Monday 27 February 2012

ReadItDaddy says "Make a Bookstart Pledge Today!"

Bookstart is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in grand style. Anyone who has been the recipient of a Bookstart pack knows the magic of opening up the box, the bag or the books and discovering something new.

I've made a pledge at ReadItDaddy to share 20 books this year (just 20? Aww you know it'll be far more!) so here's your chance to do the same. Go and make a pledge now. Bookstart is vitally important, more than ever, so give your child a good start in books. It's an adventure that will last them a lifetime.
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Friday 24 February 2012

Cheer up your Teddy Bear, Emily Brown

Emily Brown (ably assisted by her pet rabbit Stanley) has lots of wild and whacky adventures, but when a drip-drip-dripping noise comes from her Toybox, Emily Brown discovers the saddest toy in the world.

A lost, lonely and rather morose teddy bear is the subject of the latest Emily Brown book from Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton. As Charlotte has loved "That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown" (in fact we ended up bringing THAT home from the library for about the 100th time) we figured that "Cheer up your Teddy, Emily Brown" would be a pretty safe bet.

The formula feels like it's worn a bit thin though - and as great as Neal Layton's child-like illustrations and collages are, the book feels like it falls a bit flat in comparison to previous Emily Brown books.

Still quite entertaining though and Charlotte still calls her toy rabbits "Stanley".

Charlotte's best bit: The teddy bears picnic

Daddy's favourite bit: The wild and whacky situations Emily Brown "imagines" herself in.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The Pirate Cruncher

Jonny Duddle loves pirates, which is quite fortunate because pirates are probably quite high up most children's 'favourite literary characters' lists. There's infinite scope for japery and all sorts of salty sea-dog tales, so it's not surprising to find that The Pirate Cruncher is a complete delight.

I'm familiar with Jonny Duddle's work through the FX Magazine "Digital Art" series of books. Duddle works in the digital domain (something I've dipped a toe in recently, see my other blog PeejArtist to see how I'm struggling!) and he's got a real way with rich bright colours, and of course cheeky pirate characters.

"The Pirate Cruncher" takes a pretty well-worn nautical cliche and turns it into a thoroughly entertaining tale. A wizened old fiddle player tells the story of great treasures (and great danger) on an island far out at sea. Catching the ear of the great pirate Purplebeard, the saucy cove rounds up his raggedy crew and sets sail to claim the treasure for himself.

You can imagine that things don't quite go according to plan, and though adults will see the end of the story coming a mile off, the way Duddle works so many tiny colourful little details into each page spread (including one huge foldout spread for the end of the book) will charm and delight children of all ages.

Charlotte's best bit: The naughty parrot

Daddy's favourite bit: Duddle's artwork, just sublime, wish I could paint like that!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The Tunnel

Anthony Browne's books dance with the surreal and often sometimes quite disturbing worlds where the ordinary and the everyday meet the fantastical and deeply mysterious. In "The Tunnel", Browne weaves a fairly simple tale of sibling rivalry (anyone with a younger sister (like me) would probably instantly identify with the boy in the story!) but then dips the whole thing in the deep dark inky stygian well of the slightly disturbing.

The Tunnel uses Browne's powerful illustration style to shunt a child's imagination into overdrive. Quite unlike the gentle humour and situations in Browne's "Willy" books, The Tunnel is actually fairly harrowing, and definitely NOT a book to read just before tucking your little ones into bed.

But you're a parent. You'll know that there's something about books like this that makes them intoxicatingly attractive to children, in fact I expected this book to be shoved firmly to the bottom of our library pile this week, yet it's been the book Charlotte has most requested.

The sister in the story is the focal point of the message Browne is trying to get across here, and though it's easy to get completely lost in his beautiful Magritte-like paintings, ignoring the fairly lightweight text, that message is delivered more effectively than if it were dressed up in more flimsy and carefree surroundings.

If Stephen King wrote kids books, this is probably the sort of tale he'd be itching to tell.

Charlotte's best bit: Can't tell you because it would spoil the book but "Stone"

Daddy's favourite bit: There's one illustration panel of a group of trees. You could quite happily spend a whole week looking at that panel and picking out the hidden objects in it. Anyone familiar with Rene Magritte's work will fall completely in love with the book.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5, Book of the Week
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Monday 20 February 2012

Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator

What have an inquisitive schoolboy, a mad bagpipe-playing trumping granddad and an insidious power company all got in common? The answer lies in the fabulous book "Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator" from indie publishers My Little Big Town. As we've previously mentioned in this blog, My Little Big Town handle the majority of publishing tasks in-house and GGatGGG is one of their flagship titles.

Though it's aimed at older children than my busy four year old (Four today! Happy Birthday Charlotte!), she had a lot of fun listening to me read extracts of the book, looking at Calvin Innes' quirky and humorous illustrations, and of course giggling like a drain at the trump-tastic gags in the book itself.

"Gorgeous" George is an ordinary everyday schoolboy who dotes on his slightly eccentric mad Scottish Granddad, Jock. When Granddad Jock mysteriously goes missing, leaving an enigmatic note behind, it's up to George and his new best friend Allison to try and solve the mystery.

Evil forces are at play in the sleepy town of Little Pumpington, and an evil power corporation, led by an insane, evil (and very wobbly) tyrant called Mr Watt, (aided and abetted by his strict schoolteacher wife and a grumpy janitor), have a great deal to do with the nefarious goings on.

A great romp peppered with plenty of plopping, farting and evil doings courtesy of Stuart Reid's fantastic imagination. Perfectly complimented by Calvin Innes illustrations which are great fun too, this is the sort of book that deserves to become a bit of a children's cult classic.

To compliment the book's launch, Stuart has been visiting schools to introduce children to the world of Gorgeous George, a fantastic idea that's sure to win the book many more fans.

As mentioned before, it's a great introduction to the My Little Big Town ethos, and definitely means we'll be keeping up with what they do in future. As to how the book ends, you'll have to delve into the world of Gorgeous George yourself!

Charlotte's best bit - Giggling about Grandad's trumping and bagpipe music

Daddy's favourite bit - The wonderful slow-burn build up of tension and the story to the fantastic conclusion (which I won't spoil).

Rating - 4 out of 5 stars
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Thursday 16 February 2012

Spotlight on MyLittleBigTown

MyLittleBigTown is a publisher based in Leeds, UK and this week we're taking a look at one of their books, the fabulously titled "Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator" (try saying that when you're eating a packet of cream crackers!) Before the review goes live I thought I'd delve into what makes MyLittleBigTown tick.

MyLittleBigTown are passionate believers in good quality books and comics covering a wide range of subjects. Founded in 2006 by author and illustrator Calvin Innes (the crazed genius behind the Gorgeous George book illustrations), MyLittleBigTown are an approachable publisher willing to take a look at first-time author's books. As large publishers are a bit daunting for new writers or illustrators, it feels like MyLittleBigTown are doing things differently - perhaps even better.

Using an in-house development team, MyLittleBigTown offers a fairly unique approach to book publishing and can team authors up with illustrators, using high quality paper and materials to publish the finished article. Though we're still working through "Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator" here at ReadItDaddy, it's already evident that it's a nicely put together book that can happily sit on the shelves alongside other bigger publisher's books.

A full review of GGATGGG (no, the acronym doesn't look very nice, I know!) is coming up once we've read through it. It's a meaty tome for a working daddy and a four year old to work through but so far it's getting a very good reception with Charlotte. So you see, it's not just boys who find bogey, fart and poo jokes funny.

We'll be keeping an eye on MyLittleBigTown's output. Definitely a publisher to watch out for in future.

MyLittleBigTown Website and E-store

See below for a promotional video for "Gorgeous George"...

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Monday 13 February 2012

Baby Pie

Three hungry, warty and extremely clumsy trolls go searching for the key ingredient of Baby Pie in this hilarious (if a little gruesome) book. We loved the way the book builds the anticipation as the trolls stealthily (and not-so-stealthily) make their way towards the wonderful (!) aroma of a fresh baby, all plump and ready to be covered in pastry.

It's a clever twist on a favourite theme of children's books - things not appearing quite as they seem (and if you're a regular ReadItDaddy reader, you'll have seen the central theme of this book quite a few times before in other things we've covered).

Nevertheless, Nick Ward's great depictions of the nasty smelly little trolls are brilliant, and Tom MacRae's rhyming repetition throughout the book help it bounce along beautifully.

Charlotte's best bit - What happens when the trolls finally reach their goal

Daddy's favourite bit - "Can I whiff it? Can I sniff it?"

Rating - 3 out of 5 stars
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Thursday 9 February 2012

The King of Quizzical Island

The King of Quizzical Island is an incredibly inquisitive chap. Wondering what lies at the end of the world, the King sets sail in his ship and discovers faraway lands of mystery and magic. In Gordon Snell's book, rhyming couplets map out the King's intrepid voyage, encountering Vertical Land and Puzzle Land before ending up at a surprise destination at the end of the book.

At first I thought the way the book ended was a bit of a cheat and a cop-out, but as promised there is a sequel - so don't be downhearted if your little ones clamour to know what happens next.

David McKee's illustrations are as whacky as ever (though largely monochrome in the book, they're still stamped with his trademark style). We now look forward to finding out what happens next!

Charlotte's best bit - Puzzle island

Daddy's favourite bit - The quizzical king's expert eye in draughtsmanship.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Tuesday 7 February 2012

R.I.P Samuel Youd (AKA John Christopher, Author, 1922-2012)

For a generation of adults, the BBC's adaptation of John Christopher's book 'The Tripods' was chilling TV entertainment. Yet very few will know that Samuel Youd (John Christopher's real name) penned a massive library of science fiction books for adults and children under a series of pseudonyms. 

The Tripods Trilogy is probably his most widely recognised work, but it was another JC book - "The Guardians" that first brought him to my attention. It's been covered elsewhere in the blog (as one of the books I can't wait for Charlotte to read) but it's worth mentioning it again, a book that feels as original and fresh now as it did when it was written back in 1970. 

It's the mark of a great science fiction book when you read through and hear the references to Christopher's dystopian future vision, and see something there that's uncomfortably recognisable. The division between city folk and country folk may have been rather graphically interpreted, and the harsh, heavily enforced class system rather chillingly represented - but it's a fantastic thrilling read, and one that deserves greater recognition. 

It won the (aptly titled) Guardian Award in 1971 and was also made into a German TV series. 

Christopher's legacy lives on. A new movie adaptation of The Tripods is still in production, and other works have been filmed (for instance "The Death of Grass" was filmed as the disturbing sci fi movie "No Blade of Grass" by Cornel Wilde). 

R.I.P Samuel Youd. You were a fantastic inspiration.

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Monday 6 February 2012

Dougal's Deep-Sea Diary

Wow, what a treat for the eyes! Simon Bartam is a master of acrylics, producing some of the most stunning illustrations in Children's books today. He's also a dab hand at producing something a little out of the ordinary, and in Dougal's Deep-Sea Diary, Bartram uses the diary style to tell the story of Dougal - a bored 9 to 5er who can't wait for his deep sea diving holiday.

Each day's diary entry is accompanied by a sumptuously detailed picture of Dougal's exploits. With so much detail packed into each page, it's quite easy to get distracted from the story and lose yourself in the wonderful illustrations.

We loved the way the book ends and will definitely be hunting out more of Simon Bartram's books.

Without a doubt, a well deserved book of the week

Charlotte's best bit - Hunting for mermaids (and dinosaurs) throughout the book.

Daddy's favourite bit - Absolutely stunning artwork

Rating - 5 out of 5 stars, book of the week
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Friday 3 February 2012

My Phonics Kit from Oxford Learning Tree / Oxford University Press

With the introduction of the new Phonics Tests due to be rolled out to six year olds later this year, parents have been presented with a dizzying array of different phonics resources. For a while we've been visiting the Oxford Owl website ( which contains both reading and maths resources, fun games and some of the best presentation I've ever seen on a children's website.

Through this site we've become familiar with the adventures of Biff, Chip and Kipper (and of course Floppy the dog) so it was great news when we were contacted with an opportunity to review the new Phonics Kit from Oxford University Press.

The kit, which is on sale for £9.99, contains three activity books, a glossy "Floppy" activity poster and a CD ROM (which is compatible with PC and Mac). Though it's aimed at older children than Charlotte, it's still an excellent way to kick off your child's interest in reading, the recognition of words and sounds, and taking their first steps towards literacy.

We started with the CD ROM (installed fine on Snow Leopard / Mac OSX). The lively and bright graphics follow the designs of the Biff, Chip and Kipper books.

Menus are fairly easy to navigate (even for tiny hands just getting used to a mouse) and various stories are presented in e-book format, all read through the program's self-contained viewer. Children have the choice of reading the books themselves or listening to the audio tracks to help them through the difficult bits.

Each e-book is complimented by a range of activities designed to back up what they've just read with useful exercises and tasks to complete.

The CD ROM was a massive hit with Charlotte, in fact it was extremely difficult to convince her not to race through all the books on offer in one go!

Also contained in the pack are three phonics workshop books, one each for Biff, Chip and Kipper. These books are beautifully laid out and presented with fun activities, stories and stickers to reward a child's efforts. Complimenting the workbooks is a large glossy fun poster featuring Floppy the Dog. As children progress through the workbooks, they can find additional stickers to stick on Floppy's chart. As any parent knows, stickers are a great way to reward a child and provide the incentive to engage with phonics or other learning activities (and this is definitely something that's widely recognised in schools too).

For an inquisitive (nearly) four year old who hasn't yet learned to read, the kit is still worth picking up simply because parts of the kit present something that children can go back to again and again as their levels of literacy improve. The only drawback (and it's not really a criticism as such) is that once the stickers are all used up and the Floppy Wall Chart and workbooks are completed, children might lose interest in revisiting them. However, there are a multitude of ways around this, like making your own wall charts and progress sheets or diving onto the Oxford Owl website's "Fun Ideas" section for more brilliant resources.

Without a doubt, this is a top quality product and even if children haven't met Biff, Chip and Kipper before, they're sure to become huge fans of the books - and once they engage with the stories and characters, you'll find they'll become hooked in no time.

Charlotte's best bit - Floppy's activity wall chart

Daddy's favourite bit - Simple installation of the CD resources, and superb presentation of the kit throughout

Rating - 5 out of 5 stars

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