Thursday 28 February 2013

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, Lesley Sims and Fred Blunt (Usborne Publishing Ltd)

What steps do you take if you're ever chased by a dragon? Very big steps - preferably in the opposite direction! Unless of course it's the reluctant dragon, Kenneth Grahame's rather sweet and harmless scaly beast.

In this retelling of Grahame's tale, the poor dragon's peaceful and rather carefree existence is under threat. Folk really don't like a big lizardy fire breather living on their doorstep - but it takes a rather diminutive and diddy knight to come up with a plan to save the dragon, and restore peace to the kingdom.

Normally we frown on anyone messing around with classic books too much but this is so beautifully rewritten, presented and illustrated. Fred Blunt's humorous art style is an utterly delicious fit for the book, making it accessible and above all a huge amount of fun (It'd make such a brilliant animated film in our opinion!)

Fantastic stuff - there are quite a few different versions of "The Reluctant Dragon" around for younger readers but this is definitely the best we've seen.

Charlotte's best bit: The crazed antics of the townsfolk when they find out there's a dragon on the loose

Daddy's favourite bit: A nice meaty children's picture book that has a really broad appeal across a range of ages. Particularly brilliant if your kids are looking for knight-and-dragon themed books.
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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Splat Says Thank You! by Rob Scotton (HarperCollins Children's Books)

We feel like we've been through thick and thin with our favourite fuzzy-haired feline, Splat the Cat. Ever since we were first introduced to Rob Scotton's moggy hero back when we were given the first Splat the Cat book as part of a Bookstart pack, we've loved his adventures with Seymour (the black-olive-nosed mouse!)

The latest Splat book, "Splat Says Thank You!" is a rather touching celebration of the strong friendship Splat and Seymour share. What does Splat do when his best friend is one poorly little mouse?

What any good friend would do - Splat rallies round and creates a book specially for Seymour, telling him all about the times he's been there to help Splat through good times and bad.

We loved this - it was almost like a 'greatest hits' compilation, or those christmas episodes of your favourite sitcom where they play all the best bits from previous episodes as flashbacks (finding all the bits of your favourite Splat book as they crop up in the story is all part of the fun!)

A lovely but not overly sentimental book - and best of all, I could still do the daft 'Brummie' Splat voice while reading it, even after all this time. Thanks Splat!

Charlotte's best bit: Finding the bit where Splat was in love with a beautiful kitty. Awww!

Daddy's favourite bit: The realisation we'd somehow missed a Splat book or two (the school play? How did we miss that one!). Time to hunt them down!

(Kindly sent to us for review by HarperCollins Children's Books)
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Looking for a sugar-free easter pressie for comic-hungry kids? How about the Phoenix Comic Gift Box!

Astonishingly, we still have Christmas chocolate hanging around the house, and the thought of another Easter spent surreptitiously hiding Charlotte's crazy huge collection of chocolate confectionery around the house so she doesn't scoff the lot sends choccy chills down our spines. Sure,  it's still a while off yet, but shops have been stocking Easter Eggs since boxing day. Eeek!

If only there was something fantastic she could get as an Easter present that A) wouldn't give her a set of gnashers like gnarled tombstones and B) would mean our waistlines wouldn't expand from absolutely having to force ourselves to scoff her easter treats, purely for the greater good (the greater good).

Never fear, The Phoenix Comic is here with the best present idea ever - An easter gift box for £14.99 that contains...

  • Five (yes Five!) issues of the fabulous Phoenix Comic
  • Badges!
  • Sticker Sheets
  • A mini comic
  • A chocolate Gary Northfield*
(* - Actually we made this bit up, but a chocolate Gary Northfield might last until next christmas - worth thinking about!)

Keep an eye out in Phoenix Stockists (like Waitrose) or better still - drop by the Phoenix Comic website  and p-p-p-pick up the perfect non-fattening, non sticky, non sugary Easter gift. Just don't eat it all at once!
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Mr Bickle and the Ghost by Stella Gurney and Sylvia Raga (Evans Brothers Ltd)

Now here's a curious little book, found hiding - almost lost because of its size - between the library stacks on our last visit. We've seen a lot of Stella Gurney's work in early years readers so immediately seized on this one (partially seized on it also because it's about a ghost and Charlotte LOVES a good ghost story).

Mr Bickle is a rather happy and jolly chap most of the time, but at night his house is plagued by a mischievous ghost. While Mr Bickle wants to sleep, the Ghost rattles and clatters around the house.

Things go from bad to worse as the ghost interferes with the well-meaning bachelor's rather neat and tidy lifestyle until one day Mr Bickle snaps and gets rid of the ghost in a rather amusing way (kids, do not try that at home OK?)

Once again, Mr Bickle's life is one of quiet serenity and extreme neatness. But...also loneliness. You see, for all his pestering misbehaviour, the ghost was company of a sort - and Mr Bickle soon actually discovers he misses his spectral pal.

So what can he do?

You'll have to read the story to find out, of course. A great little book with the idea that keeping the word count low and featuring an engaging theme will make it a surefire win for early readers progressing from the rather disjointed stories in most phonics books to something that flows and is engaging - just like the books children will naturally move on to next.

Stella's writing is brilliant, even with such constraints - and Sylvia Raga's artwork is quite unique and eye-catching (though if I'm honest, Mr Bickle actually scares me more than the ghost does!)

Charlotte's best bit: What Mr Bickle does to get rid of the ghost! Eeek!

Daddy's favourite bit: Brilliant idea to have books that have a reduced word count but 'feel' like proper children's picture story books despite this. Awesome find!
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#ReadItMD13 - Fiona Woodhead, author of 'Once Upon a Slime" on self publishing, and how the slimy story started.

 We're very fortunate to be able to host a guest blog post from Fiona Woodhead, author of "Once Upon a Slime" as part of our #ReadItMD13 campaign theme week - "Self Publishing / Independent Publishing" - So over to you Fiona!

Since self-publishing my first children picture book in November (2012) I have lost count of how many people have said that it is has always been a dream of theirs to write a children's book. Randomly this dream had never even entered my head. Being a designer of nursery products my dream was more along the lines of designing a baby changing bag that Posh Spice got snapped using in 'Heat' magazine.

Whilst I was on maternity leave with my second small human in 2010 I had a brilliant idea for my lovely dad Howard for Christmas.

My dad is a father of four and it was his role to tuck us all up in bed and tell us a bedtime story. It was either a Richard Scarry book or a made up story about three gruesome and funny slimy slugs. These stories used to make us roll in bed with laughter when the slugs carried out such horrid adventures that mainly focused around dog or cow poo!

So I set about writing and illustrating a picture book for my dad's ultimate christmas present. The story was a long way from what the book is now but the characters of the slugs remained consistent (slimy and gross).

After sending a few copies off to publishers and agents and receiving very complimentary letters about the book, they were all obviously rejections. My dad and I pondered for some months about what to do. It seems a far fetched idea to actually get a book printed and into retailers.

It came to October and it was my birthday and just suddenly had a feeling of: "stop faffing and just go for it". What is the harm of getting a small print run made to show to shops and schools? I knew it was going to cost a couple of hundred pounds, but thought what the hell and decided to go for it.

I contacted a couple of local printing companies and searched on Google and found a printer that wasn't going to break the bank. I did have to set up my own Publishing Company to obtain ISBN barcodes, but it is only a few simple forms (just like filling in to join a doctors!).

It took just three weeks from making that decision to then sit looking at 250 copies of the 'Once-upon-a-slime… a garden tale about Max and three slugs" books. It is was brilliant! The smell of the books was delicious and I couldn't believe how real they looked! So I quickly set up my website (using moonfruit as its free and the once-upon-a-slime Facebook page)

Slitter Slug, slimy superhero!

Within two months (Christmas did help) all the first print run had been sold and I now sit looking in the hallway at 1000 books (the husband isn't as impressed with our new furniture in the hall of 10 brown boxes) but I am hoping that they may one day be sold and living instead in small peoples bedrooms.

It is scary thinking of spending money on what could potentially be a disaster. But it's so true: you don't know until you try. Until you get some books in your hands and pop into your local shops, you don't know what will happen. The first shop I went into is my favourite shop of all time. A little gift shop on the outskirts of Halifax, Gallery 339. This is where I go often to buy presents and I basically rambled onto the owner about how I love her shop and would love her to stock my book. I don't think I even made any sense and I left the shop feeling like a sweaty fool who had just talked the nice lady to death about stupid slugs and my dad?! I'm not sure this is the best selling technique however the owner did ring me and place an order for the book! And every time we drive past the shop, myself and my two small people wave to the slugs.

Now my dreams have changed. Rather than Posh spice carrying one of my baby changing bags, I would now love to see her photo in Heat Magazine reading a slimy slug book to her children!

Once Upon a Slime. Hey, how did the Booksniffer get in there?

"Once Upon A Slime" is available from the slithery slimy and slugtastic Website

Please also stop by the "Once Upon A Slime" Facebook page for great activities and posts
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Tuesday 26 February 2013

I Got A Crocodile by Nicola Killen (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Here's a fun book that prompted lots of questions from Charlotte - mostly about the pros and cons of having a sibling, or something way way cooler.

The little girl in "I Got A Crocodile" longs for a brother or sister but instead she ends up with a scaly sharp-toothed beastie!

As you'd imagine, life at home with a crocodile in tow isn't easy. The friendly and well-meaning croc just can't help getting into mischief, making a dreadful mess at mealtimes - and have you ever tried curling up in bed with something that has more teeth than you have freckles?

When Croc ends up causing more trouble, the poor little girl is at her wit's end and decides the best cure for croc chaos is avoidance.

Naturally, both girl and crocodile begin to get a bit lonely - and it takes time apart from each other to make each realise just how much friendship, fun and laughter they're missing out on.

Nicola's touching story is perfectly pitched for children who may have a new addition to the family (new babies actually would scare me more than a crocodile, I think) with a lovely moral message and lots of lizardy fun. A delightful illustrative style (I love Croc's benday dot scales!) and a nice bedtime read, get yourself a crocodile - you've no idea how much fun you're missing out on without one!

Charlotte's best bit: Crocodile dressing up as a dragon for 'Dragon and Princess' games

Daddy's favourite bit: I loved the croc, such a great character - simple but hugely effective in delivering the message of how kids cope when a new sibling arrives

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster)
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Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders (Macmillan Children's Books)

Since Charlotte started school, she's started to develop more of an interest in history and with a lot of the children's fiction picture books we look at, history plays a part.

Delving into dusty old encyclopaedias, or trying to find non-fiction history books that strike a good balance between offering up the sort of interesting facts and snippets of information children love to store inside their noggins, but making the subject matter vibrant and 'alive' enough to ensure they stay engaged is a tricky balancing act.

We've looked at a few of the Terry Deary "Horrible History" books (we borrowed them from the library, just to be subversive!) and it's easy to see how they've become so popular and talked about (in all honesty though, the TV treatment is far better than the books and I truly believe the books wouldn't have made a dent in anyone's subconscious without the truly excellent CBBC series).

So it's great to be able to look at an alternative range of children's history books, fronted by a TV personality who has become synonymous with history and archaeology (as well as being a fairly accomplished turnip collector and teller of fascinating children's tales from Fat Tulip's Garden!)

Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders may look a little bit too close to Terry Deary's Horrible History range for comfort, but dipping in the differences are evident right from the off. Rather than an over reliance on flatulence, poo, puking, burps, gross food and gross-out behaviour, the "Weird World of Wonders" range breaks down different historical civilisations into easily digestible topic areas but always with the emphasis on fun. The 'Curiosity Crew' appear throughout the books, curiously delving into all aspects of history and mapping out the past.

We took a look at the "Greeks" and "British" books in the range, written in conjunction with talented historical researchers (Tony's own grown-up version of 'The Curiosity Crew'), and humorously illustrated by the very talented Del Thorpe.

The books are absolutely jam packed with content and Tony is a good 'fit' for these. We often sit down on a hectic sunday to watch 'Time Team' and I'm sure a lot of kids do the same with their parents.

Charlotte's best bit: She's going to be a cartographer when she grows up, she has a weird fascination with maps (thankfully there are loads in this range!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Great pocket-sized books absolutely chock full of content. Even though these are slightly 'old' for Charlotte, they're great to go through with her.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Macmillan Children's Books)
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#ReadItMD13 - Spotlight on "Once Upon A Slime", slugs need hugs too!

Coinciding with a weekend where we got out into the countryside to look at all the creatures that crawl through the undergrowth (we were actually looking for fairies but found a lot of snails and slugs instead) comes this great little self-published book from Fiona Woodhead.

Fiona's own "Read It, Daddy", her dad Howard, originally came up with the stories of a slimy slug and his pals. Fiona has taken those stories and turned them into "Once Upon a Slime", a story featuring Max (her son) and three slug buddies.

We took a look at the e-version over the weekend and it's brilliantly funny - and just the sort of self-published title we love to see, and a great fit for this week's #readitmd campaign theme of self published books.

Slitter, Slatter and Slutter (!) are surprisingly engaging characters considering they're, well, they're slugs though we think we'll never go as far as Max and fancy puckering up for a big sluggy kiss!

Fiona's excellent website is well worth diving into for more on the three slithery pals. You can also buy the print version of the book from the site:

We loved the blog too, particularly the Facebook gallery of sock slugs kids got together and made. Awesome!

Charlotte's best bit: Slatter licking his eyes clean. EWWW!

Daddy's favourite bit: Such a cool little book, loads of boy appeal (but also great for girls like Charlotte who love slimy creatures and bugs too!)

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Monday 25 February 2013

Lego Friends Brickmaster - Treasure Hunt in Heartlake City (Dorling Kindersley)

With Lego Friends quickly establishing itself as one of Lego's most successful ranges of all time, it's great to see a range of accompanying books in the 'Brickmaster' range complimenting the other sets. If you're unfamiliar with the previous 'Brickmaster' books (such as the Ninjago or Lego City ones) you're in for a bit of a treat.

The fairly huge box contains enough Lego (and a couple of the Lego Friends figures) to act out the various scenes and stories in the book - so as children read they can build the mini models from a pretty generous collection of bits.

We picked this book up for just under £10 and it seems prices vary wildly and a lot of reviews seem to moan and grizzle that there aren't enough bricks or enough variety in the models. We've seen various other Lego Friends sets for the same price and we strongly disagree. For the price, this is an excellent value product which encouraged Charlotte to build the models herself and get used to following Lego plans for the first time (previously we've always built the models for her but since she went through this book on her own, she's become quite an adept Lego builder - even better than Daddy!)

I'd be the first to admit that it's not a literary work of genius, and I'm sure a lot of parents will think the Lego Friends range is a horrid travesty - why should girls have to have a range of cutesy girl characters specifically designed for them when most of them have been quite happy playing with 'normal' Lego for years?

Yet, I do think the Lego Friends range has a certain something - great design flair (the buildings and vehicles are every bit as stylish and cool as the 'boy' equivalent) and some positive role models for girls (no footballer's wives here, though some parents might baulk at things like the Pet Pampering Salon or the Pop Star set). If you spot this book-and-brick set for the same price, snap it up, it's a bargain!

Charlotte deep in concentration, these castle ruins won't build themselves!

Charlotte's best bit: Building the various items of furniture at the start of the story, and a great introduction for her to the wider world of building with lovely lovely lego

Daddy's favourite bit: Actually thought this was awesome value and a great addition to the Lego Friends sets Charlotte already has.
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#ReadItMD2013 - Self Publishers and Indie Publishers Rock!

"Garbage, Monster, Burp" by Tom Watson. A cracking example of a brilliant self-published e-book
For the #ReaditMD2013 campaign week this week, we thought we'd take a dip back into the archives to look at some of the self published and independently published books we've read and loved over the past few years.

There's a quiet and steady revolution going on as more families buy tablet PCs and start to look around at what's available in e-book form. The Amazon Kindle Publishing Service is one route to go down, as well as other e-publishing portals like CreateSpace.

Some folk, such as Hazel Nutt (with the brilliant "Secret Life of Squirrels" trilogy of books), even go as far as offering a complete site with books available in print form.

We've taken a look at Beachy Books in the past too and the message that comes across from self-publishers is that if you've got the passion and drive to put your book out there, and promote it as widely and as far as possible, it can be really rewarding.

We get a steady stream of self-published authors contacting us with books. Some are absolutely amazing and of the highest quality like the recent "Great Reef Race" by Leyland Perree and Stuart McGhee. Books made for the love of sharing stories and great sites like "Stories For My Little Sister" and "Once Upon a Slime" are also well worth a visit for even more booktastic fun. 

Most self-publishers are under no illusion that it's a route to riches but from time to time some books become so popular and sell so well that it gives their authors enough of a raised profile to secure them a deal with a major publisher. Looking outside children's books, the massive book-industry-rebooting "50 Shades of Grey" started out as a piece of fan fiction, so you never know what might happen with your book or collection of stories.

We have a lot of admiration for folk who have the sheer guts to put their work out there into a public forum for others to take a look at. Long may they continue to do so!

Got a great indie or self-published book recommendation? Let us know in the comments below!
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ReadItDaddy's Read-Aloud Debut, Sunday 24th February 2013

ReaditDaddy reading to a great little bunch of Bookworms!
Well, as promised I wanted to get out there and do this. Reading aloud to children always looks like a massive amount of fun (though really nerve-wracking) and so @thestrollingmum and I thought it would be ace to do something 'Booky' at Charlotte's birthday bash.

Though the kids were tired and stuffed to the gills with lovely party food, I managed to corral a few to listen to me reading 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

It's a great book to read in this setting for lots of reasons. One - most kids know it already either from school or home so it's a challenge to read it in a new and exciting way (we did lots of interaction and actions to go along with the tale). Two - It's an exciting book, some kids actually found it a little scary too (mostly because of the 'bear bit').

Though we were huddled in a tiny corner of the venue it was a great fun way to start out and I'd really love to do this again (perhaps when Charlotte isn't continually blowing a party razzer in my ear - cheeky monkey!)

We really ran out of time, which was a shame as we'd got two other books to read. What's interesting here is that only the girls sat down for story time, the boys were too busy running around, playing ninjas and kicking balloons around. Hmm - note to self, try and mix things up a bit with more books with 'boy appeal' next time!

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The Frank Show by David Mackintosh (Abrams Young Readers)

This brilliant book nestled amongst the library stacks on one of our regular library trips and we couldn't wait to grab it, check it out, and get it home. We really like David Mackintosh's quirky characters (in books like "Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School") and we'd heard a lot about how great this book is.

It is too, celebrating Grandparents and how much we love and value them - even if they're slightly eccentric.

When a young boy needs to bring someone along for show and tell at his school, he really struggles until he remembers Granpa Frank - who lives at home and is a bit of a curmudgeonly old so-and-so. The boy isn't keen when he realises he'll have to talk about Granpa Frank for a WHOLE MINUTE. No easy task when all Frank seems to want to do is mooch around, generally being crotchety and a bit grumpy most of the time.

As we all know though, Grandparents tell the best stories - and as soon as Frank enters class, he takes over and the children are utterly fascinated by the tales of his interesting and varied life. The Frank Show is a huge success!

Expertly told, never overly sentimental and Frank is the sort of Grandad just about anyone would love to listen weaving a tale or two. Awesome stuff Mr Mackintosh!

Charlotte's best bit: Frank's crazy clothing worn to the Show and Tell

Daddy's favourite bit: Brilliantly drawn and told, most grandparents will absolutely love reading this to their grandchildren.
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Star Paws "Super Heroes" and "Party Time" Sticker Books (Macmillan Children's Books)

Have you ever wondered what a cute little bunny would look like soaring through the air in a cape? Or what an adorable little Dachshund looks like toffed up to the nines for a hot date? Well wonder no more, thanks to the Macmillan 'Star Paws' range of sticker books, with lots of different themes to suit all tastes.

We took a look at the 'Superheroes' and the 'Party Time' books, with an absolute ton of stickers to slap over some beautifully (and rather amusingly) photographed animals as they strut their funky stuff or save us from impending doom.

Hats off to the book designers for giving the sticker sheets perforations so they could easily be removed from the book to stick down easily, and also for making it clear which stickers go where (though if you're like us you probably won't mind cheating a bit and using different ones than recommended!)

The names in the book for the animals made us giggle (Elton Pong playing a mean piggy piano in the animal band was a particular favourite as was Jessie Hay and Cheryl Mole). Charlotte adored any of the scenes featuring either cute fluffy bunnies or guinea pigs so lots of cooing and 'ahhhing' ensued.

Charlotte's best bit: The Party Time book, lots of very fashionable threads for the animals. Cool!

Daddy's favourite bit: Brilliantly designed, easy to peel (and separate) sticker sheets and lots of brilliant funny animal names to keep kids giggling

(Kindly sent to us for review by Macmillan Children's Books)
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Spotlight on the 'Pip' range of books by Karen Bendy (Hodder Children's Books)

Sharing a love of all things feline, we were excited to be given the chance to look at Karen Bendy's new 'My Cat Pip' book range, featuring the loveable and iconic black cat and a whole host of friends. In a range of books from Hodder, you can now join Pip in lots of fun and activities.

Let's take a closer look at the range below:

"Pip, Pip, Hooray" is a great little lift-the-flap book with a whole host of things to discover and do with over 50 flaps for young children to open. Lots of counting games and fun scenes with the trademark bold graphical style of the pip books meaning this is suitable for a good age range from 3 upwards.

Even now she's older, Charlotte still loves 'lift the flap' books as much as she always has, and this book scores points for lots of easy opening flaps and great variety throughout.

"Showtime Pip" lets kids go sticker mad with huge pages full of fun and giggles, with Pip and friends playing dress up in lots of different scenes ranging from under the sea to out into the far reaches of space. Great to see books featuring easy-to-separate sticker sheets that don't completely ruin the book (and it's far easier for children to work their way through a sticker book if they don't have to keep turning back and forth while they hunt out the right stickers for the right page). There's another sticker book in the range called "Purrfect Pip" (not pictured) with even more scenes and stickers to discover (and a few spares so that kids can decorate whatever they like with a bit of 'Pip' style!)

Last but not least there's "Where are you, Pip?" - along the same lines as the "Where's Wally?" books, children can use all their powers of observation to spot Pip and all the things (he / she) needs for a brilliant day out.

Again, lots of variety here and some truly brain-bendingly tough hidden objects make this a great fun book with broad appeal.

The books are good for boys and girls as pip is non-gender specific (unlike a certain other Kitty we could mention). As well as books, you can pick up all sorts of brilliant Pip merchandise from plushies to aprons - even a Pip umbrella.

Bold designs, tons of detail and immediately eye-catching, I think Pip definitely won Charlotte over and we've spent a merry weekend up to our eyeballs in sticker sheets.

Find out more on Pip's very own website at

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hodder Children's Books)

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Friday 22 February 2013

Booktrust, The Duchess of Cornwall and James Patterson behind new "Get Dads Reading" campaign

How cool and rewarding is reading to your child? We know! Want to know more?

The Booktrust is spearheading a campaign to encourage more dads to read to their children. With the aid of "The Dad's Army", an A-List of celebrities, authors and high profile dads, they're encouraging dads to become more involved and to find out for themselves just how rewarding reading to their children can be. 

Obviously this is a delicious idea and a good fit for the #readitMD2013 (Read It Mummies and Daddies 2013) campaign we started way back in January. We initially thought it would be a good idea to focus on dads, but widened the campaign to include mums who also miss out on reading to their children. Though the numbers show that just 26% of dads are the "main readers" to their children at home, with all sorts of reasons given for why they don't read more often to their kids, mums too need the same support and encouragement for the same reasons, particularly in households where they are the main or indeed the only breadwinner. 

We're right behind the Booktrust campaign every step of the way! Join the Dad's (And mums) army who already know how great reading to your children is.

There's an awesome post from a reading daddy here that is definitely worth a read through. We are out there, we really are.

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Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan Children's Books)

If you haven't discovered Rebecca Cobb's absolutely brilliant children's books yet, you're in for a bit of a treat. "Lunchtime" is a very good starting point to introduce you to Rebecca's illustrative and storytelling style, putting you firmly in the Clarks Shoes of a little girl who is very much like Charlotte - a busy little bee who likes playing and drawing far too much to bother about silly things like mealtimes and bedtimes.

The little girl in Rebecca's story is told off by Mummy when she doesn't sit down at the table for lunch. Fortunately she has some very good (and very hungry) friends to help her out, and they soon polish off everything!

Of course, you can guess what happens next. The poor little girl gets back to playing and drawing and discovers that a rumbling tummy can growl even louder than a hungry bear, a starving crocodile or a famished wolf.

I loved Charlotte's reaction to this, a subtle nod of 'yeah that's me' which of course I couldn't disagree with (I'm sure Charlotte would secretly love three brilliant and hungry animal friends to help her out every time Daddy cooks :)

I loved this book too but what really 'got' me was the back cover, and the wolf. I won't spoil it for you but that absolutely cracked me up to pieces for some reason :)

Charlotte's best bit: She loved the idea of having three hungry friends to help out with meals

Daddy's favourite bit: That back cover. Just seek out this book and if that doesn't make you want to cuddle it, I don't know what will!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Macmillan's Children's Books)
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Neil Gaiman talks about his new children's book "Fortunately, The Milk" - A surreal and sublime tale!

We're massive Neil Gaiman fans here at ReadItDaddy (as you can probably tell from our recent reviews of "Crazy Hair" and our constant references to the genius that is "Coraline".

So hearing that the man with the crazy hair (well, he HAS got crazy hair!) is behind a new children's book is exciting news.

"Fortunately, The Milk" written by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Chris Riddell, is coming from Bloomsbury very soon indeed. Weaving a tale of time travel, dinosaurs and...well, a bottle of red top - it's inherently the sort of thing we love Mr Gaiman for.

Don't just take our word for it though, listen to the man himself talking about the book over at Sci Fi magazine SFX's website. 

Neil Gaiman on "Fortunately, The Milk"

(Edit: The cover image previously included in this post was for the US edition, which will be illustrated by Skottie Young - Chris Riddell is illustrating the UK version - kthanks)
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week, Week Ending 22nd February 2013 - "The King of Space" by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing)

It was almost inevitable that this would end up as our book of the week this week. We've been waiting for "The King of Space" to arrive ever since I spotted Jonny Duddle's brilliant tutorial on character consistency in FX Magazine's digital art round up. Back the, The King of Space was a slightly bubble headed and stropping looking little guy - not at all the "Rex" we now know and love.

So how successful is Jonny's transition from sailing the seven seas with a bunch of salty old pirates to roaming the stratosphere, armed with gigantic warbots, striving for complete galactic domination?

We join the story as Rex, a genius schoolboy with lofty ambitions, plans a classroom robotics project to eclipse everyone else's. Rex's plan for a weaponized moog-poo robot bears fruit (rather too successfully as the robot trashes his classmates' puny little robot specimens underfoot) and soon he enlists the help of a classmate to work in secret on a whole fleet of war droids with one aim and one aim only. To ensure Rex's place as...The King Of Space.

As his parents, living on a Moog farm, are oblivious to their little darling's plans for galactic domination, Rex kidnaps the emperor's daughter Kooki (who bears a striking resemblance to a certain little girl very dear to Mr Duddle's heart) and tries to win her over.

Soon though, Rex's plans take a turn for the worse but an unexpected ally proves to be more of a force to be reckoned with than an entire space armada!

There are so many moments in this book where you can literally bathe in the glow of a guy who clearly loves his work to bits. Duddle's characters are brilliant, his digital art knocks my socks off and his knack for weaving a grand tale with kid and adult appeal is unparalleled. We absolutely loved the detail in each page, the action packed story full of excitement and adventure (though really you're never really sure whether Rex is actually a goodie or a baddie, after all he does try to enslave the entire universe AND kidnaps the emperor's daughter into the bargain!)

Most of all though we had a heck of a lot of fun spotting all the cameos from Jonny's previous two books. We won't spoil them for you, but there's a certain little character that lives on Rex's bed you might recognise.

"The King of Space" is every bit as good as we dreamed it would be. It seems a little remiss to be talking about a potential children's picture book of the year but if this isn't in the running we'll be sending Rex and his warbots along to find out why not!

Charlotte's best bit: Rex's followup to the warbot. More terrifying than you could possibly imagine!

Daddy's favourite bit: So much detail, an art style to die for, and a brilliant sweeping space opera of a story that makes you practically want to hug the book with glee. Oh and yes the calculator bits made me grin from ear to ear Mr Duddle, thank you for those :)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)
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Thursday 21 February 2013

The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell (Andersen Children's Books)

Monster books, monster books, how we love our monster books - and this book in particular gives us not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE brilliant monsters to run away screaming from.

A young boy, Louis, and his big sister Sarah go scooting off into the woods one sunny afternoon and before they can get much further than the end of the dusty path to their house, Louis gets eaten! A lolloping fuzz-covered nasty gulps him down - but Big Sis is no fool, without pausing for thought she grabs something very useful and gives chase.

Things go from bad to worse as the ever resourceful Sarah modifies her bike to chase after a nasty bird that's eaten the first monster, then a fish that eats the bird...and

Ah, you see I should stop right there - for fear of spoiling the plot as it's great to see the cascade effect of a whole menagerie of monsters who cause utter mayhem for Sarah as she struggles to keep up with the various beasties that scoff poor Louis.

There are some utterly great page spreads in this, not least of all at the very end of the book - which again we can't really spoil for you. Fardell is an illustrative genius, managing to build and populate a linear world but fill it with danger, excitement, wonder and a teeny tiny tad of gruesomeness when you see what poor Sarah has to go through to try and get her brother back.

Great payoffs all the way through. Utterly fabulous!

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting the impending doom as each creature sneakily hides and stalks before pouncing, eek!

Daddy's favourite bit: The breathtaking and exciting last few pages. Just look at the detail in those spreads. Wish I could draw like that.

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What To Do If An Elephant Stands On Your Foot by Michelle Robinson and Peter H. Reynolds (Dial Books)

OK everybody stay calm, DON'T PANIC! Michelle Robinson and Peter H. Reynolds are here with some handy hints if you find yourself stuck in the jungle. First of all, don't panic! Second - do not, repeat, do NOT lose your copy of "What To Do If An Elephant Stands On Your Foot" otherwise things are only going to go from bad to worse (or verse!)

This brilliant book is part instruction manual, part story, and part laugh-a-minute as a young girl finds out just how dangerous the roaming plains of the savannah and the steamy leafy jungle can be. Elephants are just one of the dangers you might encounter. You might tick off a Tiger, create havoc with a crocodile or get snacked on by a snake. Thank goodness for books like this to ensure we steer clear of such dangerous places and sticky situations by following them to the letter. Or do we?

Loved this hugely funny and entertaining book with great 'preventative' measures described in jocular detail, and with fab animal characters generally looking like they'd either like to make dinner of or squish the poor little explorer lass.

Charlotte's best bit: Cuddling the rescue monkeys, awww!

Daddy's Favourite Bit: Brilliant humour, ace illustrations and a character who's completely oblivious to how close she comes to being food not a friend. Also loved the expression on the Tiger's face when he's sneezed on!
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Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Hodder Children's Books)

Our quest to consume all things Shaun Tan flavoured continues. "The Rabbits" by John Marsden and Shaun Tan is another powerfully allegorical picture book that describes a subject that would normally see any author or illustrator involved in picture books run screaming into the trees, shouting "It just can't be done! It can't be done!"

The subject being dissected here is colonialism - a very grown up topic that quite rightly sailed over Charlotte's head but screamed loudly to me, particularly with the depiction of the Rabbits as an invading red-jacketed force backed up by military might, technical expertise and an almost godless disregard for the indigenous population of the land they rapidly occupy and strip-mine for its resources.

Glorious illustrative panels show the slab-sided rabbits, about as far removed from Charlotte's ideal view of a rabbit - a fluffy and cute bunny that twitches its nose and eats carrots - as it's possible to get.

As the furry natives succumb to the conquering force, the dark tone and sorrowful descriptions of their lives being irreparably changed feels like a raw nerve being gently stroked but with the occasional jab and poke from a sharp instrument.

Again as with anything else that Shaun Tan and John Marsden collaborate on, this is a book that creates as many questions as it answers, and one that might cause quite a few parents to wonder how they'd handle such a subject. After all, in the scope of most school history lessons, children will come across real-world examples as chilling and as difficult to stomach as what happens in this book.

From an artistic perspective, the illustrations are glorious and harrowing at the same time, finely detailed  and though the depiction of the creatures is largely stylised there's an eerie familiarity about the scenes in this book. Dive into any art gallery or museum and look at the huge paintings of subjects like the American War of Independence or the Russian Civil War and you'll see where the inspiration for this book must've come from. Brilliant, serious and dark. Just the way we like our alt-history.

Charlotte's best bit: Oddly I thought she'd really struggle finding stuff to like in this but she fell in love with the sweeping designs of the Rabbit Battle Ships. Amazing pointy-nosed ships that look every inch built for one thing and one thing only, making people extremely sorry for being on the business end of those points.

Daddy's favourite bit: The perfect example of why people shouldn't discount "children's" picture books as a massively effective medium for delivering a sledgehammer blow of a message in a way that children can dissect and digest.
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The Great Reef Race by Leyland Perree and Stuart McGhee (Ghostly Publishing)

You join us as we drop in on Eel and Ock as excitement ramps up to frenetic levels under the sea. We have (almost literally) dived headlong into the bubbling briny deep to find out what happens during "The Great Reef Race".

This independently published book by Leyland Perree and Stuart McGhee looks absolutely brilliant, and that's one of the first things that struck us. We see a lot of indie and self-published titles, some great, some needing a serious amount of work to bring them up to publishing standards but in the case of "The Great Reef Race" you get rhymes that flow, illustrations that are clear, eye-catching and awesome, and a general feel of quality.

Eel and Ock look brilliant, we really enjoyed the energy of this book as their preparations for the race allow us a sneaky insight into all the other marine characters who pop up during the story (big plus point, lots of species for Charlotte to spot!)

As the story moves at such a pace (and as Leyland has obviously spent a lot of time making his rhymes fit together so nicely) it's a sing-song tale that's a joy to read out loud. Coupled with Stuart's artwork, this is probably one of the most impressive indie-published titles we've seen in a very long time. Top work guys!

You can pick up the book from the Ghostly Publishing web site. 

Charlotte's best bit: All the little fishes and creatures trying to help Whale (who gets stuck in a wreck!)

Daddy's favourite bit: There's a heck of a lot to love here, from great rhymes that trip off the tongue to some really nice artwork that reminded me of the classic comics like Whizzer and Chips and The Beezer which I used to read as a kid. Fantastic and thoroughly recommended.

(Kindly sent to us in digital form by Leyland Perree / Ghostly Publishing)
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Tuesday 19 February 2013

The Battles of Ben Kingdom: The Claws of Evil coming soon from Usborne

The Battles of Ben Kingdom - The Claws of Evil Cover
We love our Steampunk heroes cheeky, agile and fascinating here at ReadItDaddy so we're happy to announce the imminent arrival of a particularly interesting hero - in the shape of Ben Kingdom.

"The Battles of Ben Kingdom: The Claws of Evil" by Andrew Beasley is a novel for the 10+ age group, dipping into a genre that has exploded over the last decade and has fast become the go-to for folk (like me) who love their technology coal-fired.

Victorian London in Beasley's novel is a place rife with cool characters. Sherlock Holmes, The Artful Dodger and Ben himself - who ends up in the middle of an age-old battle between good and evil as he takes possession of a mysterious coin.

Aided by a force for good known only as "The Watchers", Ben Kingdom must defeat the dark evil of The Feathered Men to ensure the world doesn't fall into chaos.

Reading the premise, it definitely sounds like our cup of earl grey so we'll be following the progress of young Mr Kingdom with interest.

Keep an eye out for a review coming as soon as we can lay our claws of evil on a copy.
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#ReadItMD2013 - Library membership from birth? You betcha! Fees? Aww come on!!

It's a welcoming place even if you dribble and eat rusks!
As the fallout from the "Deary" debacle continues aflame on Twitter, several authors are now beginning to come round to the way of thinking that the current model for libraries is indeed outmoded and outdated and are talking up the possibility of introducing some sort of fee system.

At a point when libraries are woefully underfunded and underused, on paper a fee system or a way of raising the revenue made available to authors whose books grace the shelves sounds like a fairly good idea.

In practice, at a time when parents are scrabbling for every penny (parents like me, parents who aren't fortunate enough to earn a six figure sum or be able to waltz into their local independent bookshop and buy up their entire stock to keep our little ones amused), asking for money for something you already effectively pay for from your Council Tax contributions (which in our locale are going up again this year) might feel like a final kick in the teeth.

Libraries are free. They always have been, and though arguments against the current system speak of 'tradition' and 'old fashioned notions' the idea of a library is to be able to access a huge range of books for nothing.

It's very easy to completely fall on the side of being a budget-wary parent and feel that there's a certain element of greed going on here, after all we increasingly live in a world where virtually every other form of entertainment costs you in some way, shape or form.

I just can't see this suggestion working out well for anyone. Certainly not for libraries, who would see a demonstrable fall in visitors and footfall if fees were introduced. Certainly not for authors - if parents are unwilling to pay a library fee they're sure as hell not going to pay between £6-12 for your new book. Certainly not for children who would again end up deprived of a valuable resource that has always been there for them.

I rather like the current model of encouraging more library visits (and let's face it, this is what needs to happen - library customer numbers need to increase tenfold if not more, to ensure that the services can survive and are given priority in local and national government budgeting). The current model in several locales is to encourage parents right off the bat, as soon as their children are born, to sign up for free library membership. Our locale produces a neat little information pack encouraging parents to drop in and sign up their babies at the local library. Libraries also run incentive schemes, certificates and sticker charts so that kids (if not their parents) at least have the lure of the books and the added bonus of a 'reward' to look forward to if they become regular visitors.

It seems a shame that this debate is now raising the sort of questions from some authors sympathetic to Terry Deary's view that "MOAR MONEY" is somehow going to magically come their way if libraries start charging fees or start discouraging people from bothering to visit. There is a need for change but it's certainly not by nickel-and-diming your customers even further. They've been nickel-and-dimed enough.
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Little Red - A Favourite Tale With a Twist by David Roberts and Lynn Roberts (Pavilion Books)

It's another very busy week where we're extremely hard pressed to choose between some truly fabulous books for our coveted "Book of the Week".

Books like "Little Red - A Favourite Tale with a Twist" show that re-telling classic stories needn't mean merely treading in someone else's familiar footsteps so when I saw Charlotte pick out this, I figured we'd be in for yet another treatment of Little Red Riding Hood.

How wrong I was. My little girl obviously has brilliant taste as she managed to find a version of the story that delivered what it promised, a favourite tale with a twist.

Of course it would be rude of us to reveal what that twist actually is - we'd rather you went and read the book and found out for yourself, suffice to say that Little Red is actually a boy who takes a basket of treats to his lovely old grandmother once a week. Aside from the gender swap it's fairly familiar so far, right?

Of course you probably know how part of the rest of the story goes. Little Red is warned not to stray too far from the path to Granny's house, for fear of the wicked wolf that lives in the forest.

Little Red loves his Granny very much so when he spies some beautiful red apples just off the path, the stern advice previously given is completely forgotten.

We'd be dipping too far into spoiler territory to tell you much more but what struck us both with this book was how many exquisite little details and how many brilliant nods to other stories we see worked into "Little Red". You could spend all day picking out the rather harrowing faces in the trees (and in any wooden objects in the book's various beautifully designed and painted panels).

It's a gorgeous book, with a hint of the Tim Burton about it (no bad thing!) and a whole ton of charm. We've since heard that David and Lynn Roberts rather excel at this sort of reinvention of classic tales and have reworked several, including Cinderella rendered with a 70s disco theme. Now THAT we really must see!

Charlotte's best bit: She was so intrigued by finding all those knotty little faces on trees and wood, and also rather liked the (slightly gruesome) contents of Little Red's larder

Daddy's favourite bit: A brilliant retelling of a fairy tale that seems to be staple fodder for youngsters. Told in a new and interesting way but with classic artwork full of humour and detail.
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Spotlight on "Stories for my Little Sister" - a fantastic story site and brilliant blog

Pink Ethel, always packs her trunk before she goes on holiday!
Samantha and Diana are two story-loving sisters who contacted us to let us know all about their fantastic web site and blog "Stories For my Little Sister". Reading their letter to parents on the site instantly made me realise they were our favourite kind of folk. Book folk who can't wait to share their stories with the rest of the world.

Samantha (who writes) and her little sister Diana (who draws and loves Star Trek, so instantly wins us over!) have put the site and the resources together themselves completely free for parents and children to enjoy. I loved reading their bio which made me giggle and loved hearing that they (like us) grew up in an environment where a love of reading was encouraged and built on. Absolutely perfect for our #readitmummiesanddaddies2013 campaign! Yay!

So let's take a look at the site.

The lovely lass who graces the top of this post is Pink Ethel, an elephant who isn't quite sure she fits in (we know the feeling!) Read her story along with lots of others in the site's Books section. Lots of stories to enjoy (and best of all, the site works on an iPad or other PDF-enabled e-reader so you can enjoy the stories 'on the go' too!)

Along with stories, there are lots of other fun things to look at on the site. For instance, Harrison's Blog tells you all about a rather dashing little Hamster and his adventures. Dive in, you'll be surprised what the furry little fellah gets up to!

If you're a puzzle addict, the next section is just for you. There are lots of fun games, activities and resources to download and print out - particularly useful if your little ones are enjoying half term (Charlotte had hers last week but these are still great to print out for school activities or even to doodle away with in the car on a long journey!)

For budding artists there are lots of colouring and drawing activities to download and print in the next section. Break out your best crayons and colour the fabulous characters from Samantha and Diana's stories.

And there's still more! Wow! There are cards to print and colour too, for a whole range of occasions such as moving house, birthdays and fun parties. Make some hats to go with them and you're bound to have a brilliant time.

Last but by no means least, if you love the characters in the stories you can download some wallpapers to use as decorations on your desktop.

We loved this site, there's so much to see and do and though we only managed to take a very short look at each section we're very sure we'll be coming back for more activities, and to keep up with Harrison the Hamster on his blog.

Fab stuff Samantha and Diana, we LOVE what you do!

Charlotte's best bit: Annabella the Aardvark (who wants to be a rock star!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Such a packed site with a real love of stories and characters shining through with every click of the mouse. Utterly lovely!
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