Tuesday 31 July 2012

Angry Birds vs Phonics - The Great App Debate

Watching recent traffic on Twitter regarding e-books, apps and electronic media formats has been quite an interesting exercise for us at ReadItDaddy. With the only other previous smart device at ReadItDaddy Towers being an iPod Touch, we've been out of touch (see what I did there?) with the whole "app" phenomenon as Apple's harsh hardware lifespan rolls over older kit on a yearly basis.

Now we're back in the game with a brand spanking new iPad, it's interesting to see how much (and how little) has changed.

More and more children's books are becoming available as e-books or "apps" as major publishers take a look at their best-loved and top-selling IPs, butter up their authors and delve into the sometimes murky world of electronic entertainment.

It's not all plain sailing though, and publishers, authors, illustrators and app developers aren't exactly big fans of their core audience's 'penny pinching'. Apps are unique in that they have the sort of unrealistic pricing structure that would've had publishers running into the trees screaming a few years back, vowing never to set foot anywhere near the App market. But now they're feeling 'forced' to compete with other publishers who have various ways of dealing with the pain of cheap app pricing and an app-buying public who think £2.99 is a little on the expensive side.

Some publishers use the tried and tested marketing trick of luring buyers in with 'free' apps, that are underpinned by extensive in-app purchases. It's a trick that works for a while. Joe public sees the word 'free' or 'lite' and instantly feels safer in the knowledge that the ludicrous price they paid for their chosen app-friendly device can at least be offset by cheap or zero-priced content. But there's a catch of course, in-app purchases are anything but cheap and as we've seen in the games industry, DLC, microcontent and asset-stripping of full priced titles to produce after-sales price bumps is about as popular a strategy as smearing yourself with honey and diving headlong into a red ant nest.

The other method publishers and developers use is to come up with a fairly 'samey' template for their apps. Grab the original art assets from a book, slap them together in a touch-friendly user interface, slap a few funny noises in there, perhaps a 'memory match' game or (ugh) a 'dress the character' drag and drop game and you're on an instant path to fortune and glory.

Or are you?

You see, kids aren't chumps. They want variety that extends beyond just changing the visuals, they want challenges that will stimulate their developing minds, and they seriously do not want dressing up games or memory match games. These are kids that have to be wooed away from that most sugary-sweet of app addictions, the Angry Birds series. These are kids that are so tech savvy that you can't hide your WAP passwords from them, they'll have already been in and changed it so YOU can't lock them out (thank you http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2012/07/is-this-the-best-or-the-most-evil-parenting-trick-ever/ for at least giving me a smile this morning with that one!)

Even at the tender age of 4 and a bit, Charlotte will tell you in no uncertain terms that £2.99 for a slimline app based around a book character is not going to cut it and though there's the assumption that if you've got enough disposable income to afford an app-ready device in the first place, you can darned well front up the money for apps, you're not there to dictate to your core market, you're there to win them over.

Some publishers really do 'get it'. HarperCollins Children's Books get it. They offer full-book samples of some of their best loved children's books knowing that parents will appreciate a full-fat freebie with no limits or in-app purchases and then recognise that publisher as offering quality products in future. NosyCrow get it. They offer visually bright, exceptionally slick and reasonably affordable apps and enlist great illustrators, voice-over artists and sound engineers to boost their app quality massively.

Others (and we'll be kind enough not to mention the culprits here) don't get it. They still can't see past the low app price threshold and still don't really understand the digital market. It's OK though, in the one industry that has fully embraced digital downloads and virtual offerings (the games industry), some of the leading lights there really don't get it either and companies like Rovio (the Angry Birds developer / Publishers) thumb their noses, and point and laugh at them as they struggle to offset unit development costs with real solid sales.

Authors and illustrators want changes more than anyone else, and this is where the dim light at the end of the tunnel may exist. Ask an author or an illustrator for idea on how to digitally enhance their books and they'll come up with a ton of great ideas, because by hook or by crook most authors and illustrators are already playing in the vast digital playground, are already hearing first hand from their best customers how great or how awful their work is, and they're already upping their game when it comes to working with their core audience not against them.

If we can get authors and illustrators to pass on the message to developers and publishers, pretty much everyone can come out of this smiling but all sides need to understand one salient fact. No one is stupid in this, and though the old saying goes 'there's one born every minute' or 'a fool and their money are very soon parted', a parent and their budget are glued together like dried weetabix on a child's breakfast bowl.
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Top That Publishing give you a chance to sample The Froobles for free!

With entertaining stories, minigames and app surprises for preschoolers, Top That Publishing's "The Froobles" is exactly the sort of interactive app we like to see here at ReadItDaddy. Not just a sterile treatment of a print book but something that truly embraces all the opportunities for fun and learning that modern touch-screen devices can offer. Celebrities like Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen lend their voices to the stories too!

Top That Publishing have been producing fun and educational apps for quite some time and now you can take a look at one of their best-loved series with a free sampler available on iTunes.

The Froobles (on iTunes for iPad / iPhone)

More information is available on the Top That Froobles Support Site. 

The app will remain free until 6th August so get in quick!
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Miffy celebrates 57 years of entertaining children with a new app

Miffy, the endearing children's character created by Dick Bruna is 57 years old. With new generations of children discovering the enthralling stories and simple artwork that is the trademark of the character, a second iPad app - "Miffy Goes Flying" is now available for your little tech wizards.

Developed by Sanoma Media / Mercis, "Miffy goes flying" capitalizes on the iPad / iPhone's features to offer more than just an app makeover for a classic book series. As the story unfolds, your children will get to play three interactive mini games to help Miffy and her Uncle take to the skies.

The app is available on iTunes for the introductory price of £2.49 (rising to £2.99 after the 6th August so get in quick!)

English and Dutch language options are included with the app.

Here are a few screenshots:

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The Very Noisy Night by Diana Hendry and Jane Chapman (Little Tiger Press)

We've lost count of the number of books that deal with this subject. A little one, unable to sleep, has a restless night and keeps their mum or dad (or usually both) awake. Seldom few are as snuggly and atmospheric as "The Very Noisy Night" by Diana Hendry and Jane Chapman. This came in a "Little Tiger Press" box set along with 3 other books, but this is the one Charlotte asks for more than any of the others.

Little Mouse can't get to sleep. Noises around the house keep him awake and fire up his overactive imagination. He hears the wind whistling through the trees, a branch tapping the window and an owl hooting - but in the dark he imagines all sorts of things are going on around him.

Big Mouse is trying to get to sleep but Little Mouse's constant interruptions mean that both have a restless night until Big Mouse finally gives in.

It's a fairly standard story but the treatment here is rather special. Diana Hendry tips a knowing wink at parents, while Jane Chapman's delicious little mouse house (with more than a nod to "The Borrowers") is lovely and packed with detail.

If you ever spot the Little Tiger Press box sets, they're excellent value but this book was definitely the standout in the collection.

Charlotte's best bit: Little Mouse fetching his umbrella when he thinks it's raining in the house

Daddy's favourite bit: Little Mouse's cold little feet (yep, identify with that!) and taking up most of the bed (Yep, again can identify with that too!)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Monday 30 July 2012

Dixie by Grace Gilman and Sarah McConnell (HarperCollins Children's E-Books)

I am rubbish at winning arguments, though the household democratic decision to buy a tablet PC for e-books, browsing and other reasons was 2 to 1 against and I was the 1.

So we are now embracing the digital age here at ReadItDaddy as we now have the capacity to finally review e-books. And what a corker we picked for our first e-book review, the sublime "Dixie" by Grace Gilman and Sarah McConnell.

I've never really liked the idea of the monochrome Kindle - but with the Kindle Fire seemingly never coming to the UK, and the plethora of Android tablets not quite hitting the mark yet, we ended up buying an iPad. I've been bitten by the Apple bug at work, but have always shied away from buying any more of their kit for home after my iPod 2nd Generation ended up being more or less outdated in the short space of a couple of years after I bought it (it still works as a music player, but try running any apps on it now!)

The iPad's e-library app is lovely, a virtual bookcase provided as a free download from iTunes once you get up and running. Like the Kindle store, you can instantly grab a whole bunch of free e-books from iTunes, including this lovely little offering from HarperCollins.

Dixie the dog is a loveable character and when his best friend Emma tries out for the school play, Dixie is disappointed to find she gets so wrapped up in her preparations to play 'Dorothy' in 'The Wizard of Oz' that she doesn't have time to play doggie games. Dixie rather naughtily makes matters far worse but will   Emma make a splash in her school play in the end?

The book is lovingly presented in e-format and very easy for even the youngest children to flick through. It goes without saying that any bold, colourful children's book is going to be a better bet on a colour tablet than on anything monochrome (though Dixie is available in Kindle format). The aid of the touch screen to flick through the book and pan around the illustrations helps bring the experience alive for youngsters (that's assuming, of course, that you don't mind their sticky jam-covered fingers poking and prodding your iPad!)

With many authors and illustrators making the move to get their books published (or reprinted) electronically, embracing the rather novel experience of looking at a book this way has made us realise that the 'gimmicky' idea of a tablet for children's development isn't that gimmicky after all, and though I still have my own concerns about e-book vs printed books, Dixie is definitely worth a look - particularly as it's free at the moment.

Charlotte's best bit: Emma trying on the the Ruby slippers

Daddy's favourite bit: Slick presentation of the book, very easy to use even for little fingers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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The Phoenix Comic by various lovely artists / illustrators (Phoenix Comics)

It's OK, we haven't gone completely bonkers after the surreality of the Olympic opening ceremony (but ah, wasn't it great! Weird yes, but great!), we have started looking at more diverse material here at ReadItDaddy. I'd aimed to do something on The Phoenix Comic for a while, but a couple of tweets from one of their mainstays on Friday about how rotten a brit comics forum were being about the mag (What do a bunch of annoying cheesy-wotsit-eating live-at-home-with-mum-and-dad types know anyway) made me want to give it more coverage and spread the love.

The Phoenix Comic is that rare beast amongst comics. Something that you'd be quite happy to let your kids loose on, knowing that A) it doesn't come with an annoying free gift that will end up found at various locations around the house until you bin it in frustration for the piece of plastic tat it is and B) it's not aiming to sell your kids a bunch of annoying toy / character-based merchandise (though I would quite happily wear a Pirates of Pangea T Shirt if they ever made 'em available).

Based literally a stone's throw from where I'm typing this. The Phoenix Comic blazed onto the scene 30 issues ago, and it's that good, it feels like it's been around forever. I was brought up on a diet of comics like 2000 AD, Warlord and other 'boy' comics, and my other half pointed out that The Phoenix does feel a bit boy-centric but Charlotte disagreed and consumed Issue 30 with gusto.

Comics always made me want to draw (and I drew a lot of portraits of characters like Ol' Stoney Face himself, Judge Dredd to learn things like anatomy and action poses). I'd be very happy if comics like The Phoenix had the same effect on Charlotte (in fact once we'd read Issue 30 of The Phoenix we had a go at drawing superheroes from the comic's excellent (and funny) tutorial and then drew our own comic strip about Charlotte being hungry and secretly wanting to eat Mikados rather than bread & jam).

So to the team working their butts off to produce the stunning artwork and vibrant stories of The Phoenix every week, we'd just like to say that there's a reason you don't get many kids hanging around crusty old comic forums. They've got better things to do with their time, like actually reading your comics, loving them to bits and being inspired by them to go and create their own. Right there is where you're building the legacy of British comics, not on some dumb forum.

I've often spread the love about The Phoenix to other parents and so if you've never heard of it, or fancy introducing your child to comics that aren't dumb, aren't chock full of merchandising and are written and drawn with a lot of passion and skill, then go and check out the Phoenix website for an electronic taster.

Charlotte's best bit: Gary's Garden - "Wake up wake up, why are you lying in a poo!"

Daddy's favourite bit: The eye-meltingly lovely artwork on "The Lost Boy"

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Friday 27 July 2012

Moonlight, Murder and Machinery by John Paul Catton (Winston Saint Press)

In a little break from the norm, ReadItDaddy was fortunate enough to be sent a Young Adult fiction novel recently. I'm usually pretty polite about such things, making it clear that ReadItDaddy is predominantly a children's picture book blog but the novel in question had the sort of premise that drew me straight in. So for today's review, ReadItDaddy dips a toe into YA reviewing with John Paul Catton's excellent novel "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery".

It was the premise that had me hooked straight away. I'm extremely inspired by anything vaguely steampunky, mostly because of the works of Pat Mills and Bryan Talbot on the "Nemesis the Warlock" stories from 2000AD but since then, the genre has exploded and now Steampunk is more popular than ever.

But with "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery" we have "A gothic re-imagining of the Frankenstein story, set in a steampunk regency England where Steam has been outlawed" and it's very easy to see why I had to take a look at this book, after a description like that.

The story begins when young Mary Godwin, a woman troubled by recurring prophetic nightmares, meets the man who haunts her dreams, Master Shelley (Mary / Shelley? Got it?)

Shelley is a young recruit to His Majesty's Geomancers, a mysterious army of talented individuals that sound like a cross between the British Warlocks of Ian Tregillis' "Bitter Seeds" and Victorian "X-Men". Investigating mysterious deaths and reports of horrific creatures stalking the night, Shelley's counter-intelligence unit uncover plots and treasonous acts that threaten to undermine the very fabric of Nova Albion. As the events of Mary's nightmares unfold, she begins to fear for Shelley's life.

While I won't give away too much of the plot, there are so many elements to this book that tick all the right boxes for me. I loved the descriptions of the Luddites - now flipped on their heads from being machine-hating labourers to poor jobless folk clamouring for a lift of the ban on steam power. I also loved that the book touched on Ancient Briton and the mythos surrounding sites like Avebury, and the deep dark secrets buried under Cornish soil (I'm sure my brother in law would be intrigued by the descriptions of subversive Cornwall, renamed Kernow and boldly flashing its independence from Nova Albion).

Above all, this is a book for fans of alternate histories, gothic romance, of mysterious phenomena and for those who secretly believe that magic still bubbles away under the surface of our verdant British soil.

I've read several YA books (despite apparently being 'old enough to know better'), and I'm intrigued by the notion that somehow "Young Adults" need a separate sub-set of fiction that stretches between children's novels and 'stuff for grown ups'. I firmly believe that "Moonlight, Murder and Machinery" offers a level of sophistication and substance that lifts it above most adult fiction, let alone the sort of fare you'd expect to comfortably fit into the YA pigeonhole. It delves into history, twisting it like a pretzel but still offering enough hooks for readers to go off and investigate the Regency period in more detail. It offers fantasy escapism tinged with darkness and menace, and above all it speaks of the lure of power and the lengths that mere mortals will go to in order to hang onto it.

Tearing through it just once doesn't really do it justice, but second time around I'm delighted by Catton's knowing nods and references to other gothic works. I hope this isn't the last we see of Catton's Nova Albion, it's such an intriguing intoxicating world and there's a ton of scope for more stories woven from the same threads found in this book.

You can find out more about the book on the Smashwords EBook Forum here  (and obtain the book in a variety of E-Formats) or you can grab a "luddite" paper copy here.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
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Thursday 26 July 2012

Food Chain by M.P. Robertson (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

My lovely other half The Strolling Mum picked this book out of the library stacks. It's always a treat when she comes with us on our library trips (normally she's at work on Library day) as she picks out and suggests a really different set of books to the stuff Charlotte and I usually grab.

"Food Chain" by M.P. Robertson definitely catches the eye with the amazing and zany cover art. The surreality continues inside as we chart the life of an ill treated goldfish. Dumped down the loo by a rather horrible little boy, the goldfish gets swept out to sea and beyond. There the adventure begins as we chart the fish's trip from bowl to loo, loo to sea and sea to...well you'll find out!

Robertson's colourful illustrations are amazing, chock full of detail and with lots of wry little observations about sea life (and our own maltreatment of our oceans).

It feels like a bit of a 'boy' book (if such a thing truly exists) but Charlotte loved it, and most certainly loved its briny setting.

Charlotte's best bit: Sharks!

Daddy's favourite bit: Robertson's superb (and sometimes quite grisly) detailed illustrations

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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On a Dark Dark Night by Simon Prescott (Little Tiger Press)

Nope, this book has absolutely nothing to do with a mouse scurrying up Batman's leg, but Simon Prescott's ethereal atmospheric little book "On a Dark Dark Night" is a lovely bed-time read. A little mouse takes a perilous journey in search of food, through the dark dark streets, through dark dark gardens and into a dark dark house.

I recently read an article where the value of repetition in children's stories was questioned, and whether rhymes could help a child learn to read. Our take on this, here at ReadItDaddy is that both have a place in children's books and repetition (and beginning to learn the familiarity of letter and word 'shapes') definitely has a great deal of value when it comes to a child's first faltering steps into the bookworld.

Simon Prescott's book may feel repetitive and probably won't win any prizes for the deepest of plots, but it does help a child to recognise the repeated words, the themes and also aids their comprehension of a story tenfold.

Entertaining and atmospheric when read to a child, but also a really good start for children who are almost busting their britches to learn to read.

Charlotte's best bit: Mouse's scurry up the drainpipe

Daddy's favourite bit: Prescott's lovely use of a limited palette of colours and superb light/shadow to give the book a metric ton of nocturnal atmosphere.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Tuesday 24 July 2012

Remembering a particularly hard to read tale from childhood

When I was a kid, I can't remember how we ended up with a copy of "The Winston Readers Primer" - A 1920s story collection for children. My Nan was an avid Jumble Sale scavenger, and used to unearth all sorts of 'treasures' in her weekly quests around the various jumbles in our locale. The Winston Primer's stories were a fairly unremarkable mix of nursery rhymes, classic fables and stories 'of the age' but one story in particular used to cause my mum to cry with laughter, to the point where she could rarely finish the story off (it had the same effect on my sister and I too - and definitely isn't a nice snuggly settle-down-to-sleep story, so be warned!)

On a whim I googled for the story, and astonishingly enough the first hit dished up the full text. A couple of hits down dished up the classic cover of the book the story was found in.

The book is out of print, the story - being a classic story - is out of copyright and freely available so I thought I'd reproduce it here and see if modern parents can fare any better than my mum, and get through it without laughing till they cry.

(I'm extremely cruel, she doesn't read this blog and doesn't know it yet but when she comes for a visit later this week, I'm going to give her the story and see if she can read it to Charlotte!)

Ladies, Gentlemen, Children and Pets, I give you "The Wee Wee Woman"

Once upon a time there was a wee, wee woman who lived all alone in a
wee, wee house.

One night this wee, wee woman lighted her wee, wee candle, crept softly
up her wee, wee stairs, got into her wee, wee bed, and fell fast
asleep. Soon this wee, wee woman was awakened by a noise. She jumped
out of her wee, wee bed, lighted her wee, wee candle and looked behind
her wee, wee door, but there was nothing there. Then she looked under
her wee, wee bed, but there was nothing there.

So this wee, wee woman took her wee, wee candle in her wee, wee hand,
crept softly down her wee, wee stairs and, when she reached the room
below, she looked under her wee, wee chair, but there was nothing
there. Then she looked into her wee, wee cupboard, but there was
nothing there. Then she looked behind her wee, wee stove, but there
was nothing there. Then she looked under her wee, wee table, but there
was nothing there.

So this wee, wee woman took her wee, wee candle in her wee, wee hand,
crept softly up her wee, wee stairs, got into her wee, wee bed and fell
fast asleep. Soon this wee, wee woman was awakened by a noise. She
jumped out of her wee, wee bed, lighted her wee, wee candle and looked
behind, her wee, wee door, but there was nothing there. Then she
looked under her wee, wee bed, but there was nothing there.

So this wee, wee woman took her wee, wee candle in her wee, wee hand,
crept softly down her wee, wee stairs, and, when she reached the room
below, she looked under her wee, wee chair, but there was nothing
there. Then she looked into her wee, wee cupboard, but there was
nothing there. Then she looked behind her wee, wee stove, but there
was nothing there. Then she looked under her wee, wee table, but there
was nothing there.

So this wee, wee woman took her wee, wee candle in her wee, wee hand,
crept softly up her wee, wee stairs, got into her wee, wee bed and fell
fast asleep. Soon this wee, wee woman was awakened by a noise. She
jumped out of her wee, wee bed, lighted her wee, wee candle and looked
behind her wee, wee door, but there was nothing there. Then she looked
under her wee, wee bed, but there was nothing there.

So this wee, wee woman took her wee, wee candle in her wee, wee hand,
crept softly down her wee, wee stairs, and, when she reached the room
below, she looked under her wee, wee chair, but there was nothing
there. Then she looked into her wee, wee cupboard, but there was
nothing there. Then she looked behind her wee, wee stove, but there
was nothing there. Then she looked under her wee, wee table and out

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Misery Moo by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross (Andersen Press)

Apparently, I can be quite grumpy at times. When behind the wheel of the car, yes I'll admit I'm grumpy. When the cistern on one of the loos breaks for the umpteenth time, yep that would most certainly make me grumpy. When the local woodpigeons or bees decide to wake me up at 4.30 in the morning by cooing stupidly or buzzing like a buzzsaw. Yeah that would do it.

But I've got nothing on Misery Moo, the main character in Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross's book. Misery Moo always finds something to moan about. In the winter it's too cold and rainy. In the summer it's too hot and sticky. Despite her constant moaning and groaning, Misery Moo ends up with a rather lovely friend - who can see past her downtrodden exterior through to her heart of gold.

But when Misery Moo's friend, the lovely sheep, disappears one day, what happens next?

Of course you'll have to read the book to find out. We thought we'd done a really good job of hoovering up all the Jeanne Willis / Tony Ross books but just when we think we've read them all, another one pops out of the woodwork. Misery Moo tells a touching tale of friendship, and why it's not always ideal to go around with a face as long as a fiddle. Your mood may rub off on others! So I'm committed to trying to be the less grumpy of the seven dwarves, I'll happily trade for dopey instead :)

Charlotte's best bit: Misery Moo's happy go lucky sheep friend

Daddy's favourite bit: Misery Moo's expressions, no one does 'miserable' like Tony Ross!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The Lighthouse Keeper's Cat by Ronda and David Armitage (Scholastic Children's Books)

Hamish is a rather well fed and content cat, that is until the day he overhears his master and mistress (the Lighthouse Keeper and his Wife) discussing how they can get their fat puss to catch a few mice and earn his keep by putting him on a diet.

Hamish is a cat of leisure, and so decides to run away from home rather than scoff mice. He travels far and wide, and soon realises just how cushy his previous life was.

Ronda and David Armitage have produced a whole series of 'Lighthouse Keeper' books. Idyllic and charming (though I have to admit to finding Hamish's weird anthropomorphised face a bit offputting), they are perfect for sunny lazy days (and it seems at last we're getting a summer of sorts, so picking this up from the library was well timed!)

What happens to Hamish on his travels? You know us, we're not going to spoil it for you but this is a rather lovely little tale that makes us want to hunt out the rest of the Lighthouse Keeper series.

Charlotte's best bit: Hamish and the 'bad cats'

Daddy's favourite bit: David Armitage's lovely atmospheric illustrations positively reek of suncream, summer sunshine and the briny seaside.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Monday 23 July 2012

The Little Old Lady Who Cried Wolf by Simon Puttock and Nicola Slater (Macmillan Children's Books)

Apart from describing the original fable of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' to Charlotte, we have been trying to explain what the phrase means. 'The Little Old Lady Who Cried Wolf' explains it all perfectly. Simon Puttock respins the classic fable and rather than an errant shepherd boy, we've got a wrinkly blue-rinsed old lovely who, despite having a fairly comfortable life, gets bored very easily when no one else is around.

She has a brainwave one morning, and decides to phone the local services (police, fire, ambulance) complaining that her house is overrun by wolves.

So there's a double moral tale here. Don't tell whopping great fibs just because you fancy a natter over a cup of tea, and definitely don't phone the emergency services complaining of wolf infestations when all police, fire and ambulancemen and women can see through your thin veil of untruth.

I love the little old lady in this, I've met her many times. Charlotte loved the wolves though and secretly I think they're right up there alongside monsters, aliens, dragons and other book 'baddies' - far more interesting characters than the sweet charming princesses and heroines of books she also loves.

So what happens to the little old lady in the end? She gets exactly what she deserves but it might not be what you think!

Charlotte's best bit: The various utterances the old lady comes out with when her tissue of lies is undone.

Daddy's favourite bit: I love the old lady's facial expressions. She really does feel like a conglomeration of just about every old lady I've ever met.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Stories for a Prince by various authors / artists (Hamilton Publishing Inc)

Here's a book we previously only owned as a story CD (my wife points out that it was originally hers on Story Cassette), but spotted in book form at the excellent Fire Service Book Sale which was held just up the road from us on Saturday. You can read more about the book sale on the excellent Abingdon Blog (the Abingdon Blogger was even lucky enough to get a ride in the massive fire engine crane that was hoisting people up into the big blue yonder for most of the day).

Stories for a Prince collects together tales told by children for the (then) 16 month old Prince William (and illustrated by some superb children's book illustrators including one of our faves, Babette Cole - who illustrated the Nessie story in this book). There's something quite involving and inspirational about the way kids write. Free of the need to nail down their narrative precisely, but with the free-flowing imagination to build deliciously interesting characters, kids could teach adult authors a thing or two and this collection of tales features such a diverse set of stories and interests that even though the book is nearly 20 years old, the tales still work when told to kids of today.

Short bite-sized stories, beautifully illustrated. Books like this should happen a lot more often (if you're reading this, publishers, make it happen!) - It'd be really interesting to see what the differences are between the stories those 80s kids came up with and what the current generation of kids would write in a world dominated by videogames and apps.

Charlotte's best bit: Nessie and Bessie!

Daddy's favourite bit: Naturally, Babette Cole's illustrations for the above story.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Book of the Week

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Darkness Slipped In by Ella Burfoot (Kingfisher Press Ltd)

Most children go through a phase of being 'afraid of the dark' and in Ella Burfoot's book "Darkness Slipped In" the darkness is reimagined as a playmate, a spiky-headed shadowy figure that isn't to be feared. Daisy, the young girl in the book, isn't the least bit afraid of the darkness as he envelops her room. They have a merry dance, and play, until Daisy starts to get sleepy.

The book treads a mighty fine line between allaying a child's fears of what night-time holds and giving them too much to think about once they settle down into their bed and the unfamiliar domain of darkness turns their snug surroundings into a shadowy realm.

I'd certainly baulk at reading this to Charlotte anywhere near bed-time (perfect for bright sunny days like we've had over the weekend though). It's beautifully illustrated, the characters are engaging (though Darkness still looks a little too sinister and mysterious at times, and his all-enveloping arms taking away Daisy's teddy were a bit much for Charlotte). It's a good attempt to produce something that shows there's nothing to be scared of once the lights go out, but children's minds don't quite work that way, and merely showing that Darkness is a happy little chap who likes a bit of a dance won't actually go as far as mollifying a child's dreamed-up demons if they have trouble sleeping at night.

Charlotte's best bit: Daisy's lovely dress and cute teddy

Daddy's favourite bit: The depiction of the darkness - worked for me but possibly still too scary for kids.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Saturday 21 July 2012

What's that coming over the hill?

Charlotte was so enamoured by her copy of Nicola L Robinson's "The Monster Machine" that to thank Nicola, she sent her a drawing of Mummy Monster, Daddy Monster and a tiny little baby monster. Nicola loved it and it now takes pride of place on her studio noticeboard.

Charlotte even made the Monster Machine Blog!


Since getting the book, Charlotte's been thinking of all sorts of weird and wonderful monsters to draw next (she seems to have a thing about drawing three sets of eyes / feet / arms which is cool!)

If you haven't already picked up the book, and are looking for something monster-flavoured for your own little monsters to read while they're on their summer hols, go grab a copy of 'The Monster Machine' now!
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Friday 20 July 2012

The Fairyspotter's Guide by Meg Clibbon and Lucy Clibbon (Zero To Ten)

Charlotte, dear heart, very rarely picks overtly 'girly' books out from the Library but as soon as she saw "The Fairyspotter's Guide" she absolutely went crazy for it. Like a cornucopia of pink and sparkly winsomeness wrapped up in book form, Meg and Lucy Clibbon's book details the secret lives (and different species) of fairies that secretly dwell at the bottom of your garden.

Tinkerbelles, Flower Fairies, Fairy Queens and even the rather naughty and mischievous fake fairies are all detailed with beautiful illustrations.

Charlotte loves the pictures and her own drawings often pick up cues from the various picture books we read so it was quite cute to find her drawing some of the fairies from this and including the various elements in her own scribblings.

Obviously not one for the rumbustious boys at home, but girls (even fairly tomboy-ish girls) will be utterly enchanted.

Charlotte's best bit: The Tinkerbelles, of course!

Daddy's favourite bit: Those rather rude fake fairies.

Rating: 3 out of 5 specks of fairy dust
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Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson (Walker Books)

'Owl Babies' was one of those books that I was utterly convinced I'd already reviewed for this place, so when Charlotte grabbed it in this week's library run, I was quite pleased when I realised that we had read it before but never covered it.

'Owl Babies' is the story of three adorable owls, Sarah, Percy and Bill. When Mummy Owl leaves the nest one night, the three little owls snuggle up waiting for her return. They fuss, they worry (and in little Bill's case, say "I want my mummy!" a lot). So what happens as the night draws in and mummy is nowhere to be seen?

You'll have to read the book to find out what happens, of course. Owl Babies has won many awards and it's not difficult to see why. Martin Waddell's simple story spliced with Patrick Benson's moody and dark illustrations work so well, and as you can imagine, little Bill is every child's favourite ("So cute!" says Charlotte!)

Charlotte's best bit: Bill saying "I want my Mummy!" on every page (which she repeats in a very loud owl voice)

Daddy's favourite bit: Lovely moody illustrations.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Thursday 19 July 2012

I Don't Want to Go to Bed! by Julie Sykes and Tim Warnes (Little Tiger Press)

Little Tiger Press were kind enough to send us their reworking of their flagship title 'I Don't Want To Go To Bed' which updates and reissues the 1996 classic for a whole new generation of toddlers to enjoy. We've all been there haven't we? Those nights where no matter how much we cajole, cuddle or even bribe our little ones to settle down for the night, they just won't settle (even with the help of a lovely book like this).

In 'I Don't Want To Go To Bed' a naughty little tiger exasperates his poor mum to the point where she gives in, and lets him stay up all night to find out how different the jungle can be when darkness falls.

The mischievous little tyke goes off in search of his friends and his favourite haunts, but of course things are a lot different at night and little tiger soon finds out why snuggling up under the covers is a far better prospect than roaming the nocturnal jungle.

It's a tale that's been told and retold in so many different ways by so many different authors and illustrators but this feels like the work that all those other books borrowed their ideas from. It's such a lovely book and even the very naughty central character is cuddly and loveable when he eventually gives in to the inevitable snoozy feelings. The Little Tiger Press re-issue, as a large format picture book, is colourful and beautiful and deserves a place in your picture book collection alongside classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Gruffalo.

Charlotte's best bit: The bushbaby's eyes shining in the darkness

Daddy's favourite bit: Wholly identifying with the exasperated mummy tiger and her efforts to get her busy little offspring to sleep.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Monday 16 July 2012

Christopher Nibble by Charlotte Middleton (Oxford University Press)

Like most guinea pigs, Christopher Nibble LOVES dandelion leaves. Dandelion leaves for breakfast, lunch, in-between meal snacks, dinner and supper.

Of course the problem with mass consumerism on this scale comes when you don't shore up the supplies by responsible replanting or sustainability.

Soon Dandeville is almost completely devoid of dandelion treats aside from a few ebay scalpers flogging off their prized dandelion leaves for crazy prices (so very well observed, CM!) Thank goodness then for Christopher Nibble!

How he saves the day is beautifully told in this moral tale woven with expertise and care. Beautifully illustrated and told without being preachy. Christopher Nibble is nibble-tastic!

Charlotte's best bit: Guinea pigs. Lots of guinea pigs, you can never have too many guinea pigs apparently!

Daddy's favourite bit: Christopher Nibble bidding for dandelion leaves on the internet

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

(This book was supplied as part of the Booktrust Booksmart scheme)
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The Monster Machine by Nicola L Robinson (Pavilion Children's Books)

Here at ReadItDaddy we've discussed at length children's fascination with all things spooky and monstrous. Why are monster books so popular with kids? What is it about the slightly scary and unusual that draws them in more immediately than books that feature fluffy little bunnies running lemonade stands for their friends?

One person knows the secret, and she's not telling. Nicola L Robinson's "The Monster Machine" successfully taps into this rich seam of inspiration to produce a children's book that is fun, fantastically detailed and immensely entertaining.

Charlotte's first reaction was (of course) to pick "the monster that is me" (with a little boy as the main 'human' character in the book, her default position was to pick a rather beautiful beaky-toothy striped monster as 'her'). 'The Monster Machine' tells the story of a little boy and his inventor dad. After toiling in his workshop one day, Dad invents a machine that makes monsters (from a rather hilarious and gross list of ingredients that, hey, we all probably have kicking around at home at some point, right?)

The Monster Machine is a resounding success, with whirling gears, pulsating tubes and exquisite saxophone valves for controls. It's extremely effective too, and soon the house is filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes.

What can an ordinary everyday boy and his dad (and their dog) do with a houseful of monsters though? You'll just have to pick up Nicola's book to find out.

It's a real smasher this, with the bold colourful illustrations and entertaining story making it suitable for a wide range of young readers (the monsters are such a happy bunch that even the very youngest readers won't find them monstrous at all!)

Charlotte's best bit: Beaky monster (because she's so cute!)

Daddy's favourite bit: The marvellous, chaotic, steampunky monster machine itself and the glorious list of ingredients that go to make up a monster.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Book of the Week

(ReadItDaddy would like to point out that this book was generously supplied by Nicola herself for review. Review copies supplied by publishers / authors are reviewed under our guidelines fairly and basically, what Charlotte says, goes anyway!)
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Friday 13 July 2012

It's Friday the 13th! What better day to celebrate Winnie the Witch's Birthday!

With Oxford University Press hosting a week of celebrations, it seems fitting to round off Winnie the Witch's birthday week by linking to a rather fantastic Telegraph interview with Winnie's artist, Korky Paul:

It's a great insight into how Winnie the Witch was transformed from a fairly standard A4 'learn to read' series into the picture-book powerhouse that Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul have become legends for. 

The Winnie the Witch books were amongst the first books we reviewed here at ReadItDaddy, and some of the first books that Charlotte fell hopelessly in love with. I think Korky Paul is a bit of a genius artist (pen and ink with paint = my kind of guy!) and of course Valerie Thomas' stories are always engaging, chaotic and funny. 

Happy Birthday Winnie and long may you wave your wand and shout "Abracadabra!"

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Thursday 12 July 2012

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (HarperCollins Children's Books)

A recent article on children 'giving up' on picture books at a certain age got me thinking about my own shaky start in reading. At primary school I (and probably a fair few of you of a certain age) had a newsletter / catalogue that used to be circulated, allowing parents to buy subsidised books for their kids. Like the wonderful job Bookstart does in bringing fantastic books to the attention of our little ones today, this newsletter meant I got to see books that otherwise would've passed me by (remember, before the internet, the mummy / daddy bloggers and coverage in the press, kids books had little or no exposure outside schools).  Through one such newsletter, I got my first copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterwork, The Hobbit.

The book instantly clicked with me, mostly through the efforts of one of my first form teachers at Primary School, the awesome Miss Cox. She had long black hair and equally long black fingernails (we used to think she was some sort of divinely attractive witch!), and she recognised that I'd got a bit beyond the Peter and Jane books and needed to sink my teeth into something meatier. She loaned me her copy of The Hobbit until I got my own and I was completely hooked.

So this morning, before Preschool, I started to properly read my rather battered old copy to Charlotte (partly inspired by a recent conversation with the sublime children's author / illustrator Nicola Robinson whose dad also introduced her to The Hobbit at an early age - something that probably had an awesome hand in steering her towards her current career choice).

The Hobbit is a meaty book for a 4 and a half year old (in fact most big and proper 'chapter' books are) but reading to your children, even without the visual aid of broad panel illustrations (Tolkien's ink squiggles are rather lovely though), can still work if the book is strong enough to let you exercise your vocal talents and paint a fantastic picture in your child's mind.

Be prepared for questions with this approach, there will be many. We did one chapter and I had to field a ton of questions about the Dwarves ("Are they like Snow White's dwarves? Why aren't there any lady dwarves? Why did they want to eat all of Bilbo's food?") and Hobbit Holes ("Why do Hobbits live in such funny houses? Can I try blowing some smoke rings?") and of course grand old wizards ("Why doesn't Gandalf do any tricks?") but that's all part of the fun. Answering the questions is like dipping your brush into the pot to paint a few more strokes in your child's imagined 'map' of the characters, settings and concepts of a fairly meaty tome.

Of course, it goes without saying that we might not even finish the book this first time. We might get to some of the longer more drawn out passages and lose our way or more accurately, lose Charlotte's interest (though 'The Hobbit' is eminently more approachable and more feasible a read than most of Tolkien's other books, possibly with the exception of Farmer Giles of Ham). I'm also acutely aware that  doing the 'soccer dad' thing of introducing your own interests to your child in the hope that they'll pick them up and run with them is always slightly risky (particularly if your other half thinks that books about swords, sorcery, dragons and dwarves are probably not suitable for 4 and a bit year old girls who obsess about princesses, fairies and unicorns normally!)

This isn't a review so we won't stick a rating on the end of this. Suffice to say that my advice if you're considering diving into best beloved chapter / word-only books as an alternative to quick reads at bedtime, do it! You may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
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Tuesday 10 July 2012

Old Dog by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross (Andersen Children's Books)

Aw poo! A while back, I had a vague concept for a children's book idea mapped out in my head, and did some preliminary sketches / character work for the book. In it, a girl visits her grandmother for the day and bemoans the fact that granny dearest doesn't really do a lot, except make rather annoying noises, produce rather noxious smells and generally can't join in with the girl's favourite games. But when she asks granny what she used to do when she was young, a vast riotous explosion of ideas comes from Granny.

Of course, I'd mapped all this out as being a massive selling children's book not realising that the core theme had already been done about a billion times better than I could possibly have managed in Old Dog, by the unstoppable picture book team of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.

Change the sexes, and you've got a young pup moaning about visiting his grandpa (who doesn't do a lot, smells a bit, you get the picture) but when Grandad is asked about new tricks, boy can he perform!

It's a real heartwarming winner this - once again as I've said countless times before on this blog, Willis and Ross really can't seem to put a foot wrong. Old Dog is definitely worth reading to your little ones next time they groan about visiting their grandparents (or great grandparents). Thankfully Charlotte loves all her grandparents to bits and absolutely loves playing with all of them. The moral of this review is "If you think you've had a good idea for a kid's book, tough cheddar, Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross have probably already trumped your best efforts by a country mile!

Charlotte's best bit: Grandad Dog's photos of his younger days

Daddy's favourite bit: Grandad Dog's tireless energy once he realises he is still a star

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
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Denver by David McKee (Andersen Children's Books)

David McKee's books are consistently good. He seems to have a knack for producing work that spins together a clear message with a fun and entertaining set of characters laced tightly together with a well-told story. When I was a kid, he entertained me with Mr Benn. When my brother was a whippersnapper he entertained him with King Rollo. Now he's entertaining Charlotte with his books and Denver is one of his most recent, good to know he's still as brilliant as he ever was.

Denver is an extremely rich man who does the exact opposite of what most extremely rich men do. He loves his town, he loves the people in his town, and he will go to great lengths to use his wealth to make their lives just that little bit better.

However, Denver's world changes one day when a mysterious (and rather spiteful) character arrives, spreading dissent amongst the townsfolk. Jealous of Denver's wealth, he soon sets tongues wagging and it's not long before poor Denver is forced to make a difficult life-changing choice.

For children, the book is entertaining, colourful and beautifully drawn in McKee's trademark style. For adults, the 'message' is clear and effective without being preachy and Denver is such an engaging chap that you can't help rooting for him at every turn.

Once again, McKee ends up penning our well deserved 'Book of the Week'.

Charlotte's best bit: Denver's paintings and his cute cat

Daddy's favourite bit: McKee playing with weird perspective and birds-eye views but doing so to great effect

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Book of the Week
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Monday 9 July 2012

Traction Man is Here! by Mini Grey (Red Fox Picture Books)

Traction Man, the lantern-jawed plastic action hero is here to save the day! We've previously reviewed Traction Man meets Turbo Dog and loved it. Here's the first tale in the chronicles of Traction Man, outlining how he first meets his faithful chum Scrubbing Brush, and how (with the aid of timely wardrobe changes and equipment grabs) he manages to save the microuniverse around his owner's house time and time again.

Mini Grey's illustrations are beautifully detailed, and she has an absolutely enviable talent for tapping into the imagination of children and how their imagination explodes when they start playing and creating their own little worlds around their toys.

Superb stuff, we loved it!

Charlotte's best bit: Traction Man's cool diving outfit

Daddy's favourite bit: Traction Man's extremely loud action trousers

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The Hairy Book by Babette Cole (Red Fox Picture Books)

We're still on our quest to read every single one of Babette Cole's books and we recently managed to grab "The Hairy Book" from the library. As you'd expect from Babette Cole, it mixes the surreal, the slightly smelly and the saucy together into a tome of rhyming revulsion that entertains and grosses out in equal measure.

Hair, cropping up everywhere. On creatures, under armpits and in less desirable places. Babette Cole chronicles the follicles with her trademark fantastic illustrations and cheeky verses.

Though this wasn't an instant hit like the Dr Dog books, it still managed to make Charlotte giggle and made me cheer right at the end. See if you can guess why when you read it :)

Charlotte's best bit: Hairy baths!

Daddy's favourite bit: Me, at the end! Yes that's me, honestly!

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
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Friday 6 July 2012

Little Dragon and the Haunted House by Anni Axworthy (Zero To Ten)

Imagine what it would be like to live with a dragon that cried tears of pure gold every time he had a bit of an emotional moment. Judging by the vast pile of loot Little Dragon is sitting on, he must be a bit of a sad chap.

Little Dragon and the Haunted House tells his story, and what happens when he decides to up sticks and move with his family to a haunted house.

After dealing with a horribly slippery estate agent (know the feeling!), Little Dragon finds the perfect abode. The only problem is, the ghosts living there are a wee bit afraid of dragons.

Anni Axworthy's charming little tale seems to have struck a chord with Charlotte and I had to draw the line of having yet another book nominated as 'joint book of the week' (two is bad enough, three would be crazy!) But she loves this, perhaps because like most children she finds ghosts and scary stuff absolutely intoxicating and though this book is about as scary as a wet paper tissue, tiny mites hear 'haunted house' and immediately think of spooky goings on.

Charlotte's best bit: Little Dragon's huge pile of gold coins and treasure

Daddy's favourite bit: Why don't estate agents sell more houses that look like something from The Addams Family?

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Tuesday 3 July 2012

Burglar Bill by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg (Puffin Books)

Oooh it's controversial, but when the 'boss' of this blog says something is so, it is so. And so (and sew and sew) it came to pass that on the first week of July, 2012, we ended up with two books of the week here on ReadItDaddy. Charlotte absolutely could not choose between "I Want A Dog!" and this little tome from way back in 1977. Allan Ahlberg, children's literary genius - and his illustrator wife Janet came up with this - way back before parents were demanding that libraries threw away any books likely to subvert their little cotton-wool-wrapped darlings.

It's probably just as well our local library doesn't go in for any of those ridiculous shenanigans, because Burglar Bill is such an excellent book.

It tells the story of a burglar (no!) named Bill (really?) and his nightly antics as he makes his way through the little street behind the police station, burgling people's houses.

Right about now, liberal wishy washy parents are probably lying in a dead faint, so we can carry on without offending them. Burglar Bill is the epitome of a loveable rogue, returning home every morning to enjoy his stolen fish and chip supper, a stolen cup of tea, sitting at his stolen table on a stolen chair before snuggling up in his stolen bed with his (stolen?) cat.

Burglar Bill's life changes completely when he steals a big brown box with holes in the lid. With his trademark cry of "That's a nice (something or other), I'll have that!", he makes off with the box.

What happens next? Aha you think I'm going to tell you? You think I'm going to ruin one of the best children's books ever written by giving away the major plot points and the endings? Hah, think again - suffice to say that this is a book that deserves to be listed right up there amongst the Gruffalos, along with the Bear Hunts and right next to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It might sound slightly unsavoury, and obviously it's alright to write books about pirates and zombies, bogie-picking trolls and nefarious witches but not Burglars, OK?

Charlotte's best bit: Boglaboll!

Daddy's favourite bit: Burglar Bill's favourite phrases, "That's a nice (something), I'll 'ave that!" and  "Well Blow Me Down!"

Rating: 5 out of 5 sacks of loot, Joint Book Of The Week!
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