Friday 29 June 2018

Joining Matt Brown's awesome blog tour for "Aliens Invaded my Talent Show" with a guest post from the man himself. @mattbrownauthor @Usborne

We're joining the 2018 blog tour for a book that's full of chaos, comedy and crazy aliens.

Author Matt (Compton Valance) Brown has put his considerable comic talents into "Aliens Invaded my Talent Show" coming soon from Usborne Publishing.

To celebrate the launch of the book we've handed over the reins of the blog to Matt himself to talk about his comedy influences, and all things alienesque.

Take it away Matt...!

Aliens Invaded My Talent Show! Blog: Comedy Influences

My new book, "Aliens Invaded my Talent Show!" is, I hope, the funniest book you will ever read about aliens invading a talent show. I have spent my whole life obsessing about funny TV shows and reading funny books and comics. To my simplistic brain, there is little in life as thrilling as the sight (and sound) of someone fall about laughing when you tell them a joke.

Comedy double-acts have always been my thing. For as long as I can remember I have loved watching partnerships like Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, and Reeves and Mortimer. And, if I’m honest, I think that the aliens in Aliens Invaded My Talent Show!are my attempt to create my own double-act.

When I was growing up, I had two favourite comedy actors, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmundson and I watched everything they were in. And I mean everything; the Young Ones, Filthy Rich & Catflap, Happy Families, the Comic Strip, Bottom as well as a host of cameo appearances, charity performances and movie roles. If they were in it, I wanted to watch it. I loved the way they bickered and squabbled and fought with each other. They were sort of like Tom and Jerry but they made jokes about farting. So, when it came to creating my alien double-act, I looked to Rik and Ade for inspiration and found it in one of their earliest incarnations, the Dangerous Brothers. The way my aliens speak and act with each other is based on Richard and Sir Adrian.

Speaking of the aliens, I named them after one of my all-time favourite jokes. The joke involves the actor, Edward Woodward, who was famous when I was in school. Okay, here is the joke, and it is much funnier if you say it out loud. Go on, try it on someone…

Why does Edward Woodward have so many ‘w’s in his name?

Because otherwise he’d be Edard ooDard.

Why does Edward Woodward have so many ‘d’s in his name?

Because otherwise he’d be Ewar Woowar.

So, my head alien had the name E-Dard Oo-Dard because I LOVE that joke. In fact, in an early draft of the story, the other alien was called E-War Woo-War but it was quite confusing so he became Trevor instead.

In Aliens Invaded My Talent Show, the aliens visit Dreary Inkling Primary School to inspect the children, to see if they are worthy of life. They disguise themselves in “human clothes” and give themselves “human names”.

E-Dard Oo-Dard calls himself Mr Don O’Tenter after he sees a Do Not Enter sign but Trevor becomes known as Mr Watt-Watt-Watt-Watt after a misunderstanding.

This whole misunderstanding was inspired by a brilliant routine by Abbott & Costello called ‘Who’s on First’. Costello is trying to find out the name of the baseball player who plays first base but the name of the player on first base is Who.

About two months after I finished writing the book, this happened in real life. A footballer called Sanchez Watt was sent off for dissent after the referee thought he refused to give his name. Sometimes life is too perfect.

(Watch that Abbot and Costello clip below btw)

"Aliens Invaded my Talent Show" by Matt Brown is out now, published by Usborne Books.
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 29th June 2018: "Boy Underwater" by Adam Baron and Benji Davies (HarperCollins Children's Books)

I think we were totally unprepared for the sheer impact this week's Chapter Book of the Week had on us both...
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ReaditDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 29th June 2018: "If All The World Were..." by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys (Lincoln Children's Books)

I don't think we were at all emotionally prepared for our second book of the week this week. Not prepared at all...
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ReadItDaddy's Comic of the Week - Week Ending 29th June 2018: "All Summer Long" by Hope Larson (FirstSecond Books)

Our Comic of the Week is a fabulously observed slice of teen angst and summer madness wrapped up between the covers of a blissfully brilliant graphic novel. It's summertime, let's dive in...
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ReadItDaddy's First Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 29th June 2018: "The Truth about my Unbelievable School" by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud (Chronicle Books)

The tall-tale telling kid from the superb "The Truth About my Unbelievable Summer" is back - and this time he doesn't need to stretch the truth, reality is weird enough as it is...!
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Thursday 28 June 2018

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - June 2018

We are literally kicking off our Chapter Book Roundup this month with a fantastic footie-based book that's sure to give your World Cup fans plenty of entertainment (if you can pry them away from the TV and all the matches!)

"Hubert and the Magic Glasses" by Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman is the story of a team that - well, let's face it - won't be bothering the upper echelons of world cup stardom any time soon.

The Able Ants are - for want of a better word - pants.

Hubert does not help. He enjoys football, but he struggles to maintain his skills. 

Maybe magic glasses are the answer? At the very least they might stop Hubert mistaking dog food for breakfast cereal. 

Taking the neat approach of giving kids of all abilities a chance to shine as central characters in a story, Hubert's uplifting tale is a really good read for kids who are just beginning to move on from picture books towards their first early chapter readers. 

"Hubert and the Magic Glasses" by Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman is out now, published by New Frontier Publishing. 

We're sticking with New Frontier for our next couple of books, including "Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Hidden Giant" by Jess Black. 

Again, a series of books for younger kids just cutting their teeth with chapter fiction, meet Eve and Oscar, two unlikely friends who accidentally tap in to the power of the crystals and are thrust in to different and often dangerous worlds. 

In this adventure they are thrown into the land of giants, a realm in turmoil. 

Can they help the giants before their world is destroyed? 

The series explores themes of the environment, resilience, and community as well as friendship and fantasy and is again absolutely spot on for kids moving on from picture books to more wordy fantasy stuff. 

"Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Hidden Giant" by Jess Black is out now, published by New Frontier Publishing. 

Science fiction fans are also well served by New Frontier in a series of exciting novels set in the solar system. 

Meet Jake and his friends in the superb "Jake in Space" series of books by Candice Lemon-Scott with illustrations by Celeste Hulme. 

Jake and his friends are on a mission to Mercury to watch the planets align.

When Henry the cyborg reveals that they are actually on a secret CIA mission, the group must work together to thwart a villainous plan to destroy the entire solar system, planet by planet. 

Jake in Space is a series of sci-fi adventure stories full of action and suspense. 

In each story, the Central Intergalactic Agency (CIA) sends its cyborg, Henry, on a secret mission. Jake ends up helping his cyborg friend but things never seem to go according to plan.

Perfect for early readers who love exciting sci-fi, "Jake in Space: Mercury Rising" and other titles in this stunning series are available now, published by New Frontier Publishing. 

Changing tack entirely now for a gripping middle grade / early YA winner from Charli Howard and Nosy Crow. 

"Splash" is the stunning story of Molly who is in her final year of primary school, with secret dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer. 

Having always lived in the shadow of her manipulative friend, Chloe, Molly finally has the chance to compete in a regional swimming contest and define herself on her own terms. 

But with the pressure of fitting in, and the sudden arrival of her mysterious mum, Molly is presented with an almost impossible choice. Should she give up on her dreams for a shot at popularity?

A hugely exciting debut with a classic underdog story, a wonderfully relatable protagonist, and an important message of friendship, body positivity, and celebrating who you are. We've come to expect the very best from Nosy Crow and "Splash" does not disappoint. 

"Splash" by Charli Howard is out on the 5th July 2018, published by Nosy Crow. 

We've still got lots of lovely books to get through so what's next? Oooer, this sounds squishy!

David Solomons' "My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar" definitely IS squishy - and evil.

In a bizarre accident, Luke and his brother have swapped bodies! UGH!

Zack now has Luke's weird feet while Luke has Zack's SUPERPOWERS! Talk about a bad deal!

Now he needs another world-threatening adventure to try them out. Could a family mini-break at Great Minds Leisure Park be his chance?

Probably, because that's where his super-clever arch-enemy lurks, fermenting dastardly plans and bubbling gently... 'My Arch-Enemy Is a Brain In a Jar' is the fourth instalment of Luke's laugh-out-loud adventures.

From the author of 'My Brother Is a Superhero', winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the British Book Industry Awards Children's Book of the Year, and 'My Gym Teacher Is an Alien Overlord', winner of a Lollies Laugh Out Loud 2017 Book Award.

It's a rip-roaring adventure that definitely had us giggling. Pick up "My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar" by David Solomons, out now from Nosy Crow. 

Got a sweet tooth? You're going to love this next one then - or will you because it starts off in a city where sweets and cakes and treats are BANNED!

In Lavie Tidhar's "Candy" Nelle Faulkner is a 12-year-old private detective looking for her next client.

So when notorious candy gangster Eddie de Menthe walks into her office (her dad's garden shed) and asks her to find a missing teddy bear, Nelle takes the case.

But as soon as the teddy turns up, Eddie himself goes missing.

Can Nelle track them both down... before she comes to a sticky end? Nelle's going to need help on this one, time to partner up!

If you're not craving a huge bag of pick and mix by the end of this one there's no hope for you.

"Candy" by Lavie Tidhar is out now, published by Scholastic. 

Another real treat now, this time a slice of darkly delicious fantasy that may become your new favourite obsession.

The stunning debut from Juman Malouf, "The Trilogy of Two" has been optioned for a movie treatment by none other than Steven Spielberg so if that's not endorsement enough, you can also take our recommendation on this being absolutely brilliant stuff.

Identical twins Sonja and Charlotte are musical prodigies with extraordinary powers. Born on All-Hallows-Eve, the girls could play music before they could walk. 

They were found one night by Tatty, the Tattooed Lady of the circus, in a pail on her doorstep with only a note and a heart-shaped locket. They've been with Tatty ever since, roaming the Outskirts in the circus caravans, moving from place to place.

But lately, curious things have started to happen when they play their instruments. During one of their performances, the girls accidentally levitate their entire audience, drawing too much unwanted attention. 

Soon, ominous Enforcers come after them, and Charlotte and Sonja must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past.

Juman's highly original characters, gorgeously involved and intricate plotting and breathtaking conclusion will have you gasping for more. The sort of book that you will end up reading long into the wee small hours. 

"The Trilogy of Two" by Juman Malouf is out now, published by Pushkin Children's Books. 

Next, a unique and extremely thought provoking book that tackles the migrant crisis from a child's perspective.

Onjali Q Rauf's "The Boy at the Back of the Class" highlights the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn't always make sense.

"There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.

He's nine years old (just like me), but he's very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn't like sweets - not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite!

But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn't very strange at all. He's a refugee who's run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help.

That's where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we've come up with a plan. . ."

Full of warmth with a huge beating heart pounding out this important message, it deserves to be read by everyone, young and old.

"The Boy at the Back of the Class" by Onjali Q Rauf is out in July, published by Orion Children's Books. 

A real treat next, with a new series of stories kicking off from genius author Will Mabbit, with fantastic covers for these books by Chris Mould.

"Embassy of the Dead" is a ghoulish treat that begins after Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger.

Jake accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it's as fatal as it sounds) and now he's running for his life! But luckily Jake isn't alone - he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) - Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox (our absolute favourite character in this, who steals just about every single scene) - have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for!

Perfect for kids who love spooky goings on, with a touch of supernatural magic sprinkled over for good measure. Catch "The Embassy of the Dead" by Will Mabbitt and Chris Mould, out now from Orion Children's Books. 

Exciting stuff next, and another new book series - this time from Janina Ramirez.

"Riddle of the Runes (Viking Mysteries Book 1)" is a glorious and sprawling tale from the Viking age featuring a gutsy new heroine that girls and boys will love reading about.

Alva is a wild one who always thinks she knows better than her parents. As Alva rushes through the trees in the dead of night with her sniffer wolf, Fen, she secrently knows that she's taking a huge risk. 

Being out alone when there's a kidnapper on the loose is reckless, but if she ever wants to be an investigator like her Uncle Magnus, she'll need to be first to the crime scene. 

But what Alva discovers raises more questions than it answers, drawing her into a dangerous search for truth, and for treasure.

One of the most breathtakingly original historic novels for children that we've read in a long time, it's like a kid-friendly version of the Ellis Peters "Cadfael" books but with a ton more excitement for middle graders who love an intricate mystery. 

"Riddle of the Runes" by Janina Ramirez is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Childrens Books. 

Something for younger readers now with a highly amusing and brilliantly illustrated story for early chapter readers.

"Me and Mister P: Ruby's Star" by Maria Farrer and Daniel Rieley features a very friendly and sometimes quite helpful polar bear named Mr P.

Well, Mr P does try - but Ruby finds him 'trying' in an entirely different way when he moves in and turns her life upside down. 

But in this rather lovely heartfelt little story Ruby may not realise that she actually does need the help of a big fuzzy fellah who has the best of intentions, and might just convince Ruby that she's worth something after all, and to believe in herself more. 

Fabulously written with a whomping great big heart, and super little illustrations throughout, it'll definitely win you over. 

"Me and Mr P: Ruby's Star" by Maria Farrer and Daniel Rieley is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Another corker from blog fave Anne Booth now, with another super little story in her "Magical Kingdom of Birds" series. 

This time it's the turn of "The Sleepy Hummingbirds" in a story illustrated by Rosie Butcher, full of the dazzling colours and beautiful songs of the world's most amazing birds. 

When Maya receives a special colouring book - The Magical Kingdom of Birds - she is transported to a beautiful realm filled with magnificent birds and their fairy friends.

But the kingdom is in trouble - evil Lord Astor has a plan to capture and cage the tiniest residents, the hummingbirds - and as Keeper of the Book it's up to Maya to protect them.

With colouring pages for your own kids to join in with, and a thrilling adventure story full of fantasy, feathered friends and of course a huge dose of magic, this is also brilliant for younger readers and we're so happy to see Anne going from success to success!

"Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Sleepy Hummingbirds" by Anne Booth and Rosie Butcher is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

We're wrapping up our June roundup with a superb mystery from super-talented author Abie Longstaff, the 2nd book in her fantastic "The Trapdoor Mysteries" series.

Continuing the adventures of Tally, a code-breaking, animal-loving servant girl and her best friend, a squirrel named Squill, who solve mysteries with the help of a secret library, "The Scent of Danger" follows on from February's excellent "A Sticky Situation" with another brilliantly eye-catching cover and internal illustrations from  super-talented illustrator James Brown.

Orphan Tally is the servant girl at Mollett Manor - and she's also the Secret Keeper of the magical library hidden beneath a trapdoor, underneath the manor's grounds. 

Along with Squill the squirrel, she uses the enchanted books to solve crimes. So when Lady Mollett's new puppy, Widdles, is kidnapped, Tally and Squill head straight to the library. But will they be able to catch the dognapper or is it already too late?

Chock full of excitement, mystery and a fantastic line in tongue-in-cheek humour, it's reminiscent of the very best Enid Blyton mysteries, but with a whopping dose of charm and brilliance all of its own. 

Catch up with "The Trapdoor Mysteries: The Scent of Danger" (Book 2) by Abie Longstaff, out now and published by Little, Brown. 

Phew! It's a wrap! Tune in when we look at even more chapter book brilliance in July. See you then!

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Books that stick, books that don't - What happens when your child starts to leave picture books behind? - A ReadItTorial

As our blog races ever closer to its 8th birthday (I know, can you believe it's been going that long? I certainly can't) It's a good time to reflect on how a child's reading journey constantly changes and evolves as they get older.

In particular it's interesting to dig through the books that have stuck with us for more or less the entire blogging journey. Books that are so utterly amazing that even now they still regularly crop up in bedtime reads - as I still manage to squeeze most of our picture book reading into bedtimes when reading picture books perfectly squeezes in between my daughter's own chapter book reading (plus, hey, we run a book blog - we've got to read the books we get sent otherwise what would be the point, eh?)

Starting off with Helen Cooper's utterly sublime "The Bear Under the Stairs".

Back when we first encountered this book we didn't like it at all - at least C didn't because she found it quite a scary book so it ended up garnering a zero out of five (back when we did scores).


Then something odd happened. C would (rather frustratingly) grab this book again and again on our library trips, demanding to have it read to her. I would like to think that some of the reason for this was my own interpretation of the bear's voice (he doesn't actually speak in the book but I used to 'ad lib' helpful little speeches from the bear in between page turns to try and make the story a bit less scary, adding a gleeful gurgling voice to the readings).

So we re-reviewed the book, bought our own copy and...well the rest is history. We have ended up reading it time and time again and both love it to bits. The simple tale of a boy who imagines (or does he?) that a bear is actually living in the understairs cupboard, coming out at night to indulge in various bear (and not-so-bear) like pursuits. If you're familiar with Helen's books (and you should be, they're all absolutely brilliant) you'll know that as much of a story happens in the illustrations as it does in the text. Truly wonderful.

It's such a great book that entertains 10 year old C just as much as it began to work its charms on her when she was much younger (and the end never, ever gets old!)

Casting eyes over our shelves for other examples of books that have been read and re-read there's also "Not Now, Bernard" by David McKee.

This one had far more instant appeal to C. When she was tiny she seemed to love books featuring monsters and this one just grabbed her right away.

Though again when we originally reviewed it, it only got 4 out of 5 stars.


We re-reviewed it after we'd moved away from giving books scores out of 5 (which always felt like a slightly odd thing to do anyway) and yet it still didn't get a coveted "Book of the Week" from us (it most certainly would if we took another look at it now).

McKee's timeless and also very timely story of what happens to a boy who is blithely ignored by his parents (let's face it, if you rewrote it now Bernard's parents would probably be glued to their mobile phones rather than digging into the newspaper or doing the housework). After he discovers a monster living in the garden, the book takes a rather hilarious (some might even say shocking) turn.

 It is just achingly funny, and the sort of children's story that sticks in the mind, mostly because in our rather cotton-wool-wrapped modern world you couldn't imagine a publisher wanting anything to do with a book where the main character gets gruesomely eaten half way through.  It demands to be read and re-read, and again this is one that regularly crops up in our reading pile - we just can't get enough of the way the book cleverly loops back in on itself at the end.

With the way we organise books at home, sometimes we end up 'archiving' certain books in our overflow cupboard (you've all got one of these, right? Either that or a lot more bookshelves than we've got, I guess!)

When we rediscover them - sometimes years later - it's a joyful rediscovery that reminds us just how great those books were, and how they still work even as both of us grow older.

So it was when re recently rediscovered Rob Scotton's original "Splat the Cat" books. The very first one was one of C's Bookstart books and she fell completely head over heels in love with it.

Again I'd love to think that a lot of that was due to me adopting a curious Lenny Henry-like Brummie accent for splat during read-aloud readings of the story, but the reality is that Rob's story is such a fabulous little (wibbly wobbly) tale of a cat's first day at school, and the anxieties that so many kids face about their first day and all the worries that they build up in their mind - before rushing home to talk about just how great school actually was.

The artwork really has to be mentioned too, it's just totally lovely and chock full of hilarious little details (We used to giggle at Seymour's "Black Olive" nose and the various kittens in Splat's class with their creative gaps in their teeth!)

So what makes a book 'stick'? Why do some picture books lend themselves to being read again and again and again, even when a child knows what's coming and what to expect? Even when that book's text is really simple?

"Pants" (and its follow up - "More Pants") by Giles Andreae and Nick Sharratt are great examples of books that were demanded again, and again and again at bedtimes back when C was really beginning to love books and stories, and could start choosing what we read to her each night.

These are both great because you almost sing along with them as you read. The rhymes are utterly perfect, the artwork is big and bold and they're just the right kind of silliness that you sometimes really need after a hectic day.

We thought C would be completely 'over them' by now but because both my wife and I used to read these to her, both in different ways (quite unusual for us as we both used to favour books we liked to read to her rather than our tastes crossing over) I think she got double the value from these.

Oddly though, there is also a "Socks" book by Giles and Nick - which C absolutely HATED so we've never tried that one again.

One more to squeeze in (well, sort of two really as neither C or I can fully agree on this one).

"That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown" by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton was the first in the "Emily Brown" series, and one of the earliest books to regularly make our library borrowing pile week after week.

Again, a lot of the success of this book comes from the fact that it's such a ludicrously simple idea for a story - a little girl with a beloved bunny toy refuses to give it up for all the amazing alternatives she's offered by a rather naughty princess. So the princess STEALS Stanley in a rather shocking move - before Emily Brown decides enough is enough and goes to get her bunny back.

We're underselling it woefully here, it's just utterly perfect and again a story that ended up becoming a piece of performance art as I ended up making up a series of silly 'posh' military-style voices for the various Army / Air Force / Navy commanders in this tale.

The reason C and I disagree on which of the Emily Brown books is best is because I also rather love "Emily Brown and the Thing" too..

I just love the silliness of The Thing's behaviour, and the poor thing actually being scared of...THINGS (and of course there's that killer line about scoffing 100 burgers plus an apple 'for the vitamins').

Again a great opportunity for lots of silly voices, Cressida's storytelling is sublime (well, duh, I mean she's only one of the best children's writers of the last umpteen years) and Neal Layton's artwork is always, always brilliant in everything he does.

So pleased to hear that a new Emily Brown book is on the way later on in the year, we'll be waiting in the queue, mark my words.

Returning to the eternal question, what makes these books stick? I think in each case with the books above, each has a very distinctive story or 'gimmick' that works in a similar way to your favourite comfy pair of slippers, or your favourite food.

Even though you know what to expect each time, it's the sheer feelgood feeling of opening these books and diving in that provides the buzz and the long-lasting long-term buzz at that.

As you can imagine, after reviewing thousands and thousands of books over the last 8 years there are many more that we didn't have room to feature, and even more that have been read once and never been touched again.

If I knew what the difference between the two types of picture books was, I'd somehow distil that into my own writing but it's such a tricky thing to try and quanitify. If I ever do discover the answer I'm definitely keeping it to myself :)

If you haven't encountered any of the above books or are missing one or two in your collection, we can comfortably recommend them all - I mean if they're good enough for us for 8 years of reading and re-reading, they might just have the same effect on your little ones too!

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Wednesday 27 June 2018

"Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture" by Joshua David Stein and Julia Rothman (Phaidon)

It's not very often that you get to read a fantastic original book for children about architecture...
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Tuesday 26 June 2018

Spot the Difference At the Beach / Spot the Difference In the Park by Naomi Wilkinson (Lincoln Children's Books)

Here's a pair of deliciously designed and illustrated sturdy books for your little ones with tons and tons to see and spot...
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Monday 25 June 2018

"Don't Feed the Bear" by Kathleen Doherty and Chip Wass (Sterling)

A war of words with bear vs brain! Set your picnic baskets to stun with "Don't Feed the Bear" by Kathleen Doherty and Chip Wass...
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Friday 22 June 2018

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd June 2018: "Thornhill" by Pam Smy (David Fickling Books)

This week's Chapter Book of the Week is a book that has been catching my eye ever since it first arrived in bookstores last summer...
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ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd June 2018: "Lily's Cat Mask" by Julie Fortenberry (Viking Books)

Our second Book of the Week this week is just the sort of book we've been clamouring about lately...and it's just perfect!
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Two engaging board books for tiddly colour fans. Let's take a look at "Find Colours" and "These Colours are Bananas" by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford (Phaidon)

Here's a couple of adorable and durable little books for your tiniest of tinies to help them learn a little more about colours...
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd June 2018 - "Dr Christian's Guide to Growing Up Online" by Dr Christian Jessen (Scholastic)

Our first Book of the Week this week is an absolutely brilliant and essential guide to growing up that encompasses the ever-present information superhighway...
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Thursday 21 June 2018

"Publishers rely too much on 'Accessible Language'" - Book snobbery or a valid point? A ReadItTorial

It's that time of year once again when the publishing industry turns its steely gaze to all things award-shaped, and the high profile winners of some of the most prestigious awards traditionally open their mouths wide and stick both feet in.

This year, it's the turn of CILIP Carnegie Medal winner Geraldine McCaughrean. In her acceptance speech Geraldine chose to round on publishers who continually fall back on 'accessible prose' when choosing which books to publish.

You can read a little more of the speech in this Guardian article.

Reading the article, my first reaction was befuddlement. Here then was yet another author launching into a diatribe against a very narrow specific part of the broader picture in children's publishing and reading,  expressing concerns that the level of language in younger children's books will not give them the necessary ammo to enter secondary school with an adequate enough vocabulary.

Publishers were under fire but the tone of the article seemed to imply that younger children need to be saturated in complex language earlier on in their reading experience - perhaps, we assume,  so they can pass a load of tests or reading assessments later on, or be ready to engage with Shakespeare or whatever other 'hateful' set texts or mundane out of date classics they'll be set in their secondary school years.

We've seen this argument many times before, mostly from government education ministers who believe that kids are being weaned onto reading through basic and simplified routes and are somehow missing out from not being brought up on a diet of 'propah' lit.

For every kid who actively enjoys reading stuff by David Walliams, Jaqueline Wilson, Jeff Kinney or other 'frowned upon' authors, there are those little darlings who truly love the work of Yeats, Keats, Hardy, Dickens and of course the Bard himself, eschewing the 'tabloid-level' stuff to polish off their lingual skills at expert levels. More power to them if that's their bag.

The message in the Guardian article seems mixed, and I hold some faith in the notion that Geraldine was quoted entirely out of context here and was perhaps in fact 'having a go' at the editorial process itself.  Perhaps the side-criticism against publishers was that they often lack the cojones to take risks, push for innovation and originality and need to stop treating kids like dullards who are incapable of absorbing complex stories or language. I truly hope that was the case.

The other side of the coin is clear. We don't exist in an era where kids have a mere handful of distractions that they fit in around the ridiculous levels of homework (and boring reading) they'll have to wade through at and outside of school, at early years, junior or secondary level.

We DO exist in an era where kids are becoming readers again, and they are choosing their own routes into reading (which is exactly as it should be!) Get kids onto the subject of the books they read (and obsess about) and they have far more of a critical eye than folk like Geraldine perhaps understand, in fact purely from the article text I wonder how long Geraldine has actually spent engaging with the kids she's talking about. Surely a lot of time, as a children's author?

It's worth trying yourself. Speak to a group of book-reading kids around the ages of 6-12 (sometimes even earlier than that too) and you may well hear the usual best-selling authors (celebrity or otherwise) being mentioned, but then you'll also hear kids who obsess about everything written by Robin Stevens, or have preorders in for everything put out by Philip Reeve, Peter Bunzl or perhaps even Geraldine McCaughrean herself.

It is a dangerous and sweeping statement to make, the assumption that a handful of 'accessible' books represents the industry as a whole.

Not so, and over the last 2-3 years I've personally seen and read books aimed at 6-12 that do feature complex language, do feature mature ideas that don't talk down to kids and will ultimately build readers out of kids who could so easily just shrug their shoulders at the classics, pick up their tablets and floss their way to victory in another mindless round of "Fortnite" instead.

I would  hate to see the industry turn its back on accessible books, sometimes the only route in for readers who lack the confidence or the language skills to leap straight on board with more complex and challenging work.


As a prime example of this, there were very few interesting and accessible books around when my brother in law was young and struggling to engage with reading and I sometimes wonder if things would've turned out differently for him if accessible (non school / academic) books were more commonplace. Not just basic language development books (I'm pretty sure he had his fill of those) but real proper accessible stories with plots that kids could properly engage with, and characters to pique their curiosity. Stories are universal, they are not purely for the 'elite' who have mastery of the English (or any other) language.

Way back in time I was once a frustrated 4 year old who (as precocious as this sounds) couldn't stand Janet and John or Peter and Jane books (the only really accessible books we were given in school) and was weaned onto Tolkein, John Gordon and Ian Serrailler at an early age by a teacher who (thankfully) understood that I wasn't a reluctant reader, just a reluctant reader of mindless and unchallenging crap.

Perhaps the sort of reader Geraldine is talking about is the reader not being served by the likes of Biff, Chip and Kipper. Readers who at an early age do develop a taste for work that indicates a higher reading age but they do not need to be served in preference to accessible fans, everyone needs to be catered for in reading with books of equal quality and originality.

I reiterate - I truly hope this is the point Geraldine is trying to make. This and perhaps even a point that there are so many words that quietly and silently disappear from the English language as so many others find their way into the new editions of the Oxford English Dictionary every year, much to the horror of literary folk who would rather they didn't (again, watch out for "Flossing" this year, without a doubt). Let kids discover lost language but never cram it down their throats at the expense of impacting their enjoyment of reading.

However, if there was an element of book snobbery in her speech and that was the way it was meant, then I'm extremely sad to hear that because nothing turns kids off reading quicker than a "Well Meaning" adult telling them what they should and shouldn't be reading.
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