Friday 30 October 2015

Ten children's Halloween books that you absolutely should have on your shelves (or better still, in your lap being read!)

Ghouls, ghosts, monsters and witches! Tomorrow night the neighbourhood will be heaving with tinies dressed in scary clothes, bashing down your door and demanding trick or treat sweeties (they hate us - we only give them healthy snacks, har har har!!!)

When they're finally tuckered out and tucked up in bed, what better time to shuffle through your book collection for a halloween treat.

Without further ado, what would we recommend for a top ten terrifyingly scary list?

1) "Not Now, Bernard" by David McKee (Andersen Children's Books). 

It's actually a little unfair to keep this one for Halloween. It's good for all year round, but there's no monster better than the grumpy child-eating monster betwixt the pages of this book. We recently re-read this and even though both Charlotte and I love it so much we know it off by heart, we still love that shocker of a moment when Bernard ends up monster-tum-fodder. EEKS! David McKee's book is actually more about parents not listening to or paying attention to their kids and this was even before the advent of smartphones. Make of this what you will!

2) "Darkness Slipped In" by Ella Burfoot (Kingfisher Books)

Children's fear of the dark probably wasn't really helped by this book which introduces the dark as a rather playful, mischievous but downright terrifying entity that slips into a young girl's bedroom late one night. As Daisy clutches her toy cuddly closer, the darkness tries to allay her fears by showing her that there's nothing really to be scared of - and nothing in her room that isn't there during the day. Well, except this DOWNRIGHT TERRIFYING SPIKY HAIRED SHADOW THING GADDING ABOUT ALL OVER THE ROOM!

We jest, we love this - it did used to scare the bejabers out of Charlotte but she finds it quite amusing now. Interesting to note how many times the darkness crops up in children's books manifested in a very similar way (see also Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen's awesome "The Dark" for further spooky reading!)

3) "Night Post" by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder (Improper Books)

Not scary but so beautifully presented, told and observed - this wordless picture book is a real corker and if you haven't got a copy yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR! A postman's night-time delivery route takes on unexpected twists and turns as he delivers letters and parcels to the dark-dwelling denizens of the night. Name just about any fictional monster or creature, ghoul or spectre in children's fiction and they sneak a cameo in this book in such a delightful way that you'll be coming back to this gorgeous tome again and again just to spot them all.

We do love the scene with the witches as they circle around in the darkened sky (see how many you recognise!)

We've longed, begged, pleaded for Ben and Laura to do another book together. As it stands, this is utterly sublime and we can't stop going on about it once you get us started. Just do the decent thing and go geddit!

4) "No Such Thing" by Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books)

There is such a thing as the perfect halloween book and this adorable tale comes very close. A little girl suspects there's more going on around her house at halloween than meets the eye.

Weird things keep happening and they can't all be blamed on her adorable moggy. Could someone else be to blame? Someone ethereal, let's say?

Children will absolutely love spotting the spooky little characters who are REALLY behind all the nocturnal goings-on in this pitch-perfect tale. We always expect great things from anything Flying Eye publish and we were definitely not disappointed by "No Such Thing" which is an utter halloween delight!

5) "Dear Vampa" by Ross Collins (Hodder Children's Books)

It's always interesting to see how children's books deal with some pretty nefarious and spooky characters when it comes to a ghoulish tale. Vampires are a pretty scary lot, and in "Dear Vampa" Ross Collins shows us that sometimes Vampires are NOT the scariest thing on the block.

Flipping a vampire tale firmly on its head in the form of a family's letter to their dear (dead) old Grandad Vampa is pure genius.

As with all Ross's books, his deliciously detailed illustrations are a treat, picked out here in delightfully vampish hues of black, white and red as the Pire family (geddit?) cower in terror from their new sun-kissed happy neighbours.

It's enough to make an old vamp run away screaming!

6) "The Ghost Library" by David Melling (Hodder Children's Books)

This truly is a treat, as there aren't nearly enough children's ghost stories around in our opinion. It's lovely to see David Melling's brilliant classic "The Ghost Library" being reprinted with an all-new glow in the dark spooky cover. The story of a little girl named Bo who is accidentally whisked off to another realm by a trio of book-snatching ghosts. They are trying to restock the ghost library with books and have had to resort to thievery in order to do it.

Bo shows them that there may be a better way to repopulate the empty shelves. How about coming up with the spookiest and scariest stories of their own?

Delightful and whimsical, with tons of glorious characters (we love the ghosts who sort of materialise half-way through the book shelves as they creep in to listen to Bo's storytime). Absolutely perfect halloween storytelling by a master of mischief!

7) "Cordelia Codd - It's ALIVE!" by Claire O'Brien with cover by David Roberts (Orchard Books)

One for older readers now and if we referred to masters of mischief in our last recommendation, how about a rather mischievous girl. Cordelia Codd is the pint-sized hero of Claire O'Brien's fab book series and in "It's ALIVE!" Cordelia is facing up to the prospect of yet another boring Halloween, stuck in a tiny house in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Cordelia has aspirations, she wants to be a mega-famous celebrity, design gorgeous clothes and...well get a life really but this halloween will be different as she soon finds out that even a young girl stuck in the dead-end of nowhere must expect the unexpected.

Claire O'Brien's rib-tickling series is perfect fare for reading by torchlight under the covers on a spooky halloween night. Look out too for Claire's other brill books "Cordelia Codd - Not Just the Blues" and "Cordelia Codd - Frankly Ruby, I don't give a Damn!" also from Orchard Books and also look out for a very special review of "It's Alive" SOOOON!

8) "Lockwood and Co - The Screaming Staircase" by Jonathan Stroud (Doubleday)

Sticking with books for older children now, and dispel from your mind all thoughts of whimsical, amusing and playful spectres - the ghosts in Jonathan Stroud's books are anything but!

"Lockwood and Co" kicked off in grand style with this first book "The Screaming Staircase" and it restored our faith in ghost stories for (older) children, which I thought had become too diluted and safe. It's the story of Lockwood, Lucy and George - a trio of ghost hunters roving the streets of an alternate-reality version of London in search of spirits who plague the world of the living. These ghosts can kill and maim, they're not the intangible wailers of other tales and this is what makes the book series really quite scary and disturbing as all three are frequently teetering on the edge of danger. Two further books in the series "The Whispering Skull" and "The Hollow Boy" will have you quaking in your slippers come Halloween Night so if you (like me) are a fan of cult telly like Sapphire and Steel, or old Hammer Horror stuff then this should be your first port of call.

9) "My Teacher is a MONSTER!" by Peter Brown (Macmillan Children's Books)

Most kids will try to convince you that there's something not quite right about their teachers. But in "My Teacher is a Monster" a young boy realises that despite her green skin, shouty voice and slightly questionable fashion sense, maybe his monstrous teacher isn't quite so bad after all.

A chance meeting in the park with the teacher in question is quite terrifying but soon leads the two to band together to solve a rather sticky problem involving a lost hat.

Peter's books are deliciously illustrated and beautifully observed and this monstrously entertaining tale is no exception. So next time your teacher gives you a black mark for your spelling, or howls at you from across the classroom for passing notes and giggling, take heed, they're maybe not quite as horrible as they seem.

10) "I'm Coming to get YOU!" by Tony Ross (Picture Puffin)

Cor, this is a golden oldie and we think it's high time it got a re-issue. Tony Ross's brilliant "I'm Coming to Get You!" features a nasty, stinky, smelly and quite downright horrible monster who sets out one night to chase down his chosen victim.

We love the way the story builds up excitement, tension and scares to the point where the twist in the tale is revealed - and it's a doozy.

We have seen rather too many books ripping this story off (we'll let you discover what the twist is and whether you think we're right or not) but none done better than here in "I'm coming to get YOU!" - with such a delicious pay off at the end that it's an utterly essential monstery halloween read.

We hope you've enjoyed this year's list. Do drop a comment in the box below if you've got a particular halloween fave you'd love to share with us and our readers, we are always on the hunt for new spooky books!
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ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 30th October 2015 - "The Art of Wreck-It Ralph" by Jennifer Lee and Maggie Malone (Chronicle)

Our second Book of the Week this week is a truly dazzling look inside one of Disney's biggest recent hits, the truly stunning world of "Wreck-It Ralph"...
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There's a Monster in my Fridge by Caryl Hart and Deborah Allwright (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Gross grub, great rhymes and a motley collection of fabulous monsters and nefarious night-dwellers. Perfect Halloween booky fare!
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 30th October 2015 - "Finding Winnie, The Story of the Real Bear who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh" by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall (Orchard Books)

We love it when you delve into a book expecting to find one thing, but come away with something entirely different. Our Book of the Week this week is "Finding Winnie" by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall...
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Thursday 29 October 2015

ReadItDaddy's Spooky pre-halloween Chapter Book and Early Readers Roundup - October 2015 with dragons, twins, cats, beautiful music, zombies, fabulous castles and an awesome new mighty girl! Yay!

Welcome, pray WELCOME to our pre-halloween spooky surreal Chapter Book and Early Readers roundup for October. This month we've got a huge teetering pile of fantastic new releases to tackle so let's light the pumpkin lantern and get cracking with our first book, a glorious dark and delicious fantasy epic from New York Times bestselling author Chris D'Lacey.

Chris is a dragon-master, and his stories often revolve around our favourite mythical creatures. In book one of "The Erth Dragons" - The Wearle" - Dragons return to Erth to trace the fate of a lost colony, disappeared many years before but vital to the survival of the species. One lone dragon, Gabrial, is young and restless and desperate to prove his worth to his betters. But the mission is fraught with danger as it soon becomes apparent that the dragons are not the only creatures on Erth...

Chris builds a fantasy world that is rich and glorious, and his dragon characters erupt with all too human frailties and qualities instantly making the story feel fresh and original. "The Erth Dragons Book 1: The Wearle" was released on October 1st 2015 by Orchard Books - utterly essential for young fantasy fans!

A complete change of pace now - Meet two tempestuous scamps you really wouldn't want to meet while out trick-or-treating, and who seem to cause chaos wherever they go...

Claudia and Reese - otherwise known as "The Tapper Twins" are the stars of a new series of books by Geoff (Daddy Day Care) Rodkey, recently released by Orion Books. In "The Tapper Twins Go to War (with each other)" sibling rivalry comes to a head as Claudia and Reese clash spectacularly over - well the sort of things siblings always fall out over (like who stole the last cinnamon pastry at breakfast - Important stuff!)

Wars are terrible things but war breaks out, sneaky dirty sibling war with each party convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that they're in the right. But is it a war that can be won?

Brilliant comedic stuff, acutely observed and for those with an annoying sibling (twin or otherwise) you'll be laughing in recognition of the sort of sneaky underhand tricks brothers and sisters will play on each other in order to gain the upper hand.

Sticking with the Tapper Twins for a moment, things don't get any easier when they go on holiday either...

In "The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York", Claudia and Reese hit the Big Apple - hit being the operative word here - with an ill-judged scavenger hunt causing abject chaos in the sprawling metropolis.

If you think two kids are incapable of breaking just about every bylaw in the book, or nearly causing a calamitous catastrophe at one of the world's most well-loved landmarks think again!

Once again Geoff's writing is fast paced and hilarious, firing off a ton of brilliant observational gags as the two siblings once again fall out and nearly end up on the wrong side of the law (and completely the wrong side of town!)

Both "The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other)" and "The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York" were released on 24th September 2015, published by Orion Children's books.

Phew, we've still got a couple more books to take a look at so what's next, Miss Charlotte?

"Catlantis" is a fantastic story that proves what most cat owners have probably suspected since time began. There's a lot more going on in your moggy's mind than meets the eye. Meet ordinary everyday house cat Baguette. Like most cats, Baguette sleeps in the sun all day, pausing every now and again to scoff a bowlful of food or drink a saucer of milk, swat at dust motes and flies and all the other things normal cats do.

But life is about to become anything but normal for Baguette. First, a mysterious stranger moves into the street and Baguette instantly falls in love with this alluring newcomer, Purriana.

But the path of love does not run smoothly, even for moggies so when the cute kitty begins to make very odd demands, Baguette has no choice but to follow his heart and his destiny, embarking on an incredible journey to save the lost island of Catlantis, and preserve the 9 lives of all cats forever more.

Can an ordinary scraggy house cat meet the challenge? A brilliant and original new novel from Anna Starobinets, released on 24th October by Pushkin Press.

Have we got time for a few more? Hah, of course we have!

A truly beautiful book this, "Heartsong" by Kevin Crossley-Holland with illustrations by Jane Ray is an utterly stunning book. The story of a young girl Laura, who begins life abandoned at an orphanage in Venice. Laura is mute, and though she cannot speak, she learns to communicate through music and becomes entranced by the works of Vivaldi.

The story, inspired the real boys and girls of The Venetian Orphanage with illustrations inspired by Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons", unfolds into an atmospheric and involving page-turner as we follow Laura's plight.

Stunning stuff. "Heartsong" was released on October 1st 2015 by Orchard Books.

Right, what's next on our list. Aha, the PERFECT choice for Halloween, a fantastic new fantasy book from an extraordinarily talented lady who loves spookiness and videogames as much as we do...

Gabrielle Kent's new story "Alfie Bloom - The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle" is chock full of atmosphere and suspense as a young boy uncovers an ancient legacy. Normal life is dull and boring for Alfie but after a mysterious meeting at the Solicitor's offices of Caspian Bone, Alfie's life changes forever.

He discovers he is the sole heir to a rambling castle, preserved for centuries and filled with secrets. Alfie has the uncomfortable feeling that the castle is more familiar than it seems, and this is just the start of a labyrinthine mystery that may test Alfie's resolve to the very limits.

Gabrielle's world building is spectacular, and fans of J.K. Rowling and Eion Colfer are going to absolutely eat this book up.

Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle by Gabrielle Kent is out now from Scholastic.

One more? G'wan then. Two of our most favourite folk are back with an all new chapter book featuring an awesome and inspirational mighty girl...

You're going to be hearing a lot about Harper, believe us! She's the star of a new book series from CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by the fabulous Laura Ellen Anderson. We've loved Cerrie and Laura's picture books and this is their chapter book debut.

"Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella" is the fantastic story of Harper and her beloved moggy sidekick Midnight. Harper lives with her Great Aunt Sassy in the clouds, and always has an eye open for a song, and an adventure.

When Midnight goes missing, and all the other neighbourhood cats disappear too, it's the start of a twisty-turny mystery that only a smart and tenacious girl like Harper can solve. Along with her trusty scarlet umbrella, Harper takes to the skies to find Midnight - and the true identity of the mysterious Midnight Orchestra.

Not just for girls, this is a fabulous story for children of all ages but older readers 7 and up will absolutely love the format of "Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella", perfect for readers making the transition from picture book to chapter book. Cerrie writes beautiful prose and conjures up the most amazing characters, complimented by Laura's utterly sublime illustrations. Look out for a very special Harper adventure on World Book Day 2016 - as "Harper and the Sea of Secrets" will be one of the special £1 books on offer on that day.

"Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella" by Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson was released on October 1st by Scholastic.

Phew! There's never enough time to cover all these wonderful books, is there, but we try our best!

One last spooky one before we go. BRAINNNNNNNSSSSSS!

"Once Upon a Zombie - Book One: The Color of Fear" is a new spooky book series from Billy Phillips and Jenny Nissenson. Fans of monster-y stuff like "Ever After High" and "Monster High" are going to be on cloud 9 with a whole new series of tales that take well-loved stories and book characters firmly out of their comfort zone, right into the realm of the undead. Book One starts firmly at the beginning as our 14 year old heroine Caitlin Fletcher is ruthlessly tricked into climbing into a "Rabbit hole" which turns out to be something far more sinister. A grave, and an inter-dimensional wormhole leading to a dark and forbidding fairytale landscape populated by brain-munching zombie versions of well known book characters. Caitlin isn't exactly cut out for heroic deeds of derring-do, and how on earth can any teen cope in a dark landscape where your mobile phone doesn't work!

Watch out for "Once Upon a Zombie" - it's going to be huge! Out now from Toon Studios and soon to be accompanied by a toy line and other awesome OUAZ merchandise!

Don't miss next month's chapter book and early readers roundup as we continue to dive into more fabulous stories for more accomplished readers.
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Happy 200th Issue to the best kid's comic on the planet. The Phoenix bumper 200th edition ROCKS!

The Phoenix 200th Issue with a truly awesome cover from the mighty Chris Riddell.
Why are you standing there staring at it, GO AND BUY IT!!!!
I was slightly concerned last night as I was getting changed after work, and suddenly heard a very loud screech from downstairs. Dashing down 3 flights of stairs (ReadItDaddy Towers is very tower-ey) to see what Charlotte was screaming about, I found the scene below...

Reading comics in the correct page order? Forget that, buddy! It's Doogan first!
Charlotte had once again beat me to the punch. Our copy of the Phoenix 200th issue had dropped through the letterbox, clad in its gloriously illustrated envelope heralding the arrival of a big fat entertaining wodge of comic greatness that meant sheer and utter (blissful) silence from Charlotte while she absorbed every gorgeous morsel.

The Phoenix Comic - for those of you who have been living in a small cave in Camarthenshire for the last few years - is the best comic in the business for kids. Based in our home town (Oxford - also home to the mighty 2000AD - there must be something in the water down here!), it's been a huge favourite of ours since it first appeared (way back before Charlotte could even read it properly on her own).

So what's so great about it?

It's full of astonishing characters and truly original stories, with humorous, fantasy, science fiction, culturally diverse and historical themes all contributing to this glorious mag. The hugely talented pool of writers and illustrators ensure that it doesn't just look fantastic, it's a beltingly good read too.

Charlotte practically INHALED Issue 200 (As you can see, she's a huge Von Doogan fan but also loves Bunny vs Monkey, Troy Trailblazer, Evil Emperor Penguin, Corpse Talk AND Mega Robo Bros - all of which can be found in Ish 200 as well as many more!) Having recently been thrilled by the storyline concerning the very future of the comic, and the gallant keybearing readers who banished "The Antifun" once and for all, it's fantastic to see a comic that not only does what it does so well - but also directly involves its readers by encouraging them to draw, scribble and write their own comics and pics too! How brilliant is that?

We're not the only ones who think so. When you've got hugely talented folk like Phillip Pullman taking up storytelling reins in the comic in 2016, and describing the comic as "A wonderful marriage between words and pictures" you know they're definitely doing something right (watch out for his new strip early next year which is already looking amazing from the preview page you'll find in Ish 200).

The Phoenix will be coming to WH Smiths with the 200th issue, and can also be found in Waitrose and also via direct subscription via the website.

If you've been looking for the best comic to introduce your kids to, look no further.


The Phoenix is on sale now, priced at a ludicrously reasonable £2.99 (and NO PLASTIC TAT OR ADS, HOORAY!)
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Reading Non-Fiction titles outside school - why it's more important than ever! A ReadItDaddy Editorial

November is "National Non-Fiction Month" and this week's editorial is inspired not only by the upcoming celebration of children's Non-Fiction titles - but by a fairly innocent looking Tweet from author Nicola Morgan:

It's been widely reported many, many times that reluctant readers - particularly boys but definitely both boys and girls - are quite often more interested in non-fiction than fiction. I can't quite remember how it first came about that we made huge efforts to stimulate Charlotte's reading with a good mix of fiction and non-fiction titles but it was certainly quite soon after we'd joined our local library for the first time.

For children, libraries can often be the only place they'll be exposed to 'learning books' outside of school but for most kids, it's also the place where they are in direct control of what they read - and what non-fiction titles they pick up alongside story and picture books.

That's hugely important, and from the outset it's really quite something to see a child going through the non-fiction section in a library's stacks and seeing what they pull out.

Charlotte's love of history and science stems directly from the way we gently coaxed her towards digging out books in the non-fiction section - often gloriously illustrated and packed full of facts, these books tell their own stories to children and definitely in the case of history books, are often as full of amazing characters and 'plot twists' as any story book you can name.

I doubt many teachers would actively discourage a child from reading non-fiction for pleasure (so I'm rather intrigued by the background to this tweet). After all, a huge part of a teacher's role is to engage their class with the subject matter at hand - so if a child displays enough interest in the subject to want to explore it outside school as well, what's not to love?

Unless...there's some bizarre theory that non-fiction should not be 'dumbed down'. It should be wholly academic, perhaps some might say even 'dry' so it does not muddy the message it's trying to impart. Perhaps it's that we're now so petrified that our children won't learn if they're having fun that children's non-fiction is somehow frowned upon?

If that's the case, again I'd have to disagree and point out that you'd have to search high and low to find a non-fiction title these days that 'dumbs down' its subject - simply because kids will not put up with that in their non-fiction reading matter just like they won't put up with poorly written (or illustrated) fiction (and gawd, how many times do we have to point this out to would-be children's writers - that children are not there to be babied or patronised with hollow stories that don't inspire them or satisfy their curiosity?)

It does seem that it's long been the belief that a certain amount of 'talking down to' is required when you're broaching certain topics and subjects with kids (again whether in fictional or non-fictional titles) and I'd have to once again vociferously argue that this truly is not the case. Kids are like hungry sponges when it comes to facts and figures. You wouldn't try to wash with a sponge that was only given a tiny drip of water would you?

Do celebrate National Non-Fiction Month again this November as many book folk will be doing so! Mix it up a bit in your own children's reading materials for that month and I promise you, you'll be very pleasantly surprised by the results! Go seek out brilliant books by publishers like Usborne, Flying Eye Books, Wide Eyed Editions, Thames and Hudson, Chronicle and so many others who are truly producing the brightest and best non fiction books for kids these days.
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A Hairy Scary pair of Halloween Books for your would-be trick-or-treaters!

The dark nights are drawing in, and all things spooky abound as we take a look at a pair of hauntingly good books for your little ones at Halloween
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Wednesday 28 October 2015

Princess Evie's Ponies - Tiptoe the Magic Ballet Pony by Sarah Kilbride and Sophie Tilley (Simon and Schuster Children's Books

More fun from Sarah Kilbride and Sophie Tilley as "Princess Evie's Ponies" reaches book 10 with a dazzling dance or two...
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Tuesday 27 October 2015

Disney's "The Art of Inside Out" (Chronicle Books)

Oh dear, another Pixar movie that made us both blub like babies and probably our favourite movie of the year. Let's take a look behind the scenes at Disney / Pixar's amazing "Inside Out"...

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Not Without My Whale by Billy Coughlan and Villie Karabatzia (Maverick Books)

Another quirky and original story from Maverick Books, dip into the briny deep with Billy Coughlan and Villie Karabatzia's "Not Without My Whale"...
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Monday 26 October 2015

Peanut Butter and BRAINS by Joe McGee and Charles Santoso (Abrams Young Readers)

Zombies? In a children's book? Is nothing sacred? Step inside for a funny tale of a zombie who's a little different from the rest...
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The Sleeping Beauty Theatre by Su Blackwell and Corina Fletcher (Thames and Hudson)

Here's a fascinating take on a classic fairy tale where you can literally take control of the story yourself. A brilliant and innovative new retelling of the classic "Sleeping Beauty"
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Friday 23 October 2015

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 23rd October 2015 - "Tough Guys Have Feelings Too!" by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books)

Our second Book of the Week puts even the most lantern-jawed book reviewer in touch with his emotional side. Here's the awesome "Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too)" by Keith Negley
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ReaditDaddy's First book of the Week - Week Ending 23/10/2015 - "Leo: A Ghost Story" by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson (Chronicle)

Our first book of the week features one of the most adorable spectres you're ever likely to mee. Meet Leo in "Leo: A Ghost Story" by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson...
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Thursday 22 October 2015

What does every good blogger do when their viewing figures drop? A ReadItDaddy Editorial...

Tumbleweed, just in case you were wondering!
I'd imagine that just about every blogger out there, book or otherwise, suffers an 'identity crisis' at one point or another.

As you ramp up the effort to fill your blog with interesting stories, book coverage, reviews and just about everything else, you quietly, silently check out your readership stats and unique page hits for the month. Sometimes it makes for some puzzling reading!

I'll stop right there before you think this is a terrible self-pitying tale of woe. It isn't, but read on if you like to be mildly entertained, by all means.

SO we reinvented things in August, gave the old Blog a bit of a tidyup, put in some new ideas, tracked each review / story for a given week and stuffed them into a neat 'league table' style view, we've really been pouring on the effort to make sure that even though I've got practically zero spare time (and Charlotte has even less, poor moo) we're bringing you reviews of as many of the latest children's books as we possibly can. Seriously, we put the pedal to the metal and still really enjoy doing so.

Alas though, it's almost like the more effort we put in, the weirder (worse) things get with our stats. The month of the blog rejig, we dipped to our lowest monthly unique hits for the last two years, barely scraping just over 9,000 hits. Things picked up a bit in September but there's a lesson there - if you've got a fairly successful formula going on, and people like your blog's layout, I guess the message is "don't for goodness sake fix it for the sake of a spruce up!"

Our audience is also changing. At one time we were predominantly viewed by folk in the UK. Now the US outstrips the UK's readership almost 2 to 1 (which is good news for us as we do cover an awful lot of stuff from the states now, which I guess pays off nicely). Once again there's a lot to be said for thinking about blog content more globally, rather than just playing in your own back yard.

Final thing to draw from the stats is that you lot really love Firefox and not as many folk have fallen in love with Apple as I'd thought (either that or you're all reading the blog using Firefox on your Macs :)

I thought it'd be a great idea to set up a survey to eke out what's working and what's not. The survey results offered up an even stranger set of results than the stats appeared to. So far we know that most people come here for the book reviews (YAY as that's where our primary effort is), quite a few come along once a week just to see what book of the week is, some don't visit at all (Eh? So you're taking a survey about a site you don't visit? Alrighty then!), some hate our Twitter feed (Boo to you!), no one bothers with our Facebook or Pinterest presences (aha!) and there's been a resounding YAY for extended Chapter Book coverage (which we're working on) and a resounding NAY for self-published stuff (which, sadly, doesn't surprise me at all).

I guess the best advice to give anyone who thinks their viewing figures have dwindled is to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Why on earth do you take up bits of your spare time writing a blog in the first place? (Answer: Because we love books and we love doing this, and we love sharing our thoughts on books with lovely folk like you)

2) If your viewing figures dip below a certain threshold of acceptability, would you quit? (Answer: Probably but referring to point 1 - we'd probably still write about books SOMEWHERE even if we never got sent any, we've always said that and it's still utterly true and might encourage us to visit our library and our local indie booksellers more! No bad thing!)

3) What are the competition doing that you're not? (Answer: We don't consider anyone to be our competition - no that's not a big headed statement, all bloggers approach book reviews in a multitude of different ways and we LOVE that it's like that. We are quite envious of the time others have to devote to book coverage and reviews but that's as far as envy goes. If everyone started competing, it'd very quickly be over and done with and there's definitely no sense in a book-reviewing blogosphere that only has a few folk in it).

4) What could you do differently to bring folk back? (Answer: If we knew the answer to that we'd probably be doing it already, DOH! We are getting the message about chapter books and giving them more proper / rounded off reviews of their own but we'll still be keeping the roundups each month because there's no way we can read and review that many chapter books each month, no way and we read a LOT!)

To summarise, writing about books is a pleasure (almost as much a pleasure as reading them in the first place). Any sort of feedback (either from you lovely folk who take the time to drop a comment off at the end of a review or article, or from lovely folk on Twitter or Facebook who like what we write) is like oxygen to us and it does mean a lot that people still pop by. If there's less of you than before, then we still consider ourselves lucky if even a few visitors per month show up. We've still seen half a million folk pass through our 'doors' so what's not to be happy about?

If you do want to help though, please do check out the survey and tell us what you like and don't like.
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The Aerodynamics of Biscuits by Clare Helen Welsh and Sophia Touliatou (Maverick Books)

Have you ever considered the gently sloping curve of a custard cream? The wingspan of a bourbon? The jet power of a double-chocolate cookie? Then this book might tickle your fancy...
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Wednesday 21 October 2015

As Quiet as a Mouse by Karen Owen and Evgenia Golubeva (Maverick Books)

Here's a rather splendid tale about an adorable little elephant who has a bit of a 'volume' problem. "As Quiet as a Mouse" by Karen Owen and Evgenia Golubeva...
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Tuesday 20 October 2015

The Zoomers Handbook by Ana and Thiago De Moraes (Andersen Children's Books)

Zoo Keepers look after animals in our zoos, farmers look after animals on our farms so what do you get if you cross a zoo keeper with a farmer? Zoom in to find out!
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Monday 19 October 2015

Celebrating the release of the awesome "Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella" with two extremely talented ladies! Let's meet Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson!

We're tickled to death today to be joined by two utterly wonderful booky folk. Joining us to celebrate the release of "Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella" let's say hello to Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson!

Hi Cerrie / Laura, thanks for joining us at ReadItDaddy. Can you
tell us a little bit more about yourselves and your new mighty girl

CERRIE: Hello 'Read it Daddy' fans I'm Cerrie Burnell , writer, presenter and mummy. Some of you might know me from CBeebies, but I'm also a children's author. My picture books (also with the lovely Laura) include Snowflakes, Mermaid and Ballet Dreams. My first chapter book- which I'm super excited about is called Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella. It follows the story of Harper a girl with a rare, musical gift, whose beloved cat Midnight goes missing. Together with her three best friends, Liesel- a girl who wishes she was a mouse, Ferdie - a serious boy, with a serious scarf and Nate - a boy with mist-coloured wolf, she sets out across the City of Clouds in her flying scarlet umbrella to rescueMidnight and the other disappeared cats.

LAURA: Thanks ReadItDaddy! I'm an author/illustrator by day, and Batman by night. (Ed: We always suspected as much!)

Illustrating Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella was an absolute joy. I've illustrated many other children's picture books and fiction series, and loved every single one. I count myself very lucky.

I'm also the creator of Evil Emperor Penguin, who's first book was released at the beginning of October! Mwahahahaaaar! And I have my very own debut picture book being published early 2017, so watch this space! I love my job and wouldn't want to do anything else, other than perhaps go to Hogwarts and make spells.

Can you tell us a little bit about the books you loved as children?

CERRIE: As a child I couldn't read myself until I was 8 as I'm dyslexic, so my mum read to me, night after night, gently enriching my world with stories. The books I loved best were The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll which my grandma read to me, and I also loved Matilda by Roald Dahl.

LAURA: I was (and still am) a huge fan of the Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. I loved the illustrations and they inspired me so much. The Twits and The Witches by Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake have always been favourites of mine too. Hilarious and wonderfully illustrated!

We love the format of "Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella", was it a
conscious decision to include more illustrations in the chapter book
format? (It's definitely a format we've seen more and more of recently
and one we definitely approve of!)

CERRIE: I really wanted Harper to be full of illustrations. It's quite a detailed story with a whole world of characters, so beautiful, fun drawings add to the magic. I'm delighted with the result!

LAURA: It's certainly a format I, as the illustrator, am extremely fond of and love to see in a chapter book. The text and illustrations in Harper & the Scarlet Umbrella go hand in hand and compliment each other well, which is why Cerrie and I work so well together :)

(To Cerrie) Are Alex, Andy and Sid as cheeky as they seem?
CERRIE: Yes Andy, Alex and Sid are most definitely as cheeky as they seem on screen. When we’re filming it’s normally a ten or eleven hour day- so you have to be yourself, and all of us like to fill the day with fun.

(To Laura) Can we please have another Evil Emperor Penguin collection
sometime soon?

Oooh I'm sure there will be another Evil Emperor Penguin collection soon, but you'll have to wait and see! For now, you can still find the tyrannical seabird getting up to mischief every month in the Phoenix Comic!

Tell us a sneaky wee snippet of what we can expect from Harper's
next adventure! Go on, we won't tell anyone, promise!

CERRIE: There are two new Harper books on the way! (Ed: YAYYYY!) Harper and the Sea of Secrets which has been specially written for world book day. In this adventure Harper and her friends travel to the City of Gulls, to discover that the royal orchestra have had their instruments stolen. With the help of an old smugglers map and a band of beardy fishermen they set out to find the stolen instruments and discover why the sea sings every night.

Book 2 is called Harper and the Circus of Dreams. It's all about a grand and mysterious circus that hangs in the clouds and travels by wind, yet the circus is oddly familiar to Harper, who is sure she has been here before. With her precious cat Midnight and her friends in tow, she befriends a storm stirrer and learns that circus holds many strange secrets.

LAURA: There shall be more magic, friendship and perhaps the odd fisherman...

Fantastic stuff! Thank you both SO MUCH for answering our questions and stopping by the blog. 

As well as "Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella" (which was released on 1st October by Scholastic) don't miss Cerrie and Laura's other brilliant books including "Mermaid" which was a well deserved ReadItDaddy Book of the Week. 

Cerrie Burnell

Laura Ellen Anderson

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The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows (Child's Play)

Can you imagine how cool it would be to take a moment of happiness and be able to keep that moment forever, or share it with others? One little girl has this very idea in "The Jar of Happiness"...
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Friday 16 October 2015

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 16th October 2015: "Harry Potter - The Character Vault" by Jody Revenson (Titan Books)

We do love a book that gives us valuable insights into the movie industry, particularly when it covers one of our fave book and movie series ever. Let's step inside "Harry Potter - The Character Vault" - ALOHOMORA!
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 16th October 2015 - "The Art of Hotel Transylvania 2" by Brett Rector (Titan Books)

Our First Book of the Week this week gets some spookiness into your life ahead of Halloween. The gorgeous and sumptuous "The Art of Hotel Transylvania 2" by Brett Rector...
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Thursday 15 October 2015

When is the best time to introduce your child to the Harry Potter universe? A ReadItDaddy Editorial

As the scales begin to tip firmly in the favour of chapter books for Charlotte, it's almost inevitable that there'll be a crossover point where she will spot books on our shelves and want to read them herself or have them read to her.

The Harry Potter series is one such set of books, which have held Charlotte's interest after watching one or two bits of the early movies (and only the early ones, mind you - the later ones really need to wait a few more years before I'll let her loose on them). She wanted to know more about the books and so recently we started to read them at bedtimes.

Charlotte is 7 - and really this editorial sneakingly broaches a subject that absolutely bakes my noodle. The subject of age ratings on books, which quite often make no sense to us whatsoever. "Here's a great picture book series for ages 5-8" a press release will proclaim. When we dive into the book we very quickly realise that the age group 5-8 is one hell of a long time and possibly the time in a child's life where their reading ability rapidly changes and develops the most.

Age ratings seem to be used to describe reading ability, and again I take issue with anything that tries to neatly pigeonhole a child's ability to fully engage or soak up a book's content, or to struggle with it not through non-recognition of the words or intent that make up the story, but purely because it's really not for them. I've seen Charlotte (who I believe has a very good level of reading ability and skill) struggle with a book that she should be breezing through - only for me to take a closer look at the book and find it the most turgid load of tummy rubbish imaginable. No fault of the child's reading ability, but entirely the fault of the editor or publisher that let it loose in the first place (I would say author but the assumption for a commercially published book is that an editor would have correctly gauged a book's suitability for publication if it was aimed at a specific reader level).

Age groupings on books for children (groupings rather than ratings) that follow the national curriculum recommendations or perhaps a reading scheme's framework can be frustrating to follow for readers with ability, yet they are structured to ensure that the gradual process of learning to read and learning to cope with the complexities of the English language are appropriately tested and matched. We don't often see this happen in books that children read for fun, so it makes me wonder why books below a certain threshold have any sort of age groupings at all?

How old should a child be before they're let loose on J.K. Rowling's works? The real answer is "When they're emotionally well equipped enough to deal with the story's content" - which for Charlotte is certainly at her age for the early books, and maybe 5-6 years for the last 3 or 4.

Having the chance to revisit the books through her eyes (having read them many many times myself independently) it has been a hell of a buzz to experience the sheer joy of getting to know a set of book characters who have (in no small part) been responsible for a colossal upsurge of interest in learning to read for sheer pleasure amongst children and teens. Rowling got the balance so absolutely right, ensuring that the Harry Potter books contained plenty to engage children across all genders, classes and races. Her characters are not perfect in any way, they have human frailties and flaws. Her good guys and gals are good but not beyond breaking the rules when they feel they need to. Her bad guys and gals are thoroughly rotten, but there's always the faint hope that underneath their dark exteriors they've got an unshakeable faith that they're doing the right thing. Her truly bad guys and gals make you understand that sometimes evil serves no greater purpose than being the measure of darkness that a story requires to set the baseline against.

You know you're doing something right as a parent when your child can spend an entire Saturday carrying around a twig they've found on the ground, pausing momentarily to shake it at a tree shouting "Expelliarmus" or "Expecto Patronum" but you really know you've done the right thing as a parent when another person (in this case an adult) can walk up to them and say "Is that your wand?"

In answer to the question posed in the header of this editorial, the right time is when you as a parent think your child is ready to deal with the highs and lows of a true rollercoaster of a story, not when an age rating tells you otherwise.

Edit: There's an absolutely brilliant book-by-book guide to the Harry Potter series and their suitability for school grades on Mrs N's highly educational and fantastically written blog. Go check it out!
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Molly's Marvellous Moustache - a fabulous guest post by Andrea Heaton to tickle your top lip!

We're very fortunate to be joined today by author Andrea Heaton, here to tell you about a rib-tickling (and nose tickling) new book, Molly's Marvellous Moustache. Over to you, Andrea!
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Wednesday 14 October 2015

We take a look at two fantastic titles from Bodleian Publishing's upcoming children's range

The Bodleian Library is legendary, cataloguing and collecting just about every book that ever went to print, it's a treasure trove indeed. Let's dip into that trove with two new books from Bodleian's upcoming children's range...
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Robin's Winter Song by Suzanne Barton (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

Suzanne Barton's fabulous stories are always atmospheric and lovely. Let's catch up with the latest as we hear "Robin's Winter Song"
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Tuesday 13 October 2015

Old Bear's Bedtime Stories by Jane Hissey (Scribblers)

Most people get fairly grumpy about the onset of Autumn, closely followed by Winter. But for us it means even more opportunities to snuggle up in the warm with a fabulous book...
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Counting Lions by Katie Cotton and Stephen Walton, with Foreword by Virginia McKenna (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

This eye-catching book can't fail to grab your attention with one of the most striking monochrome covers I've seen on a children's book in a long time...
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Monday 12 October 2015

The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Inspired by a Lenape Native American myth, here's an unusually colourful tale considering the star is a crow...
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Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng and Jeremy Pailler (Lantana Publishing)

The rich, vibrant and colourful traditions surrounding Chinese New Year are the focus for this stunning new children's picture book. "Dragon Dancer" by Joyce Chng and Jeremy Pailler...
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