Friday 28 November 2014

Why Hollywood, toy companies and clothes companies are letting superhero fangirls down - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

Lego Batman gets his own standalone movie before Batgirl even gets a whiff of a big franchise-builder. Not atypical, sadly.
The title of this blog post pretty much sums up my day today. It started with a trip into town to pick up some clothes for Charlotte. We visited a popular high street chain (H & M) to buy a couple of white T shirts for her nativity.

Browsing around, I noticed two things

1) Girls get a slightly larger clothes section than the boys (fair enough, girls are - I guess - more interested in clothes than boys, perhaps?)

2) Girls get absolutely no options for licensed clothing lines other than the usual cute pony, hello kitty or ballet / princess / pink pink PINK stuff.

What incensed me was the fact that the boys section carried a fairly hefty selection of comic and superhero-based clothes. T-Shirts, pyjamas, dressing gowns, dressing up clothes, even flipping UNDERPANTS all adorned with characters from the moneyspinning movies that drive merchandise sales to such lofty heights. I would dearly have loved to have seen even one or two items featuring our header image star (Batgirl) or even Captain Marvel (who we'll have to wait all the way till 2018 for, to be Marvel's first big and proper female led franchise movie star). No such luck though in store but if you dive onto the H & M website, things are a little more positive…Awesome Batgirl T Shirt but it's fairly lean pickings! Most other high street chain stores do absolutely nothing superhero-ey for girls at all, let alone entire sections of the store given over to awesome girl comic or superhero movie characters (you can't sodding MOVE for Elsa and Anna / Frozen stuff though, blechhh!)

I came home, heavy hearted, wondering if my efforts to get Charlotte interested in comics were all for nought because eventually I'd have to explain to her why big players like Marvel and DC consistently let women and girls down, providing female character only when they can shoehorn them in for a bit of a sprinkle of sex appeal or just to tick a few demographic boxes (I don't agree that a Standalone Black Widow movie would've been awesome, Black Widow in movie form is a waste of space compared to her comic book counterpart. As for the upcoming Wonder Woman cameo from DC, I would dearly love to be proved wrong that her first appearance in Bats vs Supes is going to be anything more than eye candy to please male viewers, when we all know that an effective standalone movie would've really been preferable).

Fantastic female superhero characters exist despite a male-dominated industry (thankfully with more and more women kicking ass and putting together some of the best stories and artwork out there at the moment, and more and more men paying proper homage to well established female superhero characters by giving them a depth and dimension that stretches far beyond just being 'pretty' and 'clever').

An evening's conversation with Charlotte made me feel a little better. I asked her if she would wear a superhero costume to a party. She said she would, and that she would dress as Batman (interesting that - not Batgirl, but Batman!)

I asked about Spiderman ("I Don't like him, he's rubbish!" she answered (!) and Superman (Again she seems to be a DC girl, she would dress as Supes). Then I moved on to a few well known and less-well-known female superheroes. Wonder Woman she knew, had no idea who Captain Marvel was (understandably), no She-Hulk, no Oracle (Barbara Gordon) though she knew who Batgirl was (there's a whole level of awesomeness that could be constructed from an Oracle origin movie).

In most cases she seemed to prefer the idea of female superheroes who weren't just 'girl' versions of the male ones, also quite interesting from the perspective of trying to construct a franchise around something where a male character is already well established and bringing in vast amounts of coinage from movies and merch.

I pushed the conversation a bit. "Would she wear a Batman T Shirt if it was in the boy's section of a store" (this was how H & M was divvied up, and it's how just about every other clothes store with kid clothes in it is arranged too). She wouldn't, and I asked why - and she answered "Because it says it's for boys!" - I tried to point out that a boy's T shirt is no different to a girl's but the labelling won out (believe me, I won't let THAT one slide when she's old enough not to fall for that ridiculous gender pigeonholing).

So many excellent folk I converse with on Twitter and Facebook, and in the hazy real world (with their own mighty girls at home, their own comic fans both girl and boy who would love to see female superheroes where they belong - up there right next to the male ones) would be as annoyed about all this as I am, but after a day like this, it still feels like despite the best efforts of amazing folk like those behind "A Mighty Girl" and the wholly brilliant Tumblr "Little Girls are Better at Designing Superheroes than You" the rotten core of the problem still exists, still bugs the hell out of everyone, and still seemingly crawls toward no foreseeable satisfactory resolution.

(Apologies if this reads like an extended rant. There are truly wonderful folk out there involved in comics who will be able to read this and hand on heart swear they're doing their utmost to redress the imbalance and to them I offer a huge thanks, because they're working towards a better future for our comic-loving kids, both girls and boys).
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th November 2014 - "Night Post" by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder (Improper Books)

'At Midnight, when all good folk should be abed, the Night Post rides forth to serve the dead.’ - Victorian Poem

When a book truly becomes a shared experience, it's like a glorious reminiscence. "Hey I saw that bit!" or "Did you spot the..." - delicious energetic chatter ensues when you share stories.

Wordless stories are tricky to get right. You want to be able to convey a plot, a flow, a path through without relying too heavily on the illustrations leading people by the nose - more gently coaxing them in the right direction.

So when we first saw a few early glimpses of "Night Post" by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder a few weeks ago ahead of its launch, we knew it was going to be something special. You see, straight away it tapped into that idea of a shared experience where observation, curiosity and also a good dose of familiarisation with fantasy all combine together to give anyone reading this wonderfully original wordless story a bit of a head start.

You've probably already sneaked a few glimpses of the book's amazing illustrations via our spotlight preview article from Halloween...

Wonderful wonderful witches! One of our favourite spreads, can you spot your favourite here?

...Night Post is a glorious homage to many fantasy stories but at its core it's the story of a seemingly ordinary everyday postie, who tucks his daughter in at night with a kiss, says goodbye to his wife, picks up his lunch and then heads out to work. Though, instead of heading for the normal post room, this postie has a special key that unlocks a door leading to...The Night Post. Here is where all the mail for (shall we say) "alternative" customers ends up and of course must be delivered just like the traditional mail.

As you'd expect, some of those recipients are a little bit 'out there' From ghouls to ghosts, from witches to sirens, it's a very tricky mail round fraught with danger. But our heroic postie knows how to deal with just about everything the underworld can throw at him on a very busy and hazardous night.

Back to that original point about observation and shared experiences, this book surely can't fail to appeal to just about everyone who's ever picked up a book in the last 100 years or so. Benjamin and Laura's lovingly crafted references and homages to children's characters and stories both old and new never fails to impress. Charlotte gobbled this book up greedily, her sharp little eyes far better at spotting familiar characters than my tired old ones (for instance, she spied Nemo and Dory, tucked away in a scene where Sirens, mermaids and The Creature From The Black Lagoon have taken over the local Lido!)

We also rather liked the Postie's unflappable demeanour, slightly cheeky in fact. Stealing a chunk of lollipop from the Witch from Hansel and Gretel's garden (and once again Charlotte pointing out who that witch looks like! He also comes out of a very familiar looking wardrobe with what looks suspiciously like a box of Turkish Delight!

It's a truly fantastic book, one that we can't stop thinking about and also one we won't stop going on about until you've gone and bought a copy (which you can do via the Improper Books website, or from quality indie comic sellers!)

This is the first publication we've seen from Improper and if it's an indication of the sheer quality of the titles they're publishing, we're going to be camping out on their doorstep to see what they come up with next.

You need this book, you really do! If you have any love for children's fantasy stories, you're going to find so many things in this that will give you goosebumps!

Charlotte's best bit: Too many to choose from but she truly loved spotting a certain magic carpet and lamp nestling in a treasure-filled cave, and also spotting the "Room on the broom" witch soaring through the skies!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Brilliantly clever, original, funny and tinged with a taste of the macabre that just sang out to us like those Sirens in the swimming pool. Utterly glorious to go through this again and again, picking up on all the characters you might've missed the first time round. We absolutely cannot wait for Benjamin and Laura's next collaboration!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Improper Books)

"Night Post"

Written by Benjamin Read

Illustrated by Laura Trinder

Published by Improper Books
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Thursday 27 November 2014

Who's that Banging on the Ceiling by Colin McNaughton (Walker Books)

Who's that Banging on the Ceiling?

Written and Illustrated by
Colin McNaughton

Published by Walker Books

Colin McNaughton's books are a real treat and we always love finding ones we haven't read before in our local library. Like this absolute corker, the tale of noisy neighbours living in a huge block of flats.

Having lived in a flat for most of my student years I can definitely identify with wondering just what on earth the upstairs and downstairs neighbours get up to during their daily grind and Colin hilariously examines the comic exploits of a diverse range of characters. Is there a herd of rhinos upstairs? A crazed ballroom dancing fanatic?

Each spread folds out as a huge landscape overview of each of the flats as we scroll through right to the very top, where the book leaves the best surprise till last (as is often the case with Colin McNaughton's books - he loves a good twist or two!)

As you'll expect, the book is funny and cheeky but the devil is in those amazing illustrative details and flourishes that Colin always squeezes in to each panel. Deliriously good stuff!

Charlotte's best bit: Kid's bath time, which sounds a LOT like something else!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Loopy, crazy, kooky but utterly and completely awesome!
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King Kong by Anthony Browne, Adapted from the story by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper (Picture Corgi)

King Kong

Adapted by Anthony Browne

From the original story by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper

Published by Picture Corgi

King Kong is a character with almost limitless and timeless appear. When I was a kid, the '70s Kong movie was quite literally huge and I also remember watching the original Merian C. Cooper movie starring Fay Wray on TV.

Since then we've also had Sir Peter Jackson's treatment of the movie but who better to put together a version for children than an author-illustrator who conjures up the most amazing simian stories, Anthony Browne.

Browne's version of Kong isn't a toothless treatment for children, but a very faithful adaptation of the original story wrought in Browne's utterly divine illustrative style. Telling the story of young Anne Darrow, a would-be ingenue who falls on hard times and is rescued by a slippery movie director and producer to star in an upcoming blockbuster. Anne meets Carl Denham and is whisked off with his production company to the mysterious Skull Island, reportedly the home of a fantastical beast known only as Kong.

Kong is a gigantic gorilla, fearsome and mighty and Anne is captured and offered up as a sacrifice to the beast. Rather than wolfing her down in one gulp though, Kong rescues Anne and falls in love with her. His ultimate undoing as he tries to protect her at great expense to himself as Kong is captured and paraded as an attraction by the nefarious Denham.

You're probably familiar with the rest of the story, and what happens when Kong is let loose on New York and runs amok. With movie-like pacing and a frenetic energy showing that Browne obviously had a huge passion for the subject matter, we're treated to his rather fantastic vision of Kong and his supporting cast, gloriously rendered with Browne's trademark gift for hiding exquisite detail in each panel spread.

It's fairly wordy for a children's picture book so might suit older readers more, but we were completely enthralled and dazzled by this. I'd love to show Charlotte the original movie to see what she makes of it but I'm worried that she might end up sobbing at the end as Kong meets his terrible demise.

Charlotte's best bit: Picking out all the hidden gorillas throughout the book and discovering (with a little help) that Anne Darrow is the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe

Daddy's Favourite bit: A glorious and luxurious version of a well-loved story, showing Browne's obvious passion for the subject matter and unique gift of putting his own touches to make it fairly child-friendly. A stunning book.

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Wednesday 26 November 2014

Meet Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico, stars of the awesome "Penguins of Madagascar" official comic from Titan / Dreamworks

Debate ye not over who the real stars of the movie "Madagascar" were. We all know that the indomitable penguins stole the show!

Now stars of their own movie, today also sees the launch of a new original 4-issue comic series courtesy of Alex Matthews and Lucas Fereyra, released by Titan Comics.

Those crazy penguins are now superstars and super-spies, and the comic divides up into mini stories detailing their madcap adventures. Kid-friendly but actually quite enjoyable for big grown-up kids too, "Penguins of Madagascar" is a good fun rollicking romp, even if you've never seen the movie itself.

P-p-p-pick up a penguin today!
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Yoko Tsuno Volume 7: Curious Trio by Roger Leloup (Cinebook)

Yoko Tsuno Volume 7: Curious Trio

Written and Illustrated by
Roger Leloup

Published by Cinebook

Our local library keeps us well and truly stocked up with obscure (and older) comics that we might've missed. I'd never come across Roger Leloup's "Yoko Tsuno" series, which has a distinctly 70s disco vibe crossed with Barbarella (though thankfully child-friendly) and Manga influences. No mean feat considering these comics originally came out in 1970 and have been lovingly reprinted by Cinebook for a modern audience. Belgian comic genius Roger Leloup, originally part of Studio Herge (and if you haven't heard of Herge and Tintin, where on EARTH have you been?) broke off to produce his own comic series in the early 70s and Yoko Tsuno was one of his most endearing creations. A Japanese girl genius, science whiz and kick-ass hero, Yoko Tsuno feels like an amazingly contemporary, fresh and brilliant comic creation.

Leloup's amazing draughtsmanship and tightest linework really is a treat for the eyes, and in this volume we see Yoko embarking on an intergalactic adventure along with her hotch-potch gang of miscreants, the curious trio of the volume's title. Expect a fair amount of chopsockery, 70s-style over the top spacefaring adventure and a dizzying array of science fiction influences creeping into the strip. Spanning 26 volumes, there's plenty to dig into and I believe Cinebook are planning to publish the lot! Whoah!

Charlotte loved these, though the panels are typically as busy as hell (one thing you will notice with older comics, those wonderful Belgian creatives sure knew how to pack a page with exquisite detail). It's still jaw-dropping to think that these comics are nearly as old as me but are still amazingly vibrant. Thank goodness for Cinebook and their current crop of brilliant reprints.

Charlotte's best bit: Yoko's kitschy but awesome space-fashion sense!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Leloup's artwork is astounding. What an awesome comic discovery. I really cannot get enough of Belgian comics, they're truly fantastic!
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Tuesday 25 November 2014

Weasels by Elys Dolan (Nosy Crow)


Written and Illustrated by
Elys Dolan

Published by Nosy Crow

Catching up with this critically well received book courtesy of our local library, we couldn't resist the combination of crazed megalomania and cute furry critters.

Elys Dolan's "Weasels" offers us an insight into what Weasels actually get up to all day. While we may imagine that they'll chase around the undergrowth eating nuts and shoots or bothering badgers and rabbits, Weasels are a little more savvy than that. In fact they have but one goal in mind from day to day. WORLD DOMINATION!

Yes it's true, and the weasels have been working hard to create the ultimate machine that will help them achieve their goal. Fuelled on frothaccinos, busy as beavers (Poo! Beavers suck!) the countdown to the big switch-on has begun.

Only, there is a problem...the machine doesn't work. They've poked it, prodded it, kicked it and even tried the old IT fallback of 'switching it off and on again' but to no avail. The machine is in an error state, and the weasels look like they'll just have to stay as cute furry critters rather than the dominant species on earth.

Perhaps though the answer to the machine's malfunction is simpler than it first appears!

This is a crazy riff on a number of excellent sources. We loved the various nods to James Bond films, including one particular Weasel baddie and his pet white mouse (a cat would probably be a bit impractical for a Weasel Blofeld).

Chaotic, fun, quite tricky to read aloud (but you always have the option to let the Nosy Crow app take up the slack and read to you!)

Charlotte's best bit: What happens when the lights go out! Eek!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Crazy and chaotic stuff, we are ready to serve our weasel lords and masters! Ny-EEK!
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Spotlight on the cosmic and brilliant "Doctor Who" comics range from Titan Comics

Doctor Who Comics from Titan - Now featuring the 12th Doctor!
I find it almost impossible to believe that we haven't managed to squeeze our love for Doctor Who onto the blog in some way, shape or form. Charlotte's still a bit too young (and a bit too easily frightened) by Doctor Who's televisual adventures, so I wondered whether I'd be able to spread a bit of geek love for everyone's favourite timelord through comics.

Licensed comics used to get a bit of a raw deal. People came with the expectation that they would be A) pants and B) too kiddified. I'm happy to say that this is most definitely NOT the case with Titan's lineup and most certainly not the case with their long-running Doctor Who comics which have been steadily building up a huge following with fans of the show, now it's emerged as one of the BBC's biggest draws. 

Catching up with the comics, we've been looking at the current Doctor's run (Peter Capaldi is kicking up a storm with his own take on The Doctor - and though I think the scripts consistently let him down, he's a flipping awesome doc IMHO). The comics are put together by some of the leading luminaries on the international comics scene with the likes of Robbie Morrison (an ex-2000AD alumni amongst other comics) and Dave Taylor contributing to the new adventures. Gritty new adventures await the 12th Doctor, it's fantastic to see the writing actually exceeding the quality of the show's storylines (proof positive that the next season really needs to buck its ideas up a bit). 

The great thing about the comics is that there's something for everyone so even if you haven't quite fallen in love with Capaldi's rendition of The Doctor, dive back in and take a look at Titan's awesome 10th and 11th Doctor series too...

Matt Smith's 11th Doctor. One tough act to follow!
All-new adventures carry on for previous doctors in the comics universe, new stories with stunning artwork await!

For the full Titan Doctor Who range, take a look at the following link where you can find out how to subscribe, or even get sorted with a ComiXology digital copy of your fave Doc Who stuff : 

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Monday 24 November 2014

Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda by Margaret Atwood and Dusan Petricic (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

Written by Margaret Atwood
Illustrated by Dusan Petricic

Published by Bloomsbury Children's Books

We're in love with alliteration today with a review of Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda. Margaret Atwood, well known to grown ups for her utterly mind-bendingly brilliant novels has turned in a rather fun and fantastic read-aloud story that preys on our perspicacity, purloining our palpable predilection for perfect prose.

Meet Bob - a strange bubble-headed boy who, rejected by his mum, disappears to be raised by dogs. Of course this means that Bob actually seems to think he's a dog at times, growling and barking and hiding in bushes.

We also meet Doleful Dorinda, a denizen of dreary dread disposed to being dismal. When the two meet they find a common bond, and despite their obvious character quirks, they team up to save the day when a Buffalo breaks its bounds and goes crazy in a botanical garden!

Children are infinitely impressed by the cleverness of language when used to entertain, to tickle the toes and the tonsils particularly when read aloud. Sometimes the alliteration can make the book heavy going but there's always an amusing twist to get you back on track. Dusan Petricic's artwork is fab too, reminding me of classic 70s kid lit where the whole world seemed to be in love with ink and wash (just like I still am!)

Charlotte's best bit: Bob's boundless barking!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Dorinda's doleful dingbattery!
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Dog on Stilts by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon (Digital Leaf)

Dog on Stilts

Written by James Thorp

Illustrated by Angus Mackinnon

Published by Digital Leaf

The strange and whacky surreality of The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race tickled our fancy a while ago, and now James and Angus - crazy psychedelic geniuses behind that book - are back with something new.

Everyone wants to be special, and even more so in the dog world. Dogs are amazingly diverse. Some are tall, some are short, some are fabulously glamorous and some are downright slobbery. But medium dog is...well medium, nothing special, a little hairy but definitely not outstanding in any field.

Medium Dog isn't happy with this situation. Not at all, and while his friends look on, Medium Dog hatches a plan. Disappearing into his shed he bangs and clatters and saws and chisels and makes the biggest pair of stilts you've ever seen.

Medium Dog is no longer Medium Dog. Medium dog is now...DOG ON STILTS!

Marching through the land, Medium Dog feels special for the first time in his life. His mischievous sense of humour comes to the fore as he strides around playing tricks on folk but sometimes there's a distinct disadvantage to having your head in the clouds. How do you nibble a bony biscuit from your dish? How can you play with your friends?

What happens to Dog on Stilts in the end is both comical and surreal, but this is another cracker from James and Angus who seem to have a gift for weaving together awesome stories with completely hatstand visuals to produce wholly original children's books.

Charlotte's best bit: Dog spots the juiciest apple on the tree but it's just out of reach. What happens next?

Daddy's Favourite bit: Superbly original and completely surreal, a great little doggy tale of an ordinary everyday dog trying to be special but realising he was special all along. Lovely!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Digital Leaf)
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Friday 21 November 2014

I Am An Artist! By Marta Altes (Macmillan Children's Books)

I am an Artist!

Written and Illustrated by
Marta Altes

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

We love Marta Altes' books (check out our review of her wonderful doggy tale "No!" for instance!). They're funny, uproariously well observed but most of all they're usually quite messy.

"I am an Artist!" might be the sort of book that will have parents throwing up their hands in horror, after all you really don't want your little darlings emulating the genius would-be artist in this book. You see, the young lad just can't help being creative and sees inspiration everywhere. He can't contain his creativity, so it (quite literally) spills out, mostly all over the family home.

His long-suffering mum doesn't quite share his enthusiasm for art (though, as pointed out in the book, she's rather artistic herself!) but the young boy's passion for painting is too explosive to contain.

All through the book, Charlotte giggled and snorted as the boy daubed on the walls, painted over beloved family portraits, even dabbed a cool Salvador Dali moustache on himself.

As we said, we'll be keeping a close eye on the crayons and paints at home, lest they end up all over our pristine walls!

Awesome book, awesome fun!

Charlotte's best bit: The boy's poor cat, who always manages the perfect 'hang-dog' expression in each page spread.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Wonderfully funny, messy, creative and brilliant - Just how we love our art and our artists!

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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st November 2014 - "Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum" by Zack Rock (The Creative Company)

Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum

Written and Illustrated by
Zack Rock

Published by The Creative Company

I got home, it was late and dark outside but as soon as I opened the front door I was almost knocked flat by Charlotte, clutching this book.

"Book of the week!" she proclaimed so a little later after dinner, we snuggled up before bedtime and lost ourselves in the world of one Homer Henry Hudson.

Homer, a rheumy-eyed British Bulldog is the enchanting central character of this extremely special book. It's astonishing to think that this is Zack's first children's book (and please, PLEASE don't let it be his last) but from the outset we were completely knocked out by his illustrations in this fabulous story.

We will gush on a bit so bear with us. The illustrations aren't the only thing that won us over. Zack wears his story telling heart on his sleeve as Homer Henry Hudson shows us around his amazing collection. Every object holds a story, and soon we learn that Homer Henry Hudson might look like he's past his best, but what an astonishing past he has.

HHH meticulously describes each object in his collection and delights in the way visitors marvel at the various things in his museum. Reading each tale, our hero begins to sound like an astonishing dog. Part Indiana Jones, with a whiff of Doctor Who about him (we loved his Tom Baker scarf and Fedora) HHH ventured to every corner of the world, rescued princesses and dug deep into the earth to unlock its secrets.

Zack's influences are varied and delightful, and thrummed a deep chord of recognition with me especially. In one part of the museum I loved the fact that there's a superb homage to Rene Magritte. In another scene (blink and you'll miss it) an image that took me right back to my childhood and a book I haven't read in years, Kit Williams' sublime "Masquerade" (wouldn't it be just too fantastic to imagine Homer Henry Hudson doggedly deciphering the clues of that magnificent book and making off with the golden hare!)

Of course it's easy to leap straight to the conclusion that the rich and stunning visuals in this book wowed us, dazzled us and contributed to our decision to give this our highest accolade but Zack's descriptive prose as I adopted a gruff bulldog-like voice to read Homer Henry Hudson's narrative just flows off the page like honey on biscuits. Dang it, it really is as great as it sounds, we promise you.

Lose yourself in a long luxurious read of this, and then go back in again for another, and another, and another look to spot all the glorious references and author's nudges to his influences (oh man, that Sushi museum scene just completely blew me away as soon as I recognised who the other patrons were - see if you recognise them!)

I said we wouldn't gush on too much about it but wow, just wow! You see Charlotte was right to be excited - it's a book of the week without a doubt.

Discover more about Zack's brilliant book over at his fascinating blog.

Charlotte's best bit: She loved Henry's cracked old building (and the story behind how it came to be where it was) but most of all she utterly and completely loved spotting things she recognised and also rather liked Homer Henry Hudson's diving suit

Daddy's Favourite bit: What a glorious book! You could spend a year finding tiny little details in this that'll make you smile and say "Wow, I remember that!" but you'll truly love the way this reads, and Homer Henry Hudson's gentle self-deprecating modesty at how he acquired his truly amazing collection! We absolutely cannot wait for Zack's next book. He's up there with the greats!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Zack Rock / The Creative Company)
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Thursday 20 November 2014

Lift the Flap Times Tables by by Rosie Dickins, Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusina (Usborne Publishing)

Lift the Flap Times Tables

Written by Rosie Dickins
Illustrated by Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusina

Published by Usborne Publishing

This is an utterly genius idea to get kids engaged with something that can rapidly become a bit of a chore. Charlotte has just started learning Times Tables in the usual 'parrot fashion' way at school. It's a dreary and boring task so anything that can help alleviate that boredom, and actually provide a better way of learning tables has got to be investigated further.

Charlotte actually brought this Usborne "Lift the Flap Times Tables" book home from her awesome school library (Hi Miss Storey! Yes that really is her school librarian's name, what an awesome name it is too!) Thankfully it was in good enough condition to allow Charlotte to dive in and start exploring.

As a lift-the-flap book, it would've already had her hooked if it didn't tie in tightly with what she's learning at home and in class for multiplication tables. It does though, and it also breaks away from the monotony of concentrating by numbers by teaching kids some of the cool tips and tricks they can use to quickly pick up and learn times tables without all that monotone repetition.

Each lift the flap section breaks out as a little 'game' encouraging children to learn and perhaps even to guess some of the answers. It's a great interactive way of learning (without resorting to the dreaded tablet or smartphone to look for an app-based solution - YAY!)

What a brilliant idea!

Charlotte's best bit: Helping a gallant knight across a perilous drawbridge with crocodiles waiting to snap him up!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fun and fantastic way of helping your child through the initial stages of learning times tables, without the dreadfully boring monotonous parrot fashion learning! Huge thumbs up!
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The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight by Tony DiTerlizzi and Ralph McQuarrie (Egmont Publishing)

The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight

Written by Tony DiTerlizzi
Illustrated by Ralph McQuarrie

Published by Egmont

When I was a wee whippersnapper, I had two sci-fi obsessed uncles who introduced me to the world of Star Wars (and other cool spacey stuff beyond the stratosphere). One year my uncle Chris gave me a huge black 'folder' labelled "Ralph McQuarrie Paintings" which contained a whole stack of work by the late legendary concept artist, for the movie "The Empire Strikes Back"

These huge paintings adorned my walls between the ages of 9 to...well into my late 20s. I just couldn't get enough of Ralph McQuarrie's amazing work.

So with anticipation building for Star Wars Episode VII next year - and paying due homage to the late genius himself, Egmont have put together a fantastic adventurous book for younger Star Wars fanatics based around one of the pivotal characters of the original trilogy (and if the rumours are true, quite a pivotal character in the next few movies too!)

Luke Skywalker. Most boys either wanted to be Han or Luke (must admit I always thought Luke was a bit of a whiny brat in the original movie but changed as the movies evolved into one kick-butt Jedi master!) and here we have a rather neatly written history of Luke from his earliest years on the desert planet of Tatooine to his eventual emergence as a powerful Jedi.

The book neatly uses a stack of McQuarrie's finished paintings from each of the original trilogy movies plus a whole ton of concept art. Kids who are currently enjoying "Star Wars: Rebels" on TV will probably recognise those early depictions of Chewbacca, and big grown up kids (like me) will be utterly dazzled by the fine work McQuarrie was capable of.

It's a fantastic idea to take the (sometimes stale) art and concept books and make them more kid-friendly like this. It's genuinely good to see kids growing up still loving Star Wars just as much as I did when I was younger (and yep, still do today!)

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte loves anything with Princess Leia in it so she loved seeing the princess looking out for her brother in this.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Gorgeous paintings, an adventurous story, what better way to get your young Jedis (or, er, Sith) up and running with some Star Wars action!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Publishing)
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Wednesday 19 November 2014

Tate Kids Modern Art / British Art Activity Books by Sharna Jackson and James Lambert (Tate Publishing)

Two awesomely inspirational art activity books for double the fun!
These two happy and delightful little books dropped through our letterbox courtesy of the awesome folk at Tate Publishing. Publishers are slowly realising that children engage with famous works of art at an increasingly early age, not just from a historical point of view but also from a technical one. How did artists produce such dazzling, vibrant and imaginative works of art? What was the process? Just how do you become a famous artist? These and many more questions are often asked and these fabulous activity books provide even more fun and inspiration as they take a look at Modern Art and British Art in separate volumes.

The books talk about each piece of art in turn, ranging from the sublime seascapes by JMW Turner to the 'acquired taste' of Damien Hurst's "Mother and Child Divided".

After examining each piece of art and the history behind it, children are encouraged to have a go themselves with a series of art challenges and activities based around the ideas and inspirations of the original work.

These books work on several levels, providing a brilliant interactive experience that parents and children can both join in with, producing their own works of art. They're also hugely informative reference books in their own right too.

We're hoping that Tate Kids are planning more volumes in the series, we're desperately waiting for the Dutch, French and Spanish editions just so Charlotte's favourite artists all get a look in (Van Gogh, Seurat and Picasso just in case you were wondering!)

Utterly awesome, what a great idea to get kids thinking about and engaging with art!

Charlotte's best bit: The superb (and quite messy!) soap-carving activities based around Barbara Hepworth's amazing sculpture work.

Daddy's favourite bit: A ton of activities and facts to pique a child's artistic curiosity. What a brilliant way to get kids interested in art at an early age! We approve!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Tate Publishing)
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Star Wars - R2D2's Droid Workshop (Egmont Publishing)

Star Wars - R2D2's Droid Workshop

Published by Egmont Publishing

Surely just about every Star Wars geek must've dreamed about owning their own droid. Imagine having your own R2D2 to look after your every whim. Imagine no more, because now with the aid of this fantastic little puzzle and activity book you can enjoy a ton of puzzles and things to do, and then flick through the book for the ultimate make - create your own R2D2 with easy-to-build slot together card panels.

This IS the droid you're looking for!

The model can be a bit fiddly and tricky so younger Star Wars fanatics may need a bit of adult help and supervision to get R2 up and running. As you can see from the accompanying images, it's a huge model standing 26cm tall.

What's that R2? You've got to save the Princess? What Princess?

We had a lot of brilliant fun with the activity and puzzle book before launching into our own mini make with the model. We can't guarantee that R2 will be able to single-handedly save rebel princesses or help you fly your X-Wing safely but you will have a whole lot of fun with this innovative and supercool book!

Here's an awesome trailer for the book, with a great stop-motion construction of the model:

Charlotte's best bit: Finishing the model and proudly displaying him in her room

Daddy's Favourite bit: A great mix of activities and puzzles but the model is most definitely the star! So easy to build and such a rewarding result once done. Awesome!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Publishing)
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Tuesday 18 November 2014

Follow the Firefly - Run Rabbit Run by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island)

Follow the Firefly - Run Rabbit Run

Written and Illustrated by
Bernardo Carvalho

Published by Book Island

Have you ever got to the very end of a book and wished that you could leap right back to the start and read it all again? Well here's a challenge for you. Get to the very end of "Follow the Firefly", an entertaining romp through a busy jungle and city, to find out what happens to a tenacious little glowbug on his quest to track down a flashing light. He meets lots of odd characters who helpfully point the way, but children will spot all the other things going on in each scene. Like, for instance, a jumping jackrabbit.

You see when you reach the end of the Firefly's adventure, the book urges you to work in reverse and unpick the tale of that rabbit, as he runs away from a gnashing dog in the other direction!

It's a neat idea and we've not seen anything like this before. Bernardo Carvalho's largely wordless story is perfect for little ones who have an eye for detail and love the fast pace of this story. There's no time to get bored as we chase there and back! Love it!

Charlotte's best bit: The big grumpy gorilla doesn't take too kindly to naughty dogs chasing his friend rabbit!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Love that cute moment at the end of the Firefly story as he meets his paramour!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Book Island)
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The Squickerwonkers by Evangeline Lilly and Johnny Fraser-Allen (Titan Books)

The Squickerwonkers

Written by Evangeline Lilly

Illustrated by Johnny Fraser-Allen
Published by Titan Books

We're not exactly the world's biggest fans of 'celebrity-penned' children's books. In most cases there's always something missing that someone exposed to a lot of children's books can smell a mile off. It's that indefinable whiff of a lack of passion for the job at hand and despite the heartfelt claims of the press release that often accompanies the books, we're never quite convinced that the author's parents, kids, loved ones, neighbour's cat are huge fans of the stories and that was the driving force behind the story's publication.

With Evangeline (Lost, The Hobbit) Lilly's new children's book though, we were intrigued by the promise of something that always has us drawn in. This isn't a lurid pink fairy book, nor is it a book based on the works of a well-loved children's author, given a bit of a whizz through a word processor by someone who's more famous for whizzing down red carpets. In Evangeline Lilly's own words, this is a story that's been kicking around for a good 20 years or so - long before the lady herself was famous. She has a passion for writing that overrides her passion for acting, so we couldn't wait to find out what on earth a Squickerwonker was.

A Squickerwonker - the very name is enough to have your youngsters giggling (don't try saying it while eating a mouthful of cream crackers, we urge you). This dark little tale revolves around a little girl who, quite innocently, steals into the travelling caravan of the aforementioned puppet folk. Evangeline's original poem is spun into a story as each of the Squickerwonkers is introduced, each with their own foibles and traits. There's Meghan the Mute who is quiet and mysterious, Papa the Proud as his name suggests, a neatly turned out fellah, Lorna the Lazy who can barely stay awake long enough to cast scorn on the little girl and Sparky the Spectacles who seems to be a bit of a sleazy character if we're honest. All these and more spin out their tales, before causing one heck of an uproar by popping the little girl's balloon.

Temper tantrums, we've seen 'em and the girl explodes into a quite spectacular one to match the explosion of her beloved balloon. You see she's not quite as sweet as she seems! We won't spoil the end of the story for you because we're really hoping that this largely introductory tale is just the very first in an intended series, it really should be!

The story is reminiscent of dark children's stuff by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Jon Klassen. Casting aside the obvious lure of seeing a celebrity's hard work in book form, there's definitely more than a spark of appeal for children in darker stories (after all, aren't the very best fairy stories ever written always stories of mystery and dark magic?)

The Squickerwonkers are nicely rounded-out characters (though I am actually wondering if the cast in this story isn't too big, some characters seem a little similar in their nefarious character traits) and Evangeline's flowing rhymes are really great to read aloud. So in essence this was a rather lovely surprise, that rare thing of a celebrity-penned story that doesn't suck AND also leaves you wanting more at the end (so come on Evangeline, stop larking around with those Hobbits and Elves and sit down at the Word Processor for Book two!)

We should also mention Johnny Fraser-Allen's art. He's a concept artist and sculptor at WETA Studios (the special effects geniuses behind the amazing stuff you see in Peter Jackson's movies). Charlotte was instantly drawn in by Johnny's rather quirky and distinctly different art style which suits the story to a tee. Again it's very reminiscent of the quirky (and slightly scary) stuff you usually see in Neil Gaiman's stories, by a variety of different artists. A dark children's story needs to exude that slight air of menace, both visually and aurally and it most certainly does.

For true Hobbit nerds, there's a rather lovely set of forewords in the book written by Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and if anyone knows a thing or two about a good fantasy story, it's that sacred trio!

"The Squickerwonkers" By Evangeline Lilly and Johnny Fraser-Allen launches today, 18th November 2014 from Titan Books. Find out more about the Squickerwonkers over at Evangeline Lilly's website.

Charlotte's best bit: Charley's visit to the dentist. Rinse please!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Brilliant fun for tiddlers, beautifully illustrated and told

(Kindly sent to us for review by Titan Books)
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Monday 17 November 2014

Craft Projects for Minecraft and Pixel Art Fans by Choly Knight (Design Originals)

Craft Projects for Minecraft and Pixel Art Fans

Compiled by
Choly Knight

Published by Design Originals

Slipping through our letterbox just a little too late to be included in our Minecraft Week last week, we've been taking a look at a rather awesome crafting book. Minecrafting book to be precise, as "Craft Projects for Minecraft and Pixel Art Fans" is a cornucopia of utterly amazing 'makes' for all you pixel art fans.

Though Minecraft predominantly takes centre stage here, this 'unofficial' book shows just how fans of the game get creative in other ways outside the game itself, making all sorts of brilliant toys, outfits and artwork to compliment their favourite game.

From the book you can find out how to build amazing stuff like:

  • Your own Minecraft Steve or Creeper "head"
  • Fantastic crochet projects - You can even create your own Crochet creeper (oh if only I wasn't such a rubbish crocheter!)
  • Brilliant lamps that look like Redstone, Gold or Diamond blocks
  • Awesome full-sized Minecraft tools 
It's a truly great set of makes that (for once) are actually feasible and easy (though obviously your little ones may need a bit of parental help with some of the trickier stuff). 

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte wants to make her own Redstone lamp!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Ingenious ideas and brilliant ways to pay homage to one of the world's most entertaining games! Love this!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Design Originals)
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This week (17th - 21st November) is National Anti Bullying Week. We're proud to support "Choose Kind"

R.J. Palacio's utterly fabulous "Wonder" - A fantastic standard bearer for National Anti Bullying Week and "Choose Kind"
Penguin / Random House are proud to support National Anti-Bullying Week (17th-21st November) with a fantastic campaign inspired by R.J Palacio's international best seller "Wonder"

"We launched our 'Choose Kind' campaign earlier this year and so far have had over 700 schools in the UK sign up to take part. We are encouraging teachers and pupils to read Wonder, promote kindness in their schools and show us how they did this during Anti-Bullying Week this November. The Anti-Bullying Alliance found that nearly a quarter of 5-18 year olds have been bullied at school and 45% of parents state that they are concerned about their child being bullied."

The campaign isn't purely limited to schools, and aims to inspire people to be kinder, more thoughtful, more aware of others.

There is more info on Penguin / Random House's campaign tumblr page:

We're proud to spread the word about the campaign and these fantastic resource packs. Do also take a moment or two to read our review of the awe-inspiring "Wonder" too!

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The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten (Book Island)

The Rabbit and the Shadow

Written and Illustrated by
Melanie Rutten

Published by Book Island

We love New Zealand and New Zealanders too, and we particularly love Book Island's fantastic and diverse range of children's books all the way from the other side of the world. Books of fabulous originality, stunning in both story and illustration and "The Rabbit and the Shadow" by Melanie Rutten is no exception.

The series of delicately interlocking stories comes in a gorgeously presented hardback book, as we learn about a young rabbit (who has a lot of growing up to do), a soldier, a fatherly stag, a mischievous cat, a book with a yearning for learning and the mysterious shadow who is eventually revealed further into the stories.

Each of the character's stories combine as the characters meet, embarking on a quest to confront their fears by climbing a volcano (which sounds like a very grand, if crazily dangerous mission!)

The stories hold subtle and hidden delights as well as elements that will tug at your heartstrings. Beautifully written moments like finding out that the brave and bullish soldier has a secret, and the melancholy description by the soldier of 'mummy and daddy living in two houses rather than one' which needed a little gentle and thoughtful explanation to Charlotte.

The book speaks of love in the sort of terms that will make you feel a little tearful. You see, the rabbit asks the sort of awkward questions that parents secretly dread. "Will you be here forever? Will we be together forever?" There are moments where you feel like your heart is going to explode as you see the impact on Stag when Rabbit disappears off into the big wide world to fend for himself.

I have a tendency to over-analyse children's books but the bear struck me as the most interesting character. Looking at the book's allegorical characters and how they describe emotions, stages of life and the way we interact with our world and each other, Bear's character is definitely the one worth more than a second glance and I'd really be interested to hear your thoughts on the characters, the stories and the whole book if you'd like to drop a comment in the box below.

It's stunning though, and we're so entranced by this, it's dreamy and surreal at times, allegorical and clever. It's also powerful storytelling that will have children completely wrapped up in its strong and gentle tale. Utterly lovely!

Charlotte's best bit: The soldier's secret reveal which caused a gasp of delight.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A gloriously presented story, beautifully written and extremely subtle and clever in the way it describes its characters. Definitely something for everyone to identify with in here.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Book Island)
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Friday 14 November 2014

Rounding off Minecraft Week at ReaditDaddy with Minecraft Stories - Tales from the Rock Face

Once Upon a Time - In a not-too-distant Blocky Land...
By now you've probably enjoyed a few of our Minecraft-inspired posts where we've taken a look at some awesome Minecraft books, delved into Minecraft Edu and given you a flavour of what the game is all about. 

One of the unexpected things to come from our dalliances with this massive world are the stories that emerge as you begin to play. When Charlotte was younger and couldn't quite get to grips with a gamepad, she would 'direct' me while we were building, mining and crafting and it was often quite hilarious to hear her running commentary. Almost as if she was narrating a story as we played along. 

For example...

The Case of the Roaming Wolf

As soon as Charlotte learned that certain animals could be tamed, she wanted a wolf. Wolves are often quite solitary creatures in Minecraft and they're quiet (no howling at the moon) so you usually only find them when you practically fall over one. But a tamed wolf can be a loyal companion and a staunch defender of your character if you're cornered by nasties. 

We spotted a wolf in the distance and so the grand chase began. Charlotte excitedly shouted out instructions..."Go there, no he's there. You need to jump higher he's getting away!"

We caught up with the wolf and completely forgot that you need bones to tempt wolves into being domesticated and there's only one way to get bones in Minecraft. You need to fight skeletons, and they're wily tough and sneaky!

The next night we prepared. I'd made iron armour which I clad our character in from head to foot. Stupidly I'd run out of iron though and had to make a wooden sword. Fairly well protected and armed with - well basically a decorative twig - we stole out into the night in search of skeletons...

It didn't take long for them to find us rather than the other way round. The telltale giveaway "Ka-TWANG!" of an arrow embedding itself into the earthen bank next to us announced the arrival of our foe. Though we fought gallantly, we lost horribly and all our belongings were scattered, we died, and woke up in the more comfortable environment of our little snug wooden hut once again. 

Take that, varlet!

The next night we vowed revenge. Recovering our stuff by daylight (including, thankfully, our armour) we spent a day or two mining more iron for a better sword.

Once again, out we strode into the night and once again a skeleton found us before we found him. We got lucky, the skeleton chose the wrong place for a battle as we managed to knock him off the top of a steep cliff. Weakened by the fall we polished off that skeletal nasty in a couple of swipes of our new iron sword and were rewarded for our efforts with a lovely tasty looking bone. 

Of course, needless to say after our grand efforts we couldn't find that elusive wolf for days afterwards!

Minecraft encourages reading!

The game is brilliant just from the perspective of hearing people's anecdotes about their own Minecraft lands and creations, and their own experiences playing the game. Another unexpected benefit of playing is that Minecraft is a good way to help your little ones practice their reading. Not just the fact that the game pops up with in-game messages and information, but it's a great sandbox playpit to try out a few wordy things of your own as well.

More creative parent players might want to try some of the following...

  • Building giant letters. It's really easy to build A, B, C - try playing together and building your own letters and words for your child to shout out!
This is actually a neat little module for Minecraft Edu! Making Alphabet Blocks!

  • Using Minecraft Signs to leave each other messages. You can pop signposts around a landscape and build a reading 'treasure hunt' in the game, with clues to follow to the next location (this takes a bit of setting up but building arrows to point to the next 'clue' or sign would be a really fun combination of building and reading
  • Shout out the name. This is probably better with younger children, as you can use Minecraft's various animals, plants and objects to set up an alphabet area in your Minecraft world. Gather together items that start with the same letter from 'build' mode, and place them in your landscape
Hope you've enjoyed our Minecraft Theme Week. As ever, we'd love to hear your Minecraft stories and experiences. Drop us a comment below!
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 14th November 2014 - "Over the Hills and Far Away - A treasury of nursery rhymes from around the world" compiled by Elizabeth Hammill (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Over the Hills and Far Away

Written and compiled by Elizabeth Hammill
Illustrated by 77 leading children's book illustrators
Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

We've often described Frances Lincoln's range of books as future family heirlooms, they are the sort of books that should be revered and treasured (and of course read, read and read again!) in equal measure.

We're always drawn to anthologies on the blog. For me, it's the pleasure of reading a collected set of verse that makes me wryly grin "I remember that from school!"

For Charlotte it's the chance to be introduced to those traditional nursery rhymes and poems, but also to find out more about verses and rhymes from around the world in a book that truly celebrates diversity and the rich storytelling traditions of other countries.

Elizabeth Hammill has gathered together a glorious collection of nursery rhymes, some old, some new, some familiar and some not - and for children's book enthusiasts the fun doesn't stop there. For this book also gathers together 77 of the world's most celebrated children's illustrators (including pretty much all of our favourites!) to bring their own visual styles to each of the rhymes.

Not that there was ever any doubt that these folk are like superstars to Charlotte (and me too!), but it was quite something to go through the book enjoying the rhymes and have her pick out and name illustrators (and quite often the books they're famous for), identifying them with ease. Tucked within the pages you'll find the likes of Axel Scheffler, Shirley Hughes, Clara Vulliamy, Shaun Tan, Rebecca Cobb (YAY!) and so many others that you'll instantly recognise, plus a whole slew of artists who you may not be familiar with but will want to go off and discover more work by.

The nursery rhymes are such a pleasure to read aloud, particularly at the moment as Charlotte seems to have fallen completely head over heels in love with poetry and verse (and spends a lot of time giggling over the works of Spike Milligan, Edward Lear and one of our fave Twitter folk Colin West).

This is described as a treasury of nursery rhymes and it truly is a treasure. What an amazing book! Make sure this finds its way into your little ones' christmas stocking and they'll still be enjoying it, reading it and absolutely loving the socks off it next christmas too!

Charlotte's best bit: "Doctor Foster" wonderfully illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Daddy's Favourite bit: Far too many to pick just one favourite but absolutely loved Rebecca Cobb's illos for "Wee Little Boy" and "Polly Put the Kettle On" - Pitch perfect depictions of kids at play. What a truly astonishing book!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Frances Lincoln Children's Books)
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Thursday 13 November 2014

The Dinner That Cooked Itself by J.C. Hsyu and Kenard Pak (Flying Eye Books)

The Dinner That Cooked Itself

Written by J.C. Hsyu
Illustrated by Kenard Pak

Published by Flying Eye Books

It's a feast for the eyes and food for the brain, and no less than we've come to expect from Flying Eye Books who have a real eye for amazing stories and beautiful visuals. "The Dinner That Cooked Itself" is a sumptuous story of a young man named Tuan who grows up on a humble farm, looked after by a kindly couple. Tuan doesn't want for anything and lives in a simple house on a simple plot of land, while taking up a day job as a clerk of court.

Tuan's life is relatively happy, but he often feels lonely. So his guardians hire the services of a matchmaker to try and find the ideal bride for Tuan.

Despite the matchmaker's best efforts, no match can be found for Tuan and with a heavy hearted sigh he resigns himself to the fact that he may have to get used to dinner alone.

One night though, while resting in his garden, Tuan finds a gigantic snail. Rather than squishing it, Tuan looks after the snail and gives it a new home in a jar with some tasty cabbage leaves to munch on.

The next evening, Tuan returns home to find the most amazing dinner is laid out for him. His guardians deny all knowledge but Tuan devours the food hungrily, assuming that one of the neighbourhood girls has taken pity on him and cooked the meal for him.

The next evening, the feast is even larger and more luxurious! The most amazing chicken stewed with plums and amazing fresh crunchy vegetables and rice to eat. Tuan is stuffed but always makes sure his friend the snail is fed too!

Who could be the mysterious person who is providing such amazing meals? Tuan decides to hide one evening and find out...

...and that is where we'll leave the rest of the story for you to discover. This book feeds the mind and the senses as it is so atmospheric and the story really draws you in. Drawn in an amazing chinese watercolour style, the book also shows you some simple chinese symbols for some of the elements featured in the story so children can practice their chinese calligraphy skills.

It's a beautiful book indeed and such a satisfying story!

Charlotte's best bit: When Tuan discovers the identity of the mysterious 'cook' he can't believe his eyes!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A gloriously illustrated story that feels like a traditional folk tale, beautifully presented and a treat for the ears as well as the eyes as it's quite lilting to read aloud. Wonderful stuff from Flying Eye!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Flying Eye Books)
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Minecraft Week continues with a look at Minecraft Edu - Can a game really be a valuable classroom aid? Mojang believes it can...!

Can you imagine sitting down to computer class, expecting the usual boring 'how to use a word processor' lessons, or the use of some dry educational website, but instead your ICT Teacher announces "Today we're going to play a game. Today we're going to play Minecraft!"

Charlotte, for one, would be ridiculously excited but can Minecraft actually be used as a valuable educational tool?

The ethos behind Minecraft Edu - A special school-friendly remix of the traditional Minecraft game - believes that children can engage with learning valuable programming and 'net citizen' skills through the creative and social side of Minecraft, not to mention some of the aspects of the game that lend themselves well to creating machines, circuits and problem solving.

With educational discounts, and a very easy setup and administration suite, Minecraft Edu can be set up by a class and enjoyed in minutes. Class and teacher-led activities fit into the Minecraft framework, encouraging children to collaborate on projects and problem solving. Children can create their own in-game avatars and use these to 'see' themselves in the class's virtual world.

30 million Minecraft Edu users are utilising this intuitive learning program for various areas of study, from STEM to history, from art and design to programming.

Dive in and investigate Minecraft Edu by visiting the project's webpage, officially supported by Mojang, the original creators of Minecraft.
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Wednesday 12 November 2014

Minecraft gets dangerous! Learn how to defend yourself with "Minecraft: The Official Combat Handbook" by Mojang and Egmont

Minecraft: The Official Combat Handbook

Written by Egmont UK

Published by Egmont Publishing

As wonderful as Minecraft is, new players might notice that as soon as the sun goes down, the whole landscape changes from a friendly blissful vista full of animals, plants and building opportunities to a dark place full of menacing threats. Even in daylight you may run into trouble so with the "Minecraft: The Official Combat Handbook" by Mojang and Egmont, you'll be well prepared.

Silly Zombies, don't they know Diamond armour is tougher than they are?

Like a mini monster-ography, The Combat Handbook details the strengths and weaknesses of some of Minecraft's most notorious baddies. Spiders are tricky, always seek to fight from the high ground. Zombies are slow and cumbersome but can still pack a wallop. As for skeletons? We'll you'll probably read more about our experiences with them elsewhere in our Minecraft Feature Week. They're a right royal pain in the proverbial!

Kitting your character out with armour and weapons, you can turn from a gibbering wimp to a serious fighting machine. We should point out that we don't condone videogame violence for your younglings but this little tome may be the difference between staying alive for your first night in the game, or losing all your hard-earned goodies to a wandering creeper.

Charlotte's best bit: We hadn't met any witches in the game, but Charlotte seems really fascinated by them in the book. I think they're best avoided!

Daddy's Favourite bit: This book might be a little spoilery if you've not entered the Nether so beware of that - but it is very very useful as an elite survival guide for a sometimes dangerous blockworld!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Publishing)
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Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman launches an exciting writing competition with "Project Remix"

An exciting writing challenge has just been announced by Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman. Dubbed "Project Remix", it's an open invitation to the brightest and best young writers to exercise their creative talents, remixing a modern story or a well loved classic. If you're a budding writer aged between 13-19, or a creative musician or artist, now's your chance to get your work noticed and win some truly fantastic prizes into the bargain!

The full competition details can be found on the Project Remix website and entry is open until February 23rd 2015
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More from Minecraft Week with Minecraft: The Official Redstone Handbook by Nick Farwell, James Burlinson and Theo Cordner (Egmont Books)

Minecraft: The Official Redstone Handbook

Written by Nick Farwell
Contributions by James Burlinson and Theo Cordner

Published by Egmont Books

We're continuing our week-long delve into the mysteries of Minecraft with a closer look at one of the most magical parts of the game. Redstone. What on earth is it? What does it do? Why is it so exciting?

The deeper you delve into Minecraft (literally) the more likely you are to discover Redstone. Leafing through the menus and ingredients lists for weird and wonderful things we'd never actually encountered in the game, Charlotte and I didn't discover Redstone for ages but after a particularly perilous episode while playing, we discovered strange rocks embedded with the magical stuff deep down in the darkness.

In "Minecraft: The Official Redstone Handbook" from Egmont, you'll get to try out some intriguing Redstone recipes ranging from the very simplest ways of controlling lights and doors, to some of the most complex Minecraft creations that Minecraft engineers have come up with. For instance, you can construct a fully working elevator system for a high-rise towerblock. You can even create a working stopwatch!

(Be warned though, it could take you a considerable amount of time, some Minecraft creations can literally take years!)

Redstone allows you to create circuitry and logic, and it's the magical stuff that can power your railways saving you all the legwork of pushing carts around yourself. It may be tricky to find but once you start creating your own Redstone goodies, you'll be hooked!

A Redstone Engine made with Redstone powder and a lever! Funky!

Charlotte's Redstone Story

I built a minecart railway around my new house which Daddy helped me make into a loop. I used Redstone Rails to power the cart so it would work on its own. While I was looking for other things in another part of the map I could see the train whizzing around on its own and couldn't understand why. When I got closer I saw that a sheep had got into the cart and was whizzing endlessly around my house in a dizzying loop! Eventually the poor thing disappeared in a puff of magic!

Daddy's Redstone Story
I grew up making circuits and logic stuff back when you had to make circuits out of copper-backed plastic and an etching pen. Redstone works in a very similar way, you lay out paths of redstone powder to make your circuits and then you can put all sorts of things into the circuit to get it to do interesting things (like lights, or Redstone repeaters to speed up or delay certain interactions). It's also very handy for keeping monsters at bay, because a redstone-powered dispenser packed with arrows can be a lethal autogun, keeping the zombies away from your door!

Charlotte's best bit: Finding out how to make redstone-powered piston creations

Daddy's Favourite bit: Seeing some of the really complicated Redstone creations people have made. Loved the fruit machine!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Books)
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Tuesday 11 November 2014

It's time for the Little Rebels Awards 2015! Do you have an awesome nomination?

Our fab friends at Letterbox Library have just tipped us off that the Little Rebels Awards 2015 will soon be open for nominations!

All the news should be popping up very soon on the Little Rebels blog page here: 

While you're there, check out last year's winner, Gillian Cross with her gripping novel After Tomorrow

More news coming soon so stay tuned!

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