Friday 28 September 2012

Famous authors, illustrators and actors get behind the "Get Oxfordshire Reading" Campaign

Oxfordshire is a seething hotbed of literary genius, so it comes as no surprise to find some of the world's best selling authors based here in our wonderful county.

The "Get Oxfordshire Reading" Campaign aims to raise the profile of reading, and in conjunction with the National Literacy Trust, 81 primary schools have signed up and pledged support.

Literary greats such as Mark ("The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Haddon and Mini ("Egg Drop", "Biscuit Bear") Grey are also joined by actors like Miriam Margolyes and fantastic illustrators such as Korky Paul to ensure that children get the right start on their path to discovering the joy of reading and books.

We fully support the initiative here at ReadItDaddy and look forward to hearing how the campaign fares in the coming year. There are so many talented individuals and brilliant organisations involved in this that it's sure to be a massive success.

Click the links below to find out more:

"Celebrity Authors Support the Get Oxfordshire Reading Campaign"

"Mark Haddon gets behind Get Oxfordshire Reading"

The Campaign Website
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Thursday 27 September 2012

"Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters" by Jane Yolen and Kelly Murphy (Walker Books)

Monster books aren't always my first choice for bedtime reading but as you probably all know by now, Charlotte is a voracious consumer of all things monstrous so this was an instant hit when we borrowed it from Abingdon Library.

The main reason was the sheer variety of monstrous little characters that crop up in Jane Yolen and Kelly Murphy's lovely little book. Fat ones, thin ones, some as big as yer 'ead. If you loved Monsters Inc and marvelled at just how many weird and wonderful creations Pixar came up with, Kelly Murphy topped the lot with her beautiful and detailed illustrations for this book.

It's a lullaby, and it's hard not to read it in a gently sing-song voice (which sort of goes against the grain for a monster book I guess). It might just be the perfect tonic to send your own little monsters off to sleep, so it's definitely recommended.

Charlotte's best bit: Even little monsters need monster teddies or something to cuddle at night

Daddy's favourite bit: The huge variety in monsters in this, particularly in the playground scene. Really inspirational stuff.
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Wednesday 26 September 2012

"Tell Me The Day Backwards" by Albert Lamb and David McPhail (Candlewick Press)

This is one of those children's picture books that is such a simple idea, but so beautifully executed that it makes you want to cuddle it, hug it and definitely snuggle up under a warm duvet with it. Picked out by The Strolling Mum on our last visit to Abingdon Library, it's such a lovely little book.

"Tell Me The Day Backwards" is a perfect bedtime story of a little restless bear asking his cuddly mummy bear to play their favourite game of reflecting on a busy day in reverse order.

So what do little bears get up to in their busy little lives? You'll have to read the book to properly find out but the story is excellent for leading you into playing the 'tell me the day backwards' game with your own children (this is particularly useful if, like Charlotte, they come home from school and tell you absolutely NOTHING about what they've been up to!)

Charlotte's best bit: She absolutely adored Timmy the Bear. So cute.

Daddy's favourite bit: Like all the most satisfying and memorable children's books, it's such a simple idea that you'll wonder why no one had thought of it before.
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Ten Apps and interactive stories that set the bar high for children's storytelling on tablet devices - a ReadItDaddy App Article

A brief look at the top selling children's iPhone and iPad app chart is a sobering experience. Those of us lucky enough to have a shiny new tablet device costing hundreds of pounds, which we then let our sticky-fingered little mites onto for a moment's peace and quiet are, it seems, a fairly unimaginative lot when it comes to searching out apps.

A recent Guardian article highlighted the plight of app studios who consistently knock it out of the park when it comes to producing children's games and storytelling apps (or even e-books) that put the current licensed dreck to shame. Apps strung together lazily, by the numbers, in order to make a quick buck seem to be the favourites whereas others just disappear without a trace, languishing in the nether regions of the app charts and never seeing the light of day.

So without further ado, here's a dream top ten list (in no particular order) of apps and developers that you really ought to investigate instead of those dreadful Peppa Pig / Barbie dress-up games. Full links are provided for the UK iTunes Store and versions for the iPad.

1) Mademoiselle Daisy's New Friends (Developed by Square Igloo - £2.49)

Square Igloo absolutely 'get it' when it comes to kid's storytelling apps. They don't mess around with horrible Flash animations, they don't get their next door neighbour to lazily dub over their dialogue in a broad Glaswegian accent and they don't get their kids to bang out horrible tinny little tunes on a Casio keyboard for their apps. They employ professional voice actors, they produce proper soundtracks and - best of all - they produce rich, colourful and engaging visuals to accompany their beautifully written stories. Basically, if you're an app developer and you can nod to each of the items I've just listed, you're probably still not good enough to lick the boots of Square Igloo (but please, try at least!)

Mademoiselle Daisy's New Friends is the story of a lovely old lady who is moving into a new apartment. She's a little lost and lonely at first, but hits on a brilliant idea that will help her become a social gadfly.

The story's panels are so richly designed and beautiful that you'd almost wish (if you're a hoary old traditionalist like me) that they'd produce a printed picture book version of the stories. As they are though, as interactive apps, the Square Igloo stories are sumptuous and luxurious. Parents might baulk at the app prices but consider this: Where else could you get a deliciously illustrated and engaging children's picture book reeking of this sort of quality for £2.49?

2) The Crowing Poodle (Developed by FeeFiFoFun, Catherine Brickman and Suzanne Conway)

FeeFiFoFun are app developers, avid kickstarters and a collective with a whole brace of great ideas and stories to tell. "The Crowing Poodle" is the cute tale of a doggy with an identity crisis, who is driving everyone slightly mad by behaving like a cockerel first thing in the morning.

Catherine Brickman and Suzanne Conway's picture book is presented as a freebie interactive web resource, and as it stands, it puts a whole lot of paid-for children's e-books to shame with an entertaining story accompanied by top notch artwork.

The FeeFiFoFun Website is definitely worth a visit to see what they're up to and see other apps and stories that are available. They're currently trying to get funding for various kickstarter projects so if you're feeling generous, drop a few quid in their kickstarter pot and see what grows from your donation.

3) Dandelion (Developed by Protein One - £2.99)

This is really something special. An anti-bully app that delivers an interactive story that is presented in a really unique way. The hero of the story, a young lad named Benjanim, is specifically designed so that children can identify with him wholly throughout the story. Starting off as a rather forlorn and stooped figure, Benjamin's confidence and stature grows as the story progresses.

The way you interact with the app is really quite something, and it encourages a child's natural sense of curiosity and their need to explore.

The message behind the story is serious and weighty but if I had my way, this would be hard-wired into every single tablet device in every single school.

4) Me Books (Developed by Made in Me)

Now this is a genius idea, and one that could revolutionise the way authors get their books into electronic formats. Me Books is a fairly simple idea. Make some of the greatest children's books available via a clever portal store. Nothing new there so far, right? But the genius here is that the books are read by celebrities AND also tailored so that children can read, record and re-play their favourite books using their own voice. New and Old books can be retrofitted with 'hotspots' - little snippets of sound effects or children's dialogue that they make up themselves to make the books more interactive and fun.

It's such a simple idea, and the intuitive user interface on MeBooks is also a winner. It's not yet available but expect a HECK of a lot of fuss about this when it launches. It might not be popular with publishers (I'm still not exactly sure how this is going to work if you want to bring in your own books to digitise, the legal ramifications could give anyone a serious ulcer) but if it's successful, it could pave the way for great things.

5) The Ogress (Developed by La Souris Qui Raconte - £2.49)

The French are seriously leading the charge when it comes to developing brilliant story apps for tablet devices. There are so many brilliant studios in France, tapping into the rich vein of creativity and artistic innovation that sizzles in French art colleges and design houses.

La Souris Qui Raconte develop a series of dual-language storytelling apps including this stunner, The Ogress (La Ogresse) which tells a wonderful tale in the style of classics like those by The Brothers Grimm. Girls will love the (rather naughty) Princess Occidane and all the trouble she causes her two Fairy Godmothers - who get rather fed up with her bad behaviour and decide to teach her a lesson.

Beautifully illustrated and intuitive to control, The Ogress is one of many story apps by La Souris so definitely check out their iTunes Store Front.

6) Cinderella (Developed by Nosy Crow - £1.99)

There's a really good reason why Nosy Crow win so many awards and are heaped with praise by parents and children alike. Their apps and stories are absolutely brilliant. It comes as no surprise to know that one of their developers used to work at Rare (the ex Nintendo developers who were also Ultimate: Play the Game at one time). Nosy Crow have a knack of taking standard stories (like Cinderella) and turning them into interactive adventures par excellence.

Putting the kids into the story (with clever use of the iPad's cameras) is a genius idea. The apps are easy to control and ridiculously good value for money. With Nosy Crow making a lot of noise in publishing and in electronic form, they're the go-to for the publishing industry when it comes to seeing just how it should be done (Check out their freebie "Twits: Beard of Bees" app for some addictive score-setting fun too!)

7) Table Tots (Developed by Spinlight Studios - 69p)

 Parents know only too well the sort of chaos that ensues at home as soon as the kids get home from nursery or school, and start pulling all their toys out, playing with them for 5 minutes, then wandering off to do something else leaving a trail of devastation in their wake.

Table Tots is a bit like that. An app that allows children to play with various educational games and fun that soon descends into manic messiness and busy fun on screen. The beauty of Table Tots is that it's far easier to tidy up afterwards!

Spinlight Studios have developed a whole range of apps, from educational stuff like Table Tots to storytelling and interactive fiction like their brilliant Pixel and Parker stories. Engaging sound effects, bright colours and excellent artwork abound in their apps and they're extremely reasonably priced so if you're looking for games and stories to progress to after you've hoovered up all the free stuff your iPad can possibly hold, these are a good stepping stone to encourage you to dig your loose change out of your wallet and spend it on something a little more satisfying than a skinny latte.

8) Toca Store (Developed by Toca Boca / Bonnier Digital - £1.49)

No list of key children's app developers would be complete without mentioning the mighty Toca Boca / Bonnier Digital. They have the knack of producing interactive games and apps that can keep children absolutely absorbed and hooked for hour after hour. Consider how much it's worth to you to get a golden hour of absolute peace and quiet where your child is deeply involved and intrigued by something if you think Toca Boca's apps are costly! If you missed out on Toca Store being offered free recently, don't despair. It's still cheap enough and offers enough entertainment to warrant a look.

The key here is open-ended play. Toca Store lets children set up shop, set out their wares and then invite customers (usually mummy and daddy, or long-suffering siblings) to come and buy them.

With intuitive drag and drop controls, entertaining sounds and music, and the sort of flair for art and design we've come to expect from Toca Boca, Toca Store is simply excellent and excellently simple. Check out Toca Band too while you're at it, the latest release from Toca Boca - which is getting some seriously rave reviews.

9) Icky Fox and the Rainbow (Developed by - Coming Soon)

The requirements for children's stories don't change, no matter what the medium of delivery. Print books need engaging stories with great artwork, and something to spur a child's imagination. Interactive stories on tablet devices are exactly the same and this is something that publishers aren't quite getting to grips with. Thankfully Icky Pen understand this fully, and their range of children's interactive fiction absolutely epitomises how you can stretch the media to create a unique interface between your authors, illustrators and their intended audience. Keep an eye out for upcoming release "Icky Fox and the Rainbow" which is a fantastic, funny and sometimes rather mischievous story featuring a dubious fox and his food-hunting adventures.

10) Collins Big Cat Storytelling Apps (Developed by Collins Publishing - Free Downloads)

"Free" is the toughest price to match in any electronic market and "Free" is the price that causes developers, publishers and authors / illustrators to grow more grey hairs than any other price point. The problem is the expectation that once parents have spent a small fortune on a tablet device (which, thankfully, is becoming a thing of the past thanks to high powered cheap tablets hitting the market courtesy of Google and Amazon), you really don't want to shell out more money on expensive apps that might only provide an hour or so's entertainment.

Collins Big Cat Storytelling Apps are great, they're free, but more importantly they draw attention to what the publisher is doing elsewhere in its electronic publishing business. When you see a really good free app that is excellent quality, you're probably more likely to look to that developer / publisher in future to see what else they offer, and if they offer reasonably priced apps that lift the bar a notch more, then it's a relatively safe purchase.

The problem with "Free" on the app store in particular, is that it's often used as a way to drive premium-priced microcontent through to consumers via in-app purchases (which any sensible parent will instantly switch off on day one of ownership of any new tablet!) In the case of the Big Cat Storytelling apps, you can grab 8 brilliant fully-fledged storytelling apps for 0 pounds and 0 pence without having to worry that you're being stealthily fleeced. The decision is up to you whether you'll want to pay for Collins other superb paid-for apps and with the sheer quality of what's on offer, you will definitely be more inclined to. Letting kids' imaginations loose and involving them in the story telling process with their own creations is part and parcel of what Collins are doing. The more developers that get this message, the better and the more developers that adopt the approach of putting out excellent quality free apps alongside their paid-for stuff, the more likely we are to get past this crazy mentality of reaming the customer for all their worth or being a cheapskate customer when it comes to shelling out real money for really good quality apps.

Phew! That's the end of our article. I hope some of the links and apps mentioned give you food for thought next time you switch on the iPad or Android Device and start trawling the e-stores.

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Tuesday 25 September 2012

Red Cat, Blue Cat by Jenni Desmond is out TODAY!

That's right, Jenni Desmond's excellent book Red Cat, Blue Cat (published by Blue Apple Books) is out today! You can read our review of the book or our interview with the lovely Jenni here but you'll definitely want to go and grab a copy pronto. So, what are you waiting for? Bounce like a blue cat and hop to it!
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Katie in London by James Mayhew (Orchard Books)

On a recent trip to Buckingham Palace, Charlotte's lovely Grandma picked up a copy of "Katie in London" from the palace shop. James Mayhew's "Katie" books are marvellous. Mixing a spot of tourism with high adventure, and often some really neat historical and educational stories, Katie in London takes us on a whirlwind tour of the capital, perched on the back of one of the Trafalgar Square lions.

He's a lovely chap, who turns from cold stone to sleek gold in order to whisk Katie and her little brother  on a whistle stop tour of the greatest sights and sounds of London. He's also a little mischievous this lion, and with a twinkle in his eye he joins the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (with a nod and a bow to the Queen of course!) and dives onto the London Underground to beat the traffic.

Kids absolutely love the Katie books, and the factual snippets at the end of the book are great. I think we loved the Lion as a tour guide best though, and giggled at the thought of his cold tum - and how Katie manages to help with that in the end (she gets far too much pocket money if you ask me!)

A charming, whimsical and delightful flight of fantasy that successfully mixes history and fun at breakneck pace. You too will feel like Katie and her brother at the end of the book, so it makes a great bedtime read and a very worthy book of the week.

Charlotte's best bit: The lion's cold tummy. Poor lion!

Daddy's favourite bit: Wholly identifying with the lion not being that keen on riding on the London Eye (but in the end, like the lion, I rather enjoyed it too though I was pretty petrified for most of it!)

A ReadItDaddy Book of the Week
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ABC Doctor: Staying Healthy from A to Z by Harriet Ziefert and Liz Murphy (Blue Apple Books)

In the second of our medical-related ABC books kindly sent to us by Blue Apple Books, we visit the Doctor's Surgery for another funky A to Z.

Of the two books (this and ABC Dentist by the same team), Charlotte preferred ABC Doctor. Possibly because there are a couple of panels that are a teensy weensy bit grim and gross but educational and factual at the same time.

As with ABC Dentist, Liz Murphy's cool little collage-enhanced retro artwork is a brilliant fit for the book. Harriet Ziefert consulted with real life MDs to ensure that all the facts and illustrations aid learning and are a good fit for children who want to know more about what goes on at their local surgery or clinic. It's particularly great if your children absolutely hate visiting the doctor's and want the assurance that they're there to help even when they're sticking a needle in your arm!

Charlotte's best bit: The X-Ray Page. Not really sure what it is about Charlotte and X-Rays, I think she's channeling Rontgen!

Daddy's favourite bit: Again, Liz Murphy's illustrations are top notch and such a good fit for this book.
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Monday 24 September 2012

Clifford the Big Red Dog turns 50 (in human years) today!

When I was a wee whippersnapper in torn trousers back in the early 1970s, my Junior School used to get a newsletter every month, offering bargain children's books from a selection of different publishers. My memory is a bit wooly but I'm pretty sure I ended up with quite a lot of books through this scheme (thanks mum!) and the very first was Clifford The Big Red Dog - and my copy was the very same as the one  you see to the left there.

Clifford the Big Red Dog turns 50 today, it seems absolutely astonishing to think that it wasn't a 'new' book when I first read it as a kid (which would've been around 1973 / 1974 I think).

Clifford still enjoys great success today. We won't speak of the rather shiny and disappointing new cartoon series that has brought Clifford to a whole new audience (with a brace of really annoying animal cohorts to play with). We can talk about the books though, and how great Norman Bridwell's original story was.

To me it had all the right ingredients for a successful children's picture book. Great illustrations, of course - but a great story, and the fantastic idea that a little girl could have a gigantic dog as a pet - and go through all the mishaps and misadventures that would accompany trying to keep a huge canine in check.

So happy birthday Clifford and we look forward to still being around to celebrate your 100th!

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Happy TV from Anorak Magazine is GO!

Our very good friends at Anorak Magazine are so excited this morning that they have broken their '1' keys on their keyboards by typing in so many exclamation marks! Quite rightly too, as they have just launched Happy TV - a great new fun download from the iTunes App Store featuring giggles, gags and lots of great ideas for children and adults alike. In the style of classic children's TV before merchandising took over, Happy TV is brilliant fun and very attractively priced.

You can grab the first great episode from iTunes via this link: Happy TV from Anorak on iTunes

We've included a preview below. Like everything Anorak do, this is excellent stuff so grab yours today!

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Spotlight on "Quiet Kid" by Deb Fox

At ReadItDaddy we received a lovely letter from Deb Fox, who had discovered our blog and got in touch with us about her books and her website.

 Quiet Kid struck a chord with me, because I remember being that very kid once upon a time when I wouldn't say boo to a goose. Shy kids are often overlooked, yet they have the same vivid imaginations, the same passion for what they do and the same interests and ambitions as other kids and this is very much the message that comes across in Deb's book.

Please take a moment to drop by the site and check out her work (illustrations are copyright so I didn't pinch them to reproduce here - but trust me, they're wonderful!)

Quiet Kid now available on Amazon
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Friday 21 September 2012

ABC Dentist: Healthy Teeth from A to Z by Harriet Ziefert and Liz Murphy (Blue Apple Books)

Blue Apple Books were kind enough to send us some excellent Harriet Ziefert books. We've already looked at '40 uses for a Grandpa' so next on our reading list is ABC Dentist - Healthy Teeth from A to Z.

For most of us, a trip to the dentist is often accompanied by a pain in the mouth, swiftly followed by a severe pain in the wallet. Our dentist is lovely though and Harriet Ziefert's book will allay the fears of anyone who is putting off that check up, hoping that the nagging toothache will somehow disappear on its own.

Liz Murphy's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this A to Z of dentistry, mixing painted panels with collage work and lots of fun and colourful characters. You'll learn about the structure of teeth, what an orthodontist does and why it's important to brush and floss.

Educational, fun and absolutely brilliant for a good age range, ABC Dentist is a book you'll find children want to return to again and again, even if they really aren't that keen on visiting the real thing!

Charlotte's best bit: White Teeth, Yellow Teeth and the page on X-Rays.

Daddy's favourite bit: Liz Murphy's awesome illustrative style instantly makes this book approachable and fun.
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Thursday 20 September 2012

40 Uses for a Grandpa by Harriet Ziefert and Amanda Haley (Blue Apple Books)

Our lovely PR contact who handles Blue Apple Books has sent us three absolute corkers to read and the first one that caught Charlotte's attention was "40 uses for a Grandpa" by Harriet Ziefert and Amanda Haley.

We all know how awesome grandparents are. They're full of stories, they know how to fix things, they are (usually) quite sprightly and they have a wicked sense of mischief (particularly where Wagon Wheels are concerned, right Grandad?)

Charlotte adores them all and this book lists all the things that grandads are awesome at (there's an accompanying book for grandmas too, so they needn't feel left out.

As a grandmother herself, Harriet Ziefert writes on the subject with some authority and Amanda Haley's lovely cuddly illustrations are the perfect compliment to the 40 reasons why we all love Grandpa, Grandad, Grampy, Gangy-Ig or Dodo (yes, Charlotte has a grandad known simply as Dodo!)

A really lovely little book!

Charlotte's best bit: E-Pals (though in the picture the little girl is emailing, not Skyping :)

Daddy's favourite bit: Grandad the Cash Machine! (shhh don't mention that one!)

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Wednesday 19 September 2012

Naughty Toes by Ann Bonwill and Teresa Murfin (Oxford University Press)

Charlotte has just started ballet lessons at school, but she's at the age when children absolutely will not tell you what they do at school - even under the harsh light of parental interrogation. So we have absolutely no idea how she's getting on!

She does love this book though, Naughty Toes. The story of two sisters who have completely polar opposite approaches to dance lessons. Belinda is almost a prima ballerina. She twirls, she goes en-pointe (is that the right terminology?), she is the star of every ballet lesson. Her sister Trixie, however, is a bit of a maverick dancer and chooses to interpret each lesson in her own inimitable style.

When Belinda becomes the star of the school ballet show with Trixie propping up the background as a piece of scenery, things take a turn for the worse but with a little sisterly love and some understanding lessons in other dance styles, Trixie soon finds her feet.

Dance-obsessed girls and boys will love Ann Bonwill's lovely little tale and Teresa Murfin's great illustrative style. Absolutely lovely. Now if you'll excuse us, we fancy a little pas-de-deux.

Charlotte's best bit: Trixie's final costume and Belinda's beautiful stunning ballet dress (it's all about the ballet dresses for Charlotte!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Great characters drawn beautifully by Teresa Murfin. Real unique style, that!

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Avast me hearties! (Pieces of ) 8 Children's books with a piratical theme

Ahoy Jim Lad! What on earth could ye do on 'Talk Like a Pirate' Day if ye be a keen book swabbing blogger who sails the seven seas of children's books in search of booty?

Well you could stop talking silly and publish a lovely list of essential piratical books to tickle the fancies of any scurvy coves who pass by your blog. So that's exactly what we're going to do!

1) Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer (Chicken House Books)

A young girl sets sail to visit her grandmother, and falls foul of the stinkiest, nastiest pirates ever seen. They soon put her to work swabbing the decks, darning their stinky socks and cooking for them in the galley. But the girl is smart, and has a secret plan to escape. For she is no ordinary girl, she is Pirate Girl.

An absolutely lovely little tale showing pirates as the rather daft, rather stinky and rather inept coves they really are.

ReadItDaddy Review Link to Pirate Girl

2) The Pirate Cruncher by Jonny Duddle (Templar Books)

Jonny Duddle is a past master at drawing pirates and now there's even a movie based on Pirates vs Scientists. We love The Pirate Cruncher though, mostly due to Jonny's fantastical pirates and creatures beautifully and deliciously painted in this book.

The Pirates band together to search out lost treasure (this tends to happen a lot in pirate books, unsurprisingly). But there's a sting in the tail of this tale, as the treasure is not what it seems, and the hapless pirates soon meet up with....(Dramatic drum roll) The Pirate Cruncher! ARGHH! Such a superb book!

3) Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andrea and Russell Ayto (Puffin Books)

What could possibly be better than a book featuring pirates or a book featuring dinosaurs? A book featuring pirate dinosaurs. A group of youngsters on a boring school trip get more than they bargain for when they go through a secret door at their local museum. It's a portal to a world inhabited by a mean bunch of scoundrels, dinosaurs who also just happen to be pirates! They're  kidnappers and thoroughly nasty sorts - so it's up to Captain Flinn to band together with his pals to save the day. A genius combination of 2 children's books mainstays, that's sure to impress the piratical socks off your youngsters. 

4) The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate by Margaret Mahy and Margaret Chamberlain (Puffin Books)

It's not easy being an ordinary everyday kind of guy when your mum is a dyed-in-the-wool piratical lass. Carrying on with normal life while she sets sail and hunts for treasure, wiggling a merry sea shanty as she goes. Soon the hero of this tale comes to realise there's more to life than accountancy, balancing books and generally putting up with the rat race to earn an honest coin. 

A lovely touching little tale beautifully illustrated and chock full of plenty of yo ho hos and ar har hars!

5) The Troll by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts (Macmillan Children's Books)

We like our pirates to be a little bit hopeless. We like our trolls to be a little bit scary so Julia Donaldson's book "The Troll" mixes both together in a cross-over tale echoing The Three Billy Goats Gruff and throwing in pirates to create a heady mix of chaos. 

It's not one that crops up whenever anyone's heaping praise on Julia Donaldson but we really liked this book and didn't know who to feel more sorry for, the troll or the pirates :)

6) Peg Leg by Sue Graves and Martin Remphry (Reading Corner Phonics)

A great little phonics book featuring lots of sounding out and repetition, Peg Leg tells a standard piratical yarn in a way that supports early learning and reading skills in a fun and immersive way. There are quite a few decent piratical phonics books around but this one was very well received by us, so it's worth searching out. 

7) Mr Jelly and the Pirates by Roger Hargreaves (Egmont Books)

Astonishingly, we haven't reviewed this but it's one of Charlotte's favourite Little Miss / Mr Men books. Mr Jelly, the shivering quivering cowardly cove borrows Mr Lazy's lilo bed for a dip in the ocean one afternoon. After Mr Lazy accidentally (!) lets go of the rope tethering Mr Jelly to the shore, Jelly sets sail for adventure and mishaps - and meets some dastardly pirates. 

The poor little fellah soon finds himself pressganged into work on the pirate's ship but things don't quite go according to plan, and Mr Jelly's cowardly behaviour soon rubs off on the pirates themselves!

8) I Want To Be A Pirate (Little Princess Book) by Tony Ross (Andersen Children's Books)

The Little Princess is the final saucy cove on our list, and in "I Want To Be A Pirate" she pinches the admiral's hat, boats and telescope and becomes a naughty little pirate. Very soon though, she realises that a pirate's lot is not a happy one and no one wants to play with her while she's indulging in typical pirate-like behaviour. 

Tony Ross's Little Princess books are great and this book was also one of the episodes in the "Little Princess" TV show. Yo ho!
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Tuesday 18 September 2012

The First Ever ReadItDaddy Interview! We talk to Jenni Desmond, Author and Illustrator of Red Cat, Blue Cat (Blue Apple Books)

We're rather excited and honoured to be interviewing Jenni Desmond, Author and Illustrator of "Red Cat, Blue Cat" as our first ever interview. Jenni is a freelance Author, Illustrator and Artist represented by The Bright Agency and Bright Literary Agency. "Red Cat, Blue Cat" is published by Blue Apple Books. 

ReadItDaddy: What's the best thing about working in children's books / illustration?

Jenni Desmond: For me, it is doing a job that I am so passionate about- I feel incredibly lucky.  It’s great to get to be so creative every day and to be able to embrace the ridiculous side of your personality that you might give up when you have to become an adult.

ReadItDaddy: Who are your art heroes (past or present) / greatest influences on your work?

Jenni Desmond: There are way too many illustrators to list.  But I greatly admire the artists who lived in Paris at the beginning of the 1900’s such as Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, and Japanese art and aesthetics particularly from the Edo period. 

ReadItDaddy: If you could pick a single superpower to help you with your work /
life, what would it be?

Jenni Desmond: It would be something that stopped time rushing by so fast. (We'll have a word with our friend Hermione and see if we can borrow her pocket watch! - Ed)

ReadItDaddy: This is probably a completely pointless question given your latest
book but do you consider yourself to be a dog or cat person (or both?)

Jenni Desmond: Believe it or not, although I do love cats, I would say I was more of a dog person.  I love taking my parents dog for long walks in the countryside - you can’t really do that with cats. (It's true, we tried once, it didn't work out very well - Ed)

ReadItDaddy: How do you feel about the rise of electronic media? Is it something
you see yourself dabbling in eventually?

Jenni Desmond: I think it’s important for children to learn and have fun in lots of different ways, and if electronic media can be another way of doing that then it must be a good thing. I might do some dabbling, possibly.

ReadItDaddy: Charlotte wanted to ask 'Who is your favourite Disney Princess and
are you going to do any books with princesses in?' (be warned, this is
a character assassination question subtly dressed up as a 4 year old's
innocent query!)

Jenni Desmond: After a long hard think I am going to go with Belle.  I have no princess books planned, but I would consider doing one if the princess was slightly mischievous. (Charlotte's reaction to 'Belle' was "YAY! Belle is the most beautiful! But I like Snow White best because she's cute! - Ed) 

ReadItDaddy: Charlotte also wanted to ask 'what's your favourite colour?' (hers
is, unsurprisingly, pink so she's secretly campaigning for 'pink cat'
(who does ballet) to turn up in the sequel if there is one!)

Jenni Desmond: My favourite colour is white.  Perhaps red cat could meet white cat in the sequel and there could be lots of pink kittens? (this answer definitely got a huge nod of approval from Charlotte! -Ed)

ReadItDaddy: What's your routine for getting motivated / started first thing in
the morning?

Jenni Desmond: I’m sure this is terrible for my health, but I have a whole cafetiere of black coffee every morning.  I also listen to a lot of music that motivates me, and I cycle to work or sometimes go for a run to get some fresh air and think about things.  When I get to the studio I always draw in my visual diary- I do one drawing a day, so that I can look back at my year and remember what I’ve been doing.  It’s also quite good as a morning warm-up sketch. (Definitely approve of the cafetiere of coffee - Ed!)

ReadItDaddy: Which piece of art equipment / kit is your essential tool of the trade?

Jenni Desmond: A 2b pencil and a good pencil sharpener.

ReadItDaddy: Last but by no means least, How important do you think bloggers /
tweeters and the online community are to authors / illustrators?

Jenni Desmond: I think they are fantastic for spreading the word about new work and new artists.  I love finding new illustrators through social media and its wonderful when you find one that excites you.  So for me it is an essential tool to promote my work and also to nose around to see what interesting and beautiful things everyone is doing. (Hear hear! - Ed)

Many many thanks to Jenni for her time and her superb answers and to Blue Apple Books for providing a copy of Red Cat, Blue Cat for review. Please drop by Jenni's excellent website and check out her beautiful online gallery and illustrations. 

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"Red Cat, Blue Cat" by Jenni Desmond (Blue Apple Books)

This week, we're doing our first interview on ReadItDaddy! Exciting stuff! Jenni Desmond, the Author / Illustrator of "Red Cat, Blue Cat" has kindly answered some quite tricky posed by us (including a serious character assassination question from Charlotte!)

Before we show you that article and tell you a bit more about Jenni, here's our review of "Red Cat, Blue Cat", kindly supplied to us by Blue Apple Books.

Red Cat is a frisky bouncy little feline, and Blue Cat is intelligent, creative and thoughtful. Occupying different floors of a huge house, Red Cat and Blue Cat mostly keep out of each other's ways. But when they meet, chaos ensues!

Jenni Desmond has obviously had ringside seats at many a catfight, her illustrations perfectly capture the absolute frenzy of a cat-scrap. Fur stands on end,  the moggies screech and yowl and scratch, and generally the best place to be in a cat fight is about 10,000 miles away from it.

But Red Cat and Blue Cat have a secret. Each wants to be more like the other, and so they try to think up various ways to achieve this. First by merely changing colour, then by altering their behaviour.

This doesn't change what happens when they meet, but a pivotal moment in the story will show Red Cat and Blue Cat precisely why they behave the way they do.

It's a finely tuned tale that uses the two characters extremely well, to provide a moral tale of jealousy, conflict and (eventually) friendship.

The way the book ends actually made Charlotte practically jump up and down on the spot with glee (naturally we're not going to tell you what happens in the end but we're hoping it means more Red Cat, Blue Cat adventures in the future).

Jenni Desmond's illustrative style is eminently attractive and such a good fit for the story. It goes without saying that we highly recommend this beautifully presented book and are glad to see that there's always room in the cat-basket for another children's picture book featuring everyone's favourite felines.

Charlotte's best bit: Greedy Red Cat scoffing blueberries (and making a huge mess)

Daddy's favourite bit: The superb, chaotic (and sometimes quite scary) cat fights in the book. Absolutely perfectly captured.

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Monday 17 September 2012

TOCA House (app) by Toca Boca / Bonnier Digital (iPad Version Tested)

TOCA Boca / Bonnier Digital are our new favourite publisher when it comes to fun and beautifully made iOS distractions. Each and every new TOCA app we install on the iPad is met by squeals of delight, followed by mesmerised immersion by Charlotte who absolutely loves everything they do.

Plumping for TOCA House as our first paid-for TOCA App (You can get TOCA Store, TOCA Doctor, TOCA Hair Salon and TOCA Kitchen Monsters as freebie trials) we knew what to expect. Slick and entertaining graphics and characters, excellent sound design, intuitive controls and a lot of fun.

TOCA House puts you in charge of a rather impressive looking domicile inhabited by 5 fun characters. (We've dubbed them Supergirl, Little Boy, Granny, Miss Houseyhead and Monster-Dude) As any ex-student will know, sharing a house is fun for the first day until it comes to performing all those household chores - and this is pretty much the nub of what TOCA House is about.

Each character shuttles between various locations, all armed and ready to perform the day to day spring cleaning, household chores and gardening that the TOCA house needs to keep it in pristine condition.

SuperGirl is great. She has stretchy limbs and is super-strong, so she's a whizz at hanging pictures on the wall. Boy is a dab-hand with a mop. Granny is a whizz with her broom and Monster - well Monster just seems to like getting messy so takes a lot of baths (yep I definitely shared a house with someone like that, who used up an entire day's worth of hot water every morning noon and night).

TOCA House has lots of little activities to get on with, but repetition does set in rather soon - which is a real shame because in the free TOCA Apps there's plenty to see and do, so you expect to see children get a lot more out of the paid-for versions of things.

That said, Charlotte could've quite happily spent an afternoon doing the same chores over and over again (oh if only this were true of real life) just to see the excellent little animations and the funny noises characters emit whenever they've done a job particularly well.

The app seemed to crash once in a while (needing a cold restart to get things running again on iPad 3) but it's beautifully made and definitely felt like a worthy purchase for the price considering what other kid apps go for on iTunes.

Charlotte's best bit: Bathing the monster chap. Definitely her favourite bit.

Daddy's favourite bit: Slick presentation as ever, and some fun and unique characters in true TOCA Boca stylee!
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - The Perfect Present by Fiona Roberton (Hodder Children's Books)

Fiona Roberton's cute characters from "Wanted: The Perfect Pet" make a reappearance. Spot (the duck) and Henry are back for another adventure, only this time Spot is feeling a little forlorn. It's Henry's birthday and amongst the flurry of presents is something that Henry has always wanted - but it's not the whizzy new fishing rod that Spot has bought him.

The mystery present is a puppy - which was what Henry originally wanted for a pet before Spot came along (neatly disguised as a dog, if you remember the original book).

What happens in this tale is a rather cute and superbly written (and illustrated) little moral tale of what happens when friends feel a little left out.

If I'm honest, I think Henry comes across in this book as a bit of a spoilt brat but thankfully he does understand the difference between a pet and a friend. So you will find out what happens when Spot runs away into the night after feeling particularly lost and lonely one night.

Fiona Roberton's simple illustrations are beautiful and perfectly fitting for a book where the language takes over to add real essence and presence to each scene. We're sincerely hoping for more from this duo (now a trio!) as they're great characters destined to become much loved by children of all ages.

Charlotte's best bit: Cute puppy stealing Spot's place on Henry's bed

Daddy's favourite bit: The storm, and the rather nasty denizens of the deep waiting to scoff a poor defenceless duck for dinner.

A ReadItDaddy Book of the Week

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The Strolling Mum BlogJack - The new EcoEgg - "It really works, my love!"

Trust me my love, it really works!

In a bit of a cross-blog BlogJack thing, my lovely other half The Strolling Mum is taking over the well-worn pages of ReadItDaddy for a review of the magical EcoEgg which was kindly sent to us by the company. So take it away, Ali!

We got to review the Ecoegg earlier this year, we liked it so much that we use it for most of our laundry now and must have saved ourselves quite a bit on washing powder and fabric softener.
So when we were asked to review the new Ecoegg, with a hit of soft cotton, we were very excited!

The new Ecoegg is a lot easier to fill with the pellets, the old one was a bit of an art form and very frustrating. The new one has larger slits and also a new closing mechanism that doesn't require you to hunt around for a coin to lock it.

So clean, so white, so buy one!
We gave the new Ecoegg a bit of a harsh test for a first go -  bath mats. These get very grubby quickly in our house (I will spare you the "before" photo, you'll have to use your imagination!)

I was amazed when I got the mats out the machine, on a 40c wash they came out clean, all stains gone and that was with no added stain remover. As you can see from the photo, the items on the line look sparkling white and clean.

When using the ecoegg sometimes a bit of stain remover is needed in the wash, this is actually stated on the Ecoegg website and from previous experience we knew it might be needed so I was definitely pleased with how it handled the mats without the need for extra work.

The "hint of soft cotton"? Yes it did have a very subtle fragrance to it. I didn't add any fabric softener to this wash and everything came out smelling clean and was soft.

New style (blue) vs old design (yellow)
The new Ecoegg comes with a handy little egg-shaped sheet to tick off how many washes your egg has done. The box says 54 washes.

 From the last few months experience, how fast it runs down depends on the wash cycle and how much water the cycle uses.

Obviously the longer the wash and more water it uses the quicker they run down. I'm saving on washing powder and fabric softener as I only need a little now if I want that "just washed" smell. I just use washing powder now and again  when whites start to dull a little.

So much easier to fill than the old design. Bonus!
A big plus to the Ecoegg is its suitability for the most sensitive skin. Charlotte has never suffered  from a rash like she has from some biological washing powders and this is definitely a big selling point for the item.

We've read reports of the old style Ecoeggs breaking or coming apart in the wash. We have not had this problem in many months of use. So far I've used the new egg on 2 washes and it hasn't come apart so make sure you follow the instructions in the pack closely.

I have always ensured the Ecoegg is firmly closed before putting it into the wash each time.

The only drawback with the device is that it really needs some sort of stand or some way of storing it between washes (you can't really put it back in the box, otherwise the box would get soggy - and of course being egg-shaped it won't stand on the draining board very easily). A small niggle about a superb product. If Kim Woodburn says it's brilliant, my love, then you really wouldn't argue with her would you?

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Friday 14 September 2012

Superb kids app Toca Store is free today and Toca band is just around the corner

As you probably know by now, we absolutely love all things Toca Boca - they produce the most fun, kid-friendly apps on the market and are absolutely the go-to if any would-be kid app developers want to know 'how to do it properly'.

So it's good news day today, to celebrate it being Friday, go and grab yourself Toca Store - the cute till and customer game from the iTunes store for your iPhone or iPad for exactly nought pounds and nought pence.

Be quick though, it's a limited offer so get it downloaded pronto. It's kept Charlotte very amused for a few hours after school this evening and got a huge thumbs up!

Here's a link to the iPad version: Toca Store (Bonnier Digital) on iTunes

Elsewhere in Toca land we're hotly anticipating the release of the next big Toca app, Toca Band. You will need iOS to play it but it's already looking and sounding absolutely fantastic.

Here's a video of the game in action:

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Our Book of the Week - "Farmer Clegg's Night Out" by Peter Bently and Jim Field (Macmillan Children's Books)

We are in severe danger of becoming Peter Bently's unofficial fan club here at ReadItDaddy. We love his books and in particular, one of the weirdest and most bizarre children's books ever written - "The Great Dog Bottom Swap" which you should go and hunt down NOW!

In "Farmer Clegg's Night Out" Peter Bently and Jim Field take a wry look at what might happen if The X-Factor got spliced together with Animal Farm.

One night while Farmer Clegg is safely tucked up in bed after a hard day's work, the farm animals get together for a huge talent show, under the ever-watchful eye of a rather surly judge called 'Simon' (now where have I heard that before?). Everyone gives it their all. The pig mariachi band dazzle, the moonwalking breakdancing horse pulls some fancy moves but the star of the show is a huge surprise. Who crashes in on the contest and steals the limelight? None other than Farmer Clegg himself!

This is one of the funniest children's books we've read in ages. Even if you're a cynical old telly dodger like me, you can't fail to miss the references to TV talent shows in here and the rather wry and hilarious way Bently spins this into an animal caper full of chaos and giggles. Once again Charlotte had a great time picking out animal characters she'd like to be, and once again Bently's storytelling underpinned by Jim Field's absolutely brilliant comical panels make this a complete winner.

You're through to the final, kiddo! Book of the Week!

Charlotte's best bit: I'm slightly worried that she knew exactly who the singing sheep twins were supposed to be. We are now scouring the house to ensure there are no traces of Jedward fan material anywhere!

Daddy's favourite bit: Such a neat idea, I'm really surprised no one's done this before but it's been done expertly with a truckload of humour and charm. Brilliant!
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Thursday 13 September 2012

Happy Roald Dahl Day!

Today, September 13th, is officially 'Roald Dahl Day' and ReadItDaddy would be remiss if we didn't at least pass comment on the man who has become synonymous with children's books, yet had a whole darker 'adults only' side that seldom gets explored.

It goes without saying that my first introduction to Roald Dahl's work was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", which by rights should pretty much be any kid's introduction to Dahl. As a book-hungry 5 year old, I remember it was Dahl's description of the various chocolate and sweet concoctions of Willy Wonka that made me practically drown in my own saliva while our brilliant primary school teacher, Miss Cox, read passages of the book and used them to trigger classroom activities. We made Willy Wonka outfits, we dressed as oompah loompahs, we set up our own sweet factory and we made marzipan sweets and treats to 'sell' in it.

Using books as a trigger for activities was Miss Cox's stock-in-trade and I always remember her being an astonishing artist as well as teacher.

Back to Dahl though and like any heroic figure, there are always those who want to chip away at his foibles and primarily draw attention to his hard drinking, womanising and fairly victorian attitudes that were left at the door when he'd enter his writing shed and pen something new.

Dahl's secret of being a massive hit with kids is that he uses the two most powerful 'weapons' a children's author can use in their books. Front and centre, the underdog children, the heroes of his novels, are easily identifiable to children of all ages. George and his Marvellous medicine and of course Charlie Bucket are kids that children of the 70s could have identified with and bonded with very easily. Even contemporary audiences will love the fact that these kids triumph over adversity, and often show adults up to be a little bit too clever (or stupid) for their own good. The other weapon Dahl uses is the idea of subversion. Some (if not most) of Dahl's child heroes often resort to rather unsavoury practices in order to win the day. Kids absolutely voraciously consume any books that show kids being 'naughty' even if they do get their comeuppance in the end. Dahl's heroes are naughty but with a purpose. So they still manage to win favour with parents too.

I found it particularly galling in one recent article to see Dahl compared directly to EL James (I don't need to tell you she's the 50 Shades of Grey author, right?) I can see no comparison, not even in book sales really. Dahl's children's fiction was sublime, descriptive and rich. Not always politically correct but always engaging and interesting (we'll let Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator slide, it's the only Dahl children's book I find to be a complete chore - which is surprising given its predecessor).

Reading Dahl's rather fantastic (or should that be fantasised) self-penned biographies shows how his stories were directly affected by his own experiences in war and peacetime, and the sometimes grotesque characters he constructed came from the richest source possible - real people he'd met or knew. Good solid characters that other authors would die for.

All in all, I still think 'James and the Giant Peach' is my favourite Dahl book, with 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' following a close second, and I am happy to see an entire day devoted to celebrating one of our national literary treasures. I just wish the celebrations could happen without the inevitable dirt-digging by the popular press.
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Wednesday 12 September 2012

Drawing on the iPad, Charlotte style

Regular visitors to this blog will probably have guessed that Charlotte has a soft spot for monsters. Fat ones, thin ones, hairy ones or scary ones, she loves them. Last night after school we let her have some time on the iPad and she started scribbling in one of the art packages with her fingers. She was drawing...a monster. I watched as she drew the monster first, saying "He's not very happy with the person next to him" - so she drew the outline, then those amazingly expressive eyes, and then finally the 'not happy' mouth. It was a fantastic little scribble, considering how hateful iPads are to draw on.

Then she proceeded to draw the 'person the monster wasn't happy with. "He's a boy" said Charlotte as she scribbled a fairly tidy little figure and the monster reaching out with a rather nasty looking spindly claw.

Sure, to many of you it just looks like childish scribble - but this is the first drawing Charlotte has done where she's described what she's drawing as she draws it, and actually works on the composition, the expressions and the 'story' of the picture to compose something pretty neat.

I love it, she actually said she thinks its one of her best drawings. I don't normally do the gushy parent thing but this impressed me to pieces.
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Tuesday 11 September 2012

Meeow and the Blue Table by Sebastien Braun (Boxer Books)

Now here's an interesting little book, and one that had a rather unexpected reception from Charlotte. Watching her read this with my wife was quite fascinating because it's the first time we've sat down with Charlotte and books, and seen her put into practice the structured learning and sound learning she's picking up at school. So it's sinking in, definitely :)

Meoow and the Blue Table is the story of cute little cat Meeow and his animal friends as they play dress-up and let their imaginations soar. They make lovely outfits, and props and then decide to turn the blue table into a castle.

Books that bridge the gap between a story picture book and an actual learning / early readers book are tough to get right. Often, early readers books concentrate on the sterile repetition of words, and the story gets completely lost on the child. Linking early reading skills with large print, repeated word-sounds and large colourful illustrations showing scenarios that are absolutely familiar to a child (playing dress-up, cooking in the kitchen with mummy and daddy, etc) are what mark the Meeow books out and make them stand out from the crowd.

For me, it was a delightful moment that showed me the crack of light behind the door to Charlotte's reading future. It's the first time I've really seen her hungry to learn how to read rather than sitting back and letting us (mummy and daddy) read the story to her. Really impressed with how this book affected that stage and how great it was seeing her do that. Hat tip to Sebastien Braun!

Charlotte's best bit: "The Cow is Me!" (yes, alas we still get this all too often with any books. Charlotte instantly identifies a character that becomes 'her' for the duration of the story, in this case a cow who dresses up as a princess!)

Daddy and Mummy's favourite bit: Seeing Charlotte putting her school work into practice and her learning journey essentials (sounding out different sounds in words like "SSS" or "OO") really sinking in and being used. Top Job, Mrs Smales!
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