Tuesday 21 August 2012

A closer look at Anorak and Ploc - two happy magazines for kids

As the long hot (and sometimes extremely wet) summer draws to a close, and the television and shops are bombarded by those depressing "Back to School" ads, there's still plenty of fun to be had in the closing weeks of the holidays.

We were lucky enough to be sent Anorak and Ploc magazine to review by Anorak Press. Anorak and Ploc proudly stand apart from the usual 'trashy plastic gift' magazines that infest local supermarket shelves and dipping into the magazines the first thing that hits you like a freight train is the sheer quality of their production.

Printed on really high quality paper, with full colour throughout, both magazines certainly look far different to most printed publications for children. Anorak is published 5 times a year and is aimed at 6-12 year olds. Despite this, there was plenty in the magazine that caught Charlotte's attention (especially the cover art - which is instantly appealing and absolutely begs browsers to take a closer look inside).

With a mix of stories, comic strips and activities, Anorak came with a bonus cover-mounted puzzle magazine called Goober the Goblin which contained a good mix of brain teasers, slapstick hilarity and even some great educational stuff that felt more like fun than learning.

Charlotte fell completely in love with the Munkie and Horace photostory (picture to the right). The story of a bear's move to New Zealand (lucky, lucky bear!) it's a sweet little tale that was beautifully shot and composed.

Elsewhere in Anorak, it was quite surprising to see adverts but don't be put off, the ads are so subtle and well done that you'd swear they were part of the magazine (in fact it was only when my wife pointed them out that I noticed them). The product reviews at the front of the magazine were actually for fun and innovative products that you wouldn't normally see covered in kid's mags so again they were something different and quite eye catching.

Above all though, Anorak absolutely clamours quality mainly because of the artwork. From the surreal picture feature about a rock star, to the comic strips and panel photo spreads, it's the sort of magazine that kids can come back to again and again rather than just sticking stickers all over it and binning it a week later (which has been our experience of most of the mainstream 'TV-Driven' magazines so far). Anorak can be obtained directly from Anorak Press or from leading independent booksellers / WH Smiths. Price: £6.99 every 5 months.

Moving onto Ploc, this magazine is something really special. In keeping with Olympic-mania, the summery edition is given over to sports and pastimes. Lovingly illustrated by legendary children's artist Alain Gree, once again Ploc absolutely screams great quality from the outset. Again with a mix of puzzles and activities, Gree's art style instantly puts a smile on the face of anyone browsing through the magazine and though there's plenty of educational content, once again like Anorak it doesn't feel at all like learning, just really good fun.

Ploc's busy little panels chock full of detail underpin the more traditional magazine mainstays of colouring and drawing - The only drawback I can think of was that we loved the magazine so much we couldn't bear the thought of defacing it by colouring, cutting or scribbling on it (you'll just have to buy two!)

Ad-free and the perfect little magazine for children to browse through at home, in the car or on holiday, it's a superb quality product that deserves to become a collector's classic. Price: £7.00 and available from Anorak direct or good stockists.

Anorak Magazine

Charlotte's best bit: Munkie and Horace. "I Want my own Horace!"

Daddy's favourite bit: Such a great quality product, really rugged and can stand up to the rigours of children manhandling it. Fantastic stories to read at bedtime was a real bonus.

Summary: Don't let the price put you off as the 5-monthly Anorak actually works out far cheaper than the equivalent throwaway magazines, is a collectible classic and will be around a lot longer than your average trashy TV-based mag and its cheesy free gift. Absolutely loads to do with the inclusion of a bonus Goober the Goblin Puzzle Magazine too. 

Ploc Magazine

Charlotte's best bit: The Topsy Turvy Story (Red Riding Hood) - such a great idea!

Daddy's favourite bit: Alain Gree's superb artwork, but Ploc is just such a fantastic quality product throughout.

Summary: We seriously hope some of our independent bookstores start stocking Anorak and Ploc, we'll certainly be getting both again.
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Friday 17 August 2012

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway (Red Fox Picture Books)

Normally you don't see four million wasps all in one place (unless you visit Legoland!) but imagine if your peaceful tranquil little village was invaded by them. What would you do?
The villagers of Itching Down come up with a fantastic plan to rid themselves of the yellow striped flying pests. A giant jam sandwich!

This book was one of my favourites as a child and I couldn't believe Abingdon Library had a copy that was still intact and still the original 1972 edition rather than the reprint you see in the picture above (though at least the Red Fox reprint has that fantastic image of the villagers sawing up the giant loaf of bread on the cover).

It features that ace retro 70s line-and-wash art that seemed to be common to a lot of classic children's books, but even despite this, it's a timeless book that Charlotte found as brilliantly entertaining as I had as a ragged-trousered little scamp (also, spookily enough, aged 4 at the time this came out originally, yep do the maths, I'm that old!)

The appeal is the crazy mix of invention, ingenuity and downright eccentricity that comes from the idea of using a giant jam sandwich to rid a village of its flying pest problem.

Charlotte's best bit: The flying tractor. Yes, a flying tractor.

Daddy's favourite bit: The 70s scratchy washy artwork and such a massive nostalgia hit from seeing this again.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Book of the Week - "I Want My Hat Back" by Jon Klassen (Walker Books)

So many times we hear publicists and publishers claiming that such and such a book is "The Next Gruffalo" or "The Next Very Hungry Caterpillar" but seldom few match up to such classics. I'm not going to tell you that "I Want My Hat Back" is the next anything, it's the first "Hat" book by Jon Klassen (he's since written and illustrated another called "This Is Not My Hat") and it's undoubtedly a book that is destined to become a true children's classic.

Quite simply, it blew our socks off here at ReadItDaddy because it's such a simple idea but executed with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel, the wit of an intelligent comedy play, and with illustrations that look deceptively simple but work on so many levels. Now and again we come across books that give us food for thought, trigger off debates and discussions or have us thinking about their impact all week. This is such a book.

It's the story of a bear, a fairly daft looking and docile chap who's in the deepest depression because he's lost his hat.

To try and break out of his deep blue funk, he proceeds to visit all the animals in his locale, asking if they've seen his hat anywhere. Each time he's disappointed, but offers up a polite "OK, thank you anyway" until he realises something. He has seen his hat!

What happens next is just too deliciously subtle and brilliant for me to spoil it for you here but if you find a copy of this book in your local library (as we did) or you find a copy in your local bookshop, grab it with both hands, hand over your library ticket or your money, and take it home and cuddle it. You wont be disappointed, but more importantly your children (no matter what their age) won't be disappointed either because it just works so beautifully for kids from 1 to 100.

In my head, Bear has a voice a bit like David Walliams' annoying bookshop customer on "Little Britain" - Slightly daft and a bit thick, with a zombie-like stare straight ahead as he asks each animals whether they've seen his hat. It's a work of comedy genius, it also has one of the greatest pay-offs I've ever seen in a children's picture book.

I can't understate how utterly fantastic this book is, so naturally it's our book of the week in a week where once again we've really been spoilt for choice and have seen and read some really brilliant children's picture books. Jon Klassen, you sir are a genius!

Charlotte's best bit: Can't tell you, it'd spoil the book.

Daddy's favourite bit: The bear's expression. It rarely changes, but in that expression - that simple set of shapes, bear manages to imbue the reader with the sense that he's really deeply sad and depressed. Such beautiful work. Also loved the payoff but as above, can't tell you, it'd spoil the book!

Rating: If I could give this 10 out of 5 I would. But 5 out of 5 stars, Book of the Week
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Thursday 16 August 2012

Do you know where your Anorak is?

At ReadItDaddy we're passionate about children's books but we're equally passionate about children's periodicals, magazines and comics. Yes they do exist, no they don't always have to have a nasty cheap plastic gift attached to the cover or be based around TV or merchandising opportunities, and yes they're enjoying a creative 'golden age' similar to children's picture books.

While old stagers like The Dandy are unfortunately succumbing to low distribution figures, there are a lot of new and exciting publications cutting their teeth in a really difficult marketplace.

We've been following the progress of Anorak Magazine for a while on Twitter, and now Charlotte's at an age where she wants a little more substance and creativity than you can find in those instantly disposable 'TV' mags like the CBeebies magazine (which is, to be fair, the best of a fairly mixed bunch), Anorak really floats her boat.

I mean, c'mon, just look at the cover of the summer special above. Look at it! What kid wouldn't love to pick up, buy, and leaf through a magazine as instantly attractive as that?

With activities, stories, absolutely stupendous artwork and great contributors, it's definitely a more engaging read than most of the more commercial products bunging up your local supermarket's magazine shelves.

There's the problem - you see Anorak is available as a mailout subscription, and from a select few local stockists and that's something you can definitely do something about. If you would like your local bookseller or store to sell Anorak, nudge them in the direction of Anorak's Stockists Page and see if they'd like to work with them.

It doesn't begin and end with Anorak magazine either. PLOC is a more meaty publication from this extremely talented bunch, with guest contributors and 64 pages of fun and activities. The 2nd issue with a sports theme, tying neatly in with the Olympics, has just launched and is available via the website or from selected stockists.

Think you can't contain yourself any longer from dashing out and finding your next copy of Anorak or PLOC? Calm down dear, gadget freaks can get a lovely techy slice of Anorak action from the comfort of their own iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch at the end of August. Anorak TV is coming,  and you can watch a trailer for it below. For the measly price of 69p you'll be able to download the Anorak TV app from iTunes and enjoy 20 minutes of superbly entertaining knockabout fun to watch on your favourite device.

Please take a look at what Anorak are doing, and please look beyond those daft plastic toy mags. There's a whole world of engaging, thought provoking alternatives that will make your kids smile and laugh and perhaps even learn. 
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The Dog Detectives - Lost in London by Fin and Zoa, illustrated by Merika Suska (Maverick Books)

London is a huge, vibrant city and a favourite destination of ours. I lived there for many years but it was only when I moved away that I got to do the 'tourist bit' of visiting all the attractions and enjoying the way the city has changed immensely over the last 30 years.

In Fin and Zoa's latest Dog Detectives adventure, the two intrepid doggie investigators Jack and Poco Loco (based on Fin and Zoa's world-travelling rescue dogs themselves) are tasked with locating the missing ravens from The Tower of London. After a mischievous game of hide and seek, the birds are nowhere to be seen and as legend tells, if the ravens of the tower are lost, the kingdom will fall!

Chasing all over London and catching some of the wonderful landmarks, Jack and Deputy Poco Loco are soon hot on the trail, aided by a helpful punk rat.

Great artwork, and lots of learning opportunities abound in this lovely book. If you're planning a visit to London or if you've recently been, this book will strike a chord with you and your children as you find out lots of interesting facts about the landmarks, the history and the culture of our capital. The fast-paced story is excitingly woven into the learning experience in such a cool way that a lot of other books should definitely be taking their cues from the Dog Detectives series.

Charlotte's best bit: Wait a minute, doesn't Thor look a bit like Where's Wally?

Daddy's favourite bit: Sumptuous illustrations, loved the London Underground bit!

Rating: 4 and a half out of 5 stars
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Tuesday 14 August 2012

When you read books to your child, what voices do you use?

Fairly early on in our relationship, I found out that @thestrollingmum really didn't like my terrible talent for daft accents and impressions, so for years those voices lay dormant except for moments when I could sneakily take them out for a stroll when she wasn't within earshot.

As soon as Charlotte was born, and I started reading to her, I found I could sneakily dust down those accents and impressions and use them to give life and form to the characters in Children's Books.

I'm not the only one. I know all of you out there in bookland secretly do this as well (Right, Binky?) and what's more, you love doing it. Quite rightly too!

So I'm interested to hear what voices you use, what accents and how you make an already engaging story that little bit more interesting vocally.

I'll start - here's a small selection of books and characters, and the voices I tend to slip into when reading them...

The Gruffalo / Gruffalo's Child (Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffler).

Used to read The Gruffalo as a broad Glaswegian, long before I heard the TV version with Robbie Coltrane's dulcet tones as The Gruffalo. I also rather like James Corden's mouse, slightly high and squeaky with that air of being a bit of a smart alec. Previously I always read the mouse as a slightly nervous reedy little fellah.

The various animals range from a rather posh and snooty fox, to a hooty and hollow-sounding voice for the owl.

The Gruffalo's child, can't help reading her as a slightly raspy 'Violet Elizabeth / Bonnie Langford'.

Splat the Cat (Rob Scotton)

We got Splat the Cat as part of a Booktrust Bookstart pack and it's such an excellent little book. Splat himself was always a high pitched "Brummie" accent, a bit like "Small" in the TV show "Big and Small". His mum was a softer non brummie, but Mrs Wimpydimple is always read as a cross between Miss Marple and Molly Sugden.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)

I think it was the opening page of this book and the words "By the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf" that made me think of "In The Night Garden" for some reason, so I find it impossible to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar without mimicking the narration style of Derek Jacobi. Soft and snuggly bedtime voice only for this one.

So over to you, how do YOU read to your child?

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I Want My Puppets by Tony Ross (Andersen Children's Books)

She's sassy, she's mischievous and she has her own TV show. Tony Ross's "Little Princess" books are always a favoured pick when we do our library runs, and "I Want My Puppets" follows the tried and tested formula of the other Little Princess books.

The Little Princess decides to throw a puppet show with her new toy puppets. While Dad (I mean The King) makes a puppet theatre (or rather, delegates construction to Mum, I mean The Queen), The Little Princess busies herself getting ready for the show.

Things don't go according to plan, and as most parents know, when things don't go according to plan it's time to step in and help (or risk having your eardrums shattered by a monumental tantrum).

Does the show go ahead as planned? Or is everything too broken, sticky and chaotic to continue?

One thing's for sure, any parent who reads this book with their youngster and doesn't have a craving for  caramel popcorn afterwards has something inherently wrong with them!

Charlotte's best bit: It's Little Red Riding Hood Sock!

Daddy's favourite bit: Awww the budding romance between the maid and the general is so utterly cute.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Coming up - Tamara Small and the Monsters Ball by Giles Paley-Philips and Gabriele Antonini (Maverick Arts Publishing)

Fresh from reviewing "The Fearsome Beastie" we were extremely lucky enough to get a sneaky peak at Giles Pale-Phillips and Gabriele Antonini's excellent followup, "Tamara Small and the Monsters' Ball".

As you know, we like a bit of monstrous stuff here at ReadItDaddy and Charlotte makes a bee-line for anything monstery. She loved "The Fearsome Beastie" but a book with a little girl as the central character and not just one monster but a whole plethora of monsters was always going to be very popular.

Tamara Small wakes up one night when a monster steals in through the window and whisks her off. But don't panic just yet, Tamara is in safe hands as the monster is taking her to the infamous Annual Monsters' Ball. What do monsters do at a ball? What do they eat and drink? What will become of Tamara? Well you're going to have to wait until October 1st to find out but we think Giles and Gabriele have managed to trump "The Fearsome Beastie" by some considerable margin.

We're now glued to Maverick Books website to see if they can keep up this fantastic streak of quality children's picture books. So far they're knocking it out of the park, and we've already noticed that Julie (Mrs MacCready) Fulton and Jona Jung have another book coming out (Tabitha Posy was Ever So Nosy) too.

You'll most definitely like Tamara Drew though, betcha!

Charlotte's best bit: Cake made of... :)

Daddy's favourite bit: Without a doubt, the breakdancing Werewolf.

(No rating as this is a preview)
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Monday 13 August 2012

Mrs MacReady Was Ever So Greedy by Julie Fulton and Jona Jung (Maverick Arts Publishing)

Not to be confused with the bus-driving ace mechanic from Balamory, this particular Mrs MacCready loves to eat and lives to eat. Scoffing down plate after plate of gorgeous scrumptious food, she pays no heed to her rapidly expanding waistline until one day the only thing that fits her is a ratty old string vest.

Poor Mrs MacReady!

This fantastic little book from Julie Fulton and Jona Jung is crazy, funny and wonderfully irreverent. Like the other Maverick Arts books we've reviewed, there is a moral message mixed with the excellent rhyming text and colourful illustrations, but don't let that worry you too much. Kids love characters like Mrs MacCready and they particularly love anyone who can get away with scoffing all the things kids are constantly told are bad for them! We've often heard that one children's author or another is "The Next Roald Dahl" but Julie Fulton nails that essential mix of craziness and the macabre so effectively, she deserves that particular plaudit more than most.

Absolutely brilliant, loved every morsel of this one!

Charlotte's best bit: Mrs MacCready eating cherries (with worms still inside! Ew!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Mrs MacCready's interfering neighbours trying to hide her from prying eyes.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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ReadItDaddy is dropping its rating scores from next week...

Review scores eh? They're always the subject of much controversy and speculation. Why do we feel the need to validate something with a number, a grade?

At ReadItDaddy, coming from a background of videogames 'journalism' (or at least, writing about videogames for magazines and web sites), scores have never really sat comfortably with me and yet they're often asked for (nay: demanded!) by videogame publishers.

The number at the end of a review can be the difference between sales or a company going under, and so many huge developers have ended up dropped by their publishers simply because their metacritic rating didn't break above the high 80s.

Scores have little or no relevance in children's books. Children either enjoy the books or they don't and if people are skipping to the end of the reviews here to see what number appears at the end, they're missing the point of the blog entirely - which is to give authors, illustrators, publishers and PRs an insight into what a child and her parents think of their books.

We'll be keeping the "Charlotte's best bit" and "Daddy's favourite bit" as a summary of the review, of course - and we'll do the same for our app and e-book reviews but from the start of next week our reviews will be going naked and score-less. We will still be nominating books and apps of the week too, but this time they will be the books and apps that are most demanded for reading and re-reading / playing and re-playing throughout the course of a week and will appear on a Friday rather than sporadically during a review week.

Hope you don't miss the scores too much, and as ever, we welcome any feedback on this.

Phil & Charlotte @ReadItDaddy
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Peely Wally by Kali Stileman (Red Fox Picture Books)

It's easy to see why Kali Stileman's illustrative style is compared to Eric Carle's. Great colours, simple shapes and instantly engaging characters define Peely Wally but rather than just a Carle knock-off, it has charm all of its own.

It's the story of a scatterbrained bird called Peely Wally who one day lays a beautiful multicoloured egg. Accidentally knocking it off her home branch, Peely Wally watches as the egg bounces from one place to the next.

As children trace their fingers along the egg's path as it bounces between animals, and around the countryside, it's a fun way of also getting children to track and trace the simple words in the story and identify the various animal characters that the egg bounces around.

A great fun little book, possibly a little too 'young' for Charlotte but she enjoyed it nonetheless.

Charlotte's best bit: What happens when the egg finally comes to a rest

Daddy's favourite bit: Stileman's art style, nice and splattery!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

(This book was part of our Bookstart Book Treasure Bag Bundle)
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Toca Kitchen Monsters (app) by Bonnier Digital (iPhone / iPad)

Let's kick off this week's app reviews with a look at something fun, that's designed to improve your child's dexterity rather than tax their brain with phonics and number puzzles. Toca Kitchen Monsters is ridiculous fun. Set in a messy kitchen that is visited by hungry monsters, with a well stocked fridge and lots of kitchen gadgetry to cook up a storm with.

The main appeal of the Toca apps is the superb production values. Silky-smooth animation on the monster characters is complimented by all sorts of crazy and funny sound effects (kids just seem to automatically self-destruct with laughter whenever they hear a fart noise but TKM is thankfully a little more subtle than that, most of the time!)

Ingredients are fetched from the fridge and either fed raw to the monsters, or processed in a variety of amusing ways. Fried broccoli? Well why not! Liquidized steak? Heck yes!

The reactions from the monsters when you feed them something yummy (or yucky) is quite amusing. In fact it's eerily like the reaction you get when you dish up a curry to your youngster after realising that one of your key ingredients (curry powder) wasn't on the weekly shop. Oops! Sorry Charlotte!

Charlotte's best bit: The liquidizer. Everything goes in it!

Daddy's favourite bit: The superb production values on this, and the fact that you get quite a good laugh from the free version without needing to pay for the full app.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars - App of the Week

iTunes Link: Toca Kitchen Monsters (Free)

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Friday 10 August 2012

The Bookstart Pre-School Treasure Bag arrives!

All through Charlotte's time at Nursery / Preschool we've received these fantastic Booktrust Bookstart bundles, and every time a new one arrives it's so exciting to delve in and find out what's inside. 

The BookStart "Treasure Bag of Stories" contains a superb set of coloured pencils, a sketch pad, lots of great activities and ideas and of course two absolutely corking good picture books - Peely Wally by Kali Stileman, and "The Smartest Giant in Town" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (your pack contents may vary but rest assured, whatever you get, it'll be superb!)

The goodies come in a lovely sturdy little bag perfect for children's first books brought home from "Big School" library. 

We've long been champions of the Booktrust Bookstart project, and it's good to know that celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, Colleen Rooney and Michael Rosen back the Booktrust. 

There's a ton of useful information for parents and pledgers on the Bookstrust Website. 

Drop by today and make a pledge, and also sign up for the Bookstart Bear Club to get personalised books and other superb little goodies. 

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Grandma Bendy by Izy Penguin (Maverick Arts Publishing)

We've been meaning to do one of these for a while so now we've finally got round to it, we thought we'd do our first cross-blog 'hug' with the excellent ChildLedChaos Blog and the Friday Pick{ture Book} slot. Clicking on the lovely shelf of books down there will take you to the blog and the rules and regs for how you can join in. 

So let's kick off with another one of the Maverick Books we were recently sent, the rather fun and wibbly "Grandma Bendy" by Izy Penguin. 

What? You didn't know penguins could write and draw? This one can, and she's woven together a torrid tale of a bad grandma turned good. You see Grandma Bendy isn't just a little old lady who watches daytime cookery shows, owns 200 cats, and calls you "George" even though your name is Phil, no she's extremely flexible and bendy, like a septuagenerian Mr Tickle!

She wasn't always sweet and lovely though, Grandma Bendy has a dark past which unfolds as you read the book. We won't spoil it for you but Grandma Bendy is a lovely little book and the first we've come across from Izy. We would certainly love to read more adventures featuring Grandma Bendy so lets hope this is just the start of a successful series. 

Charlotte's best bit: Grandma Bendy as 'Young Lady' Bendy. 

Daddy's favourite bit: Rather cool treatment of the idea of the black sheep of the family making good. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click the image below to visit Child-Led Chaos and the Friday Pick{ture Book} Meme Theme

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Thursday 9 August 2012

Goodnight Digger by Michelle Robinson and Nick East (Puffin Books)

Goodnight Digger arrived in the post looking a bit like a digger had run it over but thankfully though battered and creased we dug straight in!

From Michelle Robinson with illustrations by Nick East, "Goodnight Digger" is a lovely snuggly bedtime book where a sleepy little boy says goodnight to all his beloved toys in turn. When a book says "will help your little darlings go to bed, and stay there" you can't really argue with that!

I loved Goodnight Digger's rhyming text, and Charlotte loved the artwork (particularly the wooden train set which is just like the one she's currently playing with). We definitely must hunt out her other books (particularly "What to do if an elephant stands on your foot" and "Bear Boar").

If your little ones love lorries, cars, trains, and of course diggers (what kid doesn't!) they'll love flicking through this beautifully presented book.

Charlotte's best bit: "That's my train set!"

Daddy's favourite bit: Panels that look so snuggly and lovely that you feel like you could wrap yourself up in them like a warm cuddly blanket.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

(Book kindly supplied by Puffin Books for review)

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The Adventures of Harold and The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Today's mega-review filled me with a bucketload of nostalgia and simultaneously made me a completely gushy proud parent. I took a chance on ordering "The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon" from an Amazon reseller. It's one of those 'lost books' I absolutely adored as a kid, and couldn't believe would be still on sale (You can buy the 'proper' Harold books new on Amazon btw, but this is a rolled up combination of four of the best of Crockett Johnson's originals, not to be confused with the rather poor knock-offs that appeared in the early noughties!)

So rather than listen to me waffle on about how fantastic this book is, I'll let Charlotte guide you through with a pictorial guide to Harold's world...

Harold is a young lad with a magic crayon, able to draw the world around him as he sees fit. In Harold's first adventure (and Charlotte's) - the world starts with a huge purple scribble!

Harold draws a path, and the all-important moon to guide him on his moonlit walk.

(Yes that's the moon, as drawn by Charlotte, there in the corner of a rather large roll of lining paper. Good tip for parents, if you want solid and cheap paper that's able to take a lot of abuse from poster paints, water colours or purple crayons, lining paper is absolutely brilliant. It does help if you've got a pet Dodo who happens to be the best Painter and Decorator in the biz who can get the stuff for you, but it's fairly cheap from most DIY stores too!)

Harold's Journey (and Charlotte's) continues and soon they reach a part of the world where a forest ought to be. To avoid getting lost, Charlotte draws a single tree. An apple tree with lovely purple apples!

They're not quite ripe yet, so she needs to come up with something to protect the tree..! What could it be?

A Dragon! Of course, a dragon, a rather fierce dragon at that - with large gnashing sharp teeth! EEK!

The dragon makes Harold's crayon hand shake and before he knows it, he's up to his neck in the sea.

Quick thinking Harold (and quick thinking Charlotte) quickly draws a trim little boat, the perfect way to escape that scary dragon!

Setting sail for distant lands Harold (and his trusty cohort Charlotte) soon make land, and fetch up on a charming little beach.

It's the perfect spot for a picnic, and so it's time to draw something tasty and nutritious to eat.

9 pies ought to do it..!

Not even the hungriest boy (or girl!) in the world can quite finish off 9 pies. So it's time to draw some animal friends to help out with the picnic leftovers.

How about...a moose! Yep a moose with big antlers, and a tiny little porcupine with a big tummy. That should do the trick!

Nicely fed and watered, it's time for Harold (and Charlotte) to move on but they're both feeling a bit tired and missing home.

They draw a big hill which turns into a big mountain. Losing their footing, Harold and Charlotte tumble to the bottom but save themselves just at the right moment with a timely drawing of a balloon.

Soon the balloon lands in the garden of a familiar looking house but it's not home, just a house. Awww.

Charlotte and Harold rather like drawing houses though, so they draw a few more windows, doors, towers and soon a huge city.

They're lost! Too many windows to look at, too many buildings to get lost amongst so what do they do? When you're lost, ask a policeman for help and he'll happily point the way.

This policeman's a rather jolly chap but seems to have lost his hat.

Eventually Harold (and Charlotte), tired and weary from a day's drawing, find home.

Home, and Harold's window, is always around the moon after all. Tired Charlotte (and Harold) draw up a bed, draw the curtains, draw up the covers and it's time for sleep. ZZZZZ!

(Shhhh everyone, sleeping child - only pretending!)

Quite amazing what you can do with a magic purple crayon, a large roll of lining paper and a cute sidekick, eh Harold?

Can't tell you how much fun we had doing this and how two hours passed by in the blink of an eye while we read the book, drew the pictures and told the story.

As I said at the top of the review, definitely search out Crockett Johnson's original "Harold" stories (the new ones are full colour, and don't quite capture the simplicity, the child-friendliness and the all important simple purple crayon drawings of the original). Basically, if it 'aint Crockett, it 'aint Harold :)

This compilation features the following stories: 

1) Harold and the Purple Crayon
2) Harold's Fairy Tale
3) Harold's Trip to the Sky
4) Harold at the Circus

Charlotte's best bit: The fierce dragon, of course!

Daddy's favourite bit: Naming 9 types of pie off the top of my head for the picnic scene (Is chocolate available in pie form? It is now!)

Rating: A thoroughly well deserved 5 out of 5 stars, Book of the Week

Edit: This is great btw...an animation of the original book. Superb!

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Tuesday 7 August 2012

The Fearsome Beastie by Giles Paley-Phillips and Gabriele Antonini (Maverick Arts Publishing)

The lovely folk at GPP PR and Marketing tweeted us @readitdaddy recently to ask if we'd like to review some books. Lo and behold, four lovely books arrived in the post yesterday and this was the one Charlotte instantly seized on.

Worry-wort parents might want to look away now.

Because, oh my...oh my oh my....

 ....this is a tricky one to review.

"The Fearsome Beastie" is the sort of book my lovely other half @thestrollingmum blanches at whenever we bring home monstrous books from the library. A recent winner of The People's Book Prize, this book really doesn't pull any punches (or axes!). Most monsters in books are rather pleasant folk who start off shouting, gnashing and snarling and end up rather placid, even friendly. The fearsome beastie in this book isn't like that at all. He prowls at night, he likes to eat young children and he thinks nothing of tricking them into trusting them before he gobbles them all up.

There's a message here though, and it's a very strong stark message about 'monsters' that's woven between the gently rhyming text, and the (sometimes rather graphic but beautifully done) illustrations.

Personally I wouldn't recommend this as a bedtime read (in fact I wouldn't recommend this 8 hours either side of bedtime or nap time) and I'm gobsmacked that one particular picture panel made it through editing intact but Charlotte wanted to read it again as soon as we'd finished. If you don't baulk at the thought of your children reading something that feels like a 'warts 'n' all' classic children's fairy story, this is very much cut from the same cloth.

Maverick Books are definitely a force in Children's Publishing to keep an eye on though. Superb high quality book beautifully presented.

Charlotte's best bit: Of course she liked the 'shock' bit the best (and I'm sure your kids would too!)

Daddy's favourite bit: The fact that this doesn't shy away from letting a monster be monstrous, menacing and downright nasty.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Where's My Darling Daughter by Mij Kelly and Katharine McEwen (Oxford University Press)

Poppa Bombola is all in a tizz
Poppa Bombola's brain starts to fizz
You see he's lost his darling daughter
(Well not really, but sorta)
So he's running hither, and thither and here
To find his darling daughter dear.
He runs to the stable, he runs to the pond
But Poppa Bombola can't find out where she's gone.
He asks piggy, and horse, he asks chicken and cat.
But no one seems to know where she's at.

Poppa Bombola, in a bit of a doze.
Doesn't realise the answer is right under his nose!

As you can tell, I'm not a poet so I won't peel your eyes with any more of my terrible prose. Suffice to say that we rather liked "Where's my darling daughter" and its lilting rhyming text, and of course Poppa Bombola - the world's biggest worry wort. Be prepared to shout "BEHIND YOU!" along with your little ones all the way through this lovely book.

I'd like to have carried on this review in rhyme.
But as you can see, I'm all out of time...!

Charlotte's best bit: Piggies!

Daddy's favourite bit: Big hugs!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Monday 6 August 2012

The Treasure Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez (Gecko Press)

The opinion on wordless children's books is often divided. Some argue that without a story for children to follow and identify with, the book loses its impact and impetus. It teaches nothing, because children don't have any guidelines to follow. No narrative means nothing is gained.

I tend to disagree with that summary. A wordless book is like a key to the padlock of a child's imagination and if the art can stand up to it (and Beatrice Rodriguez's illustrations most certainly can) then the story unfolds in a child's mind and if they can't read, you can sit back and listen to one of the best things in the world - a child letting rip with their powerful unfettered imagination.

This story, from Charlotte's perspective, is all about a naughty chicken who steals a magical glowing egg. His friends want some of the egg, so they chase him but the chicken is fast, naughty and sneaky and manages to outrun his pursuers all the way through the book (Alright those aren't her exact words but that's the gist of what she puts across). The book ends rather nicely with the chicken getting his 'reward' but you'll have to 'read' it yourself to find out just what that reward is.

The great thing about wordless books is that you can spin them on their heads the next time round and make the story completely different. Second telling, the chicken is Indiana Jones and he's rescuing a golden treasure from a lost civilisation. Third time around, the chicken has entered the 1500 Metres egg and spoon race, forgot his spoon so he runs the race anyway.

Wordless books. Don't discount them, they're really the most powerful way of experiencing books for little ones who can't yet read.

Charlotte's best bit: The 'reward' the chicken gets (which we won't spoil).

Daddy's favourite bit: Beatrice Rodriguez' knack of imbuing her animal characters with human expressions in just a couple of tiny, tiny strokes. Genius artist!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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S.W.A.L.K by Colin McNaughton (Andersen Children's Books)

Colin McNaughton's 'Preston Pig' books are firm favourites back at ReadItDaddy Towers, and we hadn't come across 'S.W.A.L.K' so it was a delight to find it in our local library. Preston receives a mysterious letter with S.W.A.L.K written on the back. His mum knows exactly what that means, sealed with a loving kiss, but Preston doesn't realise it's from his sweetheart, the lovely girl he met on holiday. He reads the letter and decides to write back to Max and tell her all about his life.

As ever, the best bits in the Preston Pig books are all the tiny little details and asides that go on in the background (usually involving a rather daft and completely luckless wolf who rather fancies bacon burgers for breakfast, dinner and tea).

It's a sweet little tale that reminds us of the funny stories about Charlotte and her "Prince Charming" at preschool (actually, recently she's switched allegiances from Prince Jacob to Prince George - women eh? Fickle, the lot of 'em). Colin McNaughton's formula works so beautifully once again, we love it.

Charlotte's best bit: Preston painting portraits of Max in art class

Daddy's favourite bit: The wolf bits of course, he's about as successful as Wile E. Coyote (and about as clever).

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Friday 3 August 2012

There are no cats in this book by Viviane Schwarz (Walker Books)

The three greatest cats in children's books return! We absolutely love Moonpie, Andre and Tiny and their cat antics so "There are Cats in this Book" was a well deserved Book of the Week when we reviewed it last September.

We've just enjoyed the follow up and Viviane Schwarz is obviously an expert in two things:

1) Observing, noting and absolutely nailing 'cat character' - so obvious in how Moonpie, Andre and Tiny behave and their antics in this book.

2) Playing with the format of children's books, stretching paper and paint to the limit to produce books that go way way beyond the usual staid 'lift the flap for a big surprise' idea.

So Charlotte loved "There are no cats in this book" and like other children, she loved the surprises (which I won't spoil - suffice to say that her face when she realised what had happened during 'the magic bit' was absolutely lovely).

We're crazy maverick rule breakers here at ReadItDaddy and though we've already had one book of the week, we're going to squeeze Viviane Schwarz's "There are no cats in this book" as well, simply because - well because we can, and because what Charlotte says goes, and because we absolutely love it to bits.

Charlotte's best bit: The magic!

Daddy's favourite bit: Purring cats, lots of purring cats.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, book of the week
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Thursday 2 August 2012

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Alison Green Books)

Right alongside our app of the week is this week's book of the week, and again it's a book I can't believe we haven't reviewed before.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are, of course, the legendary author/illustrator team behind the phenomenally successful Gruffalo books but secretly I think we actually love Stick Man more.

A little twiggy fellow lives in a tree with his stick lady love and their stick children three (it's almost impossible to read this book or even review it without breaking into a sing-song voice). Through no fault of his own, and due to his rather 'sticky' nature, poor stick man embarks on adventures and mishaps that take him far, far away from home and his loved ones.

Poor Stick Man. He's not just a stick, he's a man after all! But his voice is lost as various animals and other folk all want to use Stick Man for one purpose or another.

You'll have to read the book to find out what becomes of our sticky chum. Beautifully written, superbly illustrated and pretty much as good as children's picture books get. Stick Man is most deservedly our book of the week.

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting the Gruffalo hanging on a christmas tree

Daddy's favourite bit: Poor Stick Man becoming the arm on a snowman.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Book of the Week
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The Froobles App (Top That! Publishing, iPhone / iPad)

Our first app of the week award goes to a real doozy. The Froobles from Top That! Publishing, is exactly the sort of app that other publishers and developers need to take a long hard look at before they leap into the foray of producing educational and engaging apps for kids.

Available free at the moment (Free until the 6th August with in-app purchases for extra character stories), The Froobles gets the balance of packing out the 'free' version of the app with so much content that you'll definitely be back for more.

With engaging fruit and vegetable characters acting out stories (read by showbiz luminaries like Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen), the app doesn't just stop at fun and entertaining stories, there are some seriously neat little activities in there too.

We'll skip mentioning the matching pairs game (sigh, how we hate those!) and take a look at the other more interesting stuff.

The colouring game is fun and allows your child to colour in scenes from the stories, and the characters too. It's all very easy to use with a slick user interface that most toddlers will be right at home with (let's face it, kids are far better at using these things than we are - but anything that means they aren't screaming at you to change screens or games is always most welcome).

There are some neat little phonics games where children can match up letters to complete puzzles of words. The only drawback here is that the app does allow you to drop in the puzzle pieces in any order, I think it would've been better and more educational if kids had to follow the proper order of the word but if you're joining in with them, you can always encourage them to do this yourself.

The animated story is fun (Johnny Vaughan seems to be an excellent children's narrator, who knew?) and leads neatly into the real star attraction of the app.

Using pre-set scenery (though, here's a future idea guys, how about letting kids draw their own?), you can drop in characters and props and build your own mini plays. Setting the iPad to record your efforts, you can move characters in real time and even record voices as they 'speak'. Needless to say, the more educational parts of the app were swiftly brushed aside in favour of this, and Charlotte spent hours playing with it. Again there's the slight niggle of having the waste bin (which you can dispose of unwanted bits and bobs in) too near the 'stage' at the top of the screen so you'll have to teach your little ones not to get their characters too close to this or they'll lose them during their plays.

Minor niggles aside, this is easily one of the best toddler-friendly apps we've seen. Additional stories are charged at the rather reasonable sum of 69p (with Chloe, Tessa and Orlando amongst the extra character stories available now).

As a standalone freebie download though, it's still absolutely packed to the gills and really stands out in a sea of fairly mundane and samey apps, so grab it while you can.

Charlotte's best bit: The play maker, an absolute work of genius.

Daddy's favourite bit: Slick user interface, plenty of content and very nicely produced.

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