Monday 31 March 2014

Jonny Duddle brings awesome tales of pirates and dinosaurs to the Oxford Literary Festival

Pirate Grrrrl ready for duty!
A little Duddle-bug gets in some research before the event

We figured it was about time we went to one of those infamous literary festivals, and what better way to spend Mother's Day (Sorry mummy!) than seeing a legendary figure in children's books, Mr Jonny Duddle. Dressed in our best pirate clobber, we met up with awesome blog-mates Anne-Marie (from Child-Led Chaos) and Helen (from cAPPtivated Kids) and their hubbies, mum and kids to see Jonny talking about his work. 

Oxford's Christchurch College was the venue, and on a gorgeous sunny day we crammed into the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre to see Jonny Duddle do his thang!

Can I get an Oo-Arr?
As you can see, Mr D has a rather natty wardrobe - clad in pirate gear he told us about his extremely interesting life - living and working aboard a real-life pirate ship (like the one you can see in the picture behind him). 

Swordplay (no children or book-bloggers were harmed during this event, we'd like to point out!)
Charlotte and the other children all sat at the front of the theatre on cushions, enthralled at JD's tales - before he read from his first pirate book, the awesome Pirate Cruncher!

Hats are not too hard to draw, but parrots eating carrots? Ooch!
After reading the story, Jonny showed off his skills by drawing a pirate - with lots of interaction from the children on what the pirate should look like (I take my pirate hat off to Jonny for managing to draw such an awesome pic with lots of gentle 'heckling' and great suggestions from the kids!) I had a giggle at the fact that his daughters hijack his sketch books at home to draw their own pics - this happens a lot here too (but I love Charlotte's drawings so I let her off!)

Fiddle dee dee! A pirate par excellence from Mr Duddle!
Jonny let loose a little secret about the next adventure for the Jolley-Rogers (the family stars of "The Pirates Next Door" - who invite Matilda to join them on a very special trip. We're going to keep schtum  about the rest of the story just in case we're not allowed to talk about it!)

Jonny then shifted topics and with a bit of author magic...

Pirate transforms into explorer for "Gigantosaurus" duties!
...Jonny changed clothes and became an explorer to read from one of his new books, "Gigantosaurus" - A fabulous dinosaur adventure!

We had a great fun day with the collective kids all running around and burning off some energy afterwards. It was brilliant to finally meet the man himself, who kindly signed Charlotte's copy of "The Pirates Next Door".

Jonny poses for a photo op outside in the quad

We look forward to seeing what adventures he comes up with next (and if he really is planning to write a fairy book :)

See our reviews of Jonny's Books: 

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Tilly's At Home Holiday by Gillian Hibbs (Child's Play Books)

Tilly's At Home Holiday

Written and Illustrated by
Gillian Hibbs

Published by Child's Play Books

As a child, it's all too easy to take things for granted - or to feel a little envious when other kids seem to have more toys than you, or even go on holiday when you're stuck at home.

Tilly's mum comes up with a great idea when Tilly is feeling a little down in the dumps after hearing all her classmates talking about their summer plans. A wonderful mum, she comes up with an imaginative way for the two to have a very special holiday. A holiday at home!

Tilly is sceptical at first, but soon gets into the swing of things as mum finds a multitude of different ways to have fun, most of which don't even require stepping off your own front doorstep.

Gillian Hibbs deals with a sensitive subject here with deft subtlety, and it's a subject that I'm all too familiar with. We had very little as kids, my sister and I, and there were times we felt like Tilly - like the whole world was embarking on some grand adventure while we kicked our heels. My mum worked extremely hard just like Tilly's and it's thanks to her always ensuring that we had books, and pens, and paper, and things to do, that we grew up curious and ready to learn, to embrace life and the world and never take anything as read.

We love the fabulous colour illustrations in this, and the fact that Tilly has plenty to tell her friends all about her summer when she goes back to school.

Charlotte's best bit: Tilly and Mum making the most amazing tent in Tilly's room for a spot of indoor glamping

Daddy's Favourite bit: Fantastic and imaginative stuff. Hope we haven't read this one wrong but the core theme is something that really spoke to me about my own childhood. Quite stunningly so, in fact.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Child's Play Books)
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Friday 28 March 2014

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th March 2014 - "Grandma" by Jessica Shepherd (Child's Play Books)


Written and Illustrated by
Jessica Shepherd

Published by Child's Play Books

We had to double up on our Book of the Week nominations for this week, simply because there was no dividing our two choices and we couldn't wait to share both with you with as much enthusiasm as possible. So you've seen our Hermelin review, it's now time to shift gears to focus on a book that's like a huge big sledgehammer-sized whump in the heart to read, and one that we've shared between family members, each coming away from it with something subtly different.

"Grandma" by Jessica Shepherd, like "Really and Truly" deals with a subject that's extremely difficult to explain to a child, but this book does so in a sensitive, thoughtful and patient way.

Jessica Shepherd's book is borne of years of working in care situations, experiencing first-hand situations like the one so touchingly described in the story. Oscar talks about Grandma, and how she's an amazing energetic person full of joie de vivre. She loves to play, she loves to read stories, and always makes time for Oscar.

Grandma becomes ill, and has to move into a sheltered home in order to be looked after properly. It takes a while for Oscar to adjust, but with lots of help on hand, and lots of other people to talk to, Grandma gets the sort of care and attention she needs.

Oscar doesn't understand why Grandma gets angry sometimes, or doesn't recognise him, but knows that deep down in his heart Grandma is the same person, still well loved and a part of a loving family.

My wife commented on how fantastic this book is, and how it helps Charlotte understand the situation with her own two great-grandmas (Great Nanny and Great Grandma) who suffer from dementia. This year has been particularly tough as the marked change in both of them has been rapid, taking most of us (including Charlotte) by surprise with how quickly things can change. Child-friendly illustrations add to the sensitive and thoughtful text, and there's a reference at the end to explain some of the terms used in the book so that children can read and refer to them to gain a greater understanding (though the story conveys things so fantastically on its own).

Jessica's book is quite rightly championed by everyone who has read it so we really needed to experience it for ourselves. (Please drop by Carmen's "Rhino Reads" blog for her review of both Grandma and "Really and Truly"). Child's Play very kindly sent us a copy and it's been read and re-read ever since.

It's often difficult to adequately describe what dementia is to a child, or what it means when a well-loved family member begins such a rapid spiral into such a horrible disease. This book has helped us a lot, and if you're in a similar situation we seriously cannot recommend it highly enough.

Charlotte's best bit: Finding out about Grandma's new home (with a brilliant floor plan drawn to show where everything is)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A book that took us all on an emotional roller-coaster, but has been a hugely valuable book to help Charlotte (and us) understand what it feels like to be in this situation

(Kindly sent to us for review by Child's Play Books)
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th March 2014 - "Hermelin - The Detective Mouse" by Mini Grey (Jonathan Cape PB Ltd)

Hermelin - The Detective Mouse

Written and Illustrated by
Mini Grey

Published by Jonathan Cape PB Ltd

Mini Grey's latest book sneaked up on us, tapped us on the big toe and took us completely by surprise. Rather like the wonderful mouse detective who is the star of this utterly fantastic story.

Hermelin (named for this rather delicious looking Czech cheese)...

Hermelin Cheese - Drool-worthy stuff, not just for mice! a little mouse with a unique gift. Emerging from the cheese box which bore his name, Hermelin quickly found out that he could read - and with the aid of a typewriter hidden away in the loft he lives in, write and converse with the people he shares a street with.

Opening with a fantastic double page spread of the street, Mini Grey is a devil for the detail and you'll already know this if you've loved any of her previous books (The Traction Man series are amongst our favourite children's books). In that spread you'll be able to pick out a series of intricate little events that Hermelin eventually ends up investigating. With keen mouse-powers of observation, and a knack for being in the right place in the right time, Hermelin types up notes and hints for the residents of Offley Street, helping them retrieve lost items - or even save a much-loved pet goldfish before a nasty cat wolfs it for lunch.

Soon, Hermelin's detective prowess and heroism comes to the fore when one of the youngest residents is in mortal danger, and Hermelin must act swiftly to prevent a catastrophe.

The residents of Offley Street want to thank the hidden hero, who has remained in the shadows the whole time. But mice aren't to everyone's taste, and poor Hermelin realises that he is in fact a pest not a pal.

Forlorn, dejected and upset, Hermelin settles down to sleep, determined to leave the street the very next day. But one resident is rather more forgiving - and can't wait to meet the mouse detective herself.

Mini Grey's gift is her ability to mix an enticing story with some dazzling layouts, gorgeous artwork and an absolute ton of detail packed onto every page. It's so delicious watching the events laid out in that first panel unfolding throughout the first part of the story, and then realising that Mini Grey could be onto something here, a whole series of Hermelin books with kid-friendly detective stories wrapped up in such a wonderful way. The book's effect on Charlotte was electric - truly brilliant to see her loving the book so much, and wanting to hear the story again and again. In fact, because of Mini Grey's approach, it's absolutely brilliant to visit and revisit Hermelin's world to pick up on all the bits you'll inevitably miss first time.

Mini truly is a superstar. Do not miss this one!

Charlotte's best bit: The munching crunching dustbin lorry and its unintentional human passenger. Eeks!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A delicious book, that's even tastier than the cheese our heroic little mouse detective is named for!
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Thursday 27 March 2014

Keeping you in "The Loop" as fantastic kids magazine relaunches with a new format

The Loop Issue 5 - Full of brilliance!
We've championed this fabulous magazine before on the blog (check out our review of Issues 3 and 4) but it's all change for Issue 5 of "The Loop" with a whole new format for kids who like to think and make.

Like an explosion of activities, facts, features and news, The Loop is a brilliant collectable magazine that is predominantly aimed at children from 9-12 years, but Charlotte (an inquisitive 6 year old with a love of all the things mentioned on the cover there) absolutely loves it too.

We'll be diving in for a closer look at The Loop Issue 5 very soon, but in the meantime, do stop by The Loop Website for subscription details and pricing - and if you're a local independent bookseller or newsagent, perhaps look into stocking this fab mag yourselves!
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Indie Pen-Dance Thursday Part 3: "Captain Sillyvoice Takes to the Stage" by Ruth Whenham and Emma K.L. Hunt (Mark Whenham Books)

Captain Sillyvoice Takes to the Stage

Written by Ruth Whenham

Illustrated by Emma K.L. Hunt

Published by Mark Whenham Books

We last saw Captain Sillyvoice sailing the seven seas with his colourful and musical pirate crew in "Captain Sillyvoice and his Pirate Band". Ruth Whenham's pirate par-excellence is the star of a whole series of engaging and colourful books, illustrated by Emma K.L. Hunt.

The latest sees Captain Sillyvoice squaring up against a preening and vain pirate called Captain Scaryscar. He's rough, he's tough and he thinks he has the most amazing singing voice ever.

He won't settle until he's proved his worth, so a grand talent contest is arranged - bringing pirate bands from the whole world over to compete with each other to determine who has the golden voice, and who can carry a tune best of all.

Captain Sillyvoice has a bit of a confidence wobble, but is determined that the vile and vain Captain Scaryscar won't win. With the support of his pirate band, it's time to face the music.

Ruth's books are fun and rhyming, with a moral tale at their heart. We've thoroughly enjoyed them and it was great to catch up with Captain Sillyvoice's newest adventure.

You can too, either in print or digital form. Just pop by Ruth's Website and check out the captain's latest japes for yourself!

Charlotte's best bit: Captain Scaryscar's amazing golden outfit (and dig those crazy platforms!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Such a fun, vibrant and colourful pirate tale! No cameo from Simon Cowell though (which has to be a good thing, right?)

(Kindly sent to us in preview form by Ruth Whenham)
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Indie Pen-Dance Thursday Part 2: Hurricane Lane by Michelle Vinall (Self-Published!)

The Seven Wonders of the Everyday World in "Hurricane Lane" (Image © Michelle Vinall)

As you now know, we're doubling up our indie pen-dance days and rolling over into Thursday too!

We hope you've been keeping up with our guest features on Michelle Vinall's fantastic children's picture books. We're reviewing things slightly out of order (you know us, we're crazy like that) so "Hurricane Lane" was actually Michelle's first book, part of an intended trilogy (you've already seen our review of "256 Postcards Ago" and the third as-yet untitled book is well on the way too!)

"Hurricane Lane" features an inquisitive, curious little girl at its heart. Her homework from school is to think about the seven wonders of the ancient world, and describe the seven wonders of HER world. That's quite a tough piece of homework, but when your imagination is free and you see wonder in the ordinary and everyday, it's not such a tough assignment.

The girl describes her journey home with Dad and Little Brother - Michelle's rhymes are tightly woven here, and this is a joy to read aloud. Each scene in the book shows a different aspect of the girl's life. We're slightly envious because it's pretty far removed from our arrival home after a busy day at work and school. Kid brother plays in puddles (the mucky little scamp!) and Dad plays the piano, weaving a soundscape that the girl chooses as one of her wonders. Shadows are another as she makes a beautiful butterfly to entertain her brother, using just her hands.

Michelle's first book is a seriously nice piece of work. Her art is glorious and the story gives children scope to let their own imaginations run riot.

Available via Michelle's "Hurricane Lane" website, the book is about to go digital too - so watch out for a release date of 4th April for the e-book!

When you use your imagination, even the everyday and mundane world can be wondrous (Image © Michelle Vinall)

Charlotte's best bit: Little brother sitting in a puddle in his cute little dino suit!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A great idea at its core, encouraging children to explore the wonders of their own world. Delicate rhymes and Michelle's trademark gorgeous artwork make this essential reading!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Michelle Vinall)
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Indie Pen-Dance Thursday! Zips Goes Wandering by Chris Marsh (Booktrope Editions)

Zips Goes Wandering

Written and Illustrated by
Chris Marsh

Published by Booktrope Editions

We had so many fabulous self published and independently published books this week that we're spreading them over a couple of days. So welcome to Indie Pen-Dance Thursday!

Here's a fabulous self-published book from debut author Chris Marsh, that has a solid message behind it. "Zips Goes Wandering" is part of Chris's "Savannah Tales" series, and each tale features lots of lovely animals in the wild. Zips is a curious little Zebra who loves to wander the plains, but doesn't always listen to good advice from his family and friends. One day Zips goes wandering - despite being warned of the dangers.

The savannah is an amazing beautiful place but it can also be dangerous too, and soon young Zips finds that Lions and Crocodiles lurk around the corner, just waiting for the chance to enjoy a juicy Zebra steak! Eeks!

Luckily Zips is fast on his hooves, but soon finds himself lost and alone - far from his herd.

Perhaps the other animals on the Savannah can help! It's time to call in a few favours and see who can help Zips find home.

Zips gets a bit of a telling off! 

Chris's book is nicely written and fun, doesn't hammer home its moral tale too hard, and children will love spotting their favourite animals cropping up in the tale alongside Zips.

Find Chris's Book "Zips Goes Wandering" on Amazon

About Chris Marsh:

Chris Marsh grew up in the heart of the English Countryside surrounded by pets and fields of animals. He spent many sunny days going on wild adventures and long expeditions, with his mother constantly reminding him to be careful. On rainy days, he’d read, paint or draw, creating stories about his adventures. Years later it was Chris’ turn to remind his nieces and nephews how to be safe on their adventures. He drew on his creative skills and love for animals and the story of Zips was born.

Charlotte's best bit: Snappy crocodile and naughty lion fancying a Zebra steak!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A nice little moral tale with some groovy art and lots of lovely animals.

(Very kindly sent to us for review by Chris March)
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Wednesday 26 March 2014

Catch up with Tiny the Giant's next adventure. Time to eat the moon!

Tiny the Giant - I Will Eat the Moon by Dom Conlon and Nicola Anderson (Inkology)

Dom Conlon at Inkology dropped by to tell us about Tiny the Giant's next big adventure.

In "I Will Eat The Moon" Tiny and the aforementioned spheroid have a bit of a falling out over who is biggest. Tiny takes great objection to the moon's jibes, so it's time to settle the score. With a handy beanstalk to climb, Tiny vows - "I WILL EAT THE MOON!". With text by Dom and illustrations by Nicola Anderson, it's a gorgeous little book and immense fun to read aloud.

We featured Tiny the Giant's first outing "I Am A Giant" as part of Indie Pen-Dance Wednesday a little while ago.

You can catch up with Tiny's adventures on your favourite e-book device and in print form really soon. We'll also be reviewing Tiny's latest antics so watch out for an upcoming article.

Visit the Inkology website for more information
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Indie Pen-Dance Wednesday - An interview with super-talented Michelle Vinall, self-published author and illustrator of "Hurricane Lane" and "256 Postcards Ago"

Ludo, Ollie, Digit and Nicholas on the lookout! (Image © Michelle Vinall)

We're very fortunate to be able to take a look at Michelle Vinall's amazing work this week, and we managed to nab a smidgeon of her time for a quick interview too. We massaged our brains and came up with a crop of questions between us to put to Michelle. So take it away...!

Hi Michelle and thanks for stopping by ReadItDaddy for an email chat.

ReadItDaddy: So tell us a little bit about yourself!

Michelle: Hi Phil and Charlotte, thanks for wanting to interview me! I’m a 24 year-old artist from London, England and I’ve been working in the games industry since leaving art college three years ago. I’ve worked both as an artist and quality assurance tester at various companies and I’m loving every minute of it! In my spare time I make childrens’ picture books and just generally draw other random little ideas.

ReadItDaddy:  Your artwork is amazing! Tell us a little bit about how your process, favourite tools, how you go about creating such magical work?

Michelle: Aw thanks, you’re too kind. I’ll start by setting myself a brief and a deadline, then work to that. I favour digital art tools like Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash, although I’ll occasionally begin a sketch on paper and scan it in. Photoshop is my program of choice! The rest is just imagination and hard work. For personal drawings – I mostly listen to music, play videogames or watch a film/cartoon and get an idea that I want to draw from those. With client work, they supply the idea and I and make it a reality!

ReadItDaddy: "Hurricane Lane" (which is your first children's book, and is soon to be available as a story app) feels like a really nicely written slice of ordinary life - again with gorgeous illustrations, what was the inspiration for the story?

Michelle: Hurricane Lane is very much based on my hometown and memories of childhood. I thought up the story whilst visiting my primary school and got an overwhelming sense of nostalgia that I wanted to translate into art. I was also very interested in piano music at the time and wanted to do a story based on a pianist whose daughter made up stories from his music, so things just evolved from there!

ReadItDaddy: I see you're a bit of a gamer - How do you feel that videogames influence your work? Are they really as bad an influence as everyone makes out?

Michelle: I’m a huge gamer and I don’t think they’re a bad influence at all! Games offer us the same sort of escapist freedom that books and films do but to an even greater extent since you have more influence on your experience with them. I love running/driving/flying around the various worlds and experiencing things that could never happen in real life. I think it widens people’s imaginations and games should be viewed on the same level as other mainstream entertainment since they are living, breathing portals into the creators’ minds. Can’t recommend them enough! (Hear hear - RID)

ReadItDaddy: Charlotte asks: "What's the best way to get good at drawing and painting?"

Michelle: Just practice! Draw every day and as often as you can. Find out what you like to and what you don’t and draw them both anyway! But also, go outside - explore, experience. Your art will always be very personal to you and you will create feelings and experiences you might want to turn into something special later.

ReadItDaddy: Charlotte really loves the characters in "256 Postcards Ago" (she keeps switching between Ludo and Digit being her favourite)  and the story is fab too. Are there any more plans for the characters? They're so great, we'd love to see them in more stories!

Michelle: Thank you so much! I don’t have any current plans for further books but I did want to make a small game where you walk around the 256 town, find your friends and play little mini-games with them! My next book will have different characters but since the 256 cast have been so popular I wouldn’t rule further adventures out.

ReadItDaddy: Describe an average day when you're in your creative zone?

Michelle: I’ll normally start by doing various sketches of the primary character until I’ve drawn one I’m happy with. I often hit art blocks at this stage and so will simultaneously be browsing other artists’ portfolios or google search poses when I’m stuck on them. The rest of the process is just building everything up – neater lines, colour, shading and then background. I draw what I like first and often jump around the piece before it’s done but every picture varies! I also normally draw with films (particularly animations) in the background and might pick up ideas or inspiration from them as I work.

ReadItDaddy: Charlotte asks: "Who's your favourite Ghibli character?" (She figures that you must love Ghibli stuff because you're so cool!)

Michelle: Thank you Charlotte, I do love Ghibli! My favourite character is probably Baron from The Cat Returns. I always watch that film for his lines when I need some encouragement art-related or otherwise, so he’s become quite an inspiration for me.

ReadItDaddy: Charlotte also asks "Who's your favourite Disney Princess?" (ooh tough question!)

Michelle: That is tough! I think it’s Elsa and Anna from Frozen because I love that the act of ‘true love’ at the end of their film is sisterly affection and not a romantic kiss with the love interest. That part really got to me :’)

ReadItDaddy: One more from Charlotte "What's the best way to start writing and drawing stories when you're little?"
Start by drawing the things you like! Since you are a Disney and Ghibli fan I would recommend drawing those characters to get some good practice in! Then later you can build up your own characters and stories, but for now just have fun and don’t worry too much about what you’re drawing – you’ll naturally get better the more you draw and experience. Good luck!

And a huge thank you to Michelle for stopping by for an email chat. Please take a look at "Hurricane Lane" (and watch out for our upcoming review) and "256 Postcards Ago" on Michelle's story website
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Make a fuss of Marvellous Mums with our Mother's Day Picture Book Roundup!

My Mummy is Magic by Dawn Richards and Jane Massey (Picture Corgi)

Sunday is your chance to celebrate marvellous mums everywhere - and what better way to do so than by snuggling up with them for a story. 

We've rounded up some of our favourites, and a few new books too so that you and your mummy can spend a lazy Sunday morning tucked up under the duvet with a cuddle and some brilliant booky goodness. 

First, there's "My Mummy is Magic" by Dawn Richards and Jane Massey (Picture Corgi), a gorgeous illustrated book that describes all the things that we find so magical about our mums - and many more besides! A lovely easy read and definitely suitable for tiddlers everywhere.

Next, a phrase that all mums (and probably a lot of dads) will be very familiar with...

"I Want My Mummy" by Tracey Corderoy and Alison Edgson (Little Tiger Press)
Tracey Corderoy and Alison Edgson usually have a children's book for every occasion, and Mother's Day is no exception. A lovely little story about a toddler who is spending the day with grandma - the first whole day away from mum. What happens when our cute bunny toddler hears the doorbell ringing at Grandma's house and goes dashing to see who it is?

Cute, fuzzy and full of lovely sentiments as we've come to expect from this talented duo.

Sticking with Alison Edgson for a moment, there's also...

Mummy's Little Sunflowers by Angela McAllister and Alison Edgson (Little Tiger Press)
"Mummy's Little Sunflowers" - with two of the cutest mice you'll ever hope to meet. Scurry and Scamp want to grow a wonderful sunflower for Mother's Day but when Scamp scoffs the seed, they embark on a journey of discovery to see if they can find some more. Sunflowers are so tall, and mice are so tiny so how will our two little furry heroes fare? Again, an extremely cute little book. Charlotte really loves Alison Edgson's animal characters.

Last but by no means least, a former "Book of the Week" from a hugely talented team...

My Mum Has X-Ray Vision by Angela McAllister and Alex T. Smith (Scholastic)
Angela McAllister teams up this time with one of our fave illustrators, Alex T. Smith, for a superhero romp with a difference. "My Mum Has X-Ray Vision" is the story of a little boy who suspects that his mum is more than a bit special, she almost seems to second-guess every move he makes. Read more about this fantastic book in our review.

However you plan to spend Mother's Day, make sure mum feels special, do the washing up, tidy your room and of course give her as many hugs as you can! She really is a superhero!

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Indie Pen-Dance Wednesday. Come with us on a journey through your imagination with "256 Postcards Ago" by Michelle Vinall (Amazon Self Publishing)

256 Postcards Ago

Written and Illustrated by
Michelle Vinall

Published by Amazon Self Publishing

Welcome to today's Indie Pen-Dance slot, and we've a real treat in store with a look at an eye-catching and imaginative book from a supremely talented artist and writer.
Michelle Vinall's "256 Postcards Ago" is a dreamy voyage through a child's imagination, turning the ordinary everyday world into a scintillating and exciting dreamscape.

256 Postcards Ago. (Image © Michelle Vinall)

With his best friends in tow, the amazing Anubis-like Ludo, the fluffy cloud-like elephantine Ollie and a cute green bug called Digit, a young boy called Nicholas embarks on a quest to touch the stars.

Presented in sumptuous illustrated spreads with rhyming couplets, the story really caught our eye and reminded us why we love dipping into self-published books so much.

Michelle has woven a world that simultaneously feels both dream-like and familiar. Though at times some of the rhymes are tricky to read aloud and don't quite 'flow', the story doesn't suffer for that at all - in fact keeping the word count to a minimum has the double benefit of allowing Michelle's visuals to do the talking, and means that children can more directly engage with the tale, weaving their own stories around it as Ludo, Ollie, Digit and the boy make their way through the sleepy seaside town.

Time for a race through the town! (Image © Michelle Vinall)

"256 Postcards Ago" is available from Michelle's Website - 

Tweet Michelle on Twitter! @256ChimeLane
Please stop by Michelle's inspirational website for more of her glorious artwork and stories.

Charlotte's best bit: Ludo, the Anubis-like character who is effortlessly graceful, leaping across rooftops

Daddy's Favourite bit: Glorious artwork, and a story showing that even the everyday and mundane can be turned into an adventure, if you only let your imagination off the leash for a while

(Very kindly sent to us for review by Michelle Vinall)
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Tuesday 25 March 2014

The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton (Bloomsbury Publishing)

The Dawn Chorus

Written and Illustrated by
Suzanne Barton

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

The rich sibilant sounds of blackbirds, the hoo-hooing of loved-up collared doves, the sizzling background chatter of starlings. As spring unfolds (and you can tell it's spring because you're still defrosting the car in the morning, and the temperature is lower than it was in Winter) the birds awaken and make sure that everyone else is awake too!

Suzanne Barton's scintillating debut, "The Dawn Chorus" is the tale of a tiny little bird named Peep who hears the most amazingly beautiful singing. A chorus of birds make the woodlands echo with their fabulous tunes, and Peep is determined to join their numbers.

There is a slight problem though - and it's definitely a problem we share. You see, Peep isn't really a morning person, so when the auditions are held, he turns up just too late to join in!

Determined, Peep practices hard and tries his level best to wake up in time.

But some birds are destined not to be early risers. Peep has a secret though, and as he heads home dejectedly as the evening draws in, Peep suddenly hears a beautiful noise that changes his entire viewpoint!

We'll leave you to discover what that is, and what Peep's secret is too. Suzanne's debut is colourful and wonderful, the perfect book to celebrate the clocks going forward, the buds emerging, blossom adorning the trees and of course lots and lots of birds showing us how to truly enjoy our mornings!

Now if you'll excuse me, I feel the need for a bucket of coffee...

Charlotte's best bit: Peep's secret revealed!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A stunning debut. Suzanne is a talent to keep a firm eye on!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)
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Foxy Tales - The Cunning Plan by Caryl Hart and Alex T. Smith (Hodder Children's Books)

Foxy Tales - The Cunning Plan

Written by Caryl Hart

Illustrated by Alex T. Smith

Published by Hodder Children's Books

"So Daddy, is Foxy a baddie?"

Oof! This is how our reading of "Foxy Tales" began, and underlined our animated reading of this fabulous new book series from two uber-talented children's book folk. Caryl Hart and Alex T. Smith have teamed up to create a mischievous duo par excellence, and this is their first (foxy) tale (Look out for "Foxy Tales: The Road to Fame and Fortune" coming really soon!)

So is Foxy a baddie? We chose to see her as a poor unfortunate lass who is a little down on her luck and is relying on her verve and cunning to get by in life. Things would probably go swimmingly if it wasn't for one huge green-scaly problem - a huge green scaly alligator-shaped problem.

Alphonso the Alligator has latched onto Foxy and if there's one thing that can really complicate life, even when you're as smart as a fox, it's having a blinkin' great big hungry Alligator in tow whose life revolves completely around filling his rotund belly as quickly (and as often) as possible. Poor Foxy (and heck, we have to have a bit of sympathy for her even if she's really a bit of a bad egg) has completely run out of credit at Toni Ravioli's East Street Diner, and Alphonso is hungry! Worse than that, Alligators will eat anything - even foxy sidekicks - so Foxy Dubois needs to come up with a plan, and fast!

This superb book was something we took a little time with, reading it over the space of a few bedtimes. Charlotte is good and ready for meatier chapter-based fare with great illustrations, so she really enjoyed Caryl's fast-paced storytelling punctuated by Alex's fab drawings (she's already a huge fan of Alex and still keeps talking about being slightly star-struck when she met him!)

Anyway, back to the plan. Foxy comes up with a stunner, so stunning and cunning you could brush your teeth with it. Foxy aims to kidnap a local heiress's dogs, fake a rescue, and then bring the dogs back to her for a rich reward.

On paper it's a sound plan, in practice, once again having a great big galumping Alligator helping out really isn't the brightest move. But can Foxy somehow succeed and end up well on the road to fortune and glory? Or will she be taking up permanent residence at No.1 Alligator Tummy Lane.

We'll leave you to discover the answer yourself. We had a lot of discussions about the merits of a children's book character who is actually a bit of a stinker, but think that Foxy Dubois is here to stay, and maybe - just maybe, her completely crazy hair-brained schemes might one day bear fruit (and she might get rid of that pesky alligator as well - or at least end up with a fantastic fashionable pair of Alligator-skin shoes!) There are so many laugh-out loud moments for young and old (we cackled like drains at the book's warning about the distressing scenes featuring cute dogs in cute coats - So true!)

A really rollickingly good start to a new book series that's absolutely bound to become a huge hit. Foxy and Alphonse, destined for greatness!

Charlotte's best bit: The most terrifying sight, a full grown fat-bellied alligator dressed up as a sweet old auntie. Eeks!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Oh dear. Alphonso's "Escape Cloud" - Silent, but deadly!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hodder Children's Books)
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Off to the Park by Stephen Cheetham (Child's Play Books)

Off to the Park

Written and Illustrated by
Stephen Cheetham

Published by Child's Play Books

What an adventure going to the park is when you're a tiddler. We're lucky enough to have several good ones around us, and it's still something we do on a sunday when we want to get some fresh air, burn off some energy and swing on the swings (Adults: Isn't one of the best things about having kids the fact that no one gives you filthy looks when you go on the swings and roundabouts yourself?)

Stephen Cheetham's fab book "Off to the Park" recreates the excitement in a book for younger children, full of textures and bold images, complimentary colours and plenty of opportunity for imaginative interaction.

Youngsters will love hearing grown-ups read the words, then exploring the textures with curious little fingers. The roughness of the path to follow, the cold metal of the slide ladder - and of course pressing the button to the zebra crossing (something that children seriously never grow out of!)

I love the fact that there's lots here for sight-impaired kids too, who can touch the textures - and using the innovative braille numbers on each page, count and learn as they enjoy the book too.

Even at 6 years old, Charlotte was drawn to this book for the illustrations and the touchy-feely stuff (she used to really love the "That's Not My" series).

Really great stuff from a publisher who excels at producing utterly brilliant books as diverse and amazing as children are themselves.

Charlotte's best bit: The big red ball and the zebra crossing button!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A superb quality fun book celebrating something that children often take for granted but never pass up the opportunity to enjoy - even in book form!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Child's Play Books)
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Monday 24 March 2014

The Acrobat by Alborozo (Child's Play Books)

The Acrobat

Written and Illustrated by

Published by Child's Play Books

Alborozo's illustrative work is fabulous, and it's great to see his work finally appear in a children's book that's so full of energy and joie de vivre.

Featuring a talented tumbler who runs away from the circus when he's not quite getting the attention he deserves, "The Acrobat" is fun and original and there's an underlying message that will ring very true for any parents reading this book to their children...

Sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn't seem to matter what you do, and how impressive you do it, kids are wrapped up in their own world getting on with their own things.

It's funny to see the acrobat pulling out all the stops to juggle, tumble, twist and turn - but perhaps the acrobat's best trick requires assistance - lots of assistance - in order to impress those kids in the end.

What a fantastic start to Alborozo's children's book career - We hope for many many more from this talented fellah!

Charlotte's best bit: Can't tell you as it'll give too much away but the book does have a fantastic and colourful end to it that will dazzle and inspire!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A book that's full of energy and originality, with a real surprise ending that's so utterly cool, we love it!

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