Friday 31 May 2013

Bertie's ABC by The Storymouse (App Review)

Bertie's ABC - Squeaky-keen phonics for your youngsters!
Try as we might, we can't keep away from a good app so it was great to hear from The StoryMouse and to take a look at their phonics / early readers app "Bertie's ABC".

For those of you who haven't yet met Bertie the Guinea Pig he's the happy smiley little chap in our header image, and he's also the star of a series of children's storybook apps which you can find in the link below: (iPhone) (iPad)

Check those out but of course today don't miss out on Bertie's ABC as it's free on the app store: (iPhone) (iPad)

Diving into the app, it's very easy and intuitive to use with a good user interface (vitally important for kid apps) and nice clear speech and sounds (with lots of squeaks from Bertie himself).

The app is divided up into several minigames:

  • Bertie's ABC - Lots of rhymes and fun sounds as children learn their letters
  • Letters and Sounds - A more interactive way of listening to letters, learning them and using them
  • The Carrot Quiz, Big and Small (Capitals and lower case letters) and Matching Pairs - Some game fun to play with once kids get a bit worn out from wrestling with letters. 
The games are great fun, and it's a good idea to use them as mini 'rewards' for children after they've used the other more educational parts of the app.

There's lots of fun to be had with Bertie. Check out the apps (today if you can, as they're free!), and definitely check out Bertie's brilliant stories too. 

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Gum Girl - Tentacles of Doom by Andi Watson (Walker Books)

Every kid needs their own superhero. Even girls, who may love the luxurious dresses and tresses of Disney Princesses but now and again crave a kick-ass superhero instead.

So it's a good job we have folk like Andi Watson around to provide superheroes that are a lot less violent and a lot more child-friendly than anything you'll find nestling under DC or Marvel covers.

We absolutely loved the first volume of Gum Girl's adventures (in fact it was one of our book of the week nominations a little while ago) so we had to track down Volume II - Tentacles of Doom as quickly as possible.

Here. Gum Girl gets firmly into her stride as she deals with a dastardly octopus maths genius, a coughing spluttering and entirely evil santa and a dirt-dealing dust bunny.

It's easy to see why Gum Girl is popular - she's an ace crime fighter, she usually wades into situations and clears up nastiness where adults blindly ignore what's going on, and of course she's got a secret identity so for folk like me who grew up thrilling to the adventures of Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne independently, Gum Girl ticks all the right superhero standard boxes but also feels fresh, vibrant and full of delicious bubble-icous energy.

We'll definitely be picking up volume three without a doubt, and soon on the blog as part of our #ReadItMD13 theme we'll be taking a closer look at some of the world's best comics for younger children so stay tuned for that one.

Charlotte's best bit: Gum Girl's groovy (and sticky) gum boots

Daddy's favourite bit: The 'Santaland' story was ace, reminiscent of the debacle over the grotty santa theme park a few years back.

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ReaditDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 31st May 2013 - "Hilda and the Midnight Giant" by Luke Pearson (Nobrow Press)

How would you feel if one day you found out that the seemingly ordinary world around you was actually anything but, and the simplest actions you carried out day to day had a massive effect on an entire civilisation of unseen folk.

In "Hilda and the Midnight Giant" we once again cozy up with Luke Pearson's utterly sublime golden girl. You may remember we reviewed Hildafolk a little while ago (and yes, that was also 'Book of the Week' with good reason) and swore we'd be back to visit her atmospheric and gorgeous bookworld again soon.

So here we are, and Midnight Giant is every bit as good as we hoped it would be - even better in fact.

As before with Hildafolk, Hilda and the Midnight Giant - and Hilda herself of course - feel like stories that were created to address the gaping hole in the market of comics that both children and adults can enjoy on an equal footing.

Perhaps it's because they work as standalone stories. Perhaps it's because Luke Pearson both illustratively and textually treats his audience as intelligent human beings rather than resorting to dumbing down and explaining scenarios piece by piece (something we do, thankfully, see in a lot of the children's comics we are currently hoovering up with great gusto).

Perhaps it's also because Hilda and the Midnight Giant has a delicious dark tinge, that doesn't use cheap scares or psychological trickery to put children ill at ease but dishes up whacking great big chunks of solid storytelling that keep you hanging on every page turn.

"The Midnight Giant" sees Hilda and her mum living a fairly idyllic existence until several nasty incidents occur. Someone is throwing stones through their window, wrapped in threatening notes. Something is deeply wrong and it takes Hilda to become the conduit between the petty acts of vandalism and an entire society who see Hilda, her mum and their house as a gigantic blot on their landscape.

With a little help from a certain little wooden friend (Charlotte really, REALLY loves the Woodman) and the magical involvement of the hidden folk who eventually (after much paperwork and bureaucracy) reveal themselves, Hilda embarks on a mission to try and achieve detente.

There is a story that segues neatly with this quest, and it's the story that gives this beautiful comic its name. Who is the midnight giant and why does he appear and disappear without saying anything? What is going on? With Hilda's gift for befriending magical beings, there's only one way to find out.

Touching, entertaining, brilliantly told and illustrated, it goes without saying that we have an absolute NEED to polish off the series with "Hilda and the Bird Parade" and I've a sneaking suspicion that Luke Pearson might well make it a 'book of the week' hat trick.

Charlotte's best bit: Aside from her utterly funny reactions every time the little wooden guy crops up, she had a favourite bit but I can't reveal it to you without spoiling the story massively (emphasis on the word 'massively' there). Go read! You'll see what we mean!

Daddy's favourite bit: I loved the digs at red tape, and the mayor's utter hopelessness in this (and of course the mayor's rather funky cat thing!)

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Thursday 30 May 2013

Anorak Magazine Issue 28 is out. Time to sharpen your pencils and test your pens and get writing!

We Love Writing, writing is cool. Anorak Issue 28
Anorak Issue 28 dropped through our letterbox recently, and we've been busy delving into an issue devoted entirely to one of our favourite pursuits - Writing! Whether you choose to tap away at a typewriter, wrestle with a word processor or be poised to produce perfect prose with a pen, writing is part of our everyday lives and is vitally important to a child's early years development.

Inside Anorak you'll find some brilliant contributions from writers and artists such as Mike Hollingsworth, Joe Waldron, Anna Lindsten and Evgenia Barinova, tempting you to try out all sorts of writing exercises or just read some fabulously illustrated stories.

Of course, you also can't miss the brilliant Anorak standards and stories, and there are always lots of brilliant shopping ideas tucked away inside too. Best of all, you won't be hoovering up rubbishy plastic gimmicks, the magazine doesn't have them and doesn't need them - it's just fab and fantastic content that will engage your children's imaginations - perfect for the sort of weather we've been having lately when the kids are stuck for something to do.

You can find more details on the current issue, along with subscription details on the Anorak Website below:

Anorak Issue 28

Subscribe today!

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My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel and H.B. Lewis (Walker Books)

We like doing things the wrong way round here at ReadItDaddy. We've already reviewed the sequel to "My Penguin Osbert" (which is "My Penguin Osbert is in Love") so it would be rude not to go back to the original book and take a look, wouldn't it?

We find out just how Joe ended up with a penguin. It all started just before christmas when Joe, often disappointed by his presents not being quite what he asked for, wrote a very detailed letter to Santa describing exactly what he wanted. A Penguin. Not a toy penguin, a miniature penguin figurine, a penguin duvet or pencil case but a penguin. A real one.

Santa, of course, obliged and for a brief moment Joe thought it was the best christmas ever. But the practicalities of keeping a penguin at home aren't to be taken lightly. Joe soon finds out that Penguins eat bizarre things (who on earth has raw herring marmalade for breakfast!) and that they love playing out in the cold. Not for just a few minutes but for hour after hour after hour.

Joe very soon decides there's only one course of action. Write a heartfelt letter to Santa thanking him for his diligence and efficiency but, er, pointing out that perhaps an alternative present might've been better after all.

There's a twist - which we'll leave you to find out for yourselves (and of course if you are daft like us and read the sequel before the first book you'll already know what the twist is and how it pans out) but this is a lovely wintry book with a rather nice moral underpinning it. Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it and it might not be what you expected!

Charlotte's best bit: Osbert's rather disgusting diet. Ew!

Daddy's favourite bit: Joe's next christmas present. I want one!

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Wednesday 29 May 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week "Sequels and Series" - Why are series and sequels so important to young readers?

Can you imagine if the boy wizard's adventures began and ended in "The Philosopher's Stone" ?
In our continuing examination of this week's #ReadItMD13 theme of "Series and Sequels in children's books" (which we began with some brilliant book recommendations from folk we love to bits) I thought it would be good to talk in detail a bit more about how important book series can become to a young reader.

Like sliding into a pair of comfortable slippers, a familiar set of characters and settings with the added spice of new stories and experiences provides a young fledgeling reader with something vitally important to their emerging reading experiences. In one word, continuity.

Continuity is important for a few reasons. One, it helps a young reader to gain confidence. If they could read one book in a series, they're extremely likely to feel confident enough to tackle another - without the added reading overhead of having to sit through scene-setting, character definition and other things that stand in the way between the reader, the characters and the story at hand.

Book series also become parallels to other forms of information and entertainment children are exposed to. In children, 'collecting' behaviour starts even earlier than it ever has before, as quite often children will favour specific (and sometimes fairly narrowly focused) toy or activity lines. Similarly, they'll also often favour specific film or TV series.

When a book becomes popular enough to warrant a sequel (or indeed even an entire series) authors and illustrators have to balance the pressure of making something that's "as good as, if not better than the original" with the fairly comfortable scenario of being able to have the original work (and the volume of feedback they receive on it) as the jumping off point for the new book.

Getting back to the idea of continuity for children, "what happens next" is an incredibly powerful hook for a child. With Charlotte, quite often she'll readily accept new books, original books, books that are comfortably laid out in writing and illustrative rules or books that stick a size 10 doc marten straight through those rules while thumbing their noses at the rest. But sequels and series are quite often the books she gets most excited about, because with a well established series she has the luxury and certainty of knowing that "there's more where that came from" (For instance, with our recent readings of the utterly sublime "Hilda" comics, knowing there are books out there she hasn't read yet makes her more interested in the ones she's got and also makes her clamour for more. Bad for daddy's wallet but extremely good for the book business, hooray!)

As children get older, they become more interested in character evolution, perhaps even in series where a much loved / popular character is killed off and another takes up the reins.

For early readers though, and for parents like me who read to our children, series are  - as Clara Vulliamy so eloquently put it when the topic came up this morning on Twitter - like being able to look forward to a fabulous box set of a TV series. With her own well established and hugely popular "Bunny Brothers" book series, we have the delight of knowing that we can trace Martha and her brother's adventures through several books and wait on the edge of our seats in anticipation of the next.

I'd love to hear comments from authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers and parents on what they think of book series - whether they think they're extremely useful to early readers or perhaps even one or two comments about book series that have perhaps outstayed their welcome. Drop in and join in!
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Louis - Night Salad by Metaphrog (Metaphrog Publishing)

It's definitely our week for dancing on the surreal side of life this week, and what better way to do so than in the company of Metaphrog. The mysterious comic publishing alt-beast is the genius hive mind behind "Louis", a shiny headed character who looks a little bit like me but that (I'm glad to say) is where the comparison ends.

In "Night Salad" you have a comic that really is a bit too 'old' for Charlotte's age group (not that any of the content is particularly iffy, it's just that it's a fairly hard comic to get into coming to it completely cold).

Yet, like other works that dabble in the surreal, "Night Salad" is soon picked up and run with. Louis' birdy friend F.C is involved in an awful accident while Louis is tending to his day to day job of growing pineapples (I'm seriously giving you the loosest interpretation of events here as it's really between you and the mighty Metaphrog where you go with this). Poor FC ends up lying listlessly in his (rather cool and hoopy) cage as Louis tries to obtain help, endlessly working under the gaze of a rather creepy and sinister boss (now that bit sounds familiar).

At one point we were reading this and I turned to Charlotte and said "Are you getting this?" and she rolled her eyes at me (in that worldly way 5 year olds do) and said "Yes Daddy, just get on with reading it!"

If you struggle to read comics aloud to your children, you will really struggle with Louis - because at times the text feels like the crazed insecticide-laced "Naked Lunch" style ramblings of William S. Burroughs crossed with nursery-rhyme style moral lessons. We persevered, and "Night Salad" revealed its rewards as a series of touching, almost painfully emotional set pieces between Louis and the other characters in the story. When it clicks, it clicks hard and grips you with a grip of cast iron. There will be a point where you, as an adult, will sneak off to read "Louis: Night Salad" on your own because you'll want to make sure that the grains of truth and the harshest realities woven into its seemingly child-like facade are about what you think they're about (you name it, this covers it - everything from the loss of loved ones to the harsh wage-slave life that some if not all of us lead or have lead at one time or another).

It's quite unlike any other child-friendly comic I've ever seen. It's brainy stuff, it's wholly involving and I imagine you will NOT be allowed to put this down once you've started reading it with and to your child.

Charlotte's best bit: She was taken with, and quite upset by FC's accident and illness. Poor FC!

Daddy's favourite bit: The whole interplay with the boss. I have had bosses like that. If you've ever wondered whether a comic for kids can show you the evil of psychological bullying and manipulation, wonder no more. It's in here and a lot more besides.

(Kindly sent to us for review by the mighty Metaphrog!)
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The Tragic Tale of Dwayne the Eating Monster by Valentina Mendicino (Top That! Publishing)

Fab books about monsters probably make up about 3/4 of our current book collection but there's always room for one more. Even a very hungry fellow like Dwayne, the star of this colourful and cartoony lift the flap book.

Dwayne is always hungry. You name it, he'll eat it (yes, even Grandma's overcooked cabbage!) and of course because Dwayne is a gastronome of some repute, he needs a constant supply of food glorious food!

So when Dwayne's cupboards are bare, he turns to other sources of sustenance. Even the neighbour's cat (and kids) aren't safe from Dwayne's rapacious appetite!

Valentina's beautifully designed book has lots of interesting 'lift the flap' pages as you try to guess what Dwayne has guzzled. There are lots of great surprises for younger children as they use the pages and clues before revealing what's tucked up inside Dwayne's tum.

As Dwayne's eating goes horribly out of control, Dwayne gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger - and soon he's consuming entire cities. What happens when he gets too big for our humble little planet?

We'll let you find out by diving in. With lovely colourful foodie illustrations, and Dwayne himself - the star of the show, there's lots of fun to be had with this book. Just don't try eating famous landmarks at home!

Charlotte's best bit: Dwayne eating the poor moggie and doggie! Naughty Dwayne!

Daddy's favourite bit: A great 'lift the flap' idea, with lovely clear and delicious looking illustrations.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Top That! Publishing)
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Tuesday 28 May 2013

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (Andersen Children's Books)

Children have a wonderful capacity for dealing with the surreal. It might seem like an unfair test, but if your child can find joy in "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" and it can consume them for an evening, discussing the tiny fragments of story that can, with a little imagination, be pieced together into something larger and all-conquering, then I think you've done a pretty durned fine job of raising your little ones and I tip my metaphorical hat to you.

"The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg, a man more famous for his seminal Christmas story "The Polar Express", tempts you to dive into stories in a wholly original way. Mythical mysteries pieced together from the drawings and (some might say insane) ramblings of one Harris Burdick, Van Allsburg's strange and other-worldly tome can lift the heart, appear somewhat sinister, or invite the reader and viewer on a magical journey.

When you consider that, within its pages, each disjointed snippet of text accompanied by utterly lovely monochromatic illustrations, feeds you with the tiniest of tiny sparks to turn into a raging inferno of story, it's an approach that demands involvement. In effect, Van Allsburg is handing over the reins to you at the earliest opportunity to finish the chronicles in whichever way you see fit.

I took the approach of discussing the text. As beautiful as the images are, and as involving and atmospheric as they are, the text has the power here and the whole 'tone' of the illustration can change simply from one single line. For instance, the cover piece (you can see a bit of it in our header image) could mean anything but the accompanying text speaks of a magical journey to the amazing palace you can just about make out in the distance.

What's interesting about this book is that there now exist real stories to accompany the images. Chris Van Allsburg, along with a brace of famous authors including Lemony Snicket, Stephen and Tabitha King, Cory Doctorow and others have delved into The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and have given their own interpretations of the original text and pictures (with varying levels of success).

In my opinion, none match the things that Charlotte came up with for these. A child's unhurried uncluttered imagination speaks of worlds and of beings we couldn't possibly conjure up and her brilliant take on each image (particularly the one of the 'flying nun' which was A) wholly irreverent and B) nearly made me snort tea out of my nose) eclipsed anything I could've come up with.

This book is utterly magical. It demands a lot but the reward is utterly incredible. Get it.

Charlotte's best bit: The flying nun story. Apparently (I didn't realise this) but Nuns hide jetpacks under their habits. That explains EVERYTHING!

Daddy's favourite bit: It's like a construction kit for stories where you're given a tiny tiny piece and asked to build the whole teeming cityscape of the rest of the story out of your grey matter. Utterly enchanting and wonderful!
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Underwater Farmyard by Carol-Ann Duffy and Joel Stewart (Macmillan Children's Books)

"As I walked, I dreamt of deep green oceans"

There's something completely intoxicating about imagining life below the waves, far from the rain-lashed landscape we currently dwell in. But what if below the briny there was a farm, complete with aquatic farm animals tended by mermaid milkmaids, chomping on the delicious salty seaweed?

In "Underwater Farmyard" the beautiful poetic text weaves a tale of just such a place. Where sheep gently bob up and down on the undercurrent, circled by gleaming colourful fish.

Sea-cows live there also, and the underwater sheepdog silently watches his wards as day turns into night, and all the underwater animals bed down on their damp straw.

This is a lovely book - and if your mind turns to space instead of the beautiful briny deep, there is a follow-up book set on the moon called "Moon Zoo" which is equally brilliant too!

Charlotte's best bit: The beautiful mermaid milking the sea cows

Daddy's favourite bit: A nice original animal book idea, loved the rhymes and Joel's lovely atmospheric under-the-seascapes. Submarine and sublime!
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In support of Save the Children - a post on how nutrition directly affects child literacy.

12 Year old Nguoth in class, Wechpuot Primary School, Jonglei State, East Sudan 
Save the Children is an international charity behind a campaign to end hunger in our generation. In a few weeks time, world leaders will meet in the UK to make decisions that could have a direct impact on child poverty worldwide.

The Big IF is the name of the campaign, the aim is to stop over 200 childen PER HOUR dying in conditions of poverty and malnutrition.

Please visit the campaign's main page here and please take a moment to sign the petition on the page too.

Britmums are hosting a Food for Thought Twitter party between 1-2 PM today if you'd like to join in the discussion. Here's a direct link to the details:

Britmums Twitter Party

Last but by no means least, here's a very thought provoking infographic that illustrates what the campaign is about. Particularly poignant is the section on how malnourished children are 20% less able to read, simply for want of a square meal a day. Please support this campaign. If we get behind it, it truly could make a heck of a difference to children like Nguoth, who now has some of the support he needs to continue his learning journey. Please please help, so that others can have that same chance.

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#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Sequels and Series. Just one is never enough!"

Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski's fabulous "Meg and Mog"
This week on #ReadItMD13 we asked our faithful Twitterati to tell us their favourite children's books that are part of a series, or have sequels. You did not let us down, and we've had some fantastic recommendations which we'll come to in a second.

Book series are wildly popular, because parents and children learn to 'trust' a set of well known characters, and they're curious to know what they get up to next. Some of the biggest selling children's books are often part of a series, and some authors and illustrators are experts at spinning new yarns involving characters that have been loved by children for generations.

Series books are seen as important by reading experts too. If a child knows a particular set of characters, they can learn with those characters, increasing the level of their own self reading successfully as the stories grow in complexity. Biff Chip and Kipper (love 'em or hate 'em) are part of a huge collection of early readers / phonics books and despite the odd naysayer, these books have proved wildly popular and extremely useful as the springboard for children to leap into their own reading adventures.

Without further ado though, I'm going to pass over to the wonderful Twitter folk who responded to our call for their fave children's book series. Take it away, folks!

Jake Hayes (@tygertales)

"Mortal Engines and Mr Gum"

Paula Harrison (author of the Rescue Princesses @P_Harrison99

"We got a lot of fun out of the Meg and Mog books!" (We love them very much too!)

Colin West (Poet extraordinaire @mooseandmouse)

"Frog and Toad - Best double act since Laurel and Hardy!"

Booka Uhu (@bookauhu)

"The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, Deepwoods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell and Protector of the Small by Tamama Pierce!"

Catherine Friess (@cjfriess)

"The Rescue Princesses and Kipper - and Winnie the Witch!"

Simon Tuck (@thebigshoe)

"The My Daddy series! Exceptional! Trailblazing! Spectacular" (and he wrote them so he should know :)

Damyanti Patel (@damyantipatel)

"The Fairy Detective Agency series starting off with Operation Bunny"

Anne Thompson (@alilibrarylady)

"The Claude and Sir Bobbysocks series by Alex T. Smith"

Helen Dineen (@aitcheldee)

"Katie Morag and Sir Charlie Stinkysocks"

Anne-Marie (@childledchaos)

"Martha and the Bunny Brothers by Clara Vulliamy and Hugless Douglas by David Melling" (Hooray! Love 'em!)

We also love: 

Doctor Dog by Babette Cole

Doctor Ted (yes I know, bit of a theme going here!) by Pascal Lemaitre

Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton

The Little Princess by Tony Ross

Miffy by Dick Bruna

Richard Scarry's animal tales

Hilda by Luke Pearson

Gum Girl by Andi Watson

'Sometimes' and 'Just Because' by Rebecca Elliott

Elmer by David McKee

Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence

Any more for any more? Drop a comment in the box below, thanks superchamps!

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Friday 24 May 2013

Murilla Gorilla - Jungle Detective by Jennifer Lloyd and Jacqui Lee (Simply Read Books)

This is a very interesting little book that popped through our letterbox, courtesy of Simply Read Books. Interesting because at first glance it would be a very very easy book to completely misjudge. A Gorilla detective eh? OK that's fairly novel. But dive in and you discover lots of really cool things.

1) She's a lady - whoah whoah whoah she's a lady
2) She's no Mme Ramotswe by any means but she runs her own detective agency
3) She's slightly disorganised and takes a while to get a handle on a situation but once she does, she's as sharp as a tack.

Murilla Gorilla is potentially one of the most interesting children's book characters in a long time, and Jennifer Lloyd needs to be congratulated for creating a character, a setting and stories that have broad appeal across genders and age groups (though this book is aimed at 6-8 year olds there's absolutely no reason whatsoever that you can't read its 'chapterised' format to younger children. Charlotte absolutely ate it up!)

The story concerns a mysterious muffin theft from Ms Chimpanzee's stall. Murilla Gorilla is called to the scene, and after a slightly slow start (hilarity ensues as we see that Murilla's morning routine is pretty similar to ours. WHERE ARE MY CAR KEYS? Oh they're in the microwave, of course!) Murilla discovers lots of interesting clues around Ms Chimpanzee's stall.

Strange hand-like footprints are the first clue. Who might have feet like that?
Then there are crumbs (mmm, tasty muffin crumbs) so after Murilla makes a quick note, she rather unprofessionally scoffs the evidence!

The trail goes slightly cold until Murilla Gorilla comes up with a fabulous plan to lure the muffin thief out of hiding. Will this genius plan work?

We'll leave you to discover the answer for yourselves. This book really feels fresh, exciting and it's hilariously funny and we won't shut up about it until you've checked it out. Murilla Gorilla is utterly fab!

Watch out for her next adventure, Murilla the Gorilla and the Lost Parasol. Coming very soon!

Charlotte's best bit: Tracing the footprint trails with her finger, and laughing very loudly at where Murilla's detective badge ended up.

Daddy's favourite bit: A brilliant broad-appeal book that both girls AND boys will love. Mums and Dads seem to think that boys won't read a book with a female lead? They really need to try this book, in that case. It's ace!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simply Read Books)

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ReadItDaddy's Book(s) of the Week - Week Ending 24th May 2013 - "64 Zoo Lane Zed the Zebra / Georgina the Giraffe" by An Vrombaut (Hodder Children's Books)

At ReadItDaddy Towers we don't really get a lot of time to watch TV but when Charlotte was a tiny tiddler, the lure of CBeebies was too tempting at times (particularly on 'stay at home daddy days' when I needed to cook, do a pile of washing, and make sure C wasn't getting up to mischief!)

Most parents will know the theme tune to 64 Zoo Lane as soon as they hear those opening bars, and the children's singing voices. It could drive you quietly mad but there's something very soothing about it, actually!

So here we are then, looking at Hodder's fantastic reprints of An Vrombaut's 64 Zoo Lane stories and it's testament to how great these books are, that you could live in complete ignorance of the show and still absolutely love these stories to bits.

An's eye for great animal characters comes to the fore in the two stories we read. Georgina the Giraffe (the rather splendid 'slide' that Lucy, the main character in the 64 Zoo Lane stories, uses every night to get into the zoo she lives next door to) and Zed the Zebra are just two of the range of stories now being reprinted (we also utterly and completely love Snowbert the Polar Bear - which gives me a great excuse to read stories in my mock swedish accent).

In 'Georgina the Giraffe' we find out what happens when poor Georgina gets rather over-excited one day and ends up with a painful knot in her neck. What on earth can she do? Luckily the two cheeky monkeys know a mysterious character who is a dab hand at untying knots.

In 'Zed the Zebra', the rather show-offy Zed is brought down a peg or two when he challenges all the other animals to a race. He thinks he's the fastest runner on the Savannah, but like the hare in the famous 'hare and tortoise' fable, he brags and boasts of an easy win all too soon, and realises that friendship and teamwork are far more important than showing off.

Both books are beautifully written, illustrated and presented (and if you never quite got the hang of the 64 Zoo Lane song, the lyrics are thoughtfully printed at the back of the book for you to sing along with!)

Surprisingly, I thought these books might be a bit too 'young' for Charlotte but she loved both stories and demanded them again and again. They are brilliant and it's good to see them being reissued for a whole new audience to enjoy.

Charlotte's best bit: In 'Georgina the Giraffe' - Tracing Georgina's long windy neck as she stretches and twists (and ends up in a knot, eek!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Zed the Zebra's go faster stripes! Whizz Bang!

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

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Thursday 23 May 2013

Melusine - Love Potions by Gilson and Clarke (Cinebook)

5 years before "The Boy Who Lived" stunned the world with his lightning-flash scar and messy hair, and of course his exploits at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, a young witch by the name of Melusine attended a rather less famous school of Witchcraft - as the star of Gilson and Clarke's fabulous collection of comics.

In 'Melusine - Love Potions' the young witch finds herself dealing with the ooh-la-la world of lovestruck folk (and creatures) as she fulfils her role as au-pair and general dogsbody at Hernyvanz Castle. The gorgeous flame-haired Melusine weaves magic spells in these short but sweet comic strips, helping everyone from an ugly troll-faced guy to snag the girl of his dreams, to a lovesick dragon with a rather embarrassing case of the burps.

This collection brings together a whole host of syndicated Melusine strips, and introduces us to some of the other characters that were (and still are) regulars in the comics, including Melusine's crazy old Aunt Adrazelle and her best friend (read: person she's most likely to turn into a frog) Melisande.

It's crazy knockabout stuff, not at all along the serious tones of the Harry Potter novels but belying its Belgian origins, it's a comic that you can just about squeak past the kids (without them asking too many awkward questions) but has a heck of a lot of very tongue in cheek humour that adults will enjoy a nudge and a wink from. In our constant quest for kid-friendly comics, this is has been a pleasant discovery that makes us want to hunt out the other Melusine collections that are available (there are quite a few!) If we're brutally honest, we think Melusine could run rings around Hermione!

Charlotte's best bit: Melusine's fabulous red hair (and slightly dubious success rate with spells)

Daddy's favourite bit: A fantastic fun-filled knockabout comic strip with a goodly dose of magical appeal. If your children loved Harry Potter, they'll definitely love Melusine and she was here first!

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Random House Children's Books announce the Sony Young Movellist of the Year Shortlist (in association with Movellas)

Random House popped up this morning to tell us that the final shortlist of ten teens in the Sony Young Movellist of the Year competition have now been officially announced.

Here's a quick rundown of the ten teens, their inspiration and their stories:

WINGS by Danielle Paige, 16 from Norfolk 

"Malorie Blackman is incredible. I find her writing style to be very unique and original, and I admire her greatly. Her books just seem to flow perfectly."

MY CORRUPTED LUNGS by Kyra Schlachter. 16 from Essex

“I see Movellas as not just a writing site, but a community as well, because we're all working towards a common goal. I found that I could really connect with the people there! The website is supremely easy and quick to use, and the forums provide me with a quick way to gain solid feedback and a range of perspectives on my work”.

GIRL WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Emma Yeo, 17 from Tyne and Wear

“It would mean so much to me to win, to have the novel I dreamed up in the back of my mind out there in the world, but even if I don’t just to know that people are reading my stories here on Movellas makes me happy.”

NAME UPON YOUR WRIST by Helen Hiorns, 19 from Coventry

“I’m amazed that I’ve been given this chance, particularly because I only found out about the competition eight days before the deadline and wrote the 40k needed to finish my novel in a mad rush – needless to say, I didn’t leave the flat much that week”.

THE LIVES WE LIVE by Edie Dams, 14 from Brighton

“Being published before I was considered ‘an adult’ would just be amazing – a dream come true.”

THE ART OF FORGETTING by Warona Jolomba., 16 from Warwickshire

“Malorie Blackman is one of the writers that has made me love writing, imagining and creating stories and making them become a reality.”

THE THORN IN MY FLESH by Alexandra Morley. 19 from Kingston

“Being published by RH would mean an absolute bag of gold to me, it would be everything I want and more and it would be such an honour from such a brilliant company”

GIFT: THE REBELLION by Saskia Ross, 16 from Buckinghamshire

“I've been really active on Movellas, more than i thought I’d be. I've been struggling to find a writing website i could call home since my usual one was sold, as everywhere else was just too big! Here though, i feel like you can really strike up a friendship with someone and get to know them.”

I DARE YOU by Molly Looby, 18 from Essex

“Movellas is a very friendly place where no one seems afraid to share their ideas because they know they'll receive constructive criticism and encouragement so they could feel good about themselves and their writing.”

THE MENDACII KEY by Annabel Green, 15 from Somerset

“I have always found her [Malorie Blackman] one of the most inspirational writers of our time. Her writing reflects such understanding of humanity that it makes me crave to see the world through her eyes. She has inspired me to

break new boundaries and write about things I may find shocking or simply unthinkable. I can think of no better person to be heading this competition.”

The winners will be announced at a glamorous ceremony at King's Place London, sponsored by the Sony ReaderStore.

We wish the finalists the very best of luck. Keeeeeeep writing!
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One Night Far From Here by Julia Wauters (Flying Eye Books)

Once again, Flying Eye books reinforce their position as being the purveyors of the most delectable and beautiful books with this fabulous bestiary, entitled "One Night, Far From Here".

Rendered in subtle reduced palettes, Julia Wauter's book deliciously envelops the reader in a multi-layered magical journey through the world, looking at the flora and fauna found in various amazing locations.

It's more than just an animal book though. The beautifully written prose compliments the fabulous idea of using transparencies that are (hopefully delicately) turned over, to reveal the layers of wildlife hidden within the book's huge spreads.

Each illustration is packed full of detail as your child discovers (and hopefully names) each of the species in the book.

We particularly loved the size of this (our bookcase may not, but we do) - Huge spreads that are just begging to be explored. It's the next best thing, in book form, to bringing the whole wide beautiful world into the comfort of your own home. Utterly and completely enchanting, just like the rest of Flying Eye's increasingly impressive range of titles.

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting lots of butterflies and moths. If ever there was a girl born to be a Lepidopterist, it's her!

Daddy's favourite bit: A wholly beautiful and unique book. It's almost too beautiful to put away with the other books in a book case, it's begging to be left out in the lounge on show!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bounce / Flying Eye Books)
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Eleanor's Eyebrows by Timothy Knapman and David Tazzyman (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

As anyone who has been the unfortunate recipient of a stag do 'prank' may tell you, eyebrows are extremely useful.

The young girl in this tale doesn't think so though. Eleanor thinks eyebrows are just useless bits of fluff that clutter up your face. After all, eyes are useful for seeing, mouths are great for tasting and eating, a nose can sniff out a lovely smell or a nasty niff and ears are good for hearing. But eyebrows? Why are they even there.

After Eleanor's extended rant, her eyebrows decide they know where they're not wanted, and wriggle off in search of more gainful employment.

Perhaps they can become performing 'caterpillars' or even the wheels on a fabulous motorbike?

Meanwhile Eleanor discovers that a face without eyebrows is a very odd face indeed. So in her desperation, and after a rather unfortunate incident with dear Grandma, Eleanor draws her own eyebrows with her felt tips and crayons (Ladies, I have a newly found respect for you if you pluck and draw on your own eyebrows. How on earth do you manage all that in a mirror?)

Poor Eleanor realises too late that eyebrows ARE useful and that she misses her own dearly. Is it too late to win them back? We'll let you find out when you read the book.

This is an extremely funny and whacky book that children will find an absolute giggle from start to finish (we just hope it doesn't give them any silly ideas about drawing on their own faces or borrowing mum's epilator to see off their own eye-fuzz - OWCH!)

Charlotte's best bit: Eleanor's Grandma being horrified at a no-eyebrow granddaughter.

Daddy's favourite bit: Brilliantly written and nice chaotic illustrations, a very original idea!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster)
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Wednesday 22 May 2013

The ReaditDaddy Interview with Ben H. Winters, Author of "The Last Policeman" and the second book in the trilogy, "Countdown City" (Quirk Books)

Ben H. Winters. Looking very relaxed for a man who brought about the end of the world
 Here at ReadItDaddy we've loved Ben H. Winters' "The Last Policeman" books (and you can check out our reviews of Book 1 and Book 2 here). So we were delighted when the man himself agreed to an interview.

ReaditDaddy: Hi Ben and congratulations on the success of "The Last Policeman" and on the publication of the next book in the trilogy "Countdown City" - Tell us a little bit about yourself and your books.

Ben H. Winters: A little bit about myself: I’m your basic bassist-turned comedian-turned-journalist-turned-playwright-turned-novelist. I’ve lived all over the United States (and, during college, in Oxford, England, for a year) and have landed for now in Indianapolis, Indiana. My wife is a law professor, and we’ve got three small kids.

A little bit about my books: I’ve written in various “categories”, as the marketing folks like to say, from humorous nonfiction to supernatural thriller. But The Last Policeman and its sequels feel, to me, like the kind of writing I will do for my career, which I guess I would call serious-minded genre fiction. Big plots, big situations, big ideas. 

ReaditDaddy: Tell us about your typical 'writing' day - what gets you up and motivated in the morning?

Ben H. Winters: In terms of what gets me up in the morning, you may refer back to the three small kids mentioned in answer #1 (Yep, we wholly identify with that - ed). 

But, usually, between family responsibilities and teaching gigs, I get about three or four hours of strictly writing time a day, and I have evolved over the years a rather complicated system of using that time productively: I divide the hours into distinct blocks of time, and then assign each time block a specific task. I try not to think in terms of word counts (“I must write 1500 words today!”) but rather in terms of substantive time spent (“I must spend three hours today inside the world of this book!”) It works for me, and I’ve gotten a bit crazy about it.

ReaditDaddy: We don't mind telling you that we found "The Last Policeman" unputdownable (I still haven't caught up with the night's sleep I lost because I just could not bear not to finish it in one sitting, and went straight back in for a second reading too!) Why do you think the book has struck such a chord with people?

Ben H. Winters: Thank you so much, and I hope that you find Countdown City and the third one, which I’m writing now, to be as compelling. 

I think the chord I’ve struck is the one that we all share, every single one of us: we will die one day. You will and I will and all of your readers will and so will all of mine. 

All The Last Policeman does is make it specific: Not just, we are born to die, but we are born to die on October 3 of this year. So, uh, now how do you live? Now how seriously do you take your job, your mortgage, your wedding vows? Something about weaving those questions in to a classic tough-guy-noir storyline resonated with people.

ReaditDaddy: Hank Palace is a fascinating character, really focused on duty despite facing the inevitable end of the world. Did you base him on anyone in particular?

Ben H. Winters: I did not consciously base this character on anyone, but it has been pointed out to me in retrospect that he bears a strong resemblance in certain ways to my father. His career was not in law enforcement, but my dad is quite rigorous in his sense of commitment to responsibilities, of all kinds; the sort of man to very carefully check and double-check that he’s left a fair tip on a restaurant bill, while everybody else is impatiently waiting. 

There’s more than a bit of that in my man Hank.

ReaditDaddy:  Not sure if you're allowed to answer this but we hear rumours that "The Last Policeman" could end up as a TV series. Any flesh to put on those bones or are you sworn to secrecy? (We loved the idea of Jim True-Frost as Palace btw! Absolutely bang on the nail!)

Ben H. Winters: I can’t tell you much, not because I’m sworn to secrecy, but because I don’t really know anything. A well-established production company has taken the option, they are developing it, and hopefully it will one day be on a pilot, which would hopefully one day be a TV show. Which’ll be great if it happens, of course, but I try to carry the whole Hollywood-comes-calling side of this career in the basket marked that would be nice, as opposed to the one marked things that will definitely pay my mortgage.

ReaditDaddy: You're a busy bee, with novels and writing for stage in a constant cycle. We're a children's book blog but we obviously read and review other things too - any thoughts on writing for children? (heck of a tough audience!)

Ben H. Winters: Oh, indeed. I’ve actually written two novels for young readers—The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman and a sequel, The Mystery of the Missing Everything, both published by HarperCollins here in the US. 

They feature a dogged and idiosyncratic seventh-grade girl named Bethesda Fielding; in the first one, she discovers that her nerdy band teacher was once a punk-rock singer. I love writing for kids, and I certainly intend to do more, especially as my own little ones get older and begin to engage with real books.

ReaditDaddy: How does it feel to write something that people have set in their minds has a fairly predictable end (After all, The Last Policeman is set in a world shortly before a massive meteor will wipe out all life on the planet). How do you keep building the element of surprise?

Ben H. Winters: Hopefully what keeps this trilogy interesting is that though we do know how it ends, in the big-picture sense, each of the three novels has its own complete story, a mystery that is discovered, reasoned out, and solved, against the backdrop of the impending doom. 

So we’re invested in seeing Palace do his thing, and all the ways the doomsday threat impedes his work, and—again, hopefully—we’re also invested in watching him struggle to remain tough and true to his values as the world inches toward chaos.

ReaditDaddy: So one night you come home and on the 6 o'clock news there's an announcement that a gigantic meteorite will wipe out all life on earth in six months. What would you do? :)

Ben H. Winters: I always wish I had a more interesting answer to this question, and I think the problem is I’m just not that interesting of a person—I mean, hopefully my work is interesting, but I have no secret desire to do daredevil tricks or fight a polar bear. If I was suddenly on this limited time frame, I think I would hunker down with my family, probably keep some sort of diary and then go bury it in the yard before the big day, on the off chance that humanity survives (which it probably would not), I can have contributed in some way to the slow rebuilding of the species.

ReaditDaddy: Fantastic stuff, and thank you very much for a fascinating interview and insight into what you do. We absolutely cannot wait for Book 3 :)

Update: Massive congratulations to Ben for his recent Edgar win for 'The Last Policeman' - Well done and great acceptance speech! 

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Just 2 weeks left to enter the Munch Bunch Munch Time Story writing competition!

The Munchtime 2013 Story Competition is still open and you've still got time to enter, over at (UK Residents) or (Ireland).

Here's the lovely Tamzin Outhwaite reading a bedtime story (If Tamzin is reading this, if you could pop over and read "Dear Zoo" to me before I drift off to sleep, that'd be lovely!) and also a video of Tamzin interviewing previous Munchtime Story Competition winners. 

If you've got a story buzzing around in your brain, pop on over. Take a look at our previous post on the competition here. 

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A ReadItDaddy 'Daddy' review of Countdown City (The Last Policeman Book II) by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

Waiting for a star to fall?
We've previously reviewed the utterly fantastic "The Last Policeman" here at ReadItDaddy and we were delighted when Mat Archer got in touch to offer us the chance to take a look at Book II.

Ben H. Winters has obviously been a very busy man, polishing off the trilogy and various other writing in progress.

So "What did Hank Palace Do Next?"

We'll try to avoid specific spoilers for this book and "TLP" simply because we want you to get the maximum enjoyment out of Ben H. Winters' fantastic works. Here though the relatively normal and somewhat calm world of "TLP" gives way to the eroding of society, the slow drip-feed of inevitability as once again the world quivers in anticipation of a massive meteorite strike.

In "Countdown City" Ben H. Winters continues to chip away at all the things we hold dear and take for granted. In Hank Palace's world, people have gone "Bucket List" - their way of coping with impending doom is to go off and do crazy stuff. Anything but deal with the here and now, and the thought that as our various frameworks and infrastructures break down and dissipate, people show their true colours and either cope or give in.

Hank Palace, forcibly retired from the Police Force, still assumes the role of investigator and what at first seems like a fairly obvious missing persons case develops into something more far-reaching and sinister.

Hank doggedly pursues his lines of inquiry as the rest of the world either slowly rolls over and plays dead, or digs in with gritty determination that somehow there will be survivors of the impact. The more you read about Hank Palace, the more you realise that his single-mindedness is yet another form of human madness - albeit a more subtle one, one that's perhaps equally as sinister as the bucketlisters or the folk who abandon family and friends to quietly go insane elsewhere.

As Hank's latest case unfolds, we learn how he copes with grief (particularly events that unfolded in "The Last Policeman" and carry through into "Countdown City" as quiet sub-plots intertwined with the main grist of the storyline).

Above all though, the novel is utterly addictive and compelling - in some ways for the same reasons the original book was (for the questions it raises in your own mind - what WOULD you do if this happened?) but in other ways because it delves further into our own concept of civilisation and what happens when something puts a giant size 10 boot through everything we rely on and hold dear. Simple things like the availability of coffee (I think for me, this was probably one of the most harrowing messages conveyed in "Countdown City" - that a cataclysmic event such as the meteorite strike would pretty much scupper your ability to grab your daily caffeine fix!)

The plot this time round is darker, more disturbing - and though we still think of Hank Palace as a heroic and solid character who seems to be a lone voice of calm rationality in a world rapidly going to hell, in truth he's anything but. We also get to see first hand his fragility in the face of characters who truly have nothing to lose. As "Countdown City" draws to a fairly quiet close with little over a month and a half left before the meteorite strike, there are many plot threads left untied, and the overall sense that Hank still has his own inner demons to slay.

With book 3, we really cannot wait to see how Winters ties together the loose ends, and presents us with what should be a fantastic, cataclysmic finale. I wouldn't want to be under the sort of pressure he must be feeling right now, to deliver a conclusion that both satisfies and is on a grand enough scale to end a trilogy that has rocked my world, and so many other people's worlds too.

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Tuesday 21 May 2013

#ReadItMD13 - "Celebrating Inclusive and Diverse Children's Books" - An interview with Beth Cox and Alex Strick - #InclusiveMinds

Inclusive Minds - Specialists in diverse and inclusive books
We were lucky enough to "meet" Beth Cox, of Inclusive Minds on Twitter (one of these days our hectic schedules will let us meet up for a break for coffee, promise!)

Beth - a freelance editor specialising in inclusive and diverse children's books, is now one half of Inclusive Minds. Along with Alex Strick, they provide a consultancy for publishers and individuals involved directly and indirectly with children's books and publications. 

Beth (with input from Alex) at Inclusive Minds has kindly agreed to an interview with us, as part of this week's theme. 

ReadItDaddy:  Hi there and thanks for joining in with our #ReaditMD13 theme week celebrating diverse and inclusive children's books. Tell us a little bit about yourself and Inclusive Minds.

Beth @ Inclusive Minds:  Well I'm a freelance editor and consultant specialising in diversity and inclusion. i went freelance two years ago, after nearly eight years working for the wonderful Child's Play, and earlier this year founded Inclusive Minds with fellow consultant Alexandra Strick. Although Inclusive Minds is a new project, it's been in our hearts and minds of the founders for a long time. Inclusive Minds is a collective which aims to bring together all those interested in diversity, inclusion, equality and accessibility in publishing, in the hope that, together, we can make a real difference. We're working on projects such as a special edition of Write 4 Children Journal and speaking at a number of conferences. We are also involved in the development of a groundbreaking tactile book that will be published in early 2014.

ReadItDaddy: We consider ourselves relative newcomers to the amazing world of diverse and inclusive books but we've discovered some fabulous books through your recommendation and those of others passionate about them. We're going to put you on the spot here and ask for 5 book recommendations that you think get it absolutely 'right'

Beth @ Inclusive Minds:  This is tricky - we're very picky customers, and many times think we've found the perfect book only to find something that really lets it down. However, we don't want to be negative. There are a lot of fabulous books out there and publishers are really starting to do some great things.

  • One, two, three… Run! by Carol Thompson and published by Child's Play (out next month) is a great example of inclusion of a disabled child. The book features two main characters, running through fields and puddles, doing things that any small child would love, but one of them happens to have Down's Syndrome.
  • Lulu Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn, published by Alanna Books is another casually inclusive books that stars a black family (rarer than you might think) with the dad being the primary carer. Lulu doesn't conform to gender stereotypes and enjoys a bit of DIY as much as dressing up as a fairy.
  • Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, published by Hot Key Books, is an absolutely stunning book. Not only is the protagonist dyslexic, but it features (spoiler alert) a same-sex kiss which is so natural and right. When I asked the author about her decision to include it her response was - 'I couldn't not include it.' When the majority of arguments against LGBT representation in children's books are based on the false assumption that they teach children about gay sex (strange this, as straight representations don't teach children about straight sex) it's wonderful to have a book with a same-sex kiss that illustrates the depth of feeling behind it.
  • Inclusive Minds co-founder, Alex Strick, has also co-authored a book, due out in June. Max the Champion (by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, illustrated by Ros Asquith), published by Frances Lincoln. Is a story about sport-loving Max and his wild imagination. Effortlessly inclusive, the cast of characters truly reflects the make-up of society.
  • Finally, The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, published by Walker, is a light-hearted, yet powerful look at immigration as brothers who are Mongolian refugees try to assimilate and blend in to Liverpudlian culture. This fast-paced, entrancing read will really challenge perceptions.

ReadItDaddy:  What do you think are the most common misconceptions about diverse and inclusive books?

Beth @ Inclusive Minds:  When we speak about inclusive and diverse books, the most common misconception is that we are talking about ‘issue books’. This is very much not the case. What we’re aiming for are mainstream books which just happen to contain a diverse range of characters, whether that's a family headed by same-sex parents, a disabled character (who isn't always a wheelchair-user), a 'sensitive' boy, an independent girl, a youthful looking granny, a black or asian protagonist... These books shouldn’t be about the fact that the characters are any of these things (and certainly these characteristics shouldn’t define them), they should just be over and above, great stories. This is where we’re delighted to have Letterbox Library as a partner. A one stop shop for absolutely fabulous books which, due to their rigorous selection process, you can be sure are naturally inclusive and diverse.

ReadItDaddy: Do you think that through the work of Inclusive Minds and other champions of diverse and inclusive books, the publishing industry in general is slowly changing its game?

Beth @ Inclusive Minds:  Yes, but I think 'slowly' is the key word in that question. Publishers are beginning to see this as something they need to do, but they still see it as only necessary in a few books, very few companies understand that inclusions needs to permeate their whole publishing programme. I also think that there is a danger of tokenism and sensationalism when companies are looking to make a quick fix. To be truly inclusive, research needs to be done to ensure that all the characters are fully rounded and don't perpetuate stereotypes. This is where we hope they'll come to Inclusive Minds for advice. We'd love to offer training and consultancy for publishers.

ReadItDaddy: In the same way consumers are turning away from large multinational corporations and starting to 'shop savvy', do you think parents, teachers and librarians are becoming more knowledgable about diverse and inclusive books?

Beth @ Inclusive Minds:  I think they are beginning to, teachers and librarians especially. The trouble is, finding high quality inclusive and diverse books isn't always easy, which is why companies such as Letterbox Library are vital. I think parents do recognise publishers that have ethics behind what they publish, and more and more I think that this will be the case. Child's Play have certainly found that rather than being seen as a niche publisher for being inclusive, they are just recognised as a truly child-centred company.

ReadItDaddy: My daughter (Charlotte) loves practically everything Child's Play publish, and we've also been discovering a great number of 'books in translation' (that is, books that originate in other countries and are lovingly translated into English) offer more inspiration and originality than a lot of their western counterparts. What should parents ideally be looking for and what should they be avoiding in your opinion?

Beth and Alex @ Inclusive Minds: I'd say they need to be looking for, first and foremost, books that are great stories. Diverse characters should be fully rounded, and the fact that they are in someway diverse should not be the focus of the books, and should just be one aspect of their character. Child's Play are brilliant at this, as you've discovered and, as I've mentioned, Letterbox Library is THE place to find the best inclusive books. In terms of books in translation, we have close links to the brilliant Outside In World, the UK organisation dedicated to promoting and exploring books from around the world particularly translated books. The website features a huge selection of book reviews and a great 'virtual gallery' in which children can explore illustration from around the world.

ReadItDaddy: We began the year of trying to encourage parents to read to their children more with more of a focus on dads and boys - who are often the toughest group to target if they're reluctant to engage with books. Have you found this to be the case in your current role, or do you think there's a fairly even balance?

Inclusive Minds:  I think that if dads and boys are hard to target, it can be because of the gender stereotypes that are promoted in books. Reading is often portrayed as a more feminine activity and books that are specifically targeted at boys tend to reinforce this. Inclusive Minds would like to see more books that are designed for all children, as segregation emphasises difference and perpetuates inequality. It's also important to have books that show men and women in roles that challenge gender stereotypes, and books that show more sensitive boys as well as active girls; books that just show children being children, regardless of their gender.

ReadItDaddy: Last but not least, we know you've got a fairly busy and hectic year ahead of you at Inclusive Minds. Any top secret projects you're working on that you can let us in on?

Inclusive Minds:  Well, the special edition of Write 4 Children Journal will be published in the next couple of weeks, and I promise you that it's full of fascinating articles. The tactile book that we are working on will be published in early 2014, and you can be sure that there will be some joint initiatives with Letterbox Library. Everything else is top secret I'm afraid, but we're hoping to be involved in some high profile events next year. Watch this space. Exciting things are happening.

They are indeed! Thanks to Beth and Alex from Inclusive Minds for sparing us some of their extremely valuable time. Please visit their website and also check out the other links in this article too. 
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The Toucan Brothers by Tor Freeman (Macmillan Children's Books)

I sincerely wish The Toucan Brothers covered our town. You've no idea what it's like getting quality plumbing done.

As ever, I find it near impossible to believe we've never featured anything by the wonderful Tor Freeman on our blog - but we're quickly playing catchup and The Toucan Brothers is one heck of a fantastic introduction to her work, and a stunning example of how she won a Maurice Sendak fellowship, the last one before he unfortunately passed away.

I digress. The Toucan Brothers is zany, knockabout and so utterly beautifully detailed that it's immediately become a firm bedtime favourite. We meet Sammy and Paul, the brothers themselves - who patrol the pipework and plumbing of the busy town of Tapton.

For years, their expertise has been appreciated far and wide. Blocked loos, dodgy showers, wonky dripping taps - there's nothing this dynamic duo can't turn their hands (or wings) to when it comes to plumbing.

But when a shady new character comes to town promising cheaper plumbing, and lots of flashy gimmicks, The Toucan Brothers swiftly find their trade literally drying up.

Flash Rover has all the moves, and soon the townsfolk are turning to him rather than Sammy and Paul so they've got no choice but to shut up shop.

But what's this? What shoddy tricks has Flash Rover been tucking up his furry sleeves? When Tapton suddenly turns into Venice, can anyone save the day? You bet your beak! The Toucan Brothers can!

Wonderfully detailed, chock full of colour and brilliance, Tor Freeman has delivered a book that's a surefire shoe-in for a metric ton of awards this year. Utterly perfect!

Charlotte's best bit: She has a theory about figures of authority and messy eating (Check out the mayor and his mint-choc chip ice cream!)

Daddy's favourite bit: Lots of deliciously subtle homages to some of my favourite artists in this. See if you can spot them all. C'est ci n'est pas un Sewer Pipe :)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Macmillan Children's Books)
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Monday 20 May 2013

Lulama's Magic Blanket by Mari Grobler (Tafelberg Publishers Ltd)

Fitting neatly in with this week's #ReadItMD13 theme celebrating diverse and inclusive children's books, here's a brilliant, colourful and imaginative story of a little African girl and her favourite blanket.

Aha, but it's not just a blanket. As any child knows (usually just after you've spent a fortune on plastic tat at Christmas), even a simple blanket can become the basis of lots of different games and activities.

Lulama's blanket is special. Made by her mother from lots of scraps of material - each with its own different story, the blanket can become the gorgeous and colourful wings of a butterfly - or perhaps a church, a school or a hotel when draped over a handy branch.

Lulama loves her blanket and her mother tells her a story about each of the colours and the number of squares in the patchwork. Blue of the sky, the deep yellow of the sun, the brown of a prancing pony.

Through deliciously descriptive text and beautifully painted illustrations, Mari Grobler's book weaves a colourful tapestry that's a pleasure to tell and retell.

Charlotte's best bit: Lulama's beautiful butterfly wings and Lulama pretending to be a tortoise!

Daddy's favourite bit: Beautiful descriptions in the book and a great way of seeing different objects and weaving great stories around them. Utterly lovely!
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#ReadItMD13 - "Diversity and Inclusivity in Children's Books"

So much awesomeness, how could you possibly miss out?
We've long been campaigners and champions of diversity and inclusivity in Children's Books and for this week's #ReadItMD13 theme we'll be taking a closer look at diverse and inclusive books, and the brilliant folk who champion them and do their very best to keep us 'in the know'.

To kick off this week we're handing over the reins to The Letterbox Library, supreme superchamp booksellers who specialise in diverse and inclusive books. If you haven't heard of them before, prepare to be impressed! Over to you, LL!

The Letterbox Library Penguin Stand (and a gorgeous Letterbox Librarian!)

“Letterbox Library is 25 years old, I thought it was older. I thought it had been here since the beginning of time. Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine what life would be like without it…This is the kind of organisation we can be proud of, a co-operative that is run by people motivated by nothing else but bringing joy and positive learning to our young. May you keep spreading the words for as long as we need words. By my reckoning that’s forever” (Benjamin Zephaniah, 2008).

Imagine our utter joy and giddiness at hearing these words from the great Zephaniah. Then, it was our 25th anniversary. This year marks our 30th. I wonder if the two single parents who set up Letterbox Library from their Hackney front room back in 1983 believed we would still be here now…

30 years ago Letterbox Library, a specialist children’s bookseller, launched with just 16 titles. Now we stock over 300. But some things haven’t changed one bit. Our aim remains exactly the same: to celebrate equality and diversity in the very best children’s books. And, we also remain a not-for-profit social enterprise and workers’ cooperative.

Letterbox Library really is in this for the passion and not for the profit. Like many children’s booksellers, we will tell you we love what we do. And that is true. But here’s where we’re different- our ultimate aim is to put ourselves out of business. The day you and I can walk into our high street bookstore and find a children’s book section which effortlessly reflects the diversity of our world and truly values every child is the day we will shut up shop- and we will do so with a glad heart and a skip in our step.

The brilliant Letterbox Library Book Tent at the recent Luton Hoo Book Festival

Letterbox Library’s children’s books show the incredible diversity of our local and global communities: they’re multicultural; they baffle gender stereotypes; they’re multi-faith; they include disabled heroes; they relish in the rich variety of our family structures; they feature people traditionally under-represented in children’s literature such as Travellers and refugees. We are also known for our books exploring ‘difficult’ issues such as family breakdown, bullying and bereavement.

We find this heady mix of books through painstaking sourcing, researching, reviewing and selecting from a wide range of both home-grown and international publishers. Helping us with this are a completely wonderful team of 25 volunteer book reviewers from diverse backgrounds; they include teachers, librarians, carers and, of course, children and young people themselves. Thankfully, they are a horribly fussy lot. Over 75% of the samples sent in by publishers are rejected by our team. The children’s book world knows us for our super-strictness and publishers tend to see the addition of their books in our catalogue/website as a stamp of approval. By the way, we balk at tokenism- if we approve a book, then that means it has been chosen not just because it fits our ethos but also because of its excellence in storyline/artwork and its strong child-appeal. Finally, we are passionate about resisting commercial trends. We want to offer all children real choices in what they read.

The utterly awesome Catherine Johnson and her book 'Stella' (OUP)

This must be the place to add that we recently became partners of the quite brilliant Inclusive Minds. They. Are. Brilliant. They’re bringing together -in one big HUG- all of those people who have a profound commitment to ensuring no child is left out of the landscape of children’s literature.

They are also contributing to this theme week so I won’t go on too much about them here. Oh- and also I should mention that Letterbox Library was very privileged this year to run the 1st ever Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for radical children’s fiction. We did this on behalf of the stupendous Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) and ReadItDaddy blogged about it here:

Celebrate Equality and Diversity at the first ever "Little Rebels Children's Book Awards", coming to the London Radical Bookfair

I promised I would suggest some Top Inclusive Books. Obviously, narrowing the choices down is a completely impossible task, so please just see these as stepping stones for bigger, brighter inclusive book collections:

For the Very Young

  • Deron Goes to Nursery / Grandma Comes to Stay: smashing 1st experience photographic books which just happen to be set in modern Ghana.
  • Man’s Work: a bestseller of ours; dad and son do the housework…
  • Daddy, Papa and Me; Mommy, Mama, and Me: 2 boardbooks bouncing with the joys of a same-sex parent family.
  • Blankies/Snug: dinky, perfectly formed boardbooks with an open door policy for all toddlers!
  • Tuck Your Vest In: a comic caper about 1st day at a (multicultural) Welsh nursery.
  • My Mum is a Firefighter/My Nanny Tracey: ‘real’ women role models.
  • Freddie & the Fairy: a hearing-impaired fairy gets a child’s wishes a little muddled…

For Primary Aged Children

  • The Silence Seeker and Azzi In Between: skillful and brilliant stories about asylum seekers
  • Not All Princesses Dress in Pink: it’s all in the title!
  • Donovan’s Big Day: our first lesbian wedding picture book.
  • Olaudah Equiano: a Black British hero portrayed by Manchester schoolchildren.
  • A Donkey Reads: a traditional Turkish tale (warning- belly deep laughs - and a ReadItDaddy recommendation too!)
  • The Art of Miss Chew: a dyslexic protagonist masters her art classes.
***you can find all of these books & more here: ***

Phew! Now for just a little plea. Letterbox Library is known for its book selection process. This book selection is entirely funded by our book selling. And, as I’ve said, a great many education professionals give up their time to support this selection by reviewing our books. We want to offer people who share our passion a good service so we want to offer you great selections enhanced by easily searchable ‘themes’ on our website and in our catalogue.

We also know that every time we put out a new theme or booklist or recommended reads, we run the risk of someone using our sourcing and selection expertise to shop elsewhere. All we would say is, please bank your money with the people who genuinely care about children’s literature and who need your custom to survive- if not us, then your favourite indie. Perhaps you already do this, in which case please forgive the plea. Thank you, ReadItDaddy for your tireless support of indie bookselling and for this opportunity to gush and waffle about lovely inclusive things.

 - Well, thank YOU Letterbox Library for kicking off our Diversity and Inclusivity week with a fantastic and thought provoking post. Please do take the time to check out the Letterbox Library website and please take to heart the text in red above because it pretty much underlines why folk like Letterbox Library are so important to children's books.

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