Thursday 30 April 2015

Ten children's picture book story types and tropes that need a well earned, and very long 'rest'

"This book is sending me to...zzzzzzzzzzzz"

Poor Charlotte. As she gets older, she's becoming a past master in perfecting that withering look that children give you when presented with more maths homework, more spinach (or other food that is 'good for you') or - rather alarmingly lately - another book that treads a worn, very well worn path.

The wonders of the publishing industry are quite something to behold from the outside. Most folk have no notion that a book can take years to turn from a seed of an idea into a submitted manuscript then perhaps a fleshed-out illustration board and eventually a mock book before it gets the green light and will be turned into the next children's best seller. Sometimes the timing can cause so many of the same sort of books to hit the market at the same time, that you can understand Charlotte's eye-rolling at times. So with that in mind, we dug through recent submissions and came up with another one of those irritating "top ten" lists - this time for stories we'd love to see a little less of in favour of newer, more original and tastier book fare. Please understand, this is a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek thing, no offence intended and no specific books were mentioned (or harmed) in the compilation of this list.

In no particular order then...

1) "I'm your friend, I'm not your friend, I'm your friend again because I realise how great friends are" books. Friendships are important as soon as children's social circles start expanding, through school and clubs and all the other things kids get into. But does the world really need another children's book where this is bluntly mapped out and described, as if this is something that needs a manual? Books like these often feature cute and cuddly animals (we resisted the temptation to add that as one of our top ten bugbears, because cute and cuddly can still work beautifully in books without being too sickly). We would love to see a children's picture book that accurately maps out a real childhood friendship - that peaks and troughs like an oscilloscope listening to rave music!

2) Pirates. This is a tough one for us to add to the list because we do rather like a nautical tale, but I think we approached peak blackbeard quite some time ago. Perhaps it's as we described in the lead-in to this post, that so many hit the market at the same time despite all being proposed, requisitioned and published completely separately, but sometimes we only have to get a whiff of a skull and crossbones on a cover, and another angry-looking one-eyed pirate captain with a wooden leg and a hook hand to make us run for the nearest desert island clutching our booties. Now, more girl pirates (says Charlotte) - That's something worth working on. (Please note though: Certain folk who write and illustrate pirate tales get a free pass because they always make us giggle and always come up with a good dose of originality for their stuff. You know who you are!)

3) Princesses. The flip-side of the "pirate" doubloon. Princesses show absolutely no signs of losing popularity, and though Charlotte has moved on a tad from the usual Disney-inspired CinderellaBelleBriarRoseFrogPrincessMeridaSnowWhite stuff, tales of gutsy princesses who flip the usual wishy washy princess tropes on their head can still win her over. It's the others though, those books where Princess Mimsy-Poo lives a decadent life of eating jam tarts, wearing incredible dresses and obsessing about pink that we'd love to see take a well earned break.

4) Flatulence Fiction. It's a whole new genre, didn't you know? Farts, botty burps, trouser trumps, rip-snorters, pantaloon polluters are big business in the children's book market and we've seen many a story wear out its welcome by pivoting around the central theme of letting one off. Humans are at it, animals are at it, we're just surprised that we haven't (yet) seen a story about a friend who is a pirate princess who really likes a damned good trump first thing in the morning to set them up for a quirky adventure!

5) Similar to the above, you could add in the rest of the toilet repertoire. Poos, wees, the odd honking incident. Bodily functions in all their squirty, dirty glory are staple fare for kids from the moment they laugh at their own messes, to the moment they become irrationally obsessed with personal hygiene (ie the minute they start feeling a need to impress the opposite sex). What happens in the toilet (or sometimes, disastrously, as far away from the toilet as possible) should really stay in the toilet. Some of us are trying to eat while reviewing this stuff! (To redress the grumble, it's fair to say that children's illustrators really are pulling out all the stops in depicting the subject matter at hand here so a doff of the cap to them for their efforts!)

6) Bears. Hmm, we're in two minds about including bears in the list as we do rather like a lot of books with bears in them, but it takes a rather amazing, spectacular and astonishingly original bear book to sneak in under our radar and make us sit up and take notice. Bears have been some of the best-loved children's characters for aeons and if we do a quick head count on the blog for bear-based books we'd probably say around 20% of our children's book intake revolves around a bear of some description. How many other animal species on the planet never get a look in because Bruin is hogging the limelight though? Pass on the panda, get rid of the grizzly, wave bye bye to the brown bear, where are all the kids books about wolverines, capybaras, Okapis, Tasmanian Devils eh?

7) Dumb dads. Oh we could really go to town on this subject and I'm sure a lot of other book-loving blogger dads will nod in agreement. The dad has long been used as a comical device in children's stories. They're often shown as the ones being a bit lazy, quite often greedy, absolutely always a bit rubbish in comparison to mums - and here's something that's slightly more serious - dads are often the 'missing' partner in children's stories where only a single parent is shown. There have been some great stories showing dads on their own (and there have also been some fairly irritating stories where dads are irrepressibly smug and brilliant at everything they do so we can understand why they're often relegated to being there for comic value only). Give dads their day though, we're not all completely useless (alright, don't ask Charlotte's mum whether this is true, she'll probably tell you that 'dumb dads' are quite an accurate portrayal really!)

8) Mining old and well-worn out-of-copyright stories to produce "a new and exciting and vibrant version for a modern age". Some authors and illustrators are amazing at successfully doing this, and doing it well. Some authors and illustrators absolutely nail producing a version of a classic tale that is stuffed with originality and delight. But we still see an awful lot of children's picture books where a 'classic' is given the thinnest veneer of gilding, bringing nothing really new to the tale itself. Certain tales have been respun and rewoven so many times, they remind us of the poor princess working at the spinning wheel trying to turn straw into gold before Rumplestiltskin shows up!

9) Revolting rhymes and poorly poetry. The majority of rhyming stories we encounter are a delicious delight, tripping off the tongue when read aloud, and causing an internal chuckle or two when read to ourselves. Sometimes though we read rhyming stories that cause us to ask ourselves "Hey, would this be a really great book if it didn't rhyme like a train crashing down the side of a mountain on fire, and that mountain happens to be a Volcano, and that Volcano is sitting on a gigantic earthquake and the whole thing explodes in a huge chaotic mess of lava, train bits and steam?" (Alright, I'll admit it, as analogies go that's a pretty terrible one). Rhymes should feel like having your tongue wrapped in the most delicious wordy silken sylph-like textures. Some just feel like getting a bit of apple or crisp stuck down between your teeth and your gums. Owch.

10) Boy / Girl books and comics. Wait, wait, we're not going to make the same point that has been made over and over and over again (and quite rightly so) about gender bias in books - but we would really love to underline a point we brought up recently in an editorial about how Marvel and DC just don't "get" kids. It's not just about outwardly labelling a book as a "boy" book or a "girl" book, nor is it about the justified outrage that in certain children's stories the gender bias is more subtle but still there - dad goes off to work, mum looks after the kids and the house. It's more about the fact that no one needs to explicitly tell children what to like and what not to like, no one can really say they've expertly designed a character range that from a glance will instantly have massive girl appeal or boy appeal (girls - you get the cheesy clean-cut teen dreams like the new DC superhero and supervillain stuff that's been specifically designed for you. Boys, you get the usual weaponised violent pithy superhero stuff that is so far removed from its original source material that you'll probably never recognise the original comics those products are based on!) Books and comics for children shouldn't need to shout from the rooftops that they've been tailored in any way for a target audience. Let the audience make up their own minds, boy or girl and if your stories and characters are strong enough, you won't need to lead people by the nose!

And there you have it. 10 things that we'd love to see put on hold (for a while, or in the case of number 10 - permanently). We look forward to seeing what you come up with to prove us wrong on each of these points :)

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50 Things you should know about the Second World War by Professor Ian Beckett and Professor Richard Overy (QED Publishing)

50 Things you should know about the Second World War

Consultants: Professor Ian Beckett and Professor Richard Overy
Edited and Illustrated by The QED Team

Published by QED Publishing

QED's history range has always been fantastic, and with the latest "50 things" series, you can explore world events in more detail than ever before. We've previously enjoyed "50 things you should know about the First World War", one of the best children's non-fiction books about World War 1. Now we're moving on in history to an equally terrible conflict that caused a catastrophic loss of life, and affected the entire globe, raging on for 6 years before its terrible conclusion.

As with QED's previous book, "50 Things you should know about the Second World War" gathers together the people, the places and the events that led to the conflict and the rise of Hitler's Nazi party. We see how the German war machine was constructed, ignoring the Treaty of Versailles until the German Army, Air Force and Navy grew to become one of the largest armed forces in Europe.

When Germany invaded Poland, the stage for a terrible and bloody conflict was set as Poland's allies (Britain and France) were drawn into the war first against Germany, Russia and Italy, with the USA and Japan brought into the conflict later on and the rest of the world soon to follow.

The book is laid out with a series of illustrated spreads, pouring on fact after fact, statistic after statistic - written in conjunction with advisers and history experts to ensure that children can quickly trace the war's timeline from beginning to end, and easily identify the key historical figures on both Axis and Allied sides.

Key battles and events are broken down in detail, and the figures make for some grisly reading at times as you realise what a terrible price both sides paid in the loss of military and civilian life.

The technology of war is examined in detail too, from tanks to warplanes to ships - again presented with a ton of statistics and facts to demonstrate how each side entered a terrible arms race, one that continued well after the war ended and nations who fought side by side were ultimately divided by political differences.

It's another winner from QED absolutely crammed to capacity with a ton of facts and figures for children to pore over, treated with a sensitive eye on the intended audience.

"50 Things you should know about the Second World War" is published by QED on May 1st 2015.

Charlotte's best bit: As with the First World War book, really interested in the historical figures who were instrumental in the conflict.

Daddy's Favourite bit: As thoroughly absorbing, terrifying and authoritative as QED's "First World War" book. Brilliantly presented and illustrated, again a really impressive title.

(Kindly sent to us for review by QED Publishing)

Like this? We think you'll love these too!

50 Things you should know about the First World War (QED Publishing)
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The Perfect Job for an Elephant by Jodie Parachini and Caroline Pedler (QED Publishing)

The Perfect Job for an Elephant

Written by Jodie Parachini

Illustrated by Caroline Pedler

Published by QED Publishing

Our second look at QED's new Storytime Range offers up a puzzling quandary for tiny tiddlers. "What job would be best for a busy and energetic little elephant?" That's the core theme of this cute little story from Jodie Parachini and Caroline Pedler.

Mummy is on hand to help with useful suggestions. Little Elephant is great at eating, so perhaps she could turn her talents to cookery as a chef? Perhaps not, as little elephant is better at eating her own produce than selling it in Zebra's cafe! Eek!

How about art? Helping out in Flamingo's pottery stand perhaps? Maybe not, a big slightly clumsy elephant with big flapping ears causes chaos amongst the crockery!

Poor little elephant is completely downhearted but perhaps she just needs the right thing to happen to show her where her true talents lie.

What we love about the QED Storytime range is the discussions that emerge around the story, actively encouraged by helpful story discussion pointers raised at the end of each book (See also Steve Smallman's "The Special Guest" in the same range). It's always great listening to what kids want to be when they grow up (Charlotte changes her mind about once a week, this week: "I want to work in a pet shop!")

Charlotte's best bit: Little elephant's yummy buns and cakes - before little elephant gobbles up the lot!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A cute and fun story that stimulates discussion and is a real wow for little readers.

(Kindly sent to us for review by QED Publishing)
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Wednesday 29 April 2015

Come along to a wonderful scribbly event in Bristol on Friday - "A Scribble of Illustrators" with some of the most amazing illustrative talent working in children's literature!

"A Scribble of Illustrators" (Click image above for the full details!)

From 1st to 6th May (this friday onwards, in fact!) Bristol will be all of a buzz, as some of the most awesome and amazing illustrative talent in the business gather together at the CentreSpace Gallery for "A Scribble of Illustrators". 

Join in with workshops, art sales and rub shoulders with the likes of Jo ("Rabbityness") Empson, Steven (Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights) Lenton and Joe (Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble) Berger and a whole host of other astonishing and amazing scribblers.

More details can be found on the event's Facebook page via

Come along and meet some enormously talented folk and join in with your little ones too!
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Tom's Sunflower (The Copper Tree Series) by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley (Strauss House Productions)

Tom's Sunflower (The Copper Tree Series)

Written by Hilary Robinson

Illustrated by Mandy Stanley

Published by Strauss House Productions

The Copper Tree Series of children's books by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley help children deal with concerns and issues that can affect their everyday lives. We've previously taken a look at the series, and we're catching up with "Tom's Sunflower" - a story designed to help children deal with the issues around their parents splitting up.

Anything that affects the family unit in this way always affects children the most, and "Tom's Sunflower" addresses the issues in a sensitive story of a young boy named Tom who loves to grow things in the garden, and a class of children who rally round to support a girl whose parents have recently divorced.

The story neatly underlines some of the concerns children develop when they're dividing their time between two parents who no longer live together. The story of Tom has a neat twist that imparts a hugely positive message. We won't spoil things too much but it's easy to see how fantastically effective this book could be when used in class where children are in the same situation.

Charlotte had a ton of questions to ask about the story - and it was great to see her reaction to the characters and also how she would help anyone at school or at Brownies who is going through something similar.

A superbly accomplished and sensitive book series that would really be a huge help.

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte loved the Classroom lineup at the end - and finding out who Tom was!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A hugely impressive book series sensitively dealing with difficult issues facing children every day

(Kindly sent to us for review by Strauss House Productions)
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Tuesday 28 April 2015

Hungry Roscoe by David Plant (Flying Eye Books)

Hungry Roscoe

Written and Illustrated by
David Plant

Published by Flying Eye Books

A cheeky but smart Racoon is the star of this hilarious picture book from Flying Eye. In "Hungry Roscoe" by talented fellah David Plant, Roscoe the Racoon is absolutely STARVING and the pickings in the park are exceedingly slim. Luckily Roscoe is a racoon with a big brain - his foolproof plan is to do something that animals usually do the exact opposite of! Break into the zoo, wait till feeding time, then gorge himself on all the tasty treats until his tummy is full.

Roscoe's plan seems like a good one at first, but a rampaging zookeeper doesn't like scavengers (no matter how cute they are), and Roscoe is sent on his way with a swift boot up the bottom!

Roscoe's plan B involves a sneaky disguise. Armed with an umbrella, a piece of orange peel and some plant pots, Roscoe assumes the form of a plodding tortoise - After all, those lumbering chaps always seem to get fresh fruit (literally) thrown at them!

Plan B pretty much goes the way of Plan A. By now, Roscoe's sore bottom calls for drastic measures so Plan C involves prettying himself up as a p-p-p-perfect penguin!

Does anyone want to guess what happens next?

Roscoe is tired, hungry and disillusioned but a group of cheeky monkeys offer him a deal. If he can filch the keys to the monkey cage from the Zookeeper, the monkeys will give Roscoe all their food!


This time the plan goes swimmingly - and if there's ever an example of karma being served, it's what happens to the Zookeeper while Roscoe happily stuffs his face and the cheeky monkeys let the rest of the zoo animals loose!

This is an awesome and entertaining story that captures the classic look and feel (and often frenetic excitement and complete chaos) of 60s and 70s "Golden Age" children's books from both the UK and US and we really really cannot give higher praise than that.

David is destined to become something of a children's book superstar, we think!

Charlotte's best bit: Roscoe's flawed but funny penguin costume (an ice cream cone as a beak! Genius!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fun and entertainingly original story with plenty of excitement and hilarity. Roscoe rocks!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Flying Eye Books)
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Monday 27 April 2015

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book and Early Readers Roundup - April 2015

"The Twits" by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Puffin Books)
As April slides away from us, we're rounding up another month of brilliant chapter and early reader books for your delectation. Starting things off with a right pair of twits. Yep, Roald Dahl's "The Twits" to be precise, with crazy and chaotic illustrations from Quentin Blake.

Mr Twit is a horrid horrid man with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. He smells, he picks his nose, he has the most disgusting personal hygiene and as for his diet - let's just say that you wouldn't want to be invited to dinner at Twit Towers.

Mrs Twit, on the other hand, wait, Mrs Twit is possibly even worse and the two seem to constantly bicker and fight, and play mean tricks on each other. Will they ever get their comeuppance? A family of performing monkeys cruelly imprisoned by the Twits - and a flock of clever birds might just settle their hash!

We loved the craziness of this - again this is a book I read as a kid and couldn't wait to pass on to Charlotte (who snorted with laughter at some of the tricks Mr and Mrs Twit play on each other!)

"The Twits" by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake is available now from Puffin.

Next we're quite close to home with the setting for a brilliant new fantasy story...

"Archie Green and the Magician's Secret" by D.D. Everest (Faber and Faber)
Take a smidge of Harry Potter, a pinch of C.S. Lewis and a tiny dash of Tolkien and you're soon wrapped up on the fantasy world of Archie Green. In "Archie Green and the Magician's Secret", young plucky hero Archie receives a mysterious book on his birthday. The book also comes with a message - Archie must travel to Oxford to visit the Museum of Magical Miscellany, to discover more about the world of the Flame Keepers - and also to delve into his own past.

Archie's quest is not as straightforward as it seems, as the book holds powerful secrets of its own and is soon drawn to the attention of nefarious dark spirits who would steal the book and use its power for their own ends.

D.D. Everest has built a fantastic alternate reality around my home city (as so many authors do) but with tons of originality and a crew of heroes joining Archie on his quest, younger readers will soon be drawn into this one and completely hooked.

"Archie Green and the Magician's Secret" by D.D. Everest is out now from Faber and Faber.

Something more light hearted next, perhaps?

"Chicken Mission - The Curse of Fogsham Farm" by Jennifer Gray (Faber and Faber)

Jennifer Gray's madcap series with darkly comic overtones is back with the sequel to "Chicken Mission - Danger in the Deep Dark Woods". This time vampires are afoot in "Chicken Mission - The Curse of Fogsham Farm" as our pluck-pluck-plucky heroes Professor Rooster, Amy, Boo and Ruth take on the evil Stella Von Fangula and Thaddeus E Fox to thwart their nefarious plans to turn everyone into chicken-eating vampires! EEKS!

Red House Children's Book Award Winner Jennifer has injected a ton of humour into this madcap caper. Keep your crosses and garlic at the ready though! (Mmm, Garlic Chicken anyone?)

"Chicken Mission - The Curse of Fogsham Farm" by Jennifer Gray is available now from Faber and Faber.

Room for a couple more? But of course...!

"True Face - Be Real, Be Fearless, Be You" by Siobhan Curham (Faber and Faber)

Here's a book with a core message we can really get behind on this blog. Though it's a bit 'old' for Charlotte (the book is aimed at girls aged 13+), "True Face" by Siobhan Curham is a positive guide to shrugging off peer pressure and the negative impact of succumbing to "The Perfection Police". Siobhan's book features chapters on body image, the impact of social media, bullying, love and sex with a realistic approach that doesn't talk down to its core audience. "True Face" encourages girls to be themselves, shrug off the idea of trying to follow dubious role models, and follow a new mantra "Forget the Fake - Keep it Real!"

"True Face" by Siobhan Curham is available now from Faber and Faber.

One more, go on then...

"Prankenstein vs Yankenstein" by Andy Seed, illustrated by Richard Morgan (Fat Fox Books)
Soapy Thompson is back, and this time he's not alone! Blue Peter Award Winning author Andy Seed's fantastic hero is back in "Prankenstein vs Yankenstein". Soapy's American cousin Topazz comes to stay, and that's just the beginning of a summer of trouble for Soapy.

When Soapy finds himself handcuffed to a toilet seat one morning, he decides to wreak terrible revenge on his miscreant cousin by reviving his monstrous alter-ego - Prankenstein. Things go even more awry for Soapy once he realises that he's no longer the only monster on the block. Who is the mysterious shambling figure stalking the countryside, pushing the entire country towards all-out war?

Knockabout humour, chaotic craziness and a good dose of lightning are in order for Andy Seed's fantastic sequel. Check it out and see why Andy is winning a huge army of fans (both dead and undead!)

"Prankenstein vs Yankenstein" is out now from Fat Fox Books.

Phew, we're jiggered! Tune in next month for even more chapter book and early chapter reader goodness!
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Friday 24 April 2015

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th April 2015 - "The Giant of Jum" by Elli Woollard and Benji Davies (Macmillan Children's Books)

The Giant of Jum

Written by Elli Woollard

Illustrated by Benji Davies

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

Oh my, there are just SO MANY great books around at the moment that our poor old "Book of the Week" slot is straining under the pressure. We're doubling up our Book of the Week nominees this week with a fantastic new tale from awesome poet and writer Elli Woollard, and equally awesome illustrator Benji Davies - and a tale of a huge giant with a rumbling tum.

"The Giant of Jum" is Elli and Benji's first collaboration (and hopefully not their last) for Macmillan, introducing us to The Giant of Jum - who loves nothing more than striding the landscape, scarfing down children. Baked in a pie, crumbled over cornflakes, the giant is hungry and nothing will stand in his way.

Only...well the thing is, the local children could do with a giant hand. Can he retrieve a lost ball? Rescue a naughty kitten stuck up a tree?

The Giant is only temporarily distracted, his true foe is Jack the Giant Killer who will be hunted down and mercilessly toasted and scoffed!

But is the giant really as menacing and scary as he wants to be?

Elli's rhymes are tight and perfect as you'd expect from the genius behind "Taking words for a Stroll". Benji's illustrations instantly feel fresh but classic, as we've come to expect from such a whopping giant-sized talent whose books are always amongst the most read on our shelves. It's a book that will become a sing-along-read-along favourite amongst younger readers who will love the way Elli plays with repetition and verse to relate the story beautifully, and of course older readers who will drink up the verse and the visuals both exquisitely clever and detailed.

We truly hope the press release is right, and that this is just the beginning of a fantastic working partnership for Elli and Benji, we absolutely cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

Charlotte's best bit: Finding Jack (in the most unlikely place!) and GIANT CAKE!

Daddy's Favourite bit: It reads as good as it looks, it looks as good as it reads, it's got "massive award winning best seller" stamped all over it. Perfecto!

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

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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th April 2015 - "Fuzz McFlops" by Eva Furnari with translation by Alison Entrekin (Pushkin Children's Books)

Fuzz McFlops

Written and Illustrated by
Eva Furnari

Published by Pushkin Children's Books

We're always on the look out for books that break the mould, do something different, dish up a tasty reading experience for your young ones that feels like nothing you've ever seen before.

"Fuzz McFlops" arrived through our door somewhat mysteriously (we've been used to seeing books accompanied by a press release but Fuzz was on its own). With a 'whoop' of delight, Charlotte adopted it as one of her bedtime reads over the next few days and I can gauge the level of success of the book by how many times she dragged me off to show me a new 'bit' she'd discovered.

We've long described a gap between picture books and early chapter readers for children, and thankfully we're beginning to see authors and illustrators playing with that format with resounding success. Eva Furnari is definitely a well established author and illustrator in her home country of Brazil, and now thanks to a timely translation by Alison Entrekin, the rest of the world is about to find out why Eva wins truckloads of awards for her wonderful books.

Back to that format. Fuzz McFlops starts out in fairly traditional style. The tale of a young (and dare we say rather dapper) rabbit who is an amazingly talented author. But poor Fuzz is shy, a shyness brought on by nasty fellow pupils at school who teased him and bullied him about his wonky ears. Aww, bless his cotton tail!

Leading a slightly reclusive life, prone to writing heart-wrenchingly sad tales Fuzz begins to receive a series of letters from an ardent fan begging him to take his rightful place in the spotlight!

Here's where the book departs from the fairly standard layouts you may expect from a picture book - or indeed a slightly wordier early chapter book, because "Fuzz McFlops" is devised and designed in such an original and fresh way, that there's so much to discover on each page. The story is both heartwarming and triumphant, but the more we read around Fuzz's return to glory, the more we fell in love with all the incidental things you discover as you read through and marvel at the gorgeous illustrations.

Pushkin Children's Books seem to have a knack for challenging our expectations of children's books and pressing our buttons in all the right ways. "Fuzz McFlops" is no exception, in fact it was all I could do to wrestle this one out of Charlotte's hands so I could read it myself (and read it I did!)

If you've got a little one at home who won't just settle for the ordinary and everyday tales they find when trying to bridge the gap between picture book and chapter book, then definitely give Fuzz a try! It'll give you a warm fuzzy glow, betcha!

Charlotte's best bit: The brilliant bit where Fuzz receives his first fan letter!

Daddy's Favourite bit: This is a really original and unique children's book that makes us sit up and take notice. The world is about to find out what an amazing talented lady Eva Furnari really is!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Pushkin Children's Books)
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Thursday 23 April 2015

Why Marvel and DC just don't "get" kids (particularly girls) - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

DC's new initiative to bring in more revenue from 6-12 year old girl comic and superhero move fans...It's like Lego Friends for Supes. Bleurrrrrrghhh!
We love comics. You know we love comics. So by rights, we should be doubly excited by the news that DC has launched a new initiative to bring in some coin from a largely untapped market (in their opinion at least). Girls who love superheroes and supervillains, girls aged 6-12 and who already work their way through the relatively 'safe' (slim pickings) comics in the DC range.

Marvel will undoubtedly be paying attention. We were following another debate by comic superstar Faith Erin Hicks who sparked off a very interesting discussion about why Marvel and DC can't seem to quite nail producing kids comics when I spotted a link to DC's latest stuff: 

At the moment, this seems to be talking more about an animation / movie / merchandising initiative rather than comics, and the first image (which you can see above) is an initial set of characters who will launch the range, and the stories. Cute, sassy teenage versions of existing DC female superheroes. 

I'm not the market for this stuff, I know I'm not. I had to show it to my daughter to gauge her opinion though, and...hmmm, sorry DC / Warner, she's not happy and if she's not happy, I'm definitely not happy. 

"Batgirl doesn't look like that" she said. "Wonderwoman doesn't look like that" she said. Because Charlotte has been slowly introduced to kid comics from this side of the pond, the cute clean preppy-like figures above are far distant from European, Japanese and (hooray) Brit comics that don't feel the need to sugar-coat and sickly sweeten everything aimed at kids. 

Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning anyone sharing grown up comics with their kids. It's your duty as a parent to ensure that your child's reading (and viewing) matter is appropriate for their age, and when you start picking through Marvel and DC's massive back catalogue, it's extremely tough to find comic arcs that don't treat women like sex objects, don't resort to mindless violence to drive a story along, and don't delve into dark stuff when they need to 're-invent' a character or story. 

Here's the thing though, touching on that point, where do DC and Marvel really think the massive revenues from superhero merchandise for kids actually come from? 

Lego products? Sure we're about to get a whole slew of Lego-based superhero stuff but most of the Lego range has absolutely nothing to do with prospective lego-based movies, it's based on movies that 6-11 year olds shouldn't even be watching (the age rating, for instance, on The Avengers movie is  12. Similarly the Iron Man movies carry a 12 rating but a quick google reveals no end of toys based on those properties for kids far, far younger than 12 - everything from underpants to lunch boxes and of course suits and fancy dress stuff so they can role play their fave supes. 

Back to the "comics for kids" thing though, patronising kids or making the assumption that girls in particular can't handle complex and involving plots or can't cope if characters aren't stylised and cartoony is the worst possible direction for comic superhero stuff to go if they want to bring in an audience from an early age (and keep that audience coming back well into adulthood too, right?).

Kids are intelligent, kids are remarkably well read (and they have the internet, whether you like them having it or not!) Kids love their movies and TV, they love their merchandise, their videogames but they can handle far more complexity than you give them credit for.

Look at the plots, characters and stories in our favourite kids comic - the mighty Phoenix, leading the charge for kids my daughter's age. Never talking down to its audience, celebrating their intelligence, their creativity and their ability to handle complexity without resorting to the sort of sugar-coated cutey-ness that seems to regularly hit our inbox (and equally, regularly hit our recycle bin). 

We will be watching the new DC stuff. We'll be watching and observing Marvel's response, and we'll also be seeing how more seasoned and knowledgeable comic fans than us react because from where we're currently sitting, this just isn't good enough. 
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Wildlife Jack - I Want to Fly! by Ed Kellie (National Trust Books / Pavilion)

Wildlife Jack - I Want to Fly!

Written and Illustrated by
Ed Kellie

Published by National Trust Books / Pavilion

We've been National Trust members as a family collective for a number of years now, and we spend part of nearly every weekend at National Trust properties in and around our area (and sometimes further afield!) My wife's excellent days-out and outdoorsy blog "Can I Walk, Mummy" chronicles our adventures so when we started to spot this rather attractive book in National Trust shops on our visits, we really wanted to find out more.

We were extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to take a look at "Wildlife Jack - I Want to Fly!" by Ed Kellie, thanks to Pavilion / NT so we'll swoop, swoosh and dive on in!

Jack loves visiting his Grandpa and Grandpa, a bit of an adventurer himself, loves to show Jack his magic journal that's full of all the amazing adventures he's had. When Jack reads the journal with his grandpa, Jack is almost transported to the amazing places Grandpa mentions - and also gets to see all the incredible wildlife along the way.

This time Jack and Grandpa are learning all about the amazing bird life that can be found throughout the UK. From pigeons on your own doorstep if you live in the big city, to the geese and gulls, finches and robins that dwell in our greener landscapes.

Jack realises that above anything else, he wants to take to the skies with his new bird friends so with the help of a pair of wings, Jack attempts to soar!

He's going to need more help though, those tiny little wings of his won't get him anywhere!

As the story unfolds, the book gently introduces fascinating facts about our most beloved (and some of our most rare) bird species, giving children a fantastic insight into our rural and city bird life, and sharing with them a love of nature that will hopefully encourage them to get out into the countryside when they can like we do (or seek out green spaces in the city, even!)

A brilliant and colourful book based on the hit Wildlife Jack TV show currently airing on Disney Kids. We can't wait to see where Wildlife Jack's inquisitive nature takes him next!

Charlotte's best bit: Loving some of the facts and figures, like swifts being able to sleep while flying and ducks being able to sleep while afloat!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fabulous mix of story and non fiction destined to draw young readers into a whole world of nature discovery. Huge thumbs up from us!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Pavilion Publishing)
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Where will I go? (When I grow Up) by Richard Sinclair and Jon Lycett-Smith (Digital Leaf)

Where will I go? (When I grow up)

Written by Richard Sinclair

Illustrated by Jon Lycett-Smith

Published by Digital Leaf

A pocket-sized story book that sends us soaring on a voyage of imagination and discovery? How could we possibly resist. Arriving on our doorstep accompanied by an adorable collection of postcards with globetrotting themes comes a new book from Digital Leaf.

Author Richard Sinclair and Illustrator Jon Lycett-Smith have teamed up for this excellent story that will guide your children on a whistle-stop round-the-world tour as a boy and his dad visit their local museum, and take off on a flight of fancy dreaming about all the different countries they could visit together.

Some of the world's most exciting destinations are explored, starting right on our own home doorstep with a gorgeous glance at London and all the sights, stepping over the pond to the USA, South America, Australia, China and beyond.

Charlotte is always interested in any new books that arrive with geographical leanings, and this is an absolutely brilliant introduction to the world around us - and the stunning destinations we hope she'll one day visit when she grows up (or tagging along with us!)

Loud shouty voiceover fans are in for a particular treat with "Where will I go?" - A special set of audio resources accompanies the book, read by none other than the legendary King of the Hawkmen himself, Brian Blessed! Just be sure to keep the volume turned down a little in case you damage your little one's hearing!

Children are instantly drawn to books that can send them on a journey of imagination and discovery, and this is a particularly brilliant colourful and immersive example.

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte now wants to visit Japan. Endless sushi!!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A gorgeous little globetrotting title from Digital Leaf.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Digital Leaf)
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Wednesday 22 April 2015

When Dad Showed Me the Universe by Ulf Stark and Eva Eriksson (Gecko Press)

When Dad Showed me the Universe

Written by Ulf Stark

Illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Published by Gecko Press

We are always stargazing. We're lucky enough that on a cold dark night when the sky is clear, we can see quite a lot of the stars without too much light pollution (amazing considering we live in a busy town centre). Recently on holiday up in the Peak District we could really soak up the stratosphere as we lay in our hot tub (oooh, get us!) and sat silently picking out the constellations in our 'different' patch of sky.

And so, to this wonderful book celebrating stargazers everywhere. "When Dad Showed me the Universe" is a voyage of discovery for a boy who embarks on an evening adventure with his dentist dad.

Dad stops off for some supplies (he's a dentist so no sweeties, just a pack of chewing gum!) and the two of them head out into the best place to view the stars - the middle of nowhere!

Dad explains all about the amazing starscape laid out before them, and all the constellations - some of which may have already disappeared, but still visible to us because their light takes so long to reach us.

The story is wonderfully told and illustrated. Poor dad though, I definitely identify with his final annoyance in the story (this also seems to happen to us on far too regular a basis so we definitely sympathise!)

Charlotte's best bit: Poor dad needing to scrub his boots clean at the end of their eventful trip. We know that feeling all too well, sadly.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A touching story with an all-too-rare book dad that isn't just there for comedy value - which makes a very nice change in a children's book, I must say!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Gecko Press)
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Tuesday 21 April 2015

Come to Discover for a brilliant Bear Hunt spectacular from October 2015

Image Credit (C) Helen Oxenbury

Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things at Discover

Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's classic children's book "We're going on a Bear Hunt" is coming to our favourite book and story venue, Discover Story from the 16th October 2015 to Spring 2016

Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, East London is launching an exciting new interactive family exhibition, ‘Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things.’ Discover’s exhibition will explore the fantastic stories and poems of former Children’s Laureate and bestselling writer Michael Rosen. Children and families can walk into immersive environments inspired by We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake, The Book of Bad Things and Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed.

Children can step inside a huge chocolate cake (YESSSSSS!!! We are SO there!), discover a secret larder, swishy swashy their way through a Bear Hunt and explore Bad Things in the Dread Shed. The exhibition will feature hidden rooms where clues can be found that reveal the inspiration behind Michael’s writing including his Grandparent’ sitting room and his classroom. Younger children will be able to participate in a Bear Hunt trail whilst older children can go on a fun fact finding mission and create poems of their own to takeaway.

Discover’s Joint Chief Executive, Sally Goldsworthy said, ‘We are very excited to announce this latest exhibition made in collaboration with Michael Rosen. Michael has so much energy and passion for education, creativity and writing that he is incredibly inspiring to work with.’

Award winning author Michael Rosen said ‘This exhibition is one of the most exciting things to have happened in my writing career. I am someone who has found a way of writing that is often about digging up stuff to do with my past and here is Discover making that into a giant room that families and schools will be able to explore. Just as exciting for me, as someone who works with children and students at Goldsmiths, University of London, is the idea that this exhibition will act as a springboard for children, teachers and parents to talk together about things that they remember or think up, and this, I hope, will turn into writing and performing new poems and stories. I am so looking forward to it.’

Discover’s new interactive exhibition for families Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things opens on 16th October 2015 and will launch the centre’s autumn programme full of inspiration from Michael Rosen’s stories and poems.

Discover Children’s Story Centre’s exhibitions have been nominated for the 2012 European Museum Academy International Children’s Museum Award. Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things follows hot on the heels of blockbuster exhibitions Once There Was...The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers, Secret Agents, Journey to Space and sold out collaboration with Punchdrunk Enrichment, The House Where Winter Lives.

Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things has been created, produced and designed by Discover Children’s Story Centre and will be touring the country from summer 2016. Mark October in your diary, it's going to be a smasher!
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50 things you should know about the First World War by Jim Eldridge (QED Publishing)

50 Things you should know about the First World War

Written and Illustrated by
Jim Eldridge

Published by QED Publishing

We're catching up with an amazing book about the First World War, first published in 2014 - the centenary year of the conflict - and packed to the gills with facts and figures, historical and statistical snippets and an in-depth look at the people, the technology, and the appalling cost of the war to generations of soldiers and their families.

You'll find out what triggered the conflict through political discussion of the state of the world at the time by examining a "Who's Who" on both Axis and Allied sides. Detailed descriptions of the conditions troops faced really underline what a terrible atrocity the war was, and how the human toll affected generations to come.

This has been an astonishing book to delve into - perfect at the moment as Charlotte's school still factors both World War 1 and 2 in their history lessons. The wealth of information packed between the covers of this authoritative guide make it one of the best books covering the First World War that we've seen to date.

Charlotte's best bit: A fascinating fact-filled non fiction book that highlights the horrors of the First World War

Daddy's Favourite bit: Seriously in-depth, brilliantly compiled - a must for any children currently studying or learning about the First World War at school

(Kindly sent to us for review by QED Publishing)
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Monday 20 April 2015

100 Great Children's Picture Books by Martin Salisbury (Laurence King Publishing)

100 Great Children's Picture Books
Written by Martin Salisbury

Illustrated by Various

Published by Laurence King Publishing

This is a truly fascinating picture book resource that perhaps should've been called "100 Great Children's Picture Books you have never seen before, but will be absolutely blown away by!" Picture book expert Martin Salisbury has compiled a mouthwatering treasure trove of children's books stretching right back to the very beginning of the illustrated picture book format for children, and showing that all the ideas, art styles and amazing writing we know in children's picture books today has roots that go back as far as the late 19th century.

With a ton of photographs of Martin's enviable collection, you'll find many many works that will provide inspiration and insight to anyone who's interested in children's books, whether you write them or write about them, illustrate for them or are a parent who has a few loft treasures tucked away in the attic that you really ought to bring out and dust down.

"The Slant Book" by Peter Newell - A really simple but hugely effective idea with glorious illustrations
Spanning the globe and examining some of the most influential children's books of the last hundred or so years, there are surprises in store. You'll see just how artists and authors made use of the limited resources available and limited colour palettes to produce simple but hugely effective and entertaining children's stories.

Lucy Brown and Mr Grimes by Edward Ardizzone - Utterly fantastic!
Some well known artists and authors, as well as some you've never heard of before, are featured in this exhaustive tome thoroughly researched and beautifully presented. We were completely wowed by some of the booky discoveries we made while leafing through this big thick and satisfying collection including works by Edward Ardizzone that we'd never heard of before (he's a bit of a 'thing' for us at the moment, thanks to recent reprints of his fantastic "Little Tim" books, one of which is featured in this collection). 

What struck me was how ideas you'd imagine were fairly new and modern were actually nothing of the sort. Ingenious tricks like using cutouts in pages, or 'lift the flap' books have actually been around for a very long time, pioneered back when limited print runs of books came nowhere near approaching the sort of numbers modern publishing deals with. 

"Say with Me" - A completely entrancing and beautiful book from Poland. 
This is a luxurious book to get lost in for hours and as mentioned before, it's hugely inspirational particularly if (like me) you love a good scribble and want some new ideas or new directions to go in with your art. 

A truly magical collection. 

"100 Great Children's Picture Books" by Martin Salisbury is out today from Laurence King Publishing, RRP £24.95.

Charlotte's best bit: Too many favourites to choose from amongst these gorgeous books but she really loved the look of the original Moomins Cut Out Books and a Babar story she hadn't previously heard of

Daddy's Favourite bit: Loved the simplicity behind the "Slant Book" - Such a great idea! All in all, a glorious and inspirational collection of children's books, most of which we'd never heard of but really want to find out more about. Brilliant!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Laurence King Publishing)
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3D Bubble Writer - a Crazy Craft Book by Linda Scott (Laurence King Publishing)

3D Bubble Writer - A Crazy Craft Book

Written and Illustrated by
Linda Scott

Published by Laurence King Publishing

This fantastic and inspirational craft book arrived just in the nick of time to stop us from going completely insane with boredom over the long (3 week long!) Easter Holidays. Charlotte loves doodling and scribbling, so what better way to get some inspiration for new craft projects than from a book absolutely packed to the gills with brilliant ideas.

"3D Bubble Writer" by Linda Scott gets children thinking about a subject particularly close to my nerdy typography-obsessed heart. I love fonts, I love lettering and it seems to be a bit of a lost art for folk to dabble in drawing up their own letter forms.

Linda's book breaks us in gently by showing us a few simple but hugely effective ideas to jazz up our own efforts, starting with the titular 3D Bubble Writing - but not stopping there, oh no! There are fantastic resources and exercises covering all sorts of magical 'makes' from your own pop-up cards and messages, to more intricate papercut designs from original sources of inspiration spanning the globe. Mexican bunting? You know we're going to love a bit of that!

Patchwork Lettering? Cool idea!

The great thing about this book (apart from the fact that it's inspired Charlotte to such an extent that she's just about covered all of her school work books in whizzy and sophisticated new nameplates and lettering - Ulp!) is that each of the exercises and projects appeal to a hugely wide range of age groups. Tinies can get stuck in making their own lettering mobiles while older kids can tuck into the more sophisticated makes on show here. With an adult to help where tricky cutting out is required, you'll soon be producing fantastic crafty creations with Linda's expert guidance.

Make your own fantastic paper-chain alphabet!

The book contains glorious and colourful press-out card 'makes' as well as showing you how to draw your own designs (you can even draw on the book, if you're the sort of person who doesn't run screaming into the trees at the very suggestion of defacing books!! Eeeks!)

What a fab book to dip into again and again, particularly on those long wet April Showers-ey days at home.

"3D Bubble Writer - A Crazy Craft Book" by Linda Scott is available from Laurence King Publishing today!

Charlotte's best bit: Experimenting with shadows, shading and pop-up shapes for her lettering creations! Fancy!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A huge thick jam-packed book spilling over with fabulous and inspirational artsy ideas! We utterly love it!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Laurence King Publishing)
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Friday 17 April 2015

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th April 2015 - "The Hog, The Shrew and the Hullabaloo by Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo (Faber and Faber)

The Hog, The Shrew and the Hullabaloo

Written by Julia Copus

Illustrated by Eunyoung Seo

Published by Faber and Faber

We loved "The Hog in the Fog" very much indeed - in fact if you peek inside the cover of this, the second book in the "Harry and Lil" series, you'll see a recommendation from us! Fame at last!

But you know what? We loved this second book even more - Harry the Hog and Candystripe Lil (the most adorable shrew ever!) are back for a second adventure - this time centred around a very restless night for our bristly buddy Harry.

There's a strange noise going on, and poor Harry is a tiny bit scared. Luckily his best friend Candystripe Lil sees this as a great opportunity to offer her friend some comfort, and stop by for a sleepover too. Tucked up in bed, the two can hear the gentle breeze but the night is also full of odd noises as nocturnal creatures come out to play. Who can we find snuffling around the forest at night? Who sings a gentle lullaby down by the pond as dusk falls?

There are stories that are perfectly put together for snuggledown bedtime reading and "The Hog, The Shrew and the Hullabaloo" is just such a book. Wonderful pitch-perfect rhymes and adorable detailed illustrations not only make us want to read about Harry and Lil's world, and their adventures, I think we'd quite like a holiday there too (but we'd definitely take Lil's cue and pack some earplugs!)

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte loves the rhymes and adores picking out all the tiny little details in the illustrations (we loved Harry's Tennis-ball-topped curtain rails!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: Snuggly, cuddly, pretty much perfect!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Faber and Faber)

Like this? We think you'll love these too!

The Hog in the Fog by Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo (Faber and Faber)
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Thursday 16 April 2015

You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus by Patricia Cleveland Peck and David Tazzyman (Bloomsbury Publishing)

You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus

Written by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

Illustrated by David Tazzyman

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Have you ever tried to sneak a zoo animal onto public transport? No, neither have we but in "You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus" we find out that not only is it inadvisable to try and cram a pachyderm into a charabanc, it's generally not a great idea to take a Tiger onto a train (oh how we hoped the Tiger would take a chomp out of the irritating businessman on his phone, slopping his expensive coffee about all over the place).

Crazy rhymes are the order of the day from Patricia Cleveland Peck - and even crazier illustrations courtesy of David Tazzyman (who we somehow managed to miss getting a credit on the cover of the book - his name features on the big bouncing beautiful red bus itself!)

There is, however, one form of transport that just about any animal - elephant or whale, monkey or pig, tiger or giraffe - can enjoy but we won't spoil the big reveal!

Charlotte's best bit: The skateboarding piggie! Oink!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Fun and bouncy book more suitable for younger readers who will love its craziness!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)
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Wednesday 15 April 2015

Beautiful Beasts by Camilla de le Bédoyère (QED Publishing)

Beautiful Beasts

Written and Illustrated by
Camilla de le Bédoyère (Author)

Published by QED Publishing

There seems to be a huge surge in the publication of fantastic non-fiction books about animals. In the last year or so we've seen some brilliant books concentrating on species we know, and even some mythical ones we don't. But how about an utterly fantastic book that traces the genesis of many of the animal species that still roam the earth today?

"Beautiful Beasts" mixes together the ancient and the modern, providing a luxurious and sumptuous fully illustrated look at how certain animal classes and 'families' evolved often from common ancestors to become the animals we're more familiar with in the here and now.

Camilla's enthusiasm shines through as we see how the first single-celled creatures evolved into more complex beasts, emerging from ancient seas to eventually stalk the land. Evolving further still as the first primitive mammals and birds emerged, and the first apes swung through the trees before standing upright and turning!

Charlotte was completely enthralled by this, and relished the challenge of pronouncing some of those weird old names for some of the ancient creatures nestling between the pages of this weighty tome.

An utterly brilliant addition to our burgeoning bestiary! "Beautiful Beasts" is out today, from QED Publishing.

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte was completely fascinated by the evolution of horses from Eohippus onwards.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A really fantastic bestiary to join the ranks of the amazing creature books that are currently storming into bookstores. Not to be missed!

(Kindly sent to us for review by QED Publishing)
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Two truly beautiful books for your tinies from Wide Eyed Editions - "Colours" and "One Thousand Things"

"Colours" by Aino-Maija Mesola (Wide Eyed Editions)

By now you've probably spotted that we're falling completely in love with Wide Eyed Edition's fantastic range of gorgeous books but don't let your tiniest of tinies miss out as there's plenty in the range for them too.

Starting off with "Colours" by Aino Maija Metsola, little ones will love this large format hardback book with tons and tons of lift-the-flap fun. Learning colours and shapes, object names and having lots of fun doing it is the order of the day here as each page spread reveals more and more to explore. Even busy and curious 7 year olds can't resist diving into this book to see what's hiding inside.

One Thousand Things by Anna Kovecses (Wide Eyed Editions)

Just as stunning is "One Thousand Things" by Anna Kovecs, again from Wide Eyed Editions. Even more to explore for busy little tiddlers as they follow their first words with the help of gorgeous Little Mouse. Your furry guide through a whole world of discovery, with some truly wondrous discoveries to make along the way.

Both "Colours" and "One Thousand Things" are available right now from your fave indies and local bookshops, so if you're on the lookout for a fantastic present for book-obsessed toddlers, these are utterly perfect!
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Tuesday 14 April 2015

Zen and the Art of Self-Publishing Children's Stories Part 2 - "Where am I going wrong?"

Self publishing children's books. John Bull Printing Set Not Required

Regular blog followers of yore will recall that we used to spend a lot of time and effort championing the cause of Self-Published authors and illustrators. Our good old 'Indie Pen-Dance Wednesday' might've been one of the most pun-dreadful titles ever for an indie book slot but we took a look at a title a week, and published honest critiques of each book we read. We also published an article entitled "Zen and the Art of Self-Publishing Part 1" where we came up with ten top tips for would-be authors and illustrators delving into the world of self publishing.

Time has passed, life and jobs have changed, our spare time for writing the blog shrank away and we had to make a decision to cut our blog content, first paring off app reviews (which we were never very good at anyway) then self published titles. The decision to chop self-published and small indie coverage wasn't an easy one to make but for many reasons we moved towards reviewing things we genuinely wanted to read and as Charlotte got older, we could no longer review books that really weren't our cup of tea.

We still keep an eye on what's going on with self-published and small independent pressings though. Why? Because some folk really do push the boundaries of what you'd expect from self published authors and illustrators. For all the champions out there though, there are some who still don't quite understand why their books are failing to capture the intended audience. So let's have another look at some of the common problems we see with self published and small indie books now we're more prone to buying them ourselves when we spot a corker.

Here's ten more tips to help steer you straight if you're lost in the mire of putting out your first self-published work:

1) Seek criticism outside your comfort zone. Friends and family love you, and will inevitably be polite. Genuine constructive critics will give you an honest (sometimes brutal) opinion so seek them out!

Creative folk are wonderful human beings. Sometimes though, they need to really take heed of the first point we raised when we last produced a list of 10 "dos and donts" for self published children's books. Go and seek criticism out from sources that aren't close to you - trade the friends, family, siblings, children for folk who know their subject, know children's books, know how to write, know illustration inside and out, and won't shy away from telling you if your book is terrible. Yes, this is a scary prospect but is it any more scary than facing someone who's paid money for your work and isn't at all happy with their purchase, and takes to a public forum to say as much?

As an additional word to the wise on this point - please PLEASE do not pester authors and illustrators on Facebook or Twitter, asking them to help crit your work. They're busy professional people too, who really don't want to spend every waking hour on social networks fending off well-meaning, enthusiastic but ultimately overbearing would-be children's authors or illustrators who want their work given the once-over.

2) We can't stress this enough as it still seems to be one of the biggest problems with self-published children's books - If you can't draw, don't draw. If you think you can draw, don't draw. If you KNOW you can draw, go right ahead but still seek someone else's brutally honest criticism first!

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

The art. Starting right from the beginning, your cover is your introduction to your intended readership. If your cover sucks (and so, SO many do - in fact there are some pretty cruel blogs and tumblrs out there that take great delight in publishing the very worst Kindle book cover art) then your reader will instantly assume that the rest of your book is of similar quality! Thinking you're doing something whacky and cute because you draw your entire book in a child-art style is possibly the worst thing you can do. Kids can already draw like that, they want slick artwork "like grown-ups do" not stuff they could probably do better themselves. Sorry, but that really is worth reiterating.

Don't just stick a stock image on there either, with some hideous word-art font - and if you do resort to stock art, make sure you're using royalty free stuff not just an image you've spotted from a google image search.

Book design is also an art form in itself. If your book is badly laid out, difficult to follow, contains totally unreadable typefaces (and a mix of those liberally sprinkled throughout the text like pepper on a baloney sandwich) AND the in-book illustration sucks as badly as the cover art, people will round-file it quicker than you can say "cream cracker". Children's books adhere to some fairly strict rules when it comes to things like page layouts and page counts with good reason (google on the subject of children's book design and you'll see a huge wealth of really great websites showing you how to improve your book no end).

Some people do successfully bend those rules, or tweak them but when they break them, the results are often disastrous.

It's worth also pointing out that there are a ton of brilliant illustrators out there looking for commissions. Hire one, pay one, give them credit, and make your book shine but again, like any professional, do not badger them to work for free. They wouldn't expect you to come round to their house and fix their plumbing for free, after all!

3) Be mindful of other people's time. Time is more precious to anyone (particularly book bloggers) than a free book, even yours!

Some folk used to assume that we did nothing all day but write about children's books. Sadly, no one I know (and I know a lot of book bloggers) makes a living wage solely from reviewing children's books. Those who are parents have to juggle a hectic home life with a working life, and all the other things that happen around those too. Those of us who give up our spare time to write about books - often without payment - value time above pretty much everything else. Some folk (thankfully a minority) who approached us in the past were downright rude if we politely pointed out that we didn't review self-published or independently published books due to time constraints. Constantly trying to find polite ways to point this out was a huge deciding factor on why we dropped our coverage of self-published books. Rudeness will get you absolutely nowhere - Put it this way, if you were a chef, would you trust the opinion of someone if you had to force every morsel of food between their lips with a ham-fist before writing a dazzling critique of your restaurant?

4) If a reviewer doesn't respond the first time, what makes you think they'll respond the second, third, fourth and fifth time you ask them for a review?

Persistence is an admirable character trait in most other occupations. Sometimes though, persistence can turn very quickly into pestilence. We have a fairly clear stance on reviews that if we don't respond to you, we don't want to review your book. Other reviewers are the same - it saves having to sit there and explain why you don't want to review the book, or come up with a polite excuse why your book isn't suitable for us. In one or two cases, folk have either rudely assumed that because we've covered their previous work, we want to cover everything they do - or worse, they've actually described our taste to us as if they've magically read our minds and instantly know we're just going to ADORE their story about a cute little bunny who has lost his mummy. Pestering and nagging a book blogger or reviewer to review something takes us back to point 3 above - if you're trying to bully someone or force them into something, they're going to shut you out.

One of our pet peeves is being followed on Twitter or liked on facebook by self-published authors who we dutifully follow back, and whose opening gambit is a direct message telling us to check out their book. We've got eyes, we can see your profile, we'll see who followed us or liked us on Facebook and we'll click on your blog or website link. If we like what we see, we'll contact you to see if we can review your book (or we'll at least tweet about it or write about it off our own backs!) You're likely to be very quickly unfollowed or blocked if you push it up our noses.

5) Proofread your stuff and also tailor it for a prospective international audience if you're going for one, and don't nitpick people's reviews if they've been good enough to publish one. 

I remember when we reviewed a particular title which was atrociously written but had a really good core story, and was really well received by us despite its roughness and flaws. We published a review, and the author got in touch within minutes of the review going live to pick us up on mistyping / mis-spelling a name. My reaction was to dash out an email (which was never sent) proof-reading and picking apart every mistake they'd made in their book, pointing out all the grammatical errors, jarring rhymes and awkward use of language I found. I never sent the mail but boy oh boy, if you're going to nitpick someone's review, get your own house in order first!

6) Rhymes are not easy but so many people still go all-out to bludgeon a rhyming story to death

Bad rhymes really hurt a read-aloud enthusiast. I love reading well put-together rhymes that delicately trip off the tongue with cleverness and dexterity, like little sylphs. Some self-published stories written in rhyme seem to have been written but never read. This is the only reason I can think of for the awkwardness of some of these stories. Reading them is like walking barefoot across a hard wooden floor covered in Lego. It's almost a physical pain, reading something that is clunky and unwieldy. Authors who write rhyming stories well spend a great deal of time chopping, changing, adapting and perfecting their stories until they almost SING themselves off the page. If you can confidently claim that yours do - and better still if you've managed to write a rhyming story that reads like someone would speak it, then you've done a fantastic job!

7) Cliches kill a story. Originality rocks!

Remember that "Fluffy Bunny loves his Mummy" story we talked about in an earlier example? When we look for indie or self-published stories and books, we want to see the one thing that very few of them manage to capture (and the ones that do are the ones we'll actively seek out and purchase ourselves before reviewing them). Originality, a new take on a story theme, a new quirk, a new twist, a better way of doing something than anyone's ever thought of before. When it comes to writing, we're looking for something that makes us want to hug you with glee because you've come up with something so dazzlingly brilliant and original. When it comes to illustration, we want something that shows you've absolutely busted a gut to pour your heart and soul into it in a way that makes us gasp in awe. That sounds like a lot to ask for doesn't it? But some of you out there manage it, and more than once too!

Our ten biggest turn-offs in self published children's books story themes are:

1) Cute animal stories (particularly anthropomorphic character-driven ones)
2) Overly-moral tales with a life lesson in them served like having rocks thrown at your head.
3) Pirate books. Enough with the pirates already, please!
4) "I'm your friend", "I'm not your friend", "I'm your friend again" books
5) "Stupid daddy, smart mummy" books.
6) Really appallingly written sci-fi, fantasy or superhero books for kids. Someone, anyone write a really good one and you'll corner the market!
7) Over-long stories pitched at young readers. Pick the ten best bedtime books off your shelf and time yourself reading them. That's the length you're aiming for. Longer than that, and a child's attention will wander and they'll never want to read / hear that book ever again.
8) Books that feature the protracted rhyme type. Things like "Little penny was a lovely girl. Her cheeks were red, and her hair, it did curl!" (when have you EVER heard anyone speak like that? It's like being rubbed with sandpaper then doused in vinegar!)
9) Seizing on an element of pop culture to base your entire book around. Pop culture dates quicker than cottage cheese. If you want your book to be more than a momentary distraction, build it with shelf life!
10) Stories that rely too heavily on farts, poo, wee, burps, smells, grossness etc. Works OK in the scope of a good solid story but if your book's only theme is to try and gross the reader out, it might work a little TOO well and make them want to bin the thing.

8) Ask yourself a really important question. "What do commercial books have that my book doesn't?"

Often, the answer can be summed up in one single word.


The key to a good book is an equally good editor. Authors may hate the snips and tucks that take place between their word processor and the finished book sitting on a shelf, but will often readily admit that a timely edit can make a huge difference. Illustrators too may hate the constant revisions and changes, but these edits make the difference between a rough diamond and a finished polished product fit for shelves.

If the best editing job you've ever done is a quick once-over with a spell checker, you may need to spend more time tweaking and polishing. The best advice I ever heard about writing a book was to stick that rough manuscript away in a drawer or hidden elsewhere for a couple of weeks. Dig it out 2 weeks later and read it again. If you're absolutely sure that it won't suffer a few nips and tweaks after two weeks of gathering dust, then make those changes, take the plunge and revise your work. Polish takes practice, time and effort but your book will be all the better for it.

9) E-Books must follow all the above rules and more

There's a (quite sadly mistaken) belief that producing an E-Book is a route to being able to slam together a slap-dash effort with a "That'll do" attitude. Wrong. Very very wrong. E-Books and apps are probably an even tougher market to crack successfully than traditional printed work. For starters, your audience's expectations are higher. E-Books or story apps that suffer from all the problems listed above will never withstand competition from slick commercial-quality fare available for the same price or less. E-books or story apps that don't make the best use of the platform they're designed for will often be overlooked in favour of apps that embrace design, ease of use and slick production. Slap-dash or shoddy work in the e-book arena screams "I just dashed this out to make money as quickly as possible" so put in the effort if you're brave enough to embrace the challenge of producing a tablet or kindle-friendly tale.

10) Look in the mirror, hold your work up in front of you and ask your mirror self the most important question of all...(and be honest with your answer!)

"Why are you doing this?" That's the most important question of all. What is your motive for throwing yourself head-first into producing stories for children? "To make a fortune?" - Forget it, seldom few children's authors make huge amounts of money from producing children's books - even those who hit the best sellers list and I doubt any of them would honestly answer that they went into writing or drawing children's books to make a mint from it.

"Fame?" Ugh, no one likes a vainglorious person - doubly so in children's books. If you've gone into this purely to raise your own profile and agenda, folk will see through that very quickly. We've never actually genuinely heard of anyone who isn't already famous trying to write children's books purely for the attached peripheral hero worship they may accrue as a result of writing for kids (worth making that point to some of the celebrities who think writing for children is a great way to bump their other career up a notch or two).

"Because I love telling stories" - OK we're getting nearer to an acceptable answer, but think about it. Do you really love telling stories? Are you the sort of person whose head buzzes and fizzes with story ideas every waking moment? If so, then you'll have a zillion and one brilliant and original ideas to commit to paper, right?

"Because I wrote stories for my own children / grandchildren / nieces / nephews / siblings - who love them - so other kids will as well, purely by the law of averages." - That's a pretty big assumption to make and if you work purely on that theory, you may find it takes a long time to find kids whose taste is absolutely in parallel with your own children's tastes.

"Because I've seen what commercial authors do, and I think I can do better than that!" - Owch. Again we're back to a previous point. If you truly believe that, then your work should be absolutely knock-out right?

(By the way, there's no right and wrong answer to this question but we'd certainly give more due to someone who did it for the love of it and that shone through in their work).

So...owch, there it is - another ten things to consider if you're taking the plunge with writing, illustrating and publishing a book purely off your own back. Some of these points may sound harsh, some of them might even sound nitpicky, but these are ten more things that can make or break a self-published book in the eyes of the folk who matter. Not the critics, not the people who may review or write about your book on a blog such as ours, but the folk who are out there browsing the web, or listening to word of mouth recommendations about things their child could read or have read to them next. As with our other list we cannot stress this enough, if you think you have taken all the above points (and the previous ten we raised) into consideration and can honestly, sincerely, hand on heart say that you have ticked those boxes, maybe one day we'll catch up with your book sometime and check it out for ourselves (and pay for it at that!)

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