Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 - That was the year that was - Part 3 (July, August, September) ReadItDaddy takes a retrospective look back at a year in Children's Books

The summer sort of half materialised but was soon dampened down by rain, rain, and more rain. Thankfully we had more than enough books to keep us entertained. We also started taking a look at storytelling apps and the rise (and rise) of e-books, discovering Julia Dweck and Patricia Saco's sublime "Hare with the Pearl Earring" along the way. Anything that teaches children about the importance of art  gets a huge thumbs up but rarely have children's books dealt with the subject in such a fun, innovative and very beautiful way. Fantastic text and sublime illustrations make this one to look out for and it's recently been overhauled with a special edition so go and grab it now.

Our first Book of the Week in July was the utterly lovely "I Want a Dog!" by Helga Bansch. Rollo (the dog in the book) had such a lovely little face, and the message behind the book was so beautifully told that we just couldn't resist it. We've searched fruitlessly for more doggy goodness by Helga but it seems there aren't any more, which is such a shame as the book really would've been a great start to a whole series so if you happen across this blog Helga, more Rollo please!

On one of our trips to the library, we spotted a book that made us think "Oh that's a brilliant book, we'll 'ave that!" Of course, it was the utterly ace children's classic "Burglar Bill" by the legendary husband and wife team of Janet and Allan Ahlberg. You already know how much we love Allan Ahlberg's work and Burglar Bill was an instant hit, nabbing Book of the Week with ease. Altogether now, "Boglaboll!"

Timely stuff, we took a look at "The Hobbit" by J.R.R Tolkien before the movie mania gripped the nation. It's been getting some fairly poor reviews, so if you're still in two minds and have never read Tolkien's meisterwork, see what we thought of it and why it's a book that's particularly important to me. The first 'proper' book I remember reading. Wow. 

 Then something rather special hit the blog in a big way, and has since become one of the year's most demanded 'read it again, Daddy' books (as well as nabbing our 'book of the week' award for that week). The utterly charming and truly wonderful Nicola L. Robinson got in touch with us and asked if we'd like to review her book. We're still quietly gobsmacked that things like this happen, and Nicola was very interested in Charlotte's reaction to her book so we naturally said yes. Knowing that "The Monster Machine" contained monsters made it all the more tempting - long term 'Read It Daddy' followers will know how much Charlotte loves a good monster yarn. 

The book turned out to be superb. Not just because it was a great father / son tale, but because of the sheer amount of detail worked into Nicola's illustrations. She's since gone on to exhibit her works as part of an art retrospective at Somerset House. It's really not hard to see why. She also happens to be one of the very nicest people you could tweet at on Twitter so go and follow her now, you will not be disappointed. We are on the edge of our seats wondering what she's going to come up with next! Charlotte was so enamoured by the book and by Nicola that she even sent her a drawing.

As July came and went, we slid into August and Charlotte's last pre-school month wondering what the future would hold. We made the most of our days off (which we'd been taking once a week) to visit the library as often as we could, and of course the month sped by in record time. 

We grabbed an iPad early in August and soon started catching up with some really great storytelling apps and educational programs for Charlotte (poor girl, I'm sure she'd much rather play dressing up princesses but we always bought it with education in mind). 

We met The Froobles - Top That! Publishing's great range of fruit and vegetable characters. With innovative storytelling and playmaking apps, Top That's print range is well supported and we liked the fact that they produced a lot of great free content with no nags for purchases as well as a really good range of reasonably priced stuff too. 

Our first Book of the Week in August was 'Stick Man' by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. A brilliant, bittersweet little book that I actually prefer to The Gruffalo (don't tell Charlotte I said that though, eek!) I'm so disappointed that Magic Lantern Studios are making "Room on the Broom" this christmas and not this, as it's so festive and atmospheric, it would've been a far better choice. Hey ho, what do we know though. 

The lovely Viviane Schwarz nailed another Book of the Week win with "There are no cats in this book". I think if she wins another we'll have to send her some sort of an award with her name on it. She's a consistently interesting tweeter, and knows her way around a good comic (and comic-printed apron dress) so we love her to bits. 

More Preston Pig goodness arrived from Colin McNaughton in "SWALK". Preston fell in love, and mooned over a lovely little piggie he met on holiday. Just like Colin McNaughton's other Preston adventures, this was read and re-read but I'm a bit puzzled how it missed out on a book of the week (the competition must've been tough that week). 

More lovely book folk crossed our path back in August when we first started chatting to the legendary book bloke Giles Paley-Phillips on Twitter. He kindly offered to let us take a look at his book "The Fearsome Beastie" (illustrated by Gabriele Antonini) and also sent us a few other brilliant Maverick Books as well. Maverick have consistently produced some brilliant books over the last couple of years and it looks like they're warming up to do the same in 2013. Look out for a new book from Giles in the coming year, as well as some distinctly different and very engaging Maverick titles. If you don't know who Maverick Books are now, you most certainly will by the end of 2013. 

As July rolled along, we had a mighty fine blog adventure courtesy of Crockett Johnson's classic "Harold and the Purple Crayon". We'd been thinking of lots of ways to evolve the blog and make sure people knew that it wasn't all just down to me, and that Charlotte was such a massive part of what the blog was about and how the blog was shaped. Letting her star in her own photo adventure was brilliant fun and we had such a good day taking pics and drawing out Harold's fantastic purple landscapes and characters. A brilliant memory of 2012 and a very well deserved book of the week. 

Those lovely tireless and incredibly committed folk at Bookstart gave Charlotte her last preschool book bundle - and a rather snazzy book bag. We're always so happy to receive bookstart packs and always make sure we cover their work as much as we can. We made a bookstart pledge earlier in 2012 and followed up on it. If you count up the number of reviews in 2012, I think we definitely achieved our pledge goal!

Through the iPad we found a development studio that produces the sort of children's app that gets children and their parents buzzing with excitement every time they release something new. TOCA BOCA might sound like a bizarre latin american dance but they're a swedish studio who know exactly how to fine tune their games, produce intuitive controls and really pour on the production value both visually and sonically to make some of the best apps in the world. We took a look at TOCA Kitchen Monsters and Charlotte still plays this even now. We've since gone on to grab most of their apps (brilliantly they became available for 69p so I think we grabbed them all at once, too good an offer to miss!)

Midway through August, we dropped our star rating 'scores' for books. Coming from a background of writing about games, scores seemed like a natural fit for the blog in the early days, as an easy guide to a book's quality and a clear indication of what Charlotte thought of each book. It became more and more difficult to marry scores to books as we've consistently seen such high quality, it felt rude to slap a number at the end of our review that could easily be misconstrued. We dropped the rating and from time to time I still wonder if it was the right thing to do, but we definitely aim to keep the Book of the Week going into 2013, perhaps even splitting it in two so both Charlotte and I can choose our own (as Charlotte gets older, we often disagree over our favourite books - which I actually think is really great, and shows that she's not just being led by my guiding hand - she's toddling off with her own tastes, good for her!)

We took a look at Anorak Magazine in August, when the kind folk at the mag sent us a sample copy of Anorak and its little sibling Ploc. A refreshingly different alternative to those dreadful merchandise and TV-show-driven magazines that are often pushed at children in supermarkets, Anorak felt like a breath of fresh air - packed to the gills with brilliant stories, puzzles, games and activities. Anorak now have their own TV app on iOS and that's also well worth checking out if you can. 

Jon Klassen dropped a bear-shaped bomb on the blog in August with the brilliant "I Want My Hat Back". Our review seemed to neatly coincide with 'Klassen-mania' as the hype for his next book went global, but the most interesting aspect of reviewing the book was the way it raised so many questions and prompted such a heated discussion with Charlotte over the end of the book. Did the bear just do what we think he did? Klassen says "Hell yes, he most certainly did" so if you read it, always bear (hah) that in mind :)

September seemed to be upon us before we were ready. Soon the carefree summer felt like a distant memory as the whole year felt like it was hinging around Charlotte's very first day at school. It was such a massive relief when Charlotte took to school like a duck to water, and really enjoyed it - so much so that now term's coming to an end, it feels like she's been going for years! She really does love it and more importantly it's great to see what we've been doing here with the blog actually have an effect on how she gets on with her literacy at school (her report was absolutely brilliant, so well done my lovely!)

Even though school started, we still found time for books (you would not believe how busy a 4 year old's first term at school can be!). Alan Snow's brilliant "How Dinosaurs Really Work" proved endlessly entertaining and fitted neatly with some of Charlotte's first school subjects (as they started covering Dinosaurs pretty early on). A comic look at our dinosaur friends with plenty of factual information too with those excellent trademark Alan Snow cutaways providing a lot of belly laughs. 

My beautiful wife The Strolling Mum always has an eye for something special and different in the library and she spotted Ayao Imai's astonishing version of "Puss in Boots" on one of our regular library jaunts. With illustrations that practically leap off the page, Imai's retellings of classic fables and fairy tales have leaped to the top of our book wishlist and it's really not hard to see why, they're amazingly beautiful books. 

Peter Bently and Jim Field's hilarious X-Factoresque "Farmer Clegg's Big Night Out" was a book of the week in September. A sleepwalking farmer, performing animals and a nice dig at Simon Cowell made this a shoe in for our prestigious award. Again they're a pair of brilliant tweeters so watch out for them on Twitter. 

We took an early look at Jen Desmond's sublime moggy caper "Red Cat, Blue Cat" courtesy of Blue Apple Books. Jen was also the subject of our very first author / illustrator interview and the book has deservedly gone on to be nominated for a bucketload of awards. There's more feline stuff coming from Jen in 2013 so keep a look out for it, she's awesome. 

International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and lots of piratical goings on at Charlotte's school inspired us to draw up a top ten list of Pirate-themed children's books.  Pirates still seem to be amongst Charlotte's favourite characters in books and she even dressed as one for her school's Book Week. 

We rounded off August by taking a look at some of the best children's apps around at the moment - work that makes us think that 2013 is going to be an absolutely stunning year for e-book and storytelling apps. With tablet PCs at the top of a lot of children's 'want' lists this christmas, it's a format that's not going to go away in a hurry and one that we'll be delving into a lot more next year - stay with us for some big news on that front early in 2013.