Tuesday 30 June 2015

Dig into history with a perfect pair of books, from a mighty team! Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom's awesome "Woolly Mammoth" and "Dino Dinners" in conjunction with the Natural History Museum

"Woolly Mammoth" by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Natural History Museum / Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

History is definitely "our bag" and prehistory is something we can't get enough of - learning about long-dead species that once roamed the planet. We've been leafing through a gorgeous pair of books from Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom, who know a thing or two about how to put together perfect history books for kids. This time they're digging even further back to uncover the secrets of Ice Age life.

In "Woolly Mammoth" you'll learn a huge amount about the gigantic shaggy beasts that roamed the frozen tundra. Woolly Mammoths are fascinating to study, and recent scientific discoveries about mammoths offer us vital clues to what the world was like back in the ice age.

We learn that mammoths once roamed the landscape where today The North Sea can be found. Mammoth teeth and other items are regularly trawled to the surface by fishermen, showing that once the land masses (including our own islands) were all linked, providing a huge area for mammoths to wander around and proliferate on.

Scientists today can learn a great deal from the frozen remains of mammoths discovered in Russia and other countries - what they ate, where they roamed and the threats they faced from primal predators and of course early man.

A stunning title but we're not quite done with prehistory yet...

"Dino Dinners" by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Frances Lincoln / Natural History Museum)

Dinosaurs! Children are absolutely crazy about dinos, and as Jurassic World hits the cinema, Dino mania is once again a hot topic.

Mick and Brita's "Dino Dinners" once again digs into the life and times of a huge variety of dinosaur species including all the most popular dino species that kids will easily be able to identify - and some you may not have even heard of.

"Dino Dinners" pieces together clues and theories to find out what dinosaurs ate, where they lived and how some species fed on others (we loved the idea that a pair of dinos were found locked in mortal combat, as fossils!)

Each page spread shows you a new species, how to pronounce their names (VERY important that!) and a ton of fascinating facts about them and their lives.

We're thoroughly impressed with these two. Mick and Brita have a fabulous gift for providing thoroughly absorbing and fascinating books that are also hugely entertaining too ("They don't feel boring like 'school' books" is what Charlotte said about these).

There are more in the Frances Lincoln / Natural History range on the FL website.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Frances Lincoln Children's Books)
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Monday 29 June 2015

The Little Bonnard - Discover the Wonderful Colour and Light of Bonnard by Catherine De Duve (Happy Museum)

The Little Bonnard

Written and Illustrated by
Catherine De Duve

Published by Happy Museum

Catherine De Duve's fantastic introductory book series for youngsters interested in art and artists covers a wide range of subjects and art styles, and with "The Little Bonnard" we're off to the sunny South of France (we wish!) to visit one of the most influential and groundbreaking artists of the last two centuries.

Pierre Bonnard (Born in 1867, died in 1947) was a member of "Les Nabis", a group of post-impressionist artists. From his early career right through to his death, Bonnard was a pioneer of the use of colour and light in his paintings, mostly from memory, of a wide range of subjects.

His skills were incredible, and it's lovely to see a book crammed with a ton of facts about his life, his working surroundings and the characters he met and worked with during his career (including Toulouse Lautrec and Maurice Denis, another member of Les Nabis).

But the paintings speak loudest, with their incredible colours and use of light - brought to life here in Catherine's descriptive way ensuring that the book has a really wide range of age appeal (absolutely perfect for Charlotte who is well and truly on the path of loving learning about art and artists and swiftly identifying her favourites).

A brilliant learning resource but also a fascinating book detailing the story of Bonnard's life.

Charlotte's best bit: Bonnard's beautiful paintings of Paris

Daddy's Favourite bit: This book looks deceptively tiny and thin but crammed into its innards is a wealth of knowledge about a truly amazing artist. Look out for more in Catherine's "Little" series detailing the lives and works of other artists too!

(Kindly sent to us for review by GMC / Happy Museum)
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup June 2015: "Dragons, Stardust, Ravens and Skulls!"

"How to Train your Dragon (HTTYD Book 1) by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (and Cressida Cowell, of course!)(Hodder Children's Books)

Our Chapter Book roundups seem to come around so quickly and this month we've a treat in store. Re-covered versions of the fabulous "How to Train your Dragon" series by megastar Cressida Cowell. Charlotte has been badgering me to try and grab a couple of copies of these books and Hodder were fantastic, sending us this first book and an illustrated guide.

For all the flashy action-fuelled teen-angsty stuff that kids will know from the Dreamworks "How to Train your Dragon" movies, with their tousle-haired but handsome Hiccup riding his trusty steed Toothless, we hugely prefer Cressida's books - shoving aside all that glitzy nonsense for good old-fashioned adventure and some quite near the knuckle humour at times.

In this first book, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III lets us in on his trade secrets, of how he became a notorious dragon whisperer and how the folk of the Isles of Berk took to the skies on their dragon steeds. With the last novel in the series arriving later this year, there's no better time to go right back to the original (first published all the way back in 2003) and soak up Cressida's fabulous characters, atmospheric Viking settings and a whole ton of dragon-chasing fun.

"How to Train your Dragon (Book 1)" is available from Hodder Children's books.

More off the wall humour now...step inside a very prestigious seat of learning...

"Stardust Academy" by Siobhan Rowden (Scholastic)

Fame is everything in our next book, "Stardust Academy" by Siobhan Rowden. Luvvies left and right star in this humorous tale of a young dapper whippersnapper who accidentally wins a place at the titular stage school. Young Vip definitely DOES NOT want to be famous, but surrounded by wannabe actors, singers and dancers and under the steely gaze of headmistress Fenella Stardust, can he possibly resist the lure of the spotlights, the smell of the crowd and the roar of the greasepaint?

Siobhan's humorous slapstick comedy is a must for any kids who rather fancy the idea of stumbling onto the stage of "Britain's Got Talent" (and hopefully mooning at Amanda flipping wossherface's rictus grin!)

"Stardust Academy" is out now from Scholastic.

Skulls next then? How's yer bony bonce?

"Skullduggery Pleasant (Book 9): The Dying of the Light" by Derek Landy (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Oh BOY have we got some catching up to do, since this is the 9th and final book in Derek Landy's fantastic spooky best-selling series. "Skullduggery Pleasant: The Dying of the Light" brings this whopping story to a close.

As Valkyrie, Darquesse and Stephanie face a final showdown, the end is near.

The War of the Sanctuaries has been won, but it was not without its casualties. Following the loss of Valkyrie Cain, Skulduggery Pleasant must use any and all means to track down and stop Darquesse before she turns the world into a charred, lifeless cinder.

And so he draws together a team of soldiers, monster hunters, killers, criminals… and Valkyrie’s own murderous reflection.

The war may be over, but the final battle is about to begin. There will be shocks, heart-wrenching moments and a finale that will (quite possibly literally) blow your tiny little mind.

If you've not caught any of Derek Landy's exquisitely dark and exciting series, now's definitely the right time!

"Skullduggery Pleasant (Book 9): The Dying of the Light" is out now from HarperCollins Children's books.

Last but by no means least, a series I loved as a child comes back for a whole new generation of book lovers...

Arabel's Raven by Joan Aitken, Illustrated by Quentin Blake (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Arabel and her cheeky raven Mortimer, created by Joan Aitken with fantastic illustrations by Quentin Blake, actually arrived way back in 1972 but the stories are as fab and funny as ever, and though Joan Aitken passed away in 2002, she stands to become something of a book legend all over again with children who may not have heard of her before (quick, someone get them a copy of "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - STAT!")

Arabel is a fairly ordinary everyday little girl who happens to have a pet raven called Mortimer (we're never actually sure who owns who here, by the way). Arabel's adventures with Mortimer definitely AREN'T everyday however, and the quick witted girl and her clever bird are never far from trouble it seems.

I always remember these books being brilliant (and always seemed to remember them being rather too popular in our school library, all our copies were practically falling to bits) so it was ace to catch up with the books all over again.

Fans of Roald Dahl and David Walliams are in for a madcap treat with the newly reissued Arabel and Mortimer stories so don't miss the very first book, "Arabel's Raven" once again out in Paperback from Frances Lincoln Children's Books.

(As a bonus treat, check out this fantastic Jackanory clip of "Mortimer's Portrait on Glass" read by the awesome Roy Kinnear - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sw9waNjReE)

Phew! We need a lie down and a cup of tea after that little lot. Join us again in July for even more Chapter Book greatness!
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Friday 26 June 2015

A Gold Star for George by Alice Hemming and Kimberley Scott (Maverick Publishing)

A Gold Star for George

Written by Alice Hemming

Illustrated by Kimberley Scott

Published by Maverick publishing

We're off to see the animals in this funky little tale, and one animal in particular is almost beside himself with excitement. In "A Gold Star for George" it's awards time at the zoo and all the animals are on their best behaviour, hoping to win a gold star to display proudly on their enclosure.

George the Giraffe thinks he's a shoe-in for at least SOMETHING but as his other animal friends win most of the accolades, George feels a little left out.

Despite that, he's a fantastic and supportive friend. He might be rubbish at the hula-hoop and feel like he has no tricks to his name, but he's always rooting for his pals and genuinely pleased to see them winning.

Perhaps then, as George settles down to sleep that night, he might wake up to a surprise on his own enclosure the next morning?

A fab little tale of friendship, sportsmanship and generally being nice to others even if you're feeling a bit left out and a bit down. We love George, he's our kind of giraffe!

Charlotte's best bit: Those cheeky and rather messy meerkats!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A lovely little tale of friendship and sportsmanship with a fab giraffe character for us to root for. Hooray for George!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Maverick Publishing)
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 26th June 2015 - "The Fire Children" by Eric Maddern and Fran Lessac (Frances Lincoln Children's Books

The Fire Children

Written by Eric Maddern

Illustrated by Fran Lessac

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Folk tales from around the world make for some of the richest and most satisfying children's storytelling experiences. Seeing the world through someone else's eyes, and seeing how their own myths and legends compare to our own always makes us bubbly and enthusiastic about a book. This particular West African folk tale, retold by Eric Maddern and with fantastic illustrations by Fran Lessac, is the story of "The Fire Children" and it's a scintillating sizzling read.

The great sky god Nyame accidentally sneezes out the first man and woman (charming!) onto the earth, and though they're thankful for their new home (you would be thankful if you lived up a sky god's nose!) they do feel a little lonely from time to time.

They both hit upon a fantastic plan to make children out of clay, wrapping them carefully in leaves and baking them in a fire until they're just right.

Unfortunately, the sky god constantly fusses around his two creations and is always popping in for visits. As a result, some of the children are pale and underdone, some of the children are left in the fire until they're scorched and blackened but the man and woman love them all equally, for they are their own children.

Over time, the children spread out around the earth and play, and love, and fight - and as they all develop in their own way, we always remember where they came from - and as ever, their parents still love them just as much.

This is the sort of story we clamour for, we love the celebration of diversity here, we love the joyful way the children play and raise children of their own and we love the way Eric reworks the tale for our own children to understand and identify with perfectly, offset gorgeously by Fran Lessac's fabulous tribal illustrations. This is a truly stunning book that deserves your attention and shelf space!

Charlotte's best bit: The big sneeze that creates life on earth! ATCHOO!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A gorgeous folk tale reworked perfectly by Eric and Fran, a book celebrating the richness and diversity of the children of our world.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Frances Lincoln Children's Books)
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Thursday 25 June 2015

Crunch! by Carolina Rabei (Child's Play)


Written and Illustrated by
Carolina Rabei

Published by Child's Play

"Charlotte, we've got a new book to review and it's got a Guinea Pig in it!"

Imagine the following scene where a breathless and excited Charlotte dashes in, grabs the book and instantly whisks herself off into the world of "Crunch!" a rather portly and gorgeous Guinea Pig fellow with a huge appetite.

Crunch lives a fairly idyllic existence with all the wonderful food he can eat, and a nice comfy Guinea Pig run to scurry around in.

One day, Crunch's little world is invaded by a rather cheeky but very friendly mouse called Cheddar. Cheddar sees that Crunch has all the food he can eat, and more, so comes up with a suggestion. How about they share Crunch's bounteous meal in exchange for a lovely friendly hug?

Crunch does NOT like that idea at all, and poor dejected Cheddar leaves Crunch to his feast, walking silently away to grub around for scraps elsewhere.

Crunch has been quite happy on his own, but a lonely existence isn't much fun. He starts to worry about Cheddar, who did look quite thin and peaky - and vows to right his previous wrongs, find Cheddar and make a friend. But will Crunch be too late? Will Cheddar succumb to starvation or be scoffed by a scrawny alley cat in search of an easy meal?

Charlotte adored this from start to finish, Guinea Pigs are her favourite animal and despite Crunch's rather rude behaviour at first, he does eventually come through in a crunch (sorry, couldn't resist that one). A fine tale of sharing and friendship indeed (with some of the best big plump guinea pig art we've seen in a very long time!)

Charlotte's best bit: Crunch slurping away at his water bottle, just like a real Guinea Pig does!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fun and furry tale of friendship and sharing, adorable for little ones and even big fussy ones like Charlotte too!

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

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Christopher Nibble by Charlotte Middleton (OUP)
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"Why kids love mischievous characters and dark themes more than goody two-shoes and cuddly fluffy bunnies" - A ReaditDaddy Editorial

Beryl the Peril from Topper / Dandy Comics. Put her in a room with Madeline and see who wins!

Twitter is a great source of topics for these little editorial articles. A recent debate talked about the reasons children like naughty characters and dark stories, in essence, why are children always attracted to books and stories that would make a Victorian maiden aunt scamper for the smelling salts?

Most parents and teachers will know the answer to this. Kids are not always the blessed little angels we imagine them to be and Charlotte is no exception. In case I've somehow mistakenly led regular readers to believe that she is, in fact, Walter from Dennis the Menace (albeit a female version) or a wondrous virtuous and perfectly well behaved version of Matilda from the Roald Dahl story, nothing could be further from the truth.

She's very polite and well behaved - most of the time - but I noticed that she always reacts favourably to stories where kids are little terrors, smart, naughty and conniving and it struck me why time and time again kids love reading about characters like these.

She also loves stories that explore darker themes. Not horrible mind-bendingly disturbing stuff, but stories that take a walk on the wild side exploring themes that deal with childhood fears, monstrous entities and villainous schemes.

Of course, naughty characters and dark themes are nothing new. Take Dennis the Menace (who is fast approaching his 66th birthday!) Dennis's behaviour in issues of "The Beano" probably isn't really that bad by modern standards (I don't think I ever recall reading a Dennis the Menace story where he purposely vandalised his neighbours car purely because his neighbour shouted out of the window at him) but for certain kids, Dennis's cheeky antics almost make him into a folk hero. He always gets the better of his dad (point of observation here as Charlotte is a bit of a Beano fan, when did Dennis's dad mutate from a tall Hitler-moustached pin stripe suit wearing comb-over slipper wielder into a sort of taller version of Dennis himself?), he usually gets the better of his teachers, and despite all the influence and money at his disposal, Walter never manages to quite win one over on Dennis or his ever-present poochy pal Gnasher.

Kids, of course, would never want to read a story where Dennis somehow saw the error of his ways and became a polite and well behaved little chap overnight. Living a vicariously naughty life through a favourite story character is a huge part of the appeal, so it's easy to see why kids also love dark and scary books.

There's a different set of criteria that can be readily identified in successful dark children's books, and sometimes books can be dark and scary to children when their intention is quite the opposite. Take Jon Klassen and Lemony Snicket's "The Dark" (a book that, like so many other dark and scary books, hit our Book of the Week slot with consummate ease).

Jon Klassen and Lemony Snicket's "The Dark" - Let me count the ways we love this bit where Laszlo says "Hi dark, hi!"

When I first read this to Charlotte, on a dark night before bedtime, the message in the book (a positive message that the dark wasn't actually to be feared) was lost on her completely - perhaps in some part because I adopted a dark whispering voice for the dark (stupid daddy) or perhaps because the book's summary - "The dark is always there!" isn't really something children want to think about too closely when they're about to switch off the light themselves.

Oddly though, I expected Charlotte to hate the book, to never want to hear it again but the very next night she demanded it again, and the night after that (and so on until I really thought we ought to read something else, as I gently pointed out that we're supposed to review lots of books not just one!)

Along similar lines, Levi Pinfold's utterly sublime "The Black Dog" also sniffed its way into a Book of the Week award like a big Jeffy...

"The Black Dog" by Levi Pinfold. Has there ever been a more darkly beautiful children's book?

The story's central message this time is that no matter how tiny you are, you can still be brave in the face of something very big, dark and scary. Again Charlotte had a love-hate thing going for this book while we were reading it for the first time, but as the story reaches its conclusion it becomes uplifting and positive, and was in constant demand for weeks (and still is).

When we sat down to talk about this editorial idea, I asked Charlotte what her scariest book was. That's quite a question for a 7 year old who (to date) has contributed to and either read or had read to her over 2000 books but without a pause she picked quite a surprising one...

"The Bear Under the Stairs" by Helen Cooper. Scary Beary!

Helen Cooper's sublime "The Bear Under the Stairs" has been reviewed here a couple of times. First time we read it and reviewed it, it gave Charlotte nightmares so my first review reflected this and we relucantly gave up our library copy very soon after we'd loaned it.

An odd thing happened though. On our next library visit, Charlotte wanted it again - and wanted it read. Knowing what to expect second time around, it switched from being a book that worked psychologically on a child's fears (both visible and imagined) to a book where Charlotte knew that the bear actually wasn't there to harm William - and though William's mum (and later evidence in the story) hinted that it might have been an imaginary bear, the bear was actually real.

We got into quite a deep discussion about whether bear actually was there and the final scene of bear parachuting into another child's house is a delicious bit of double-switching by Helen, almost cycling the story back to page one again.

It got me thinking about things that adults find scary. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never really read a piece of fiction that's scared me (even as a child I also loved the dark stuff and we had some corkingly good ghost and supernatural stories when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s) but books that scared me as a kid were always non fiction. True accounts of horrors in the real world, that kept me awake at night (I remember staying at a relative's house when I was about 10 or 11, and idly poking through their book case for something to read - ending up with a rather horrific and graphic non-fiction account of the Christie murders at 10 Rillington Place. Eesh!)

It must be the toughest thing in the world to get that balance right for kids. Too naughty or mischievous and kids will assume your character is a baddie, and won't want any truck with him or her. If your story is too dark, too obviously disturbing, kids will just stop reading. Not dark or scary enough and kids will see through a thinly veiled attempt to spook them. We'd love to hear your best examples of books where the main characters seemingly get away with being absolute rotters - and also your fave scary and dark stories for kids. Do comment below!
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Pirates Don't Drive Diggers by Alex English and Duncan Beedle (Maverick Publishing)

Pirates Don't Drive Diggers

Written by Alex English

Illustrated by Duncan Beedle

Published by Maverick Publishing

We have seen just about every twist on pirate stories, but we've definitely never seen a nautical tale where the main hero would rather operate heavy plant machinery. A young pirate's dream is not of booty or sailing the seven seas in "Pirates Don't Drive Diggers" by Alex English and Duncan Beedle. Our boy hero would much rather be behind the controls of a big yellow JCB or perhaps smashing down buildings with a ball and chain.

But a pirate's lot is not always a happy one, and the boy is sent to sea by his dad, determined to shake the poor lad of his obsession with diggers.

However, the lazy crew of the ship he's assigned to are utterly pants at finding treasure, so the poor lad is dispatched with a weather-worn map, to search an island for gold and jewels. Perhaps the boy's previous skills can come in handy after all?

This story bowls along at a cracking pace, and we rather like the mashup of story ideas here.

Charlotte's best bit: The little boy gets his wish, and finds out just how useful diggers really CAN be to pirates

Daddy's Favourite bit: A neat and novel twist on a piratical tale.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Maverick Publishing)
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Wednesday 24 June 2015

100 things to know about Science (Usborne Publishing)

100 things to know about Science

Written and Illustrated by various

Published by Usborne Publishing

Science geeks are we, so dedicated to finding out more about science and science-ey things that we disappear to our local Saturday Science Club whenever we can.

When sessions aren't running however, we love dabbling in a bit of science-based bookage, and Usborne are definitely one of our go-to publishers for engaging and expertly presented science stuff for kids. Showing that science can be fun, facts can be fantastic and non-fiction books don't need to be 'school-like' Usborne's science range truly has something for everyone.

In "100 things to know about Science", you get a nice big thick paperback to delve into that covers the main three branches of science (Physics, Biology and Chemistry) with a good dose of peripheral subjects such as geology and astrophysics too. Usborne's approach here is to break down each subject into a series of engaging page spreads, for children who are at Charlotte's level of being taught science in schools (before they start to funnel off into each branch of science as a separate entity).

With that in mind, the book does cover a fairly broad base but does so in a way that piques children's curiosity and gives them a really great steer in possible science directions they might like to specialise in later on.

Full of quirky characters and cartoon-infographics-style art to get kids interested, the book doesn't feel dry at all - it dishes up fact after fact in a fun and brilliant way, ensuring that the next generation of would-be science fans are off to a fantastic start.

Charlotte's best bit: Learning all about genetics and DNA!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A nice big thick and weighty science tome utterly packed with fascinating facts. SCIENCE ROCKS!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Usborne Publishing)
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Tudors - A High Speed History (Horrible Histories) By Terry Deary and Dave Smith (Scholastic)

Tudors - A High Speed History

Written by Terry Deary

Illustrated by Dave Smith

Published by Scholastic

"Horrible Histories" is a work of televisual genius, and we've loved watching episodes of the irreverent look at our past. But what of the books? Well despite Terry probably not liking it at all, we've been borrowing a few of the awesome "Horrible Histories" books from our local library and with Charlotte's interest in all things Tudor, what better place to start than a turbo-charged run through the Tudor lineage.

"Tudors - A High Speed History" is just that, a fantastic potted history of one of the most tempestuous periods in British history. Certainly if you don't know the details you'll know the characters as we get to know more about Henry VIII and his predecessors and successors, the rogueish piratical seafarer Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth the First and Mary Queen of Scots.

If you think today's royal family are a bit controversial for wearing the wrong dress to a "Do", they've truly got nothing on this horrible lot as the gory details are laid out for all to see. Kidnappings, beheadings, hangings, squishings (eek, being squished under a heavy door covered in rocks? What on earth...!)

Of course, Charlotte devoured this book with salacious glee. She has a bit of a soft spot for Henry VIII, alas. This does NOT bode well for later on in life, does it?

Fantastic stuff, full of fascinating facts and funny asides. Dave Smith's illustrations thankfully aren't TOO gory so even younger readers will get a kick out of those terrible terrible Tudors.

Charlotte's best bit: Elizabeth The First lovingly referring to Sir Francis Drake as "Ducky" :)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A superb high-speed look at a particularly horrible period of history, fascinating and fun to read
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Tuesday 23 June 2015

Kipper's Beach Ball by Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children's Books)

Kipper's Beach Ball

Written and Illustrated by
Mick Inkpen

Published by Hodder Children's Books

Kipper is a quarter-century old! Not too shabby for an energetic and bouncy pup who gets up to all sorts of adventures with his friends.

This book is a timely reissue of a Kipper story first published in 2008, that made me recall the heady days of my childhood when cereal wasn't examined for salt or sugar content at the local supermarket, it was bought purely on the merits of what the free gift was. Quite often it'd be a TV or Movie tie-in, sometimes a plastic model, sometimes you had to collect tokens to send off into the inky pre-internet void where 28 days postage for an item were the norm.

Kipper is lucky though, he gets a rather odd free gift in his cornflakes one morning. A small wrinkly thing that smells wonderfully plasticky (I love that phrase!)

Kipper hasn't got a clue what it is but goes off to see his friend who is also collecting all the freebies from his cereal. He's got a penguin rubber pencil topper, a clockwork shark and a couple of bouncing frogs but hasn't seen the thing Kipper has found before in his brekkie.

What on earth is it? The pair soon find a valve on the side, and with a couple of good puffs of air, the small wrinkly plasticky thing turns into a giant beachball! YAY!

There's only one place to play with a beach ball - the beach!! Soon the two run off towards the sands but a gust of wind takes the beach ball and swiftly blows it out to sea. By the time it's been bashed, crashed and splashed in the waves the beach ball once again turns from a wonderful bouncing toy to a small wrinkly piece of plastic. Awww.

Try as they might to get another one in their cereal, the pair fail (what on EARTH is Kipper's mum doing letting him waste boxes of cereal like that! Tsk tsk!)

I always expect Charlotte to be a bit sniffy about Kipper books, as they're really meant for children far younger than her but she loved this, I loved it purely from the nostalgia point of view - that the free gifts in cereal were often as fleeting as Kipper's fragile beach ball and you never quite got the one you wanted! Charlotte loved it because she loved the fleeting moments of adventure as Kipper and his poochy pal play with the beach ball - enjoying it for the brief time they have it. "Kipper's Beach Ball" is, I think, our favourite Kipper story to date.

Charlotte's best bit: Kipper doing the NAUGHTIEST THING EVER by opening packets of cereal just to get the free gifts out. Strictly forbidden behaviour at home!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A wonderful little story that brought a tear of nostalgia to my eye, and delighted Charlotte too.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hodder Children's Books)
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The Paradise Bird by Marcus Pfister (Minedition)

The Paradise Bird

Written and Illustrated by
Marcus Pfister

Published by Minedition Publishing

Looking out of the window at ReaditDaddy Towers, the British summertime seems a long way away and staring out across the woods, I can see a poor crow sitting at the top of one of the willow trees, looking very sad and forlorn.

It's quite like the way "The Paradise Bird" opens, Marcus Pfister's story introduces us to a pack of sullen ravens. They're bored, tired, fed up and one day seems to merge into another.

That is, until, a colourful stranger literally crashes in on their world, landing with a "whump" at their feet. The stranger is red and orange, blue and green and after jumping to life with a whoop of glee, he introduces himself as "The Paradise Bird".

The Paradise Bird doesn't hold with moping around, bored and listless. The Paradise Bird wants to PAR-TAY! And party he does, encouraging the sullen Ravens to move their feet, nod their heads and join in with a new song and dance routine.

At first, the ravens don't want to partake of this bizarre spectacle, but soon even the oldest raven finds himself tapping his claw and taking up the beat.

Before long there's a manic caw-caw-conga happening, and the ravens lives will never be the same ever again as the paradise bird shows them how to enjoy themselves.

A fab happy positive tale, full of fun moments. Get your most colourful feathers on, and boogie!

Charlotte's best bit: Everyone joining in with the caw-caw crazy Raven song and dance! Woohoo!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A bum-wiggling dance spectacular cheering up a grumpy bunch of sullen ravens. A great energetic little story for teenies!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Minedition)
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Monday 22 June 2015

Danny Dreadnought Saves the World by Jonathan Emmett and Martin Chatterton (Egmont Publishing)

Danny Dreadnought Saves the World

Written by Jonathan Emmett

Illustrated by Martin Chatterton

Published by Egmont Publishing

What are you scared of? Do you have an irrational fear of spiders perhaps? Hate mice? Go into writhing contortions of fear and disgust at the mere mention of bathtime?

Meet Danny Dreadnought, star of "Danny Dreadnought Saves the World" by Jonathan Emmett with illustrations by Martin Chatterton. Danny isn't your ordinary everyday boy, in fact his parents are slightly concerned about Danny. For Danny isn't afraid of ANYTHING!

Bundled onto the scariest rollercoaster, Danny just yawns and asks to go again (while his parents have to be practically peeled out of their seats!)

A night in a haunted house? Pshaw, who's afraid of ghosts? Not Danny!

But when nefarious alien invaders - the horrid stinky slimy Bugulons - threaten our planet, will Danny finally cower in terror?

I'm sure you can guess the answer!

Here's Jonathan showing off his writing props in a fantastic reading range from Egmont (Banana Books - this one at the "Blue Banana" level, perfectly pitched for Charlotte's age group at 7 years old). She rattled through this story at double quick pace thanks to its frenetic and exciting action - exactly the sort of book that Jonathan talks about a lot on his "Cool not Cute" blog where he raises a lot of very interesting points about engaging reluctant boy readers, and gender imbalance in children's picture books. Go check it out.

In the meantime, if your school's curriculum-based reading books could do with a timely refresh, check out "Danny Dreadnought" and the other fantastic stories in the Banana range from Egmont.

Charlotte's best bit: Wanting to spend the night in a haunted house!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A great book for reeling out a whole plethora of gurgling slimy Bugulon voices! Awesome!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont / Jonathan Emmett)
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Rufus Goes to Sea by Kim Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev (Sterling Publishing)

Rufus Goes to Sea

Written by Kim Griswell

Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

Published by Sterling Publishing

Ah for a life on the ocean wave. At least that's what little Rufus the Piggy things. As School breaks up for the long vacation, Rufus ponders what he'll do over the summer. He *could* go to Summer Camp, sure, but what Rufus wants more than anything else is to become...A Pirate!!!

In "Rufus Goes to Sea" by Kim Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev, Rufus' plans are initially thwarted by a very grumpy pirate crew. They don't seem to have any boat room for an able piggy seaman. Despite Rufus's best attempts to swab the decks, peel potatoes to help out in the galley, and shin up the rigging to the crows nest, Rufus really isn't needed.

But Rufus has one skill that pirates definitely DO need. A very special skill that's useful when deciphering pirate maps. Rufus...can read!

We've seen so many pirate books, so it takes something rather special to win us over when a new one arrives. Thankfully Rufus is our kind of piggy, full of energy and joie de vivre as well as gutsy determination to achieve his goal. He's also a reading champ, and we really do doff our caps in deep respect at any book that champions reading in this way. Fabulous buccaneering fun!

Charlotte's best bit: Poor Rufus trying tons of different jobs aboard ship (and narrowly avoiding walking the plank!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fun twist on pirate adventures with a fabulous reading pig! Love Rufus!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Sterling Publishing)
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Friday 19 June 2015

Silly Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle (Little Tiger Press)

Silly Dizzy Dinosaur

Written and Illustrated by
Jack Tickle

Published by Little Tiger Press

For younger children, books are great when used as performance pieces when read aloud - so we couldn't resist a book that really encouraged kids to get involved, helping with the actions that follow along with the story.

Meet Dizzy the Dinosaur, the latest creation from wonderfully named Jack Tickle. Dizzy doesn't roar, doesn't eat people, but is a funny and gentle beast. The story wants you to make friends with Dizzy, and have fun with him too so readers will find themselves shaking, tipping and touching the book as they follow this dino tale.

A neat bit of storytelling, fantastic for keeping tiddly ones entertained!

Charlotte's best bit: Ticking Dizzy's big fat tummy!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Brilliant fun for tiny tiddlers, encouraging interaction and joining in with Dizzy!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Little Tiger Press)

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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th June 2015 - "Sir Lilypad" by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Sir Lilypad

Written by Anna Kemp

Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

I love it when I come home from work to find Charlotte and Mummy completely wrapped up in a book. I had a sneaky suspicion that they might absolutely love this one, and I was right...!

Not the most comfortable place to read a book but they just couldn't wait!

Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie's "The Worst Princess" was one of our favourite books and deservedly became a Book of the Week, with 5 out of 5 stars back when we used to pop a score on the end of reviews. It's still a book that is regularly read at bedtimes even though Charlotte admits herself that she's not "into princesses any more".

Why? Purely because the book's central character Princess Sue is just SO our kind of girl. She's not one of these fussy madams who mopes around in a tower all day in pretty dresses, waiting for a handsome Prince to turn up. She has a thirst for adventure! Read through our review to find out more.

But hark, what light from yonder window breaks? It's a semi-sequel to that fabulous book but Princess Sue is not the star - a tiny diddy brave little Frog called Sir Lilypad is the central character in this book of the same name. Sir Lilypad isn't content to hang around the pond croaking and eating flies. Sir Lilypad might be tiny, but once he reads a few adventure stories, he rather fancies becoming a brave knight - rescuing princesses from nefarious foes (perhaps with the promise of a peck on the cheek as a reward!)

Finding Princesses isn't that easy when you're tiddly though. Fighting big nasty creatures isn't easy either, so despite Sir Lilypad's brave attempts at rescuing princesses, most of the creatures he meets aren't in the princess kidnapping business any more (my particular favourite, the kindly old Troll who takes to gardening rather than snaffling maidens fair! We also giggled at the rather grumpy old wizard (who has a very cool line in starry purple underpants!)

Sir Lilypad's quest seems doomed until a certain gigantic orange dragon and a certain yellow converse-wearing princess are discovered. Sir Lilypad bravely strides into battle to rescue Princess Pauline from the dragon, not knowing that the two are friends. So even his latest attempt at bravery meets with failure. Poor Sir Lilypad.

But you know Princess Sue, she's such a wonderful gal that she takes pity on Sir Lilypad and recruits him for her roaming band of heroes, putting ne'er do wells in their place as they scour the land for miscreants! Hooray!

This book is SO BRILLIANT and it's destined to become every bit as popular as "The Worst Princess". There are so many moments (particularly once Princess Sue and her gorgeous dragon friend turn up) that it was a bit unfair to pose the question to Charlotte and Mummy: "So which is better? "The Worst Princess" or "Sir Lilypad"....

"The Worst Princess" edged it by a nose, a very very slim margin but we had to make this book of the week too, it is the perfect example of exactly the sort of heroic action-filled story that works beautifully, looks drop-dead gorgeous and tickles your funnybones too.

Charlotte's best bit: When Princess Sue shows up, a huge cheer from Charlotte (and a rather avaricious glance at Princess P's chocolate cake laid out for her picnic. NOM!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Picture books truly don't get any better than this. It's fun, it's exciting, has a fabulous cast of characters (Sir Lilypad is fab!). A truly imaginative and brilliant story from a dynamic duo who can't put a foot wrong when it comes to putting together the most original fairy tales possible.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

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Thursday 18 June 2015

Dylan's Amazing Dinosaurs - The Spinosaurus by E.T Harper and Dan Taylor (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Dylan's Amazing Dinosaurs - The Spinosaurus

Written by E.T. Harper

Illustrated by Dan Taylor

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

It's definitely going to be a dino-laden summer. New blockbuster movie "Jurassic World" will no doubt kick off a huge merchandising exercise for all things dino-related, and there will be a ton of books coming out celebrating the enduring interest that kids have in dinosaurs.

We've previously checked out the awesome "Dylan's Amazing Dinosaurs" story range and here's book 3, once again introducing us to Dylan and his friendly Pterodactyl buddy, brought to life by his grandad's magical dinosaur journal. Dylan can whisk himself off on a prehistoric adventure thanks to the journal, and this time round Dylan wants to find out exactly what the sail on a Spinosaurus' back is for.

It doesn't take long before Dylan spots the Spinosaurus - this colossal beast was actually bigger than a T-Rex and had a back-sail a bit like a Dimetrodon's. But what was it for? There's a clue in the adventure as Dylan accidentally loses his backpack - straight into the gaping jaws of the Spinosaurus. Will they ever work out how to get back home, avoiding the gnashing jaws of this fantastic creature?

As with the other stories, you get your very own Spinosaurus (extract from the book with care, the sticky stuff is very sticky but be very gentle with it and you'll remove the spinosaurus and the goop so you don't damage the book either!) Playing and reading go hand in hand with this one and we really can't wait to see more books in this fab series.

Charlotte's best bit: A rip-roaring dino adventure, complete with your own dinosaur to play with! How awesome is that!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Fantastic adventuring for girls and boys (so let's see a girl on the back cover for the next one, g'wan!!!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books)
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William Shakespeare: Scenes from the life of the world's greatest writer by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

William Shakespeare

Written by Mick Manning
Illustrated by Brita Granstrom

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

This was always going to be a tough sell to me, this book. I have a horrible confession to make you see. Aside from a passing love of King Lear and a tiny smidge of awe for "The Tempest", I'm definitely not a Shakespeare fan. BUT Charlotte is and we're both history nuts, which is quite fortunate because the masterful author-illustrator team of Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom have blown our minds with their unique and passionate way of looking at historical times, places and figures (check out their fabulous "The Story of Britain" to see what we mean).

So can an old Shakespeare-cynic be won over by this gorgeous tome? You bet! Mick and Brita take us from the very early life of Will Shakespeare (I tried to do the whole "Shakespeare died on the day he was born" thing with Charlotte, to no avail).

Will's inquisitive mind and thirst for knowledge was tempered at an early age by a mischievous streak (caught red handed poaching and was very lucky not to lose his hands - or his head - in those days!) but always with an eye on the stage. First, with ambitions to become an actor and later to become the playwright we all know (and some of us love!)

We found ourselves completely immersed and drawn into this book. Mick and Brita weave Shakespeare's legend well, and the book is gloriously illustrated with scenes from his life and from Britain at the time of the bard. Liberally dosed with quotes from Shakespeare's best loved works, and with potted synopses of some of his most brilliant plays and sonnets, this is absolutely THE best place to start for youngsters who are just starting out on the path of discovery of Britain's most famous wordsmith.

If I'd had a book like this when I was younger, I'd have found a love for Shakespeare a lot earlier. You know what, miracles really can happen after all because I'm itching to go and re-read our dusty old collected works through again now to see what I've been missing out on all these years.

Charlotte's best bit: Learning all about Ariel and Caliban from The Tempest, and giggling at Shakespeare's grand speeches before dispatching poor calves in his father's glovemaking business

Daddy's Favourite bit: An utterly fascinating and absorbing look at William Shakespeare's life, locations, loves and of course his greatest works. This is utterly fantastic!

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

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ReadItDaddy gets ready for Fathers Day this Sunday with a cracking selection of books to read with Dad (or mum!)

"I Want My Daddy" by Tracey Corderoy and Alison Edgeson (Little Tiger Press). Dads CAN be useful sometimes!

This Sunday, spare poor Dad from the usual present ideas (socks, hankies, a big bag of toffees - actually I rather like toffees) and dive into your local indie bookstore for some glorious book ideas for dads to read to their kids. It's about time dads stood up and were recognised as not just being plate cleaners, saggy bum-crack displayers and "asleep in front of the telly on a sunday afternoon"ers - Dads can do a lot more too!

So let's kick off with a dad story for younger readers from Tracey Corderoy and Alison Edgeson. "I Want My Daddy" from Tracey and Alison, published by Little Tiger Press is the story of a tiny little would-be mouse-knight and all the ways that Daddy can help the little fellah out. Whether it's helping to build a cardboard castle with special castle cement, fixing a bike or helping out at the local playpark, Dads can really pitch in and come to the rescue, just like a brave knight themselves. A lovely light-hearted story with fuzzy furry illustrations by Alison, it's a fantastic place to start off our Dad round-up.

Looking to the stars next, a daydreamy laid-back dentist dad is our unlikely hero for our next brilliant Father's Day book

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

A fantastic dad tale that starts with an evening adventure. Dad promises to take his son to an astonishing and mysterious place, somewhere that they've never been before. Packing up some provisions (sticks of gum for healthy teeth), Dad the Dentist and the little boy venture out into the darkness. Walking for miles and miles away from the bright lights of the town, they finally reach a scrubby patch of wasteland in the middle of nowhere.

At first, the boy can't understand what's so special about the place. Until Dad gently encourages him to look up at the sky! The universe unfolds above them, and they spend the evening gazing at the amazing stars, comets and galaxies that make up our night-time firmament. A brilliant book that we loved to bits, because this is one of our most favourite things to do as well!

We do sometimes need books about daft dads, what's a dad without a sense of humour after all...

"Dustbin Dad" by Peter Bently and Russell Ayto (Simon and Schuster)

"Dustbin Dad" by Peter Bently and Russell Ayto may put a stop to dad's snacking and plate-snaffling antics. The dad in our tale is always doing this, but one day it serves as his undoing. After scarfing down a rather noxious batch of kitty feed, poor Dad starts "feline" slightly peculiar. In fact round-tummed Dad becomes a rather round-tummed cat! EEKS! Is there any way Dad can change back again? Mum isn't sure she can cope with the furball coughing and shedding! A fun knockabout tale, rib-tickingly written and gloriously illustrated! We really love this one, it's a regular bedtime read for us!

Dad Dinosaurs anyone? Oh go on then...

"I Love Dad" by J.M Walsh and Judi Abbott (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

"I Love Dad" by J.M. Walsh and Judi Abbot from Simon and Schuster Children's Books, brings the team behind "The Perfect Hug" back with a story that is a perfect dad day epitomised. All the favourite dad things there are to do, whether getting in a terrible mess cooking breakfast in the kitchen or running around outside making forts or flying kites are all in this lovely tale of a dad dino and his dinky dinosaur. A perfect book for dads and kids who love dinosaurs and having lots of fun.

From Dino dads to CROCODADS...

"Crocodaddy" by Kim Norman and David Walker (Sterling Publishing)

More dad and son fun with a swim at the local water hole. A great story of bonding and fun as a dad and his boy chase, splash and enjoy themselves. We love the way the book plays visually with the idea of the dad being a croc - right up till the surprise ending as the two head off into the sunset after a long tiring day of play. Lovely stuff, subtle and fun!

Finally, something truly special and wonderful from a book-creating genius of a dad...

"Wish" by Matthew Cordell (Disney Hyperion). A truly special book, have acres of tissues ready, you will need them!

Matthew ("Hello Hello") Cordell usually wins us over with his fantastic sense of humour and pitch-perfect storytelling. Here though is a book that has had Matthew's heart and soul poured into it, a very personal story that will ring true with Dads (and mums) who feel there's something missing from their lives.

"Wish" from Matthew, published by Disney Hyperion Worldwide, is the story of two elephants, who love their life together - and aren't particularly worried about becoming parents at first, but often feel that perhaps life might be complete with a little one (or two) in tow.

The couple experience many ups and downs in the process of trying to bring a little one into the world, and when finally the miracle happens and their "wish" comes true, life changes in the most amazing ways.

This book thrummed a deep chord with us. Charlotte was, in a lot of ways, our miracle baby and the moment I heard about this book, I knew I'd want to read it. We too have wished, long and hard, that we could have another child but my wife has broad spectrum epilepsy so there are huge risks involved, partly because of the unknown side effects of her medication on an unborn foetus, and partly because coming off that medication could mean a living nightmare for her and for us all.

"Wish" may make you sob bucketloads if you've been in a similar position, or are amongst the 68% of couples who experience difficulty conceiving. I read it cuddled up with Charlotte, who knows why we love her and cherish her so much - so on Father's Day I wake up in the morning, feeling lucky to every single fibre of my being, that we were so very very lucky to have had her.

That's it for our Fathers Day Roundup - Curl up with dad this sunday, enjoy a lazy breakfast in bed with some cracking books!
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Wednesday 17 June 2015

Sticker Dolly Dressing Holiday (Usborne Publishing)

Sticker Dolly Dressing Holiday

Written and Illustrated by
Usborne / Various

Published by Usborne Publishing

Charlotte absolutely adores any kind of sticker books and the fantastic "Sticker Dolly" and "Sticker Dressing" range from Usborne is gearing up for the long summer holidays with some new and reprinted titles for you to enjoy.

We took a look at "Sticker Dolly Dressing Holiday" which will really make you long for the summer sunshine and sandy beaches as you dress and arrange several summery scenes. This set contains re-usable stickers (over 400 in fact!) so if you decide your polka dot bikini doesn't quite go with that floppy straw hat, you can carefully remove the stickers and start all over again (reusable sticker books are a complete WIN with us because it does mean that they don't just end up being discarded or tucked to the back of the book case once they've been completed).

Hours of sticker fun guaranteed to keep your children thoroughly absorbed. The only negative point to make about the stickers is that some of the die-cutting wasn't quite exact enough, so some stickers were ruined trying to peel them from the backing sheet (very carefully I might add) so an adult might need to pitch in now and again to prevent any potential summer meltdowns!

You can find out more about the Sticker Dolly / Sticker Dressing range on Usborne's website: http://www.usborne.com/

Charlotte's best bit: The genius aspect of being able to stick down and then re-use stickers again and again. Fantastic for fussy madams who change their mind a lot!

Daddy's Favourite bit: The Sticker Dressing range is fantastic and absorbing fun for kids, for a really reasonable price. Pick up a few for the long summer holidays in a huge range of different subjects.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Usborne Publishing)
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Can books help your child develop a better sense of empathic concern or compassion? A ReadItDaddy Editorial.

"Just Because" by Rebecca Elliott - Helping children develop a sense of empathic concern and compassion with a touching story of sibling love.

Something has been rattling around in my bonce for a long time and it's something that, as Charlotte gets older, both my wife and I see more evidence of. Charlotte's sense of compassion is quite touching and quite mature and unusual for a 7 year old too. A lot of it does stem from her deep sense of care for her mum - and the way that she is capable and level headed whenever my wife (who suffers from Epilepsy) has a particularly bad day with seizures and chronic fatigue. It's also in both my wife and I, so if behaviour like that can be passed on in your genes, I guess there's a case for that too.

We also know that school is a factor in the way Charlotte is developing due to the school's approach to mindfulness and caring for others, and last but by no means least it's definitely something that Charlotte would pick up as a result of attending her local Brownie troop.

But I'd wondered whether books also were a factor too. Can books really help your child develop a better sense of compassion or empathic concern for your fellow humans (as well as all the other species we share this mudball with?)

We've read so many books that readily demonstrate storylines showing one character's compassion and caring for another. I'm not just talking about the standard "This is why friendships are brilliant" type stuff (we see an awful lot of those and some of them don't really convey much of a message beyond the glaringly obvious morality tale type stuff), but books that clearly show a character's willingness to put their own needs to one side in order to help another character - they're in another class entirely.

We've used Rebecca Elliott's brilliant "Just Because" (and also her fabulous book "Sometimes") as our header example of a children's book that ably demonstrates this (through Toby's relationship and caring for his sister Clemmie) but in some stories it extends beyond sibling and family ties to show that you don't have to be related to someone in order to show empathic concern or compassion. Children pick up on this, and in Charlotte's case, we sometimes hear her talking about books where it's obvious that she's mapped out those elements of a story, and likes / relates to that sort of behaviour.

Take a look at "Lemur Dreamer" by Courtney Dicmas. A sleepy Lemur has a wonderful set of friends who really care about the poor soul, and work furiously to protect their friend as he sleepwalks (quite often into dangerous situations). Children can demonstrably see a group of friends banding together to help, even though in the story the Lemur's initial behaviour adversely impacts the friends' lives.

This marked it out as something a little more than just a 'friendship' book, and it's also an entertaining story helping it stick in the mind when little ones start to get to an age when they can assess their own behavioural responses to others with a more objective mind.

We also liked "Pom Pom Gets the Grumps" by Sophy Henn. Again this is a story that perfectly encapsulates feelings we've already described above, where someone who (to be fair) is a grumpy sour puss having friends who really pitch in and show that friendships can outlast the odd grumpy day.

I started to think about the typical 'friendship' book, looking for examples where you could flip this type of story on its head - so you had an individual going above and beyond the usual friendship stuff to demonstrate empathic concern and compassion and it was great to find countless examples in children's literature. "Herman's Letter" by Tom Percival is a great example where one person goes way beyond the call of duty to make sure their friend knows they'll do almost anything for them because they're so special and cherished.

So back to the original question. Can children start to pick up on empathic concern and compassion from books? You'd really hope so, and if it's making a contribution to our own efforts to ensure Charlotte doesn't grow up putting herself first in every situation in life, all the better.

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Hello Hello by Matthew Cordell (Disney Hyperion)

Hello, Hello

Written and Illustrated by
Matthew Cordell

Published by Disney Hyperion

Oh now here's a message that we received loud and clear, a message that we've probably had a few rants about on this very blog. To us, there's nothing more tragic than arriving at a gorgeous countryside retreat, or a fabulous family day out, only to spot "The Thumb Swipe Brigade". While the children are happily making memories, having the time of their lives, spot their parents languishing under a shady tree absolutely wrapped up with their mobile phones. Intensely gazing into the screen as if it holds the very secret of life, the universe and everything while real life carries on around them.

I won't get into an extended rant about it (honest) but this is the crux of Matthew Cordell's brilliant "Hello, Hello". The tale opens with a little girl at the centre of our new and interconnected world. Mum barely mumbles a greeting because she's gazing lovingly at her computer screen. Dad doesn't even look up from his smartphone, and little brother is busy zapping aliens or collecting coins with his portable games console.

It would be easy for the girl to fall into the same trap, the digital lure of glowing entertainment but a gust of wind, and a single leaf blows in through the door and the girl goes outside.

Outside, the fresh air, the amazing scenery, the woodlands and all the creatures who dwell in it (and as the girl's imagination is spurred on, a few more creatures you wouldn't expect to see floating through the air - many of these caused a titter with Charlotte).

The girl's adventurous day continues, but what of her family? How can she lure them away from their screens?

She has an idea, a cunning plan - and it might just work...!

We've really loved the idea of this book from start to finish, and it's a book that might just cause a few parents to realise that they're missing out on huge swathes of their child's life as they sit around updating their Facebook timeline with some meaningless drivel, or (ahem) tweet about their favourite flavour of tea.

Charlotte's best bit: What on earth is a blue whale doing floating gracefully through the air?

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic message solidly delivered with more than a wry grin and a tongue firmly placed betwixt jaw and cheek. Fabulous stuff!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Disney Hyperion Books)

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Tuesday 16 June 2015

Field Guide: Creatures Great and Small - 35 prints to Colour by Lucy Engelman (Wide Eyed Editions)

Field Guide: Creatures Great and Small

35 Prints to Colour

Written and Illustrated by Lucy Engelman

Published by Wide Eyed Editions

We're spoilt for choice this week with our artistic offerings and here's another gloriously luxurious colouring book and field guide from rising Non Fiction superstars Wide Eyed Editions.

Their "Field Guide" series by Lucy Engelman offers us the chance to not only find out more about the species we share a planet with, but allows us to colour in brilliantly detailed black and white art-sized prints of them.

As the title says, all creatures great and small are catered for here. If you love octopi, or can't resist the fluffy charms of a raccoon, you're in for a serious treat. Colouring in takes us away from the stresses and pressures of modern life, and it's lovely to slip into that altered mind-state of staying within the lines for a few hours with a glorious book like this.

Charlotte's best bit: Making her squid an angry bright purple. Oosh!

Daddy's Favourite bit: More colouring brilliance. At this rate we're going to need new pencils and pens!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Wide Eyed Editions)
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ABC Universe by the American Museum of Natural History (Sterling Publishing)

ABC Universe

Written and Illustrated by
The American Museum of Natural History

Published by Sterling Publishing

Space...the final frontier! We love anything even vaguely related to space exploration, space travel and space science so it was a delight to discover that even the teeniest of tinies can now join in with a love of all things outer-spacey with this fabulous ABC book.

"ABC Universe" has been put together by the American Museum of Natural History, eschewing the usual "A is for Apple" type stuff with the far more awesome "A is for Astronaut" and so on.

It's a big square format board book (so it can resist a lot of chewing, dribbling on and general mistreatment!) packed with fabulous photos and spacey things.

You're never too young to gaze up at the stars in wonder. Start them really early with this utterly fantastic book!

Charlotte's best bit: Nebulas! "They are SO COOL!"

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic dose of space science for tiny tiddlers. Never too young to learn about space (and your ABCs!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Sterling Publishing)
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Monday 15 June 2015

Write your Own Adventure Stories by Paul Dowswell and Paul Hoppe (Usborne Publishing)

Write your own Adventure Stories

Written by Paul Dowswell (and YOU!)

Illustrated by Paul Hoppe

Published by Usborne Publishing

This is another fantastic activity book from Usborne, along very similar lines to the fabulous "Write and Draw your own Comics" (which we reviewed and raved about not so long ago). With the same awesome format - a hard-backed book with a spiral-bound but protected spine, so it lays perfectly flat while you're drawing on its rich innards for inspiration, you'll soon be off to a flying start making up your own stories.

We were instantly drawn to the cover (basically, any book that has big clanky spidery steampunk-looking alien invaders gets an instant "win" from us) and quite early on we were both nodding in recognition of Paul's early analogy of what it's like to write a story. A big picture of a mountain describing the various stages of story (setting up and introducing your characters, something happening, perhaps a cataclysmic action-packed event or two before you start to wind down to a conclusion and resolution). Writing is very much like climbing a mountain and Charlotte really bought into the idea as we started to flesh out a joint story idea.

Making a map to aid your story really does help! 

(Our character - A pig who just happens to be A) called Merlin and B) is very happy. Merlin's curiosity often leads him into trouble and while ignoring his mum and dad, Merlin decides to explore a deep dank cave from which the most delicious smells are emanating. Will Merlin's curiosity and rumbly tummy lead him into trouble? If you comment below we might well reveal the FULL TERRIFYING STORY!)

Getting into the action, making word clouds (and here's a handy hint, arm yourselves with post-it notes if you don't want to scribble directly on this gorgeous book!)

Back to the book, and the various tutorials and ideas are actually laid out a lot like the chapters of a story book themselves. Story themes and genres are explored, as are the various means and methods to help really shape your story (we particularly love the idea of making a story map with key locations and events drawn on for good measure).

Sadly, all good things have to come to an end - including your story. But sometimes wrapping things up can be the hardest part!
We both thoroughly enjoyed this book (Charlotte whisked it off to school to show her story-mad teacher, and I found myself sneaking it out of Charlotte's book case for a bit of divine inspiration for my own terrible meandering stories). If you or your children want some expert tips from a visually stimulating and activity-packed book, this will definitely fit the bill.

"Write and Draw your Own Adventure Stories" is out now from Usborne Publishing. 

Charlotte's best bit: Story maps and word clouds to help really get a story idea under way!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastically presented story-dreamer's bible, a completely essential purchase for you and your kids if you're starting out writing your own stories. 

(Kindly sent to us for review by Usborne Publishing)

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