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Friday, January 10, 2020

ReaditDaddy's YA / Adult Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 10th January 2020: "Third World War (Crisis)" by Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, D'Israeli and Angela Kincaid (Rebellion Publishing)

This one's strictly for our YA / Grown Up Readers, sliding into our YA / Adult Graphic Novel of the Week slot with all the temerity and bombast of a well-loved song.

In fact that's the power of comics - that sometimes you re-read something you read as a miscreant youth and it takes you back to the very time, the very era you first read it in.

I read this as a relative youngster, perhaps not as young as the main protagonists (or should that be antagonists?) in "Third World War" by Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, D'Israeli and Angela Kincaid. But young enough to entirely 'get' where this comic was coming from. Created by arguably one of the most important comic writers in Brit-com history and illustrated by a truly iconic comic artist, there was no way on paper that this could fail.

Hailed as a new flagship for intelligent comic readers, Crisis launched in 1988 and caught me on the hop as the sort of disgruntled wage-slave 20 year old unhappy with the way the world was going at the time (Reader: He didn't change, even into his 50s).

In fact that's the rub - the stuff depicted in this comic 30 years ago really hasn't changed much - and the story's streak of malevolent anger feels perhaps even more relevant now than it did back then, and as the young adults drafted into a multinational peace organisation soon find, the machinations of large corporations carving up the natural resources of poorer countries for their own gain hasn't seemingly altered one iota in the here and now of 2020.

The story is mainly told from the perspective of Eve, a girl balancing her strong moral compass against the demands of the peace corps she's 'drafted' into, finding that at every turn her worst fears are realised, and the "third world" is being vastly exploited by the evil multinational known as Multifoods, responsible for pushing sugary junk on the world's consumers, and carving up vast tracts of South America for gain and profit while displacing / policing the indigenous people there.

The young characters in the story, Eve, Paul, Gary, Trish and Ivan, all felt believable in a way that hadn't been tackled in comics for me up to that point. These were folk who I could readily spot amongst friends and acquaintances at the time and characters that were drawn from the disaffected youth fed up to the back teeth with a decade of the Tory government at the time (yeah, about that "not much has changed but we live underwater" thing).

While I was mainlining music by The The, Depeche Mode, Warren Zevon etc, I was also reading this comic and (largely) ignoring "New Statesman" (the other launch story in Crisis - which felt like it was catering for the US market rather than us) in favour of Third World War.

Paul, Ivan, Eve, Gary and Trish - In the firing line for Multifoods Peace Volunteer Force

It's surprising how well this has held up, and it's also surprising just how pissed off I still am at the way it draws to a close, leaving things hanging in an almost painful way, though obviously you can draw your own conclusions as to how things would've spun out if Crisis hadn't folded after three all-too-short years, ruling out a return for this strip.

As it stands though it's still one heck of a timely piece of work, read now amongst a world now paying the piper for what was going on 30 years ago as the climate crisis bares its teeth and bites hard, wreaking havoc around the world, and poorer countries still find themselves exploited by huge multinationals like the fictional Multifoods, adopting far more nefarious practices than just sending a bunch of conscript kids into hot zones. Spellbinding, important and thoroughly absorbing stuff.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A mind-crushingly timely slice of chaos 30 years ahead of its time, ringing a 5-bell alarm about what multinationals were doing to the planet, the effects of which we're still feeling today.

"Third World War (Crisis)" by Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, D'Israeli and Angela Kincaid is out now, published by Rebellion (kindly supplied in digital format for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th January 2020: "The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships & Battles" by Landry Walker (Abrams)

We're unapologetic Star Wars nerds here at ReadItDaddy Towers and now we're all caught up with the latest blockbuster movie "The Rise of Skywalker" it's time to dip into a book of the week par excellence, particularly if you love cool concept art and gorgeous vehicle designs.

"The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships & Battles" by Landry Walker draws together an enviable collection of material from right across the Star Wars cinematic and TV universes (though it's not quite up to date enough to encompass the glorious "The Mandalorian" show on Disney Plus).

That said, this is a fantastic guide to all the amazing ships and climactic battles that have been such a huge part of turning Star Wars into such a cultural phenomenon.

From the earliest movies, and some of the groundbreaking designs that turned wide eyed little kids like me into real fans back in the 1970s, bang up to date with the latest trilogy (and yeah the prequels are in here too, bless 'em) there's just about everything you'll need to know about X-Wings, Tie Fighters, the mighty Millennium Falcon, those romping stomping AT-ATs and many, many more iconic ships and vehicles.

Unusually, the book also has 'lift the flap' sections that show the evolution of certain designs from concept to finished models or CGI renders.

Though the books (rightly) celebrate the amazing work of concept artist Ralph McQuarrie (the late designer and concept artist who is often credited with creating the distinct look and feel of Star Wars), I was delighted to also find Joe Johnston's original and far more industrial designs for ships and vehicles being beautifully showcased in this fantastic book, alongside Doug Chiang's concept work too. Very much hoping that we get to see more books in the series (particularly if there are any planned titles about costumes, scenery and stuff like that).

For process nerds and concept art fans in general this is an essential tome, detailing and showing the way movie designs evolve, with some truly fantastic anecdotes and stories from those closest to the movies, and the directors (George Lucas of course, Irving Kershner, Ron Howard, JJ Abrams etc.) who brought those visions to life on screen.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Brilliant for a range of ages, even old Star Wars geeks like me, this is absolutely unmissable stuff.

"The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles" by Landry Walker is out now, published by Abrams (kindly supplied for review). 
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