Friday 28 February 2014

Abel's Moon by Shirley Hughes (Red Fox Picture Books)

Abel's Moon

Written and Illustrated by
Shirley Hughes

Published by Red Fox Picture Books

It goes without saying that we always make a bee-line for Shirley Hughes' books whenever we spot them in our local library. "Abel's Moon" is such a dreamy and lovely tale that it's definitely worth shouting about.

Abel is a travelling man, and when he comes home to his wife and children, he always has the best stories to tell of his travels and adventures. The children hang on his every word, wanting to listen to his stories again and again.

Abel comes up with an idea to write some of his stories down so that he won't forget them - but writing in a house full of noisy children isn't an easy task (I am guessing that Shirley is speaking from experience here! I'd certainly have to agree too!)

Abel sets up the folding table under his favourite apple tree in the garden - but all too soon it's time to leave home again in search of work.

The table stays put, as the grass and trees grow up around it the children discover that the humble table can lead to even more adventures. As a boat, or as a moon machine! Imagine the stories they'll be able to tell when Abel gets home...!

There are so many things about this book that make you want to cuddle it. It's a great "Dad" book - Abel willing to make a huge sacrifice and leave his family behind just to ensure that they want for nothing. It's a book that celebrates the wonderful imaginations of children as they weave their own tales through play. Of course we always love Shirley's masterful way with words and her gorgeous art. The book draws you into its warming embrace and its timelessness ensures that it can be enjoyed by children of all ages.

Charlotte's best bit: Abel and Mable's little baby, who is a little ball of mischief!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A marvellous celebratory book, a great dad character (we could do with more of these), and yet another fab book from the grand-dame of children's literature.

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ReadItDaddy's Birthday Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th February 2014 - "Shackleton's Journey" by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)

Shackleton's Journey

Written and Illustrated by
William Grill

Published by Flying Eye Books

Muhahaha! I get to choose a Birthday Book of the Week this week, but thankfully despite a very tough choice both Charlotte and I agreed on this one.

Flying Eye Books hit our "Book of the Week" slot consistently during 2013 with a series of fascinating and brilliant books. It looks like they're set to do exactly the same in 2014 too. We've had our eye on "Shackleton's Journey" for quite some time, presenting a factual account of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton's ambitious expedition to cross Antarctica from sea to sea via the South Pole. Presenting history in a way that children will both understand and engage with is a very neat trick if you can pull it off. William Grill's approach is to effectively present the expedition and the run-up to Shackleton's departure in a deconstruction of the mission, the preparation and the eventual fate of Shackleton and his crew.

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was a huge undertaking, requiring funding and sponsorship, and vast quantities of resources - let alone a trusty vessel capable of making the long journey far south. In this centenary year of the beginning of the voyage, it's a great opportunity to read a book that can spur the imaginations of children to think about what life must've been like in an era where there were still one or two places left unexplored in the world.

Setting sail on the Endurance (Images © William Grill / Flying Eye Books)

Though previous expeditions (including those by Robert Falcon Scott - a mission Shackleton was sent home early from on health grounds, and Roald Amundsen) had already reached Antarctica and the South Pole, no one had attempted to cross the entire continent. Already a veteran of several polar expeditions, Shackleton gathered his crew and a sturdy vessel, the Endurance, and set sail.

William Grill's book provides brilliant illustrations to draw children in, and then sets out an exciting pace as each stage of the expedition unfolds.

99 dogs were needed for the expedition. We swiftly skipped past one or two of the names! (Images © William Grill / Flying Eye Books)
As with all books of this nature, they satisfy an enquiring mind up to a point, so it's been great to dive onto the internet and find out a little more about Shackleton and the mission itself, and the hardships involved 100 years ago when embarking on such a perilous quest.

It's an amazing book and it's going to be one of those books that we come back to again and again. Testament to how brilliant this is for a range of ages is that my mother in law asked to borrow it once we'd finished reading it!

Charlotte's best bit: Completely fascinated and bewitched by this book, really immersive and fantastic for her. 

Daddy's Favourite bit: Such a beautifully presented book detailing a fascinating glimpse of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bounce / Flying Eye Books)

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Thursday 27 February 2014

Wanda and the Alien to the Rescue by Sue Hendra (Red Fox Picture Books)

Wanda and the Alien to the Rescue

Written and Illustrated by
Sue Hendra

Published by Red Fox Picture Books

Sue Hendra's books are always such a treat! Bold, colourful, full of fun and giggles - and a pinch or two of cheekiness never goes amiss. It's great news to hear that Wanda and the Alien are soon to become megastars of their own children's TV show - but let's enjoy them here in book form first!

Wanda the Rabbit and her best friend (who just happens to be an alien) find a fuzzy and cute little creature who looks lost and alone. The poor little mite (eliciting coos of "Awww, he's so so CUTE!" from Charlotte) does look scared and hungry, so Wanda and the Alien decide to take the creature back home with them.

Neither Wanda or the Alien has ever had a pet before - what on earth do you feed them? How do you stop them from scampering off into the garden? And why do they only like eating custard! Surely that's not good for little alien tummies is it?

We love Sue's books, we've seen fish with fish fingers, we've seen snails with crazy shells and a cat with a magic hat - and here in the first of a whole series of books and TV episodes for Wanda and the Alien, a nice little tale of friendship and fuzziness. We absolutely loved the way this ends too - like a manic homage to Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles!"

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte fell absolutely in love with the tiny little creature and his cute custard-scoffing ways

Daddy's Favourite bit: Sue's magic touch with children's books is once again your guarantee that your kids will absolutely love this story!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Red Fox Picture Books)
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Wednesday 26 February 2014

Ten Monsters in the Bed by Kate Cotton and Aaron Blecha (Templar Publishing)

Ten Monsters in the Bed

Written by Kate Cotton

Illustrated by Aaron Blecha

Published by Templar Publishing

They're creepy, kooky and very very noisy! This rather cool monster book from Kate Cotton and Aaron Blecha might startle you if you're not quite prepared for how noisy, nauseous and naughty little monsters can be. Monster bedtime is even worse than toddler bedtime, so join in the fun as the story sees ten little monsters scurrying up the wooden staircase to Beddington.

On each page you'll find a monster with a 'noise spot' to be pressed. Youngsters will love discovering (and reading along with) all the noises little monsters can make, from burps to botty-squeaks, snores to squelches and a rumble of the tummy or two.

With colourful illustrations and great flowing text, it's a treat of a for when you're trying to get your own little monsters to settle down for the night - if you can hear yourself talking over all the noises!

Charlotte's best bit: I'm afraid she's at that age where botty burps are the funniest things ever.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A neat little idea wrapped up in a colourful and entertaining book. Perfect noisy fodder for your own little monsters!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)
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Tuesday 25 February 2014

Woolly and Tig - Woolly at Nursery by Brian Jameson (Bantam Children's Books)

Woolly and Tig - Woolly at Nursery

Written and Illustrated by
Brian Jameson

Published by Bantam Children's Books

The awesome Woolly and Tig are stars of a CBeebies TV show where a little girl and her spider pal have all sorts of adventures. Though we don’t watch CBeebies any more, we were aware of the show and were delighted to discover a great series of children’s books have been released by Bantam to accompany the series, helping children gain a better understanding of their world and all the wonderful things in it.

In “Woolly at Nursery” Tig and Woolly enjoy all the fun and activities in nursery class. But one day Tig has a minor bump with one of her classmates. It’s the sort of thing that happens all the time when a group of toddlers play together (we’ve lost count of the amount of times Charlotte has knocked heads completely accidentally with one of her classmates) but Tig is suddenly not so keen on Nursery, and has a mysterious tummy ache next morning when Daddy is about to drop her off.

Woolly comes to the rescue. He tells Tig that sometimes when we have a worry, it’s best to talk about that worry with mum and dad, with our nursery teacher or even with the person who might have accidentally caused the problem in the first place. Woolly is always full of the best advice, and soon Tig and her nursery friend are enjoying themselves and enjoying all the fun of nursery class once more.

Books that help children deal with their anxieties are often a really good way to allay childhood fears, particularly when characters a child is familiar with (for instance, TV characters) are imparting the advice. This book is a great little read, even for children Charlotte's age who often face unfamiliar situations and have anxieties about them (for instance, in half term week, going into Activity Camps just like Charlotte is this week - so the book arrived with brilliant timing!)

With full colour photos, and clear text, it's a great addition to the Woolly and Tig range.

"Woolly at Nursery" by Brian Jameson will be published by Bantam Books on 27th February 2014.

Charlotte's best bit: Tig's classmate's reaction to Woolly!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A really great little book to help children talk about and overcome their anxieties and worries, using familiar and well-loved TV characters, a brill idea!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bantam Children's Books)
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"Go To Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard" by Steve Cole and Bruce Ingman (Jonathan Cape PB Ltd)

Go To Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard

Written by Steve Cole

Illustrated by Bruce Ingman

Published by Jonathan Cape PB Ltd

We wanted this book as soon as we saw the title, and the (slightly scary) cover image. "Go To Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard" is the sort of book that's destined to become part of a parent's bedtime routine - even if they aren't reading it!

We'll explain why in a moment, but first let's take a look at the story.

An exasperated babysitter is having a troublesome evening. Two children, Joe and Ellie, are determined that they won't be good and go to sleep. They're too full of energy and are too busy trashing their room, inventing new games, and pulling their beds to bits to even contemplate catching some Zs.

Try as she might, the babysitter can't get them to settle, and after umpteen trips up and down stairs, she has only one tactic left.

"Go to sleep, or I let loose the leopard!"

Joe and Ellie have scoffed at all her other threats, so why would a silly old leopard be any different? The kids aren't convinced until they hear the babysitter turn a key in a lock, hear a cage door swing open, and a low roar and the soft foot-padding of paws on stairs.


There's an art to reading this book aloud, and it's such a hugely fun tension-building book that's perfect if you love to ramp up the excitement with every turn of the page (This is something that silly dads like me do when really they should be settling their children down, not making them even more crazy and over-excited when reading bedtime stories!)

Of course we're not about to tell you what happens next, oh no! We'll let the book's title lure you in just as it did us, and let the promise of Steve Cole's fabulous tension-building story and Bruce Ingman's fantastic illustrations add extra spice to this highly recommended book.

As to why it's become part of our bedtime routine even when we aren't reading it? Well, every time we hear Charlotte playing with her torch, or complaining that her pillow is funny, or that her sheets are untucked, guess what we now shout up the stairs?

Charlotte's best bit: We won't spoil the ending but the leopard, aieeee!!!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Such a fantastic twist, and the sort of premise and title that you can't help wanting to investigate further. Read it, Daddies (and mummies!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Random House / Jonathan Cape PB Ltd)
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Monday 24 February 2014

Hugo the Hare's Rainy Day by Jez Alborough (Red Fox Picture Books)

Hugo the Hare's Rainy Day

Written and Illustrated by
Jez Alborough

Published by Red Fox Picture Books

Jez Alborough has a knack for coming up with brilliant animal characters and stories. His books are lyrical, boldly illustrated and a real treat for a range of ages.

Here we meet Hugo the Hare. Hugo loves life but if there's one thing Hugo really doesn't like, it's rain (probably not a happy hare at the moment then with the sort of weather we've been having!)

Hugo fortunately has a colourful umbrella to keep his cotton-tail dry, but as Hugo heads out for a walk, he soon meets friends along the way who also want to squeeze under his brolly to keep dry.

Poor Hugo! The more friends he tries to keep dry, the more he gets wet himself until someone comes up with a fantastic suggestion! Why dodge the rain when you can really enjoy it by getting splashy and squishy!

A super little book, with really eye-catching illustrations, perfect for the wettest start to the year on record!

Charlotte's best bit: Hugo the Hare's rather fetchingly colourful umbrella!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A great book to read when the weather is dismal, enjoy the rain just like Hugo does (eventually!)

(Kindly sent to us by Random House / Red Fox Picture Books)
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The Brave Beast by Chris Judge (Andersen Children's Books)

The Brave Beast

Written and Illustrated by
Chris Judge

Published by Andersen Children's Books

We've spotted this scary beast in apps, but we seem to have missed out on his book adventures - until now! Chris Judge's scary looking creation actually has a heart of gold, and in this adventure tale he must summon all his courage to confront...a noise. The local townsfolk are fleeing in terror as strange, weird, horrible sounds come from the centre of their island. It's up to the beast to parachute in and see what on earth is causing the ruckus and uproar.

For a book that largely features a big monochrome monster, Chris Judge's colourful artwork is gorgeous, and The Beast is the sort of character who we'd love to go to tea with (once we'd got over the shock of how scary he looks!)

Charlotte loves a good monster, and this book has such a neat little twist like all our favourite books do. We look forward to seeing "The Lonely Beast" cropping up in our review schedule real soon.

Charlotte's best bit: The scariest thing on the island turns out to be...(shh, spoilers sweetie, spoilers!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Love that beast, such a cool character!
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Friday 21 February 2014

The Big Splash by A.H Benjamin and John Lycett-Smith (Digital Leaf)

The Big Splash

Written by A.H Benjamin

Illustrated by John Lycett-Smith

Published by Digital Leaf

Aw, this book is so unfair! Even though we're writing this review a fair way ahead of the book's release date (out on the 28th April from Digital Leaf) it's still got us thinking about the summer. Long sunny days, and lots of water fights! Couldn't be better!

In "The Big Splash", the story starts off with a mysterious entity stalking the animals of the forest. As soon as they spot this shambling figure, they turn tale and run. Beaver deserts his newly built dam, even Fox feels threatened by "whatever it is".

The story deliciously builds tension with each turn of the page until we find out just what's responsible for striking terror into the woodland dwellers. What can it possibly be?

Well obviously we're not going to tell you! You'll have to read the book yourself and find out just what can make animals turn tail and run, and what "The Big Splash" is all about.

It's a fantastic and effervescent book but momentarily stealing a quote from Charlotte...there is an element of distraction here that we just couldn't get past...

"Daddy, is that his bottom? Ew!"

Though not in evidence in the cover pic above, watch out - those animals are a little bit too anatomically correct around the hind quarters (though naturally it made us giggle and grossed us out simultaneously!)

Charlotte's best bit: Lovely little Skunk's surefire method for removing ponginess!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fun story that builds tension and excitement till the big reveal. But oh those bums, that's a bit more detail than you need first thing in the morning. Yikes!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Digital Leaf)
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ReadItDaddy's BIRTHDAY Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2014 - Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap (David Fickling Books)

Very Little Red Riding Hood

Written by Teresa Heapy

Written by Sue Heap

Published by David Fickling Books

This is an extra-special edition of our Book of the Week slot because it's Charlotte's birthday week - and for her birthday book of the week she's chosen something that has had us both cackling with laughter all week, and has been in constant demand.

We're very used to seeing classic fairy tales get new treatments, as various authors and illustrators put their own sheen on well loved tales. We thought we'd seen just about every possible way you could reproduce the excitement of "Little Red Riding Hood" but step forward the dream team of Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap. Heapy and Heap have come up trumps with a tale that will make children hoot with laughter (like Charlotte) and make parents knowingly nod and crack a wry grin or two as well.

Very Little Red Riding Hood sets off from home to take cakes to her Grandmama (so far so good) but when she meets the wolf in the forest (and shouts gleefully "FOXIE" before giving him a huge hug - something we definitely don't advise toddlers to do!) it's the start of a pint-sized adventure.

Sue Heap's observations of toddler-style behaviour (and speech patterns! "Lello" made me laugh long and loud!) are bang on the nail. Very Little Red Riding hood is full of joie de vivre and like our own little miss bossy pants, she's not above telling people what to do and how to do it!

Safely at Grandmama's house, Very Little Red Riding Hood invites "Foxie" in for "a cuppatea" and makes perfect plans for the ultimate sleepover. But is "Foxie" as friendly as he seems?

Books like this are such easy candidates for our book of the week slot. In constant demand, eliciting hoots of laughter with every read through, but more than that - lots of really cute and hilariously funny scenes unfold as you read, and it's the perfect book to appeal to quite a broad age range.

Charlotte asked "Was I that bossy when I was a toggler?" (Her name for toddlers) - Yes indeed she was.

Charlotte's best bit: Have you ever seen a child literally hopping up and down with happiness and excitement when it gets to their 'best bit' in a book? That's what Charlotte does every time it gets to the bit where Very Little Red Riding Hood meets "Foxie" in the woods for the first time. Every single time!

Daddy's Favourite bit: I don't want to spoil the book too much for you but there are so many bits that will make you laugh and smile. I really truly hope we one day see Heapy and Heap do more classic story treatments like this, I mean Very Little Cinderella has GOT to be next, surely!
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Thursday 20 February 2014

Happiness is a Watermelon on your Head by Daniel Hahn and Stella Dreis (Phoenix Yard Books)

Happiness is a Watermelon on your Head

Written by Daniel Hahn

Illustrated by Stella Dreis

Published by Phoenix Yard Books

It's crazy, it's a bit kooky, and it's the sort of book that sings out at us when we're browsing our local library stacks. What is happiness? Well happiness can be defined in lots of ways - and in this story we find out what happens when nosy neighbours want to know the secret of why their friend is always so happy-go-lucky, why her glass is always half full and not half empty, and why she's always full of the joys of spring.

They spy on her, they even try to emulate her behaviour - but could the answer be as simple as the nose on your face?

Daniel Hahn's crazy nonsense text coupled with Stella Dreis' wonderful colourful and surreal characters make this book a rare treat. It almost leaps off the page with energy and effervescence, and if you're feeling a little grumpy and down in the dumps, perhaps you need to slide a big ol' piece of fruit onto your nogging too!

Charlotte's best bit: Poor Melvin!!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Bonkers, crazy, surreal but wonderful!
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Macavity the Mystery Cat by T.S Eliot and Arthur Robins (Faber and Faber)

Macavity the Mystery Cat

Written by T.S Eliot

Adapted and Illustrated by Arthur Robins

Published by Faber and Faber

Oh well I never! Here's a fantastic new book celebrating the wonderful feline creations of one T.S Eliot. In the 75th Anniversary year of T.S Eliot's masterful "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" we find out a little bit more about the most mysterious, the most charming, and the most devious cat of all. Macavity, Macavity - He doth defyeth gravity!

You'd expect great rhymes from Mr Eliot - and Arthur Robins' brilliant wobbly illustrations bring Macavity to life. No fish dish is safe from this devious master criminal, and the best noses in Scotland Yard can never track him down because - as they arrive on the scene, Macavity isn't there!

Charlotte soaked this book up like a hungry sponge, enthusiastically joining in on every turn of the page where the sneaky Macavity outwits his foes to triumph again and again.

What a magical marvellous Macavity he is!

"Macavity the Mystery Cat" is released on 1st May 2014 from Faber and Faber.

Charlotte's best bit: Macavity's many admirers! Purr!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Such a joy to read aloud, and such a fun frolicsome celebration of everything feline!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Faber and Faber)
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Wednesday 19 February 2014

My Adventure Island by Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton (Scholastic)

My Adventure Island

Written by Timothy Knapman

Illustrated by Sarah Warburton

Published by Scholastic

How many times as a kid did you dream of a world without adults? Your own world, where you could make up your own rules, go to bed when you wanted to, eat what you wanted to when you wanted to. How blissful would it be?

That's the story here in "My Adventure Island" as a young boy imagines what life would be like on his own island. An island where big sisters are banished, where mum and dad have to apply for a visa to visit, and where family pets are all part of the castaway crew.

But would it be that great, really? What happens if you bang your knee and want someone to kiss it better? Or you want someone to read you a bedtime story. Or - heavens forbid - you want your big sister to give you a big soppy hug?

Find out how our young hero copes in "My Adventure Island" - and start planning your summer island holiday now!

Charlotte's best bit: Being able to eat your pudding first, then your dinner!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Rather neat story, great ideas! A tropical island getaway would be just what I need right now!
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Come and see "Rolling Pea" by Kiev Sea Pirates (iPad Version Tested)

Rolling Pea

Developed by
Kiev Sea Pirates

iPad Interactive Story App

We keep saying "We're not going to cover any more apps" which swiftly changes to "Oh go on then, just one more" when we see things like "The Rolling Pea" by Kiev Sea Pirates. Ukranian developers KSP have produced a story app that is so utterly gorgeous to look at, and is so beautifully presented that we couldn't resist its charms.

With a traditional folk-tale feel, "Rolling Pea" tells the story of a brave little boy who grows up with astonishing strength. When a wicked dragon kidnaps his brothers and sister, Rolling Pea sets out on an epic quest to free them and defeat the nefarious scaly beast.

Set out over 30 pages with an absolute TON of interactive elements (KSP tell us that there are over 500 to discover), and with a beautiful professionally produced soundtrack and narrative track, "Rolling Pea" is definitely not your average interactive story. Like most apps we dearly wish this was a print book (the illustrations are truly jaw-dropping) but we had a lot of fun with this, and can't wait to see more from this talented crew.

Find out more information on "Rolling Pea" on the Kiev Sea Pirates website.

Rolling Pea is available on the App Store (iPad Version)

Pinging all the tiny and delicately designed interactive elements in the story, and dodging gigantic mace weapons as they drop from the sky.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations, slick design and some truly lovely music and sound effects. An app that positively screams quality from every pixel.
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Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams and A.G Ford (Candlewick Press)

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu & DC Abrams

Illustrated by A.G Ford

Published by Candlewick Press

This book caught our eye for a whole stack of reasons. It's not every day you spot a children's book that's written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that deals with issues of apartheid in a way that children can understand, and that wraps the whole package up in a moral tale that really draws the reader in - with superb artwork to boot.

"Desmond and the Very Mean Word" has all these qualities, and it's a fantastic story of how a young boy, Desmond, encounters a horrid gang of boys while out showing off his new bike. The boys use a very mean word on Desmond, and he flees the scene. All day long his anger, and the word, boil up inside him until he decides the only thing that will help is revenge.

Seeking the kindly advice of Father Trevor, the Neighbourhood priest, Desmond learns the value of forgiveness and compassion.

Sometimes when I read to Charlotte I can almost hear her holding her breath with anticipation of how a story will end, how the central character will overcome their difficulties, and how books will deliver their message and that was very much the case here. Desmond's story may seem fairly unremarkable but put into context, and with a little gentle discussion about apartheid and what life must've been like when Bishop Tutu was a boy, it's a book that held both of us in its thrall. Important stuff, showing that you don't often need a moral sledgehammer to deliver a message that children will understand, but a timely and valuable story dealing with issues sensitively and in language that children can readily absorb will work wonders and stay in the mind for quite some time.

Charlotte's best bit: Desmond, the mean boy and the sweetie stall

Daddy's Favourite bit: An amazing book that easily impresses, delivering a message of forgiveness and compassion with sensitivity and a plain uncomplicated voice
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Tuesday 18 February 2014

Kids bored already at half term? Get colouring with the awesome lostmyname team!

The super-cool team at have been in touch with us to let us know about their brilliant half-term colouring sheets and book. Funky colouring for kids learning their A B Cs, crack out the pencils, pens, felt tips and crayons and get scribbling. 

Don't forget to share your children's creations on the Lost My Name facebook page

Lost My Name produce fabulous children's name books with a twist, each story is different and it's tailored to your child's name, so there's always plenty of fun to be had when children recognise they're the central character in their own story. 

Take a look at their lovely books on the Lost My Name website. 

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Trixie the Witch's Cat by Nick Butterworth (Picture Puffin)

Trixie the Witch's Cat

Written and Illustrated by
Nick Butterworth

Published by Picture Puffin

This book was a rather lovely surprise. Charlotte pulled it out of the library stack and from its cover, I hadn't really expected it to be more than a "witchy story" but it very much is. In fact it's a rather sweet tale of a cat who thinks different is bad. Born with one white paw, Trixie is a witch's cat with a difference. She knows that all witch's cats should be jet black all over, so she frets and worries about her single white paw - to the point where she even tries to hide it when her friends come round to play.

Trixie gets angry and has tantrums because of her paw if she thinks about it too much - so she comes up with a cunning plan to do something about it once and for all.

Not washing is one solution, but all that seems to do is make her paw pong! Phew! Paint works for a little while but wears off. But Trixie is a witch's cat, and if there's one thing a witch's cat ought to be able to use - it's magic!

We won't spoil the rest of the tale for you. There are so many books that shout "Vive la difference" in many different ways, sometimes in a way that children can identify with and instantly pick up on, sometimes (like here) with a message that's so subtly and sensitively handled, that you almost feel like shouting "Hooray!" at the end. Marvellous little hidden gem this one, don't miss it!

Charlotte's best bit: Trixie's ingenious plan to hide her paw when friends come round to play.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic book that shouts "Different is cool!" - And so say all of us!
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Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing)


Written and Illustrated by
Jonny Duddle

Published by Templar Publishing

Jonny Duddle is a piratical master of mischief, he's also a space-faring superstar but what happens when Mr Duddle turns his attention to prehistoric times, and all things dino-shaped?

The answer is "Gigantosaurus" - a new book from this immensely talented writer/illustrator. We meet four little dino-kids called Bonehead, Fin, Tiny and Bill who wander the prehistoric plains in search of fun. Their parents warn them about a fearsome beast, the Gigantosaurus - the largest dinosaur of all, who will eat practically anything, particularly little dinos.

Bonehead offers to act as a lookout to keep the others safe - But Bonehead turns out to be "The Dinosaur That Cried Wolf" as he keeps playing tricks on his friends, making them scurry for cover for a bit of a giggle.

But what is that menacing shadow in the distance? Who does that spiny tail belong to? Bonehead might not be the brilliant look out he's cracked up to be!

Jonny Duddle has once again come up trumps with a brilliant story, artwork to die for and a whole parcel of fascinating Dino-facts crammed into this gorgeous hardback book. One (dino) bone of contention though is the amazing fold-out cover. We're so fussy about our books that we couldn't possibly bear to take the cover off, unfold it, and display the absolutely fantastic Gigantosaurus poster on the wall - as brilliant as it is! Cool idea though (and we did enjoy the surprise fold-out later on in the actual book itself, so that sort of compensates a bit!)

I think the only bit we were a tiny microscopic bit disappointed about was the lack of cameos of other characters from Jonny's books. We've come to expect characters creeping into each others stories, but none here - unless we completely missed them (which we obviously did, thanks anonymous commenter! We need to pick up our visual scanning!)

Pretty much everything JD turns his hand to is brilliant, we really cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Charlotte's best bit: Arguing with Daddy over which dinosaur was hiding in a hollowed-out log (Charlotte won!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Sumptuous artwork that had me cracking out a magnifying glass to figure out JUST HOW HE DOES IT! (failed miserably, he's just too durned good is Mr D!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)
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Squishy McFluff - The Invisible Cat by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad (Faber and Faber)

Squishy McFluff

Written by Pip Jones

Illustrated by Ella Okstad

Published by Faber and Faber Children's Books

There seem to be an awful lot of books hitting our review schedule at the moment that deal with a fairly sensitive subject - imaginary friends. I had one as a kid called Pooki, and like the little girl, Ava, in this book, Pooki was more a good way of getting into (and excusing my way out of) mischief than being a perfect pet or companion.

Ava discovers Squishy McFluff one day in the vegetable patch, and instantly takes a liking to the invisible kitty (sensibly always shown as a mysterious transparent moggy). Ava goes everywhere with Squishy. He's extremely easy to look after (as invisible cats are - not as demanding as their real-life counterparts, for sure!) and at first Squishy is welcome at home. But then things go awry. Squishy is not beyond a bit of mischievous behaviour and soon Squishy starts to cause havoc, and Ava is always very quick to point out that Squishy is to blame - not her!

It takes a rather understanding and dapper 100 year old, Great Grandad Bill, to point out to Ava that Squishy should learn to comport himself as an elegant feline not a moggy miscreant. After all, it's not very cat-like to draw on walls with felt tips, or trash the house on a regular basis.

Charlotte is beginning to demand heftier literary fare and Squishy McFluff joins the ranks of early chapter readers that she's really taken to like a duck to water (or indeed, an invisible cat to an invisible plate of invisible tuna). The format (largely illustrated with plenty of interesting text) is nicely sized and Charlotte loves sneaking off with the book to read bits on her own (and laugh out loud at Squishy's rather naughty antics).

Dealing with a delicate subject isn't easy, this book not only manages to intricately describe Ava's imaginary friendship but also it lovingly pays tribute to our elders too. Great Grandad Bill (whose real-life counterpart receives a well-deserved dedication at the start of the book) is wise and level headed. Not too shabby for a centenarian.

What a gorgeous and thoroughly entertaining book, truly!

Charlotte's best bit: Of course, it has to be the bit where Mum thinks she's stroking Squishy's ears when really she's lovingly stroking his bum (Charlotte read the book before I could sit down and read it with her and I could hear her delighted cackle of laughter right from the other end of the house!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A very nice treatment on the "imaginary friend" - sensitively and delicately told, and marvellous to read out loud thanks to tight and flowing rhymes. So glad to see that the next book, "Supermarket Sweep" is on the way.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Faber and Faber)
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Monday 17 February 2014

Robotslayer free on iPad for half term - Never mind the weather, go Robotslaying instead!

Join Benny and Leo in a droid-destroying adventure. Robotslayer!
Half term is upon us, and if the long range weather reports are anything to go by, the kids might be going stir-crazy by the middle of the week. So here's something cool that you can nab for your iPad to keep your little ones quiet when the rain pours down.

Vince Kamp's "Robotslayer" is available as a graphic novel and an iPad app, and Vince has kindly let us know that the Robotslayer app is free to download for the week. 

Even if you already own the graphic novel version, here's a chance to pick up the app version free. Superb stuff!

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Usborne "See Inside" Series - See Inside Ancient Egypt by Rob Lloyd Jones and David Hancock (Usborne Books)

See Inside Ancient Egypt

Written by Rob Lloyd Jones

Illustrated by David Hancock

Published by Usborne Books

We've often mused aloud why 'lift the flap' books are often designed for younger children (almost babies), when they're actually a very good way of engaging children Charlotte's age with a subject. Particularly a historical one.

Charlotte loves anything to do with Ancient Egypt. I'm never quite sure whether it's the splendour of their architecture, their amazing technological achievements or their rich vibrant history - or whether that secretly it's just because she likes scary mummies. We often visit our local museums to check out their fantastic collection of Egyptian artifacts (and yes, creepy mummies) so finding this Usborne book completely intact in the library was a real treat (lift the flap books are often completely ruined when we get to them and borrow them, alas not all kids look after books like Charlotte does).

Delving deep into ancient Egyptian lifestyles, and examining a typical day in an Egyptian settlement and city, this book is full of intricate illustrations and plain uncomplicated descriptions of the many aspects of ancient Egypt's culture. Flaps offer a 'zoomed in' view of some of the scenes, for instance being able to lift a flap to gaze into a nobleman's house, or lift a flap to find out who the cheeky monkey is that's stealing fruit from the market (answer: it is actually a cheeky monkey!)

Fabulous and colourful, this is the sort of book that Usborne do so well - and it's the sort of book we'd like to see more of for the 5-9 age group. Flaps don't have to mean 'dumbed down' and they definitely do not in this case. Wonderful stuff.

Charlotte's best bit: A rather unfortunate event at the dockside with two very naughty Egyptian boys and some baskets of fruit. Someone's in trouble!

This is the sort of history range that we'd love to see others taking their cues from. Informative, interesting, chock-full of detail and a real treat to use.
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Dangerous by Tim Warnes (Little Tiger Press)


Written and Illustrated by
Tim Warnes

Published by Little Tiger Press

I work with someone who lives and dies by his labelling machine. I think it comes of watching too many episodes of the 60s version of Batman, where everything was helpfully labelled - from the anti-shark repellent suit to the Bat Computer.

The little mole in "Dangerous" is similarly blessed, he's happy in his own little world, making little labels for everything around him and everything he sees. Until one day a huge green knobbly thing blocks his path. What on earth can you label THAT with?

Mole does his best, and doesn't realise that the huge green knobbly thing is actually a huge green knobbly DANGEROUS thing. It's a crocodile, but is it really dangerous? It sure makes short work of the mole's labels, greedily scoffing them all up and then following mole around for more.

Mole is terrified but perhaps there's one label the Crocodile wouldn't mind wearing that mole hasn't thought of yet.

This book's original premise is fun and wonderfully told - though for read-aloud parents, be prepared to read each and every one of those labels out loud to your child (or better still, do what I did and have Charlotte read them out to you!) A great book for expanding their vocabularies while teaching them about unlikely friendships too!

Charlotte's best bit: Reading all of mole's labels very loudly

Daddy's Favourite bit: A rather cool little idea for a story that helps children learn a brace of new words through Mole's staunch labelling efforts!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Little Tiger Press)
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Friday 14 February 2014

The Royal Nappy by Nicholas Allan (Red Fox Picture Books)

The Royal Nappy

Written and Illustrated by
Nicholas Allan

Published by Red Fox Picture Books

Nicholas Allan is the master of cheekiness, particularly when his books lovingly poke fun at the Royal Family - but in the best possible taste, of course.

We missed the original release of "The Royal Nappy" but couldn't resist it when we spotted it in the library. Predicting that the new royal would be a boy was pretty canny. In a similar vein to his other slightly cheeky royal book "The Queen's Knickers", here Nicholas Allan delves into the none-too-fragrant subject of the royal baby's nappies.

With a different one for each occasion, and lots of clever emergency gadgets tucked into the folds should any explosive poo accidents happen when foreign dignitaries are having a sleep-over at the palace, it's giggle-worthy stuff - particularly if your child shares Charlotte's sense of humour and finds poos, wees and bums the funniest thing ever.

We're left wondering what Nicholas Allan is going to turn his talents to next. The Queen's Walking Frame? Prince Harry's Hangover? The possibilities are endless!

Charlotte's best bit: A nappy for all occasions!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A royal baby spin on a well-loved theme. Ploptastic!
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 14th February 2014 - "Where the Poppies Now Grow" by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey (Strauss House Productions)

Where the Poppies Now Grow

Written by Hilary Robinson

Illustrated by Martin Impey

Published by Strauss House Productions

In the Centenary year of the outbreak of World War 1, children's authors and artists have dug deep to come up with many brilliant children's books to ensure that our youngsters never forget the conflict, or the sacrifices made by their ancestors. It's not an easy subject to tackle for children Charlotte's age, though we've looked at several excellent non-fiction books that examine the history to provide facts and figures about the war itself. This is the first fictional title we've encountered, and it's an astonishingly beautiful book.

"Where the Poppies Now Grow" tells the tale of two childhood friends, Ben and Ray, who grow up together, play together - and then go to war together. Hilary Robinson's story slowly builds in prose to tell the boys tale as they deal first hand with the horrors of war. Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated by Martin Impey, we read and enjoyed the story (but I really had to fight hard to keep the tears at bay).

The book triggered deep discussions about the conflict, and what it meant to families to see men - and sometimes boys - heading off to the front, to fight in a war that had such a terrible toll.

It feels like a fitting homage to some of the classic war poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. A timely reminder to us all that the many, many people who died in "The Great War" did so in order that we could live in peace.

It's been asked for again and again by Charlotte, who now wants to find out a little more about members of our family who fought in the First World War (my great great grandfather for instance, who was a gunner and survived the conflict to become a policeman afterwards).

Charlotte's best bit: The boys as old men at the end. So touching.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A hugely important piece of work, absolutely vital to help children learn about and understand the sacrifices made in World War 1

(Kindly sent to us for review by Strauss House Productions)
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Thursday 13 February 2014

Build your own Viking Longship (British Museum Press)

Build your own Viking Longship

A fun papercraft model

Published by British Museum Press

"This weekend, we're going to build a boat!" I said to a rather bemused Charlotte. We've been enjoying the British Museum Press's fantastic range of children's publications (See our review of "King Harald") but we couldn't wait to take a look at this fabulous papercraft model of a Viking Longship.

It's important to point out that the model is aimed at older children but enthusiastic 5 year olds can definitely help out, pushing out the pieces and helping you stick things together (you will need glue and scissors, and a very steady hand!)

Included is a fact sheet to give you more details on how Vikings built huge ships to explore the world, and established colonies in other countries as far reaching as North America and Greenland.

The kit soon began to come together quite nicely...

...though there were a few frustrating moments locating the deck inside the two halves of the hull with a ton of tiny little tabs to be glued (thankfully with a bit of deft pegging and temporary sticky tape, we overcame that obstacle fairly quickly).

As you can see from our header image, the finished model looks really brilliant. We'd heartily recommend lots of time and patience though in order to get the best results, so it's definitely more suitable for children from 8 upwards, with adult help for some of the fiddly bits.

It's a very impressive kit, and you can obtain it from the British Museum Press website or from the BM shop for £5.99.

Charlotte's best bit: Helping to stick the crew together, and then putting them in their proper places on deck.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A very impressive kit, a little over-fiddly in places but patience and a bit of careful sticking will reap rewards!

(Kindly sent to us for review by British Museum Press)
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Look! A Book! by Bob Staake (Little, Brown Young Readers)

Look! A Book!

Written and Illustrated by
Bob Staake

Published by Little, Brown Young Readers

Bob Staake's zany effervescence is fantastic, and we can't get enough of his brilliant cartoonish creations. In "Look! A Book!" children will find so much to see and do that it's difficult to know what to concentrate on first.

Using page cut-outs and rhymes to guide you to each double spread full of fun, there's a ton to discover amongst each busy set of crazy characters, vroomtastic vehicles and more than a few surprises.

There's a rather neat idea once you think you've finished too. The book urges you to go back and find all the things you might have missed. A list of common objects is hidden in each spread - and you can fold the list 'up and over' for reference. Can you find all the pizza slices and bowling pins, for instance?

A fabulous smorgasbord of observation and fun. We definitely want to hunt down the second in the series (Look! Another book!) and can't wait to see more of Bob's brilliant work.

Charlotte's best bit: Taking ages to find a cat dressed as a clown, or the tiniest robot in the world.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Full of fun, love Bob's Zany retro-futurist style. What a great little book to while away a rainy saturday afternoon!
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The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure by Thomas J.T Williams and Gilli Allan (British Museum Children's Books)

The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure

Written by Thomas J.T Williams
Illustrated by Gilli Allan

Published by British Museum Children's Books

We're nuts about history, and we've been fortunate enough to look at some brilliant children's books that delve deep into our past. We're also very lucky that Oxford has a fantastic collection of brilliant museums that we can get to, if the rain stops us getting out into the countryside.

One trend we've noticed in children's history books is that most books rely on some fairly cheap gags, or gross-out grimness to convey their message so it's actually a refreshing change to take a look at a book that examines historical artifacts, and factual figures who left their mark on the world in their own unique way.

The British Museum Press's "The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure" is just such a book, telling an exciting adventure tale part based on factual events, aided with fantastic ink-and-linework illustrations rather than the usual cartoony fare we're used to. Aimed at children older than Charlotte ideally (8 and upwards), it details the life and times of Harald Sigurdsson, the last king of the Vikings. From fairly humble beginnings, he rose to become one of the most prominent explorers and warriors of his era, leading his people on dangerous quests and into battle.

Harald's remarkable story inspired us to visit our local museum to find out a little bit more about the Vikings, and see how artifacts we've found in our locale compare to the fantastic illustrations and feature pages in this book.

It's extremely easy to see why children find history so fascinating, and of course the Vikings - whose adventures and rather bloodthirsty timelines are an amazing subject to study.

We'll be looking in detail at further publications from the British Museum Children's Books collection, and also building our own Viking longboat - so watch out for that in a future blogpost.

Charlotte's best bit: King Harald's amazing Viking armour and shields

Daddy's Favourite bit: A great book for older children who want to explore history and learn more about the fascinating Viking culture

(Kindly sent to us for review by British Museum Children's Books)
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Wednesday 12 February 2014

Hog in the Fog by Julia Copus and Eunyong Seo (Faber and Faber)

Hog in the Fog

Written by Julia Copus

Illustrated by Eunyong Seo

Published by Faber and Faber

Take a smidgeon of "The Gruffalo", add a tiny pinch of "Foggy Foggy Forest" and some truly charming artwork, and you're half way towards imagining how great "Hog in the Fog" is. With the perfect pairing of a rather bristly but loveable wild boar (hog) called Harry and a cute and winsome shrew called Candy-Stripe Lil (who has a penchant for pink and white striped clothing), you're ready for adventure as the mists swirl one day.

Lil has laid on a rather scrumptious spread for tea, and has invited Harry round. Delicious delicacies await (Nice squishy and crunchy slugs anyone?) but Harry is unfashionably late. Soon Lil realises that she ought to go and see where her bristly chum has got to.

The fog descends silently, and it soon looks like poor Harry is lost in it somewhere. Thankfully Lil meets lots of animals who seem to have seen...something in the fog, but it doesn't sound much like Harry the Hog.

(I hadn't intended to write this review in rhyme, it just seems to happen - from time to time).

There's a trick to reading this one to Charlotte. She demands that it's read in slightly hushed tones, with that flat funereal near-silent whisper that lends itself so well to a foggy foggy day. So we snuggled up under a blanket and read it just so.

A lovely story, and Eunyong Seo's artwork is truly beautiful. Really hoping to see more of Harry and Candy-Stripe Lil very soon!

(Edit: Candy-Stripe Lil is of course a shrew not a mouse! Hence the cute nose. Thank you Julia for pointing that out, we're happy to correct).

Charlotte's best bit: A teatime spread fit for a hungry hog and a matronly shrew. Fabulous!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A rather lovely story that demands to be read somewhere cosy. Preferably while armed with a mug of hot chocolate. Scrummy!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Faber and Faber)
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Boo! By Tracey Corderoy and Caroline Pedler (Little Tiger Press)


Written by Tracey Corderoy

Illustrated by Caroline Pedler
Published by Little Tiger Press

A bouncy effervescent rabbit is always a good bet for misbehaviour and crazy antics. At first I mistook "Boo!" as the first book in a deluge of easter titles, but it's actually nothing to do with easter - bear with, bear with!

Boo! is the story of Hullabaloo, a bunny who likes nothing better than sneaking up behind his friends before shouting "BOO!" at the top of his voice. Hullabaloo's friends don't mind at first, but after a while it gets a bit tiresome. Particularly when they're trying to do other things (have you ever tried to unwrap yourself from a hammock after a nasty surprise? It's not easy!)

Soon, Hullabaloo's friends put their foot down and insist "No more Boo-ing!" - Which is a shame because it's Hullabaloo's birthday and there's nothing quite like a big loud Boo to get things off to a flying start.

What on earth happens on Hullabaloo's birthday? Will the party ever take place? Will the friends ever recover from their jangled nerves?

Tracey ("Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble") Corderoy has a lovely way with words, backed up by Caroline Pedler's bold and beautifully coloured illustrations. Younger children will love a quick reading of "Boo!" before bedtime, just don't get them too over-excited with too much enthusiastic Boo-ing!

Charlotte's best bit: What happens to Hullabaloo's birthday cake. Eek!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A nice easy book to read before bed, with plenty of surprises. Boo to you too!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Little Tiger Press)
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Who's in the Tree that Shouldn't Be by Craig Shuttlewood (Templar Publishing)

Who's in the tree that shouldn't be?

Written and Illustrated by
Craig Shuttlewood

Published by Templar Publishing

Charlotte has a charming weakness for lift the flap books. Curiosity and discovery are cat-nip to kidlets, and though technically she's probably a little too old for "Who's in the tree that shouldn't be", she couldn't get enough of it.

On each page spread, a scene is laid out as the story asks "Who's in the tree that shouldn't be" or "Who on earth is stranded in the hot desert sun that doesn't belong there?"

We loved the complete chaos as a slowly growing rag-tag group of animals are discovered with every page turn and every lift of the flap, journeying to the distant corners of the earth and beyond out into space (the space bit was definitely our fave, as was spotting the flying saucer on each page!)

The layouts in the book are great, allowing for plenty of discovery and discussion. An utterly fabulous page-turner for diddy little digits. Delectable!

Charlotte's best bit: Noting that the animals were sensible enough to wear space suits and diving suits! Clever animals!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Great engagement with this one, Charlotte still loves these.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)
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Tuesday 11 February 2014

Miffy is nearly 60 years old. Celebrate with Simon and Schuster's new updated Miffy range!


Written and Created by Dick Bruna

New stories adapted by Tony Mitton

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

We love Miffy - and we still can't believe that it's nearly 60 years since Dick Bruna's timeless bunny character first appeared in children's books.

Miffy is still a hugely important and identifiable brand for children, so it's great to see the old books getting some love and attention courtesy of Simon and Schuster, and Tony Mitton. With the permission of Dick Bruna's estate, Tony has reworked several of Dick Bruna's original Miffy books for a modern audience, bringing them bang up to date.

The stories are still fantastic, and it's surprising how many sensitive subjects the books cover (from ecological issues to bereavement, no we're seriously not kidding!)

To accompany the relaunch of the brand, S & S are also producing a range of brilliant sticker and activity books like the one pictured in our header image (Miffy's Day, a fun book full of brilliant Miffy stickers and things to scribble and do).

We'll be taking a more in-depth look at Tony's re-treatment of Miffy very soon but in the meantime, take a look at the full range of new Miffy goodies on Simon and Schuster's website.

Charlotte's best bit: Great stickers and activities with a well-loved favourite character

Daddy's Favourite bit: Miffy is timeless and enduring. Here's to the next 50 years!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books
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The Snagglegrollop by Daniel Postgate and Nick Price (Chicken House Books)

The Snagglegrollop

Written by Daniel Postgate

Illustrated by Nick Price

Published by Chicken House Books

What on EARTH is a Snagglegrollop? You may well ask - and in this fun story from Daniel Postgate and Nick Price, you'll find out. Snagglegrollops, you see, are highly prized as pets so when Sam, a young boy, isn't allowed to have a dog or a cat, he innocently asks whether his doting parents might find houseroom for a Snagglegrollop instead.

They're genuinely surprised when the boy bring one home. It's a rather natty creature with great table manners and none of the usual dog-and-cat aversions to keeping clean.

In fact there's really only one thing better than a Snagglegrollop - as Charlotte found out part-way through the book. Enter the Quibblesnuff, a sassy and rouged-lipped gorgeous creation belonging to Sam's friend Emily.

"She's so beautiful!" - Charlotte, aged 6

You can find out what happens when a Snagglegrollop and a Quibblesnuff meet once you read the story yourself. Fabulous fun splicing together a story dealing with childhood requests for pets or their imaginary friends. Loved Nick's illustrations too, so beautiful and full of cool little snaggle-details!

Charlotte's best bit: The Quibblesnuff

Daddy's Favourite bit: Brilliant fun for tiddlers, beautifully illustrated and told
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The Driftwood Ball by Thomas Docherty (Templar Publishing)

The Driftwood Ball

Written and Illustrated by
Thomas Docherty

Published by Templar Publishing

Poor William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, his timeless tale of love and loss has been spun, folded and (some might say) mutilated by so many folk for the last few hundred years. The Montagues and Capulets have been reimagined as everything from streetgangs to gnomes but no one thought to do what Thomas Docherty has now so masterfully done. Reimagining the tale of Romeo and Juliet as the tails of George and Celia, Thomas's utterly beautiful "The Driftwood Ball" conveys a glorious message of difference and understanding.

George is a Badger you see. Not just any badger, but part of a tribe of dancing badgers who have very specific views about how one should dance. Celia, however, is a sea otter - and Sea Otters love to dance but not at all like badgers do. Jigging is not for them, they prefer to sashay and shimmy, footloose and fancy free.

The badgers and otters don't really see eye to eye, but Celia and George are different - and on one fabulous night at the sumptuous "Driftwood Ball" Celia and George get the chance to show both badgers and otters how to dance without all those daft rules and regulations.

With perfect timing, this is a book that would slide wonderfully into a valentine's day bookpile with ease. Celia and George are so adorable and irresistible as characters, and Thomas's brilliant illustrations and flowing text are dazzling and charming.

A truly beautiful book conveying a fantastic message. Always dance like no-one's watching!

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte loved Celia to bits, particularly her groovy leaf skirt

Daddy's Favourite bit: We interpreted this as a lovely spin on Romeo and Juliet, with a strong message shouting "vive la difference!"

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)
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Monday 10 February 2014

"Jack and the Beanstalk" from Nosy Crow shows real innovation in bridging the gap between e-books and games

Jack and the Beanstalk

Interactive story app (iPad version tested)

Published by Nosy Crow

One of our biggest frustrations when it comes to storytelling apps is the way the platform for delivery is viewed. So many times we've looked at iBooks and storytelling apps that merely offer a few extra whistles and bells, but serve up a story much in the same way print books do. This always seems like a complete waste, given that most modern tablets are so full of features that really ought to be used to their full potential.

Nosy Crow have been chipping away at the "storytelling app" cliches for a while now. Their apps crop up every year in reputable "Best App" roundups, and you've only got to see their app store ratings to know that they're definitely doing something right. So what's their secret?

Up till now we've not experienced them directly, as apps are still a bit of a hard sell to us for various reasons (check out our guest articles on Helen Dineen's excellent "CAPPtivated Kids" blog to get an idea of why we feel the way we do about them).

Nevertheless, when Nosy Crow very kindly gave us the opportunity to review their latest storytelling app, "Jack and the Beanstalk" we wanted to see whether their bold claims of a "gamified reading experience" held water.

Time to explore, and there's plenty to discover in "Jack and the Beanstalk"

I'm very happy to report that they do indeed. "Jack and the Beanstalk" not only breaks most of the usual rules for storytelling apps, it invents a few of its own along the way. Gone is the single-line-of-story from start to finish, opting for branching narrative dependent on what the reader (or should that be 'player') does during the course of the story. Gone too are those irritating immersion-breaking navigation controls or controls for points of interest. Nosy Crow's excellent development team have obviously spent time not only thinking about their content and the method of delivery, but they've honed the user experience to a point where children from a broad age range will be able to adapt to how they want to use the app. If they choose, they can have a relatively standard story experience or opt for more interaction.

Tricky bit coming up!
Charlotte delighted in the voyage of discovery piquing her curiosity in each scene as Jack finds his way through the story. From time to time I'd join her to help her over some of the tricky bits (I'm not sure that allowing the app to be panned around or pinch-scaled was such a good idea, it can mean frustration for younger players but it does mean you can soak up all the lovely details in the illustrations).

Points of interest appear after a short while if children don't find them under their own steam

Adapting a well-known fairy tale is also a good move in this case, because when the surprises happen (and there are plenty of surprises tucked into the "Jack and the Beanstalk" app) children are genuinely delighted by them (and sometimes, thanks to some superb audio production, a little bit scared by certain scenes - perhaps one to play with younger children cuddling on your lap if they're slightly nervy of mild peril).

Jack and his mum. The story is told with brilliant audio and excellent child actors, helping children more readily identify with what's being said / conveyed. 

In essence, bridging the gap between story and game means maintaining a really good quality and consistent experience right across the board (there's nothing worse than a story telling app that dishes up the same tired old minigame tropes to win over kids who would rather play than read). Game-playing kids are served well in "Jack and the Beanstalk" and again, the app expertly appeals to quite a broad age range - even the very young will find it easy to use, intuitive and plenty of fun.

Returning to the top of the review, Nosy Crow's developers use the iPad's features in some very cool ways (like piecing together a broken mirror - which actually uses the camera to show the child's reflection while they play).

Gold! Gimme more gold!
We won't spoil too many of the other surprises for you. Nosy Crow's ethos is sound, charging a reasonable price for an engaging app that kids will return to again and again - eschewing the detestable model of microtransactions or ad-driven apps in favour of quality and consistency for a one-shot price. If you're the sort of person that thinks £2.99 is expensive for apps, consider how much the average "free" storytelling app will cost you once you start paying for all that extra content.

On another matter, Apps vs Books, E vs Print is often seen as some sort of bizarre unwinnable war - with the lines of conflict tightly drawn on both sides. Consider then that Nosy Crow are Switzerland, deftly establishing a neutral zone where stories and apps can live in perfect harmony.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" from Nosy Crow is available on the app store, priced £2.99.

Check out the app trailer below:

Charlotte's best bit: Helping the giant's librarian sort out his book collection, and rebuilding a broken mirror. 

Daddy's Favourite bit: Absolutely top notch five-star presentation, a brilliant branching approach to the story that's a take on a classic, and a truly well balanced app exuding quality and immersion in the story from every pixel. For a hardened story-app naysayer, it's not faint praise to describe this as the way we'd love to see all storytelling apps shaped in future. 

(Kindly sent to us for review by Nosy Crow)
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