Friday 30 August 2013

ReaditDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 30th September 2013 - "Hey Presto" by Nadia Shireen (Jonathan Cape PB)

Hey Presto!

Written and Illustrated by

Nadia Shireen

Published by Jonathan Cape

Lots and lots and LOTS of books examine friendships, and children seem to love books that feature characters who are firm friends, then go through some turmoil and upset before realising how much they take each other for granted.

In "Hey Presto" we meet the marvellous Presto, a rather magical little cat and his best friend Monty - a showman dog.

When the dynamic duo join a local circus, the rather shy Presto is happy to let his friend hog the limelight while he weaves his spells backstage. Monty is a huge success but fame is addictive, and soon Monty shoves Presto to one side to pursue his career as the world's most famous magical dog.

Presto is rather upset by this and decides that there's only one course of action - leave Monty to it. But of course no magic act can survive purely on showmanship and razzmatazz so once the magic is gone, Monty's dreams of fame and fortune are too.

Can the pair make up in time for the big show?

We'll let you find out. We've loved Nadia Shireen's work for a long time (We loved "Good Little Wolf" and it earned 4 out of 5 stars back when we used to put ratings on our books). We were so impressed by this new spin on a story of friendships going awry, and Nadia's little Presto is just so cute we couldn't resist it.

Charlotte's best bit: She's definitely having a "I love cute things" week - and fell in love head over heels with Presto (well he is cute!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Always great to see a new spin or an original twist on a story that has been told and retold in various different forms. A standout book, we loved it!

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Thursday 29 August 2013

Spotlight on "Love2Read" - Brilliant photobooks to personalise your children's early reading experiences

The Love2Read Photo Books are a fab way to encourage children to enjoy reading, where they can be the star!
Our recent holiday to Tenerife was a lot of fun. But like most parents we never seem to get round to printing our holiday photos out - or any photos for that matter, as the world goes digital and we tend to keep all our pics on various digital or cloud sources.

So for once, it was extremely nice to be able to put together something unique and personal that had a dual purpose. Not only offering an attractive little summary of our holiday, but also a great little reading book for Charlotte to enjoy too.

Coming up with the idea of a web-driven book design service that uses various subjects (as you can see from the header image above, books about dad, holidays, friends etc) that can be tailored in a very easy to use online interface, Love2Read lets parents (and children) put together the books, before they're submitted for printing.

You'll get an absolutely BRILLIANT confirmation email back once your book is ready, then it will wing its way to you in the post.

It's a great idea for parents to do these as surprise presents for children or for books that a child can read while staying with grandparents or other family (our holiday one has been a huge hit with our relatives and friends) who can snuggle down with Charlotte and let her read it to them.

As mentioned before, the site is easy to use and you can save your photobook project part way through and come back to it.

The only thing we could mention really is that there's a list of keywords at the back of the book, common phrases that I'm assuming could've been drawn from the book's text but we couldn't see any way to alter this in the online design tools - so when our book turned up it just had the words "Holiday" and "Book" repeated over and over again rather than a list of words we'd come up with ourselves. It seemed to be the only part of the process that needed a tweak.

The results are great though and it's definitely something we'll consider using again for different book subjects or occasions. So whether you're looking for a unique surprise gift for a child just taking their first steps in reading independently, or just want a brilliant memento of an event or to celebrate a family member's birthday this is a really nice little idea.

(We were kindly supplied with a promo code in order to be able to use the Love2Read Service and try it out for ourselves)
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Wednesday 28 August 2013

Toucan Can! By Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Gecko Press)

Toucan Can!

Written by Juliette MacIver

Illustrated by Sarah Davis

Published by Gecko Press

Ah the joy of movement, of song and dance, of colourful and happy little animals and birds in this brilliant and vibrant book that meshes together Dr Seuss-like rhyme with perfect visuals. Just like his colourful beak would suggest, Toucan is fun to be around and soon as he dances through the jungle, all his friends can't help but join in.

Children of all ages will find something to love about Toucan Can. We fell in love with Sarah Davis' fab animal characters (the bushbabies are just SO CUTE as are the little finches that flap around the entire time in the story).

But this was the best panel for us...JOLLY PANDA!

Toucan Can leads everyone on a merry dance!
It's the perfect story for little fingers to trace as the winding paths through the book as the characters dance away help with the flow of the rhymes.

Like all the colours of the animal kingdom contained within, there's so much energy and beauty to this book! Can YOU do what Toucan can?

Charlotte's best bit: The cutest little bushbaby character

Daddy's Favourite bit: That jolly and funky panda absolutely caught up in the dance! Love it!

(Kindly supplied to us for review by Bounce Marketing / Gecko Press)
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#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Back to School" - Learning books that really don't feel like 'school' books

Marks and Spencer "Bright Sparks" First Writing
Continuing our #ReadItMD13 theme week of "Back to School" we thought we'd revisit an excellent range of early years teaching books that really don't feel like 'learning' to a child - more like a fun set of activities and puzzles that they can enjoy but at the same time support early years foundation stage / key stage school curriculum programmes.

Phew! That's a tall order, and the range comes from somewhere you probably might not expect. Marks and Spencer have several book ranges but we're huge fans of the "Bright Sparks activity books, covering a diverse range of numeracy, literacy and science subjects but in fun and exciting ways.

"First Writing" mixes wipe-clean pages with stickers and activities for children just learning to write and form letters on their own.

The exercises are probably quite familiar to children who may have encountered similar writing exercises in class, but coupled with reward sticker sheets, wipe clean pages so you can use the book again and again, and some brilliant bold colours and clearly laid out spreads, these really are fantastic - and very reasonably priced (the book pictured is £2.80 which is brilliant value).

Moving on to books for slightly older children in the Bright Sparks range...

For children aged 5-7 there's the "Big English and Maths Workbook" which again uses a combination of exciting puzzles, exercises and reward stickers to make learning fun.

We have recently dug out our own copies of the Bright Sparks books we've bought to get Charlotte back into the swing of things before school starts back up. Though we had school work plans and sheets sent home for the holidays, they're quite often bulk printed in black and white whereas the Bright Sparks range are nice and colourful with less of that "school" feel to them.

We often find it quite tough to get Charlotte in the right mood for tackling exercises and class-set stuff but we have the exact opposite experience with the Bright Sparks books, in fact we often have to try and rein her in a bit as she loves them a bit TOO much and would probably happily stay up till midnight completing them.

M & S also do a fantastic range of early reader storybooks.

"First Readers - Let's Start Reading" books again support the national curriculum and present a series of well-loved fairy tales and fables, with brilliant illustrations and key word panels to encourage children to read on their own and gain reading confidence.

Picking familiar stories and characters and giving them an early reading 'tweak' without resorting to dry phonics-style exercises, these books have been a massive help in boosting Charlotte's reading. Again we often struggle with class-set texts (as much as we love the Biff, Chip and Kipper range - they're instantly identified as school books and it can be quite tough to get Charlotte to engage with them and complete them for her homework assignments.

These are great as they're fairly short (so attention spans don't wander), perfect for bedtime reading (subjects and content are familiar and 'comfy' for children) and the word pick panels allow children to easily read, pick out and then recognise key words throughout the stories.

Jack and the Beanstalk is a particular favourite but just about all the classic fairy tales are covered, as well as traditional folk tales and stories from around the world.

They're nicely written and illustrated and the price is very reasonable too (these retail for around £2.40 which is ludicrously good value).

So next time you're popping into M & S for a new pair of undies, check out the children's book section and you'll be pleasantly surprised. We really do recommend the Bright Sparks workbooks as they're great to take away on holiday, or to grandparents so that children can settle down and boost their brain power without feeling pressured.

Check out our previous reviews of the Early Readers range

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Walker Books Summer Book Party - "Captain Cat" by Inga Moore. Purr-fect in every way!

Captain Cat by Inga Moore. Prepare to lose yourself in a luxurious and beautiful book. 
We feel very fortunate to have been included in Walker Books fabulous "Summer Picture Book Party" blog tour. When we first saw the five books that would be highlighted by the blog tour, one book was instantly grabbed, cuddled and demanded by Charlotte above all the others. It's not really surprising, as this is often the effect Inga Moore's books have on us both (Six Dinner Sid nailed the perfect score of 5 out of 5 stars back when we first started out book blogging).

She has excelled herself with this utterly beautiful tale so without further ado let's dive into "Captain Cat".

We first meet the white bearded seafaring trader at a turning point in his life. Captain Cat - so called because he really cannot resist trading his fabulous wares for moggies of every shape, size and description, has reached his twilight years wondering what lies beyond the oft-sailed trade routes. What wild, weird and wonderful lands lay out there, yet to be discovered. What riches do they hold?

The Queen spies some new visitors! (Utterly, utterly beautifu panel) 
So one day Captain Cat, along with his crew and of course his countless feline companions, sets his sails and turns right instead of left out of port, into the great unknown.

For many weeks he sails and soon discovers a fabulous island, ruled by a child queen (the sort of character that has Charlotte cheering loudly - "She's a girl just like me!") who loves her new visitors and beckons the captain, his handsome crew and the cute cats to dine with her at the royal palace. The queen has never seen cats before and falls in love with them.

Even more so when the palace is suddenly plagued by a cheeky horde of rats who ruin dinner, taking a mischievous dip in the soup tureens and generally making a complete pest of themselves.

The poor queen is distraught and embarrassed but Captain Cat is on hand, and his faithful tribe of fantastic felines get straight to work on those rats, making short work of them.

The queen is overjoyed and really wants the cats to help clean up the rest of the island and offers the captain fabulous riches in exchange for his cats. But a seafaring captain always has a faraway look in his eye, so the time comes when the captain must make a life-changing decision - leave the island with a huge fortune, or keep his cats...

There are many reasons why this book was our favourite of the five Walker Books we received. Charlotte absolutely lapped up the fabulous characters (particularly the Queen as I've already mentioned) but she loved the captain too ("He looks kind, and smiles a lot, he's happy" she said).

Inga's artwork is luxurious, sumptuous, a feast for the eyes. It kept reminding me of the timeless and wonderful 'Rupert' artwork from Alfred Bestall...

Rupert the Bear by Alfred Bestall. So utterly brilliant. 
Inga's deftly woven story doesn't lay on too thick a moral tale that riches aren't always the key to happiness, it's just such a fantastic and truly captivating book that I really cannot wait for folk to get hold of when it's released in October, just to tell us what they think of it.

Charlotte's best bit: Without being too spoilery (we hope) there's a great panel and story 'twist' at the end with a basket full of...oh you'll see, you'll see and you will LOVE that page too.

Daddy's favourite bit: Loved this tale, that instantly feels original and destined to become a well-loved classic. So easy to get lost in its utterly dazzling landscapes, wonderful characters and gentle prose.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Walker Books, as part of the Summer Picture Book Party Blog Tour)
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Walker Picture Book Party - "We're going on a Cat hunt to celebrate Captain Cat by Inga Moore!"

Hooray! Hoorah! It's Walker Picture Book Party Blog Tour Day (phew!) for us at ReadItDaddy.

Quite soon you'll see our review of the fabulous "Captain Cat" by Inga Moore popping up on the blog but before that, we thought we'd try something a bit different to the usual bloggy book party thing. This morning we went on a cat hunt around ReadItDaddy Towers...!

So where to start? With a little help from Daddy, Charlotte began in the lounge...

Cat Number 1 - "Daffodil"
We found this little Daffodil-wearing fella nestling amongst the bits and bobs on the fireplace.

And next to him, another sleek silvery moggy...

Cat Number 2 - "Eau, Helleau!"
So far so good. Any more hiding in the lounge?

Cat Number 3 - "Gloop!"

Nope so on to Daddy's 'office' where a couple of rather cute moggies turned up.

Cat Number 4 - "Snoozy"
("Snoozy is SO cute!")

Cat Number 5 took some finding but there he was, hiding under the computer monitor on high alert.

Cat Number 5 - "I can see what you're typing!"

Cat Number 6 - "Stair Stare Cat"

With the office cats all rounded up we headed upstairs to the cupboard but met this beautiful moggy on the way...

...and then a rather well known cat hiding in the junk cupboard, poor thing!

Cat Number 7 - "Saggy, Baggy, a bit frated at the seams!"

With no more cats on the top floor we sneaked a peek into Charlotte's bathroom and again found a couple of well known moggies hidden away.

Cat Number 8 - "Oh hello Kitty!"
Cat Number 9 - "Nine Lives!"

We struck gold in Charlotte's room, a whole BED covered in cats! Me-OW!

Cat Number 10 - "Purrfect to snuggle up with"
And then hiding on the bookshelves, Cat Number 11...!

Cat Number 11 (well technically 11, 12 and 13!) - "Photogenic"

Cat Number 14 swiftly followed, in fact, the star of the show!

Cat Number 14 - "The Captain!"

But where oh where would we find any more? Hang on a minute, who's getting comfortable on top of the bookcase?
Cat 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 - "A herd!"

No more cats could be found upstairs so we headed down to the kitchen - and found Number 22. 

Cat Number 22 - "Ooh La la!"
Oh and then number 23!

Cat Number 23 - "Roman Moggy"
But alas, despite searching hard - and the nagging feeling we might've missed a few (A couple of cat mugs might've been nestling at the back of the cupboards). 

One last set cropped up unexpectedly on the message board though. Not cats but definitely feline in nature...

Cat Number 24 - "Wordy!"

Phew! And that was the end of our cat hunt!

"Captain Cat" by Inga Moore is published on October 8th, 2013 by Walker Books. 

Available from any cat-loving bookstores near you VERY soon. 

Stand by for our review which will be purring along any minute!

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Tuesday 27 August 2013

Slightly Jones embarks on her fourth adventure in Joan Lennon's fab "The Case of The Hidden City" (Catnip Books)

"The Case of the Hidden City - A Slightly Jones Mystery" by Joan Lennon (Catnip Books). We're about to become Slightly obsessed!

Oh hello there lovely book, where have you been all my life. What's that? Have I met your three predecessors? Why, no I haven't!

So who is Slightly Jones? A flame haired girl detective who takes her cues from the greatest fictional detective of all time, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Who has a rather brilliant sidekick called Granny Tonic, and who solves mysteries back in Victorian Times (possibly our favourite era of history!)

As usual we're late to the party and have only discovered Slightly Jones at Book Four (the last in the series, oh nooo) but we'll definitely be tracking down the previous three now.

For ages 8-11, the Slightly Jones mystery books are wonderful, packed with historical detail without feeling too dry and laborious. In fact they're about as rip-roaring as it gets.

The books are backed up by a rather fabulous website so check out more information over at or on Joan Lennon's blog (and find out more about her other books too!)

Slightly Jones - The Case of the Hidden City was released in July 2013.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Catnip so watch out for more on this book on the blog very soon!)

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Zen and the art of Self Publishing Children's Books (and getting them read). Ten tips for would-be authors and artists dipping into children's books.

Self publishing children's books. You definitely won't need one of these any more!
At ReadItDaddy we've championed self-published authors and artists involved in producing children's books largely off their own backs for a long time. We've seen the fantastic, the good and the bad. We've seen the truly dreadful, and we've seen the controversial. In today's digital marketplace, it has never been easier to put together a children's book and get it out there for sale.

A word of caution though, or rather quite a few words. If you want to work with us, we really need you to work with us. 

Rather cheekily we had the idea that it might be time for us to sit down and have a little chat about the dos and donts (in no particular order) but please pay heed to point one above all others. It's the one that people have the biggest problem with (but hey, it's all a breeze from there so don't give up at the first hurdle!)

1) Be prepared to take criticism like Rocky Balboa takes a good solid sock to the jaw. 

Your kids think your book is a great idea. They love your stories. Your mum thinks your book is great, and if you're very lucky your spouse does too. But when you release your book out there into the big (and quite often harsh and cruel) wide world, be prepared to take criticism. Constructive criticism should be the lifeblood of anyone involved in any artistic or creative process, not the poison in their veins. Don't hide the bad reviews simply to paper your walls with the good because it's the negative feedback that will make you stronger and perhaps allow you to change enough next time to win someone over that may have discounted you this time round.

2) If you can't draw, don't draw. If you think you can draw, don't draw. If you KNOW you can draw, go right ahead!

The number one thing that lets self published children's books down is the number one thing that can make or break a children's book in any marketplace it finds itself.

The art (particularly the cover).

Illustrations have to be so ridiculously good and amazingly tight for commercial children's books to compete in a market where fabulously talented artists live hand to mouth that your home-crayoned scribblings won't even get off the starting blocks with a publisher if they're not mind-bendingly amazing, and definitely won't win over a parent or reviewer if they're shelling out their own money for your work. It's a sad point of fact that your expertly written text, flowing rhymes and original (and sometimes extremely good natured and good hearted) idea can be blown to pieces in an instant when let down by its accompanying artwork. Very few artists are allowed the privilege of working in a style that's scrappy, busy and child-like and I'll guarantee you that each and every one of those artists will know their craft well enough to be able to knock that sort of style out with consistency and quality. If you really have a brilliant story, but suck at drawing and painting please please pretty please hire a talented illustrator, view some portfolios and get someone else to work with you on your idea - and please, don't insult them by expecting them to work for free or for eventual royalties. Artists have to eat, pay them up front but please definitely pay them!

3) Do not start out by pricking people's consciences about your book. Let them read it first!

Books written to achieve a better understanding of, or to raise the profile of an issue that's incredibly tricky to deal with in children's literature can be a moral minefield. Sometimes submissions feel like they're starting out by laying a guilt trip on the reader or reviewer before that person has read word one of the book or manuscript.

If you're cold-approaching a reviewer or reader with your book, let them see a taster, give them some information but most importantly let them read it first. If they 'get it' then your aim has been successful. If they let their children read it and they get it too (and ask lots of questions about it) you're on the home straight. If they get it, their kids get it, and they ask - nay DEMAND to read the rest, you've scored a home run.

4) Please be polite! Don't be rude or pushy and please do not pester. We will always be polite back (if we do reply!)

The number one reason we don't respond to unsolicited emails about self-published children's books is because your book would be unsuitable for our blog or for us to review. The number two reason is because you asked us 20 times, did not take no for an answer when we politely declined, or worse - decided that because we followed you on Twitter, liked you on Facebook or perhaps even reviewed a previous book positively, we're beholden to you and we'll want to read everything you've created, are creating, or will ever create in the future.

That's a bit rude isn't it? Have you ever dealt with an unwelcome cold sales call on the phone or on your doorstep?

We started out reviewing self-published titles we liked the look of and sourced them ourselves. We've largely gone back to doing that because we like to make the choice. It's absolutely wonderful that people think that ReadItDaddy is important enough to be a good place for people to see your work (and  believe us, we're extremely grateful that they also offer to send us amazing books to read and review free of charge) but we maintain this at all times - we choose whether to review or not to review, and what Charlotte says goes so if she doesn't like the look of your book, we may either choose not to review it at all, or point out as politely and diplomatically as possible why it wasn't liked in a review. (With regards to this policy, please see Point 1 again)

5) Please don't split hairs and nitpick. At the same time please do give us all the information, links and images we need for our type of review. 

ReadItDaddy is a blog, unfortunately it's not a paying job. It's not what we devote 7.5 hours a day to - in fact most days we're lucky if we're in bed before midnight because we burn the candle at both ends to put together our reviews. We have to because we like to be prolific, we like to ensure that there's a TON of things to read on the blog, and that it's updated as often as humanly possible.

I hope it comes across in our reviews that we put a lot of effort into gathering Charlotte's opinions on the books, tying them in with our own, and producing something that doesn't just read like a regurgitated press release or a copy and paste job from an Amazon review.

To that end we don't get everything right. We misspell people's names (imagine trying to type Mizielinski 20 times in the space of a review at 5 to midnight when you've spent the last 5 days suffering from insomnia), sometimes we link the wrong images in our headers, or stuff up the text in the header (and as all the headers are designed in Photoshop and exported as images, correcting them is a lot harder than you'd think - yep, my bad). So please be patient with us. We will correct them but there's nothing more soul-destroying than pouring a huge amount of effort into a review and the only comment you get at the bottom is "You missed out the apostrophe in my name or you used the US cover not the UK one".

6) Rhymes are fine, but make them flow. Work those suckers until they're buttery smooth and trip off the tongue.

You are one of those brave souls that puts together rhymes and weaves them into a children's book. You deserve adulation and credit but just hold on a second there. You have struggled long and hard to find a word that rhymes with "hovercraft" and wedged that sucker in with chewing gum to make it fit.

Reading it back, it sort of works OK in your head. But is it universally going to work when your book is read aloud to your target audience of 3-6 year olds? Children who don't read your book themselves or may be learning to read but need rhymes and text to flow just as much as adult readers do.

We've seen many brilliant rhyming books that are a joy to read but we've seen so many that are the children's book equivalent of throwing an armful of dictionaries down a spiral staircase, attempting to read them as they fall. I refer you to Elli Woollard's article for this very blog on rhymes. Read it, read it again, soak it up through your skin until it's tattooed across your brain because the lady speaketh the truth.

7) If you have some brilliant ideas but can't get them to 'glue together' in written form, take a creative writing course. Better still, take a short course on how to write for children. 

This sounds like common sense, and it's a piece of advice I wish I'd taken years ago. Writing, particularly writing for children, isn't as easy as you'd think and quite often there are rules to be adhered to, magic formulas for page spreads / word counts and a whole stack of fairly rigid guidelines publishers issue when accepting manuscripts. WITH GOOD REASON. Any creative will tell you that rules and regs are there to be binned, and that they stifle creativity or expression. That is true but believe me, you'll soon see why those simple rules and regs exist the minute you start putting a children's book together and perhaps testing it out on a willing audience.

Too wordy and the kids will lose interest. Not wordy enough and it'll be nigh-on impossible for you to call your story anything but a pleasing piece of prose. Illustration placement must be worked on (and believe me, even the world's best author-illustrators often hand over the reins to someone who knows how to lay a book out properly and edit it properly before it even gets a whiff of shelf space at your local bookstore). If this all seems like black magic to you, I beg you - urge you to take a short writing course (The Open University do some fantastic creative writing courses, but you'll probably find local libraries or independent bookstores will also know of local creative writing workshops or contacts too).

8) Do your research. Read as many children's books as you can, read up on new authors and illustrators, and get to know the business a little before jumping in with both feet.

There are two reasons for this. One is pretty obvious - someone else might've already come up with a best selling book that's very close to or is a far better version of your idea (again believe me, I've been through this particular heartache! Bah!) The bigger the author (and the publisher), the less likely it'll be that your take on the story will be well accepted either by your readers (who will have read the odd picture book before) or a publisher if you decide to take the plunge and submit your idea for publishing or to an agent.

Getting to know publishers and the business, and the authors themselves via social media or just reading about their books and projects on their blogs is a great way to start to get to know the industry and those who work in it, or actually rely on it for their day to day living. In essence your self published book will be competing against these folk who have the backing of an agent and the resources of a huge (often multinational) publisher to put together fabulous books.

9) Be realistic about your expectations from indie reviewers and bloggers vs 'proper' press

This is the bit where we stick our head in the noose for a change. Blogging about children's books, particularly if you squeeze it in between a full time job, being a full time parent and trying to scrape together a bit of 'you' is one small way of spreading the word about great children's books. As we said earlier, we truly do burn the candle at both ends quite often, and there are tons and tons of children's book bloggers out there - each with their own way of reviewing. Some have ratings, some turn their posts into miniature works of art, some involve their children and some don't - they purely review children's books because they still love them to bits and think they're important.

We're just one of the many. Our approach is to review as many books as we can, as timely as we can, from a variety of sources (yes, including you lovely indies) but always at the core of the blog is one little girl and her opinion. You see, I might come up with the text of the review but it's always without exception drawn from observations from Charlotte, things she's said while a book is being read to her (or while she's reading it herself), the frequency it was asked for as a bedtime book - or perhaps even conversations and activities that have been triggered after the book's covers have been closed. We are honest, and though some folk have made the criticism that we're probably a bit "too nice" about some books, we really do rarely find a stinker in our review pile.

10) We keep saying that "E-Books are tough for us to review" - Why is that?

Obviously for an independent self-publisher, E-Books are the easiest way to get your work into the hands of a would-be reviewer or reader. Often for a reviewer they are a nightmare and we thought it only fair to try and describe why.

For starters, there's a level of inconsistency that comes with a book in E-format, depending on what the end-user is reading the book on. iPad with lovely retina display? Great! Kindle Fire? Yeah that's fab too. Nook or old style Kindle? Ah...

Producing a book in E-Format that's going to look great (and read well) on a variety of devices is pretty tough, more so if you have any dealings with Apple and their approval process for e-books (and their constant changes to iOS versions!)

There's also the other thing - E-Books may be hailed as 'the second coming' in publishing for all the whizzy whistles and bells that often accompany modern well produced (and well funded / budgeted) titles, but parents often struggle to get children to engage with e-books in the same way they'll engage with printed titles. For most parents (particularly us), as soon as the iPad is switched on, the very last thing a child will want to do is read through an e-book. Not because they're awful but because most electronic methods of reading books (aside from kindles, nooks etc) come with a whole host of other distractions that a child would rather play with.

Electronic methods of reading books are also fairly inconvenient. In the time it takes for the iPad (or other e-reader) to boot up, most parents could have already selected a book from the child's shelf, and snuggled down to read it with their youngster.

Lastly there's the price thing. "Free" E-books often come with the pre-imagined stigma that "Free" means "dreadful quality" or "Not worthy". On the other end of the scale, expensive E-Books ('expensive' in app terms, so anything over £2.99) can sometimes out-price printed book versions. This may be of less concern to self publishers but uppermost in a parents' mind is the longevity of an e-book title. Can it be read and re-read? Will all those whistles and bells actually provide long term enjoyment to balance out the cost or are they purely window dressing. For educational titles, will the child rapidly out-grow the e-book or app or will it grow with them (and then you may kick off a whole other hornets nest of microtransactions, we won't get into that here).

So there you have it, those are ten things we take into consideration when we receive requests from self publishers or folk representing them. We have unfortunately had some instances recently where folk have been stomped roughshod all over Point 4 in our list, which has made us very reluctant to carry on reviewing self published titles at all, but we do love the diversity and the originality of the majority of self published / indie published titles, so please do keep on doing what you do!

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Where's the Meerkat - Journey through Time by Paul Moran (Michael O'Mara Books)

The hardest people to buy presents for in our family are always the men. Some are gadget obsessed, some love birdwatching, some - well we just haven't got a clue where to start with them. Thanks to you can now solve all your men-present-buying problems in one convenient place!

Presents For Men kindly sent us a copy of "Where's the Meerkat? Journey through Time" by Paul Moran to review, which you can find on their books page (ahem, warning, fruity language on some of the book titles so be warned!)

Following in the footsteps of the hugely successful "Where's Wally?" books, "Where's the Meerkat?" takes the nation's new favourite animal (thanks to those CompareTheMarket ads) and places Meerkat and all his friends in historical settings. Can you pick out the meerkat pals and their animal friends amongst the morass of characters on each page spread?

We thoroughly enjoyed the book (Charlotte was extremely good ad picking out her favourite character, a rather groovy looking Meerkat princess). Spotting books are a great activity for both mums and dads to enjoy with their children, and it's worth taking a look on presents for men for more booky ideas.

Charlotte's best bit: Finding the meerkat princesses with her sharp little eyes!

Daddy's favourite bit: Great book for whiling away the hours (and testing your eyesight too!).

(Kindly sent to us for review by Presents for Men)
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#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Back To School" - A great range of Miffy and Beano Comic merchandise for your new school bag!

Miffy Stationery and school kit. Far too good to keep just for kids! 
We've been checking out a rather awesome range of back to school products featuring book and comic related characters. With Dick Bruna just celebrating his 86th Birthday, we were very happy to see the new range of Miffy products designed for making your children's school bags look ulta-cool and trendy.

Miffy may well be knocking on in years (recently celebrating 60 years in print, 60 years!) but Miffy and her friends are still brilliant designs to adorn a notepad, pens or a fab pencil case.

Miffy Pencil Case. Perfect for all your best pens and pencils
With extra storage for your favourite and most used pens and pencils, and a zipped pouch to keep the rest in, it's a super stylish addition to anyone's school bag (in fact if you're short of one of those too, there's an awesome Miffy backpack or messenger bag available too). The Miffy Pencil Case is priced at £5.99 and the notepad is £3.99.

Miffy "Flower Themed" notepad. For jotting down all those things you always forget when getting back into the school groove. 

The Miffy range of products can be obtained from

Of course if you're the mischievous type, Miffy might be a bit too prim and proper for you so how about a certain menace and his Beano chums?

A Dennis the Menace notepad for the discerning catapult-wielder's satchel
Beano merchandise has been around for a while now, featuring the classic comic and some brilliant retro-feeling visuals for this very good quality notepad (which is now my 'story ideas' pad at home). With elastic retainer and handy bookmark so you always know where to scribble, it's nicely made and can be obtained from for £9.95

All that gadding around is thirsty work, so how about a menace-themed drinks bottle from Foskars?

Glug Glug!
Again, obtainable from for £5.95 this drinks bottle is one of the few we've tried that doesn't leak (hooray!) and has a good quality rubber seal and screw lid for storing your favourite drinks for sipping throughout the day.

So whether you're a Miffy or Menace fan, we've got you covered!

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Welcome to the fabulous Walker Books Summer Party Week! 5 blogs, 5 books, lots of fun!

A Picture Book Party and you're all invited!
What a packed week! Phew! As you can probably tell from that little image that's appeared on our page background we've been very very lucky enough to be involved with the Walker Picture Book Party this year.

Featuring 5 picture book blogs, 5 utterly wonderful picture books and lots of biscuits, weak lemon drinks, balloons and bunting, you can be sure to find something you'll like in amongst this little lot.

The five books that are the focus of this year's party are utterly utterly amazing so prepare yourself for...

Peck Peck Peck by Lucy Cousins.
Captain Cat by Inga Moore
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Silver Buttons by Bob Graham
Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters by Jane Yolen and Kelly Murphy

The party kicked off in grand style with the lovely Zoe over at "Playing By The Book" so don't miss her brilliant photoblog and review of the wonderful "Peck Peck Peck" by Lucy Cousins.

Tomorrow it's our turn - We can't promise that we'll have baked fab biscuits like Zoe, but we can most certainly promise you a look at a rather special book indeed.

Wednesday it's the turn of Rainy Day Mum. Let's hope the weather is fine!

On Thursday, treat yourself to a slap up feed and some booky goodness with Mummy Mishaps.

Finally on Friday to wrap up the blog tour and picture book party, join A Rush Of Love and see what they get up to!

Whatever the weather, grab yourself a nice comfy seat and prepare for 5 brilliant books from 4 brilliant blogs (and ours!)

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#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Back to School, oh no!" - Bookish related things to help ease you and your kids back into the school routine

Three words that strike terror into the hearts of children (and joy into their parents!)
For this week's slightly belated #ReadItMD13 Theme Week we're looking at books designed not only to get your children back into something educational, we're also looking at books that can help children who are nervous about "starting big school" - sitting down with a new teacher, new friends and a whole new school.

So let's kick off by diving back into the archives for some of our favourite school-based books.

"I Want A Friend" by Tony Ross (The Little Princess Series) is a fab little book that sees the normally bombastic and quite mischievous Little Princess slightly on the back foot as she starts big school for the first time. Seeing everyone else seemingly happy and carefree and playing with their friends, The Little Princess realises that even being royalty doesn't mean that things are easy. Soon though she meets someone else in the same boat, a child who also doesn't have a special friend, and then another - and another, until there's a whole gaggle of children who come together and realise that searching hard for a friend is tricky, and often the best friends are right under your nose. A very nice little book for helping children through those anxieties about meeting new people and making new pals at school.

Oh how we love Splat the Cat! Rob Scotton's wiry haired little moggy has been on lots of adventures since his first book but in his very first outing we find out that Splat also had a tricky first day at school.

Read and re-read by us, we loved Splat packing Seymour his trusted mousey sidekick into his lunchbox as he (grudgingly) sets out to learn how to be a cat at cat school, and all the things that cats should and shouldn't do. Chase mice? What a terrible thought!

Soon though Splat teaches his teacher and classmates a few lessons too - that mice aren't food, they're friends - and there's really no need to chase Seymour around when he's such an adorable olive-nosed little fellah.

Splat will soon be popping up again in the next book "Scaredy Cat Splat!" which should be hitting shelves in time for Halloween.

In Emma Chichester-Clark's fabulous "Blue Kangaroo" books we meet the lovely Lily and her rather special 'friend' - a blue kangaroo. Again, a book that deals with the anxieties and worries of that first day at school, Lily decides to take Blue Kangaroo with her on her first day. We loved the way Emma 'voices' Lily's concerns as being Blue's (you'll see what we mean when you read this wonderful book). Lily actually ends up enjoying herself so much that she forgets Blue Kangaroo entirely, leaving him at school to have a lot of fun all on his own overnight!

We always expect the very best from Emma and we get it in spades - and it's a timely reminder for me to hunt out the rest of the Blue Kangaroo series as this one was utterly brill!

During the holidays, one of the hardest things to keep going was Charlotte's interest in self-reading.
With the aid of the Oxford Learning Tree Phonics range, it's easy to get back into the swing of things and in particular the "My Phonics Kit" starter pack is fab for taking children away from the books and onto the computer for some enhanced reading, phonics activities and learning.

There's also a whole host of brilliant exercises, stories and activities on the fantastic Oxford Owl website. Like most parents, we really struggle to marry together reading for learning and reading for pleasure (in fact it's a real concern when Charlotte's confronted with a new Biff Chip and Kipper book and can't actually distance herself from the fact that it's a 'school' book and not a 'home' book - despite the stories being pretty good fun in some of the advanced Stage 4 books). These sites and resources really do help though, so they're worth diving in if you're trying to get your children back into a bit of a learning routine to help ease them back into school without a huge jolt.

There'll be more from us on the subject of getting back to school or starting school for the first time as the week progresses so stay tuned!

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Monday 26 August 2013

Magical Animals at Bedtime by Lou Kuenzler, Sandra Rigby and Andrew Weale (Watkins Publishing)

A rather wise book person I once met described certain books as instantly feeling like "the future family heirlooms - passed from generation to generation". "Magical Animals at Bedtime" is one such book, a collected anthology of animal stories from Lou Kuenzler, Sandra Rigby and Andrew Weale with utterly gorgeous illustrations throughout. Like the fabulous Aesop's Fables, or many other collected animal stories, "Magical Animals at Bedtime" collects together short stories that also help a child deal with the issues surrounding them on a daily basis.

Charlotte's particular favourite - the story of a princess and a unicorn - dealt with the subject of kindness and sharing. The mean and rather demanding Princess who is all too used to getting her own way loses her temper and storms off into the forest when her stable boy won't let her ride her favourite horse. Through her silliness, she's soon lost and starts to panic but a beautiful Unicorn is on hand. Guiding her back to safety, the Princess realises how silly she has been and how right the stable boy was to stop her from riding her poorly steed.

Moral tales can be preachy but with each story comes a discussion point at the end to help children understand the story themes.

There are so many brilliantly written tales in this utterly gorgeous book that it is definitely something you and your children will want to return to again and again. Stories that deal with subjects as diverse as shyness, adapting to change, even learning the true value of friendship.

Each child will undoubtedly find a favourite story here, perhaps even one based on their favourite animal (we thoroughly loved the Giraffe story in here too).

As we mentioned at the top of the review, this is the sort of book that you will read to your children perhaps imagining bouncing THEIR children on your knee to read it to them one day too. Wonderful stuff!

"Magical Animals at Bedtime" will be released on 5th September, 2013

Charlotte's best bit: The grumpy and rather demanding princess learning her lesson!

Daddy's favourite bit: A beautiful book that is not only filled with great stories but could well contribute to your child's moral development too. Really lovely book.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Watkins Publishing)
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Saturday 24 August 2013

"Alastair Crawley" by James Norbury free to download on Amazon till 27th August

Spookiness, slithery creatures and...spelling? It may sound like a strange combination but in James Norbury's book "Alastair Crawley and the Terrible Misspelling" you'll find all these ingredients and more.

Illustrated with hand-drawn pictures, and presented in bouncing rhyming text, "Alastair Crawley" is available in paperback, or as a free download from the Amazon Store so you can drop a copy onto your favourite e-reader until the 27th August 2013 absolutely free.

We've had a quick dip into the book and it's definitely our sort of thing. Spookiness and a great central character (why aren't there more books about worms?), it's definitely worth checking out.

Drop by the Alastair Crawley website for more info, and a link to grab your free copy till the 27th.
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Friday 23 August 2013

It's Not Yours, It's Mine! by Susanna Moores (Child's Play)

Ahhh sharing! If there's one concept you can guarantee your child will take years to understand fully, it's the concept of sharing. Listening to the lovely Loll Kirby over at Storyseekers talking recently about both her boys wanting to play with the same Octonauts Captain Barnacle figure, despite owning three other identical ones, reminded me that we still have a long way to go with Charlotte's concept of sharing too.

"Can Daddy have a bit of your biscuit?" will usually elicit the response "No" or at best, a microscopic piece will be broken off and grudgingly handed over.

So Susanna Moores' wonderful and colourful book "It's Not Yours, It's Mine" struck a solid chord with us as we meet a beautiful yellow bunny called Blieka who really really loves her red ball. When other animals want to play with it, Blieka tolerates this for a while but soon dashes off with her ball, not wanting anyone else to hog it.

Of course, the other animals also have toys - and when they all turn up unexpectedly with all their favourite toys in tow, can things be even more fun if everyone learns to share and share alike?

A rather lovely way of addressing the whole 'sharing' thing with children, without sounding too preachy, Blieka is a great little character who we really hope goes on to more adventures. Susanna's illustrative style is sharp and very colourful and great for a wide range of ages.

Charlotte's best bit: Blieka's bouncing!

Daddy's favourite bit: Really would love to see more books featuring Blieka, a wonderful bright yellow bunny.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Child's play)

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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 23rd August 2013 - "I Hate Picture Books!" by Timothy Young (Schiffer Publishing Ltd)

You know, for our book of the week nominations we'd normally baulk at the prospect of picking a book with such a controversial title. After all, we LOVE picture books so how could we possibly love a picture book that features a character that absolutely hates them?

You'll see, my dears, you'll see!

In Timothy Young's hilarious and irreverent look at the very things we hold hallowed here on ReadItDaddy you'll meet young Max who has absolutely had it up to the back teeth with picture books. Full of duff advice from what to feed your slightly famished caterpillar, to the trouble you can get into with a certain type of coloured crayon, Max really wants rid of the pesky things and is busily boxing them up to put out with the trash when we first meet him.

Funny books for children should also be funny for the adults who read them to their younglings, and I found myself snorting with laughter at Max's plight and of course loving the various (well mannered and well meant) digs at some of the most beloved picture books on the planet. For Charlotte, as well as giggling at naughty Max, there was the bonus of spotting subtly drawn and identifiable covers to the very books she's had read to her over the years (including much excitement at spotting a certain book cover featuring a boy and a robot. Aw, you know the one we mean!)

So has Max really finished with picture books? Have you? If the answer to the latter question is 'yes' then you need this book in your life as it may well re-ignite all those memories you hold dear of picture books past and present. If the answer is a firm and shouty "no!" as ours is, you'll still absolutely love it for firmly poking its tongue out at you before inviting you over for a big snuggly picture-book cuddle!

Brilliant and very cheeky stuff! We LOVE it!

Charlotte's best bit: Spotting all the lovely little homages to our fave picture books woven into the tale

Daddy's favourite bit: As above, loved the cheeky references. (Also, I seriously think Tim should be working on a book called "I Hate Children's TV Programmes!" next :)

(Kindly supplied to us for review by Schiffer Publishing through NetGalley)

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Thursday 22 August 2013

Rabbit Pie by Penny Ives (Child's Play)

As the subtitle says "The Perfect Recipe for Bedtime" though these adorable little bunnies won't be tucked up under a blanket of pastry, thankfully.

In "Rabbit Pie", the lovely tale unfolds like a favourite recipe as we follow six busy little bunnies on their way to a good night's sleep. Add in some carrots, perhaps a mug or two of hot milk and you'll soon have your own little bunnies snoring softly and sleeping soundly too.

Penny Ives' book has recently been updated with a new cover and the new board-book format, which means it's absolutely perfect for your little ones if they're still at that stage of tasting books rather than reading them.

Know what though? It's also good for your slightly bigger bunnies too. Charlotte's favourite 'cute' animals are nearly always bunnies, so this book won her over. Sublime artwork, deliciously wrapped up with fun recipe-like instructions, who could possibly resist a wonderful slice of rabbit pie?

Charlotte's best bit: So many 'ooohs' and 'ahhhs' at the various cute (and sometimes quite mischievous) antics of the little bunnies in this book.

Daddy's favourite bit: A lovely little update of a Child's Play favourite. Kids from Toddler to Texter will love it to bits.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Child's Play)
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The Pet Itch by Elli Woollard and Elina Ellis (Maverick Books)

We're huge fans of Elli Woollard's peerless poetry. Just go and take a look at her brilliant "Taking Words for a Stroll" website and her fabulous article for us on rhyming children's books and you'll see just how talented she is.

OR, alternatively, dive into this tale from Maverick Books. "The Pet Itch" by Elli and the equally talented Elina Ellis is a tale that may have a ring of familiarity to it, certainly for any parents who have fended off constant clamouring demands from their children for "a pet, any pet, the grosser the better".

When a young monster makes such a demand of his parents, they umm and ahh so it's up to the monster and his know-it-all sister to try and swing things their way.

Step forward "The Pet Itch", it's a fuzzy hairy fang-toothed little beastie that just happens to look absolutely fabulous in a tutu and a pair of pink wings. Awww.

Charlotte loved the itch, and as you can see from our header image, the itch is such a fab little character though you really wouldn't want to eat one, would you? Well, would you? But this is the plan. Maurice the Monster and Little Sis decide that the only way they'll win their parents over would be to make the itch look as cute as possible, then threaten to scoff it with a side order of ketchup and fries. EEK!

Needless to say, no one wants to see the poor defenceless little itch get eaten so it stays...and then the real fun begins. Because what's the first thing most kids do with their pets once they get them? Train them to be a pain in the bum!

We have to admit to liking Elli's work a lot. Charlotte loved this itchy little tale, and I must admit to finding Elina's artwork slightly itch-inducing but really fabulous too.

Next time you get the urge to itch, don't scratch this one out!

Charlotte's best bit: Little Sister's idea of an itch's sunday best. Cute!

Daddy's favourite bit: Elli is a superstar and Elina's art is wonderful. Top work both!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Maverick Books)
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Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Friendly Witch by Rachel Elliot and Leo Broadley (Meadowside Children's Books)

It's a lonely life sometimes, being a witch. Sure you might have a houseful of cats, bats and possibly even rats but they're not much fun when it's your birthday and you'd really like a few friends to come round and enjoy tea and cake.

As the saying goes though, be careful what you wish for - or in this case "be careful what you conjure up" as "The Friendly Witch" waves her wand and is inundated with visitors, plucked from the pages of your favourite fairy stories and nursery rhymes.

Mary (quite contrary) is a little bit critical of the witch's garden (no silver bells, cockle shells, DAHHHLING we must talk!). Humpty bores on about accident claims insurance. As for the gingerbread man, well he won't even stay put for five seconds so the witch can enjoy nibbling his toes.

Soon the house is filled with a whole host of rather unwelcome folk so the poor witch decides there's only one thing for it! With a wave of her wand she makes them all disappear again.

BUT it is her birthday and she still has cake to eat - and was all the fuss and kerfuffle (my new word of the day) really all that bad?

We've seen a lot of witchy books but we loved "The Friendly Witch" purely because she's such a loveable old soul - and it was a huge amount of fun picking out and spotting all the storybook characters who pop by. So when it's your birthday and you get a little bit grumpy when your house is trashed and your guests eat all your food, it could really be a lot worse - I  mean who wants to clean up after Puff the Magic Dragon? Ew!

Charlotte's best bit: Bo-Peep (who really needs a trip to specsavers)

Daddy's favourite bit: Little Jack Horner's rather unsanitary eating habits. Use a spoon, boy!
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