Thursday, January 17, 2019

Are books about the paranormal too 'twee' for today's kids? This Week's #ReadItTorial

It's definitely something that's common to a lot of miscreants my age, that we grew up in the 1970s and 80s on a diet of books that - as kids - we probably shouldn't have been anywhere near.

There was a lot of talk on Twitter about the return of Usborne's truly brilliant (and quite traumatic) "The World of the Unknown" range, including the pinnacle of scariness, the "Ghosts" edition.

Thanks to Usborne's fantastic writing teams, and a ton of quite harrowing photos and illustrations, these books are etched in the memories of an entire generation. I remember getting copies of these through (of all things) our School Book Club, sneaking them home and then actually being too petrified to read them at bedtime, waiting until the daylight hours and bright sunshine to dip into them

So hearing that Anna Howorth over at Usborne is considering petitioning to bring them back into print is just the best news ever. My childhood copies have long been lost, and they're actually fairly sought after online so other than stumbling across them in secondhand book stores or at boot sales, I didn't think we'd ever see their ilk again.

It is a bit of a 'lost' genre for today's kids, the only recent example I can recall of a book dealing with mysteries and the paranormal is B Small's truly excellent "Real Life Mysteries" which did a fantastic job of updating the whole mysteries / phenomenon book for a whole new generation (and won a Blue Peter Award for it to boot!)

I started to think back to my two "Bad Influence" uncles who weaned me onto books about UFOs, mysteries and paranormal goings on when I was a nipper. They were the ones who used to buy truckloads of books by Erich Von Daniken, John A Keel and Arthur C Clarke and many other luminaries who used to publish paperback and pocket edition books full of weird happenings across the globe.

TV used to have lots of different shows also focusing on weird phenomenon too.

Anyone remember Leonard Nimoy hosting the "In Search Of..." series?

Oh and of course, speaking of traumatic childhoods, there was always this show - the theme tune alone used to scare the living daylights out of me even before ol' Arthur cropped up to do his short pieces to camera ahead of the show's theme for that week...

I still have this book and I still can't believe how scary the show was as a kid
Then there was this. A real game-changer, a whopping great big paperback edition of this was my go-to for weirdness as a kid...

"The World Atlas of Mysteries" by Francis Hitching. Featuring THAT picture of someone's burned up ankle in a spontaneous human combustion case. ARGHH you know the one I mean. 
My uncles also collected "The Unexplained" which was a weekly magazine all about this stuff, and later on I inherited another bizarre but completely enthralling book about weird creatures from them too:

The cause of so many nightmares. Totally engrossing!
This was my introduction to "The West Virginia Mothman" - a strange winged beastie which inhabited a huge region around the Blue Ridge Mountains back in the 1960s and scared the plops out of local residents, with many eyewitness reports collected by Keel himself as he visited the area.

I suspect that all these books fed into my love of science fiction and fantasy too, and of course ghost stories and I wonder if there would be a market for books like this these days.

I guess in today's internet generation of kids, it might just be that today's bookworms aren't really interested in mild scares from real-world mysteries which have probably long been debunked but weirdly I still find myself drawn to the "Mysterious Universe" website to check on the daily goings-on in the worlds of mysterious phenomenon and the paranormal.

Who doesn't love a good ghost story after all?

Really hope Usborne do bring these back and if they don't I might just bloomin' well write my own mysterious phenomenon book and start pitching it instead!
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"Animal Worlds of Wonder" by Anita Ganeri and Maddy Vian (20 Watt Publishing)

Time for another globe-trotting book that finds out all about the animals that live on our planet, and their various habitats right across the globe...
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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"A is for Activist" by Innosanto Nagara (Seven Stories Press)

This is certainly an ABC book like no other. Ready to teach your little ones how to stand up for their rights and the rights of others?

In "A is for Activist" your little ones can learn a new way of doing so along with learning their alphabet.

Each page spread uses rhyming text to put across an important point about activism, equality, politics and protest in a way that is intriguing and invites children to be curious and find out more.

It's never too early to get kids thinking about how their world is changing, and also how they can change their world in peaceful and thought-provoking ways. So let's take a look inside at some of the gorgeous spreads from Innosanto...

I and J! We say YAY!
The art style is edgy, thoroughly modern and really eye-catching, really helping to put across each point as it's made.

Hoist up a banner, create a co-op! Help each other out (and don't forget to spot the cats!)
As parents look to their children to help take up their causes, this is a fabulous introductory book to start that process rolling in a really cool way.

X and Y. Malcolm and You!
A truly stunning and interesting book this, that deserves to win a ton of awards and become a classroom staple for early years without a doubt.

"A is for Activist" by Innosanto Nagara is out now, published by Seven Stories Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Start your year in a contemplative, restful and creative way with a fabulous selection of "Mini Meditations" books from Liminal 11 Publishing

Some of our favourite creative folk are behind two brilliant and inspirational little books from innovative publishers Liminal 11.

Well known for their mindful and soothingly relaxing titles, Liminal 11's new "Mini Meditations" series is a real treat for the eyes and the mind.

Starting with "Mini Meditations on Joy" from comic superstars Adam and Lisa Murphy, this diminutive but packed little pocket-sized book is full of wisdom and inspirational quotes from historical and contemporary figures ranging from The Dalai Lama to Maya Angelou.

Fans of Adam and Lisa's "Corpse Talk" will instantly love the art style and illustrations that accompany each quote. We giggled a bit at the forewords from Adam and Lisa (where Adam comes across as slightly curmudgeonly and even a bit grumpy, whereas Lisa is absolutely effervescent and enthusiastic!)

"Mini Meditations on Joy" by Adam and Lisa Murphy is out now, published by Liminal 11. 

There's also the truly brilliant "Mini Meditations on Creativity" from supernova-bright comic star Tillie Walden.

Completely in love with her graphic novel work, I was delighted to find her utterly mesmerising artwork accompanying this set of thoughtful quotes about creativity, again from some of the most famous (and not so famous) creative souls in history and popular culture.

Tillie's drawings fit each inspirational quote absolutely perfectly, and these two books are absolutely fantastic if you want a quick booky gift to give to your favourite person for practically any occasion.

"Mini Meditations on Creativity" by Tillie Walden is out now, published by Liminal 11. 

(Both titles kindly supplied for review).
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Monday, January 14, 2019

"Mission Defrostable (Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast Book 3)" by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney (Sterling Publishing)

Our tummies are rumbling in anticipation of another grand food-based adventure with Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast.

In "Mission Defrostable" by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney, the dynamic comestible duo are back for an adventure that will give you the chills.

Something is wrong, very wrong in the fridge.

Everything is encrusted with ice, and even Sir French Toast's moustache has ice crystals in it, let alone Lady Pancake's hair.

It's time to embark on a mission to find out what's gone wrong, and why their world is slowly being wrapped in a blanket of ice.

Enlisting the help of an unlikely ally, and with the aid of the shady (literally, she wears shades!) Agent Asparagus, it's a mystery ready to unwrap for our heroes.

Brrr! It's cold in the fridge! Colder than usual! 
The story unfolds in fun to read rhyming text from Josh, with Brendan's tummy-rumblingly great illustrations of a vast food-populated world nestling in your icebox.

Who is this mysterious character? No it's not Britney Spears, but Agent Asparagus!
When the two finally track down their ultimate foe, there's a huge twist in the tale - which we won't ruin for you of course.

C really loved me reading this book aloud to her, mostly because it's a beautifully flowing rhyming story that has plenty of chuckles and surprises along the way.


"Mission Defrostable (Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast Book 3)" by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney is out now, published by Sterling (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday, January 11, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th January 2019: "The Silent Guides / My Hidden Chimp" by Prof Steve Peters (Lagom Publishing)

This week's pair of thought-provoking books take a step away from the usual 'mindfulness' model of books we've seen quite a lot on the blog recently, instead providing an utterly compelling and fascinating deep dive into why we are the way we are.

"The Silent Guides" and its companion book for younger readers "My Hidden Chimp" by Professor Steve Peters are mind-mapping manuals for folk who, like us, are completely fascinated by human (and for that matter simian) behaviour.

Neuroscience is, of course, a subject very close to home for us - and we're particularly interested not only in how the brain works, but what can define someone's character based on their daily actions or behaviour.

The main reason neuroscience is particularly fascinating to us is because of my wife's epilepsy. Helping us to understand how the brain functions at its most basic level, but also at some of its more complex behavioural and higher functional levels really does help us to also understand what epilepsy is, and how it's like a broadcast storm across the brain that can lead to the seizures and lapses my wife suffers from.

In "The Silent Guides" Steve explores some neuroscience and psychological aspects of the developing mind, unconscious thinking, behaviours, habit formation and related topics in an easy to understand way. The book offers practical ideas and thoughts for the reader to reflect on using 10 helpful habits as examples. Mostly though the theory is that our "inner chimp" isn't something that we can control, but we can choose to be dominated by it, or perhaps make friends with it so that it can be useful to us. 

"My Hidden Chimp" which is the companion book, does a similar thing for children, listing ten helpful habits that kids can adopt in order to understand why they sometimes feel happy, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, excited or fearful. As my daughter described her inner chimp (which she named Abigail), we completed most of the exercises designed to heighten awareness of when "Abigail" was doing the talking, and perhaps when C could wrestle back a bit of that control and that voice back for herself. It was a hugely addictive exercise, and one we've thought about so many times since working through the books.

If you, like us, have a child with anxiety or perhaps a child that is prone to outbursts of frustration or anger, this book deftly explains where the roots of those behavioural traits lie, and the answers will actually surprise you as much as they did us. It's not purely passed on to our kids through our genes, but there may be many underlying causes - and this book offers ways to tackle those behaviours head on.

It was great to hear Prof Steve on Radio 2 just before Christmas on the Chris Evans Show, stating quite clearly that he's reluctant to be in the spotlight because of his books, but they're compelling and make so much sense that we'd love to see him do a tour off the back of these. 

You'll be utterly gripped by both of these, and it's also worth letting your kids loose on "The Silent Guides" if they're up to it and fancy seeing the other side of the coin, and perhaps seeing how adults feel and what they sometimes have to deal with. 

Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Sum these books up in a sentence: Give yourself a brain boost with a whole way of thinking about your behaviour, your self confidence, emotions and mental well being with some truly thought provoking ways of upping your mental game. 

"The Silent Guides" and the accompanying "My Hidden Chimp" by Professor Steve Peters are both out now, published by Lagom Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th January 2019: "Polar Bear Island" by Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos (Sterling Publishing)

Our Second Picture Book of the Week this week is a subtle but extremely cleverly written and illustrated picture book that couldn't be more timely if it tried...
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ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 11th January 2019: "Conspiracy of Ravens" by Leah Moore, John Reppion and Sally Jane Thompson (Dark Horse Comics)

Our Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week this week is a darkly delicious and potent mix of mystery, magic and suspense that centres around a creepy old house...
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 11th January 2019: "The Human Body: A Pop-Up Guide to Anatomy" by Richard Walker and Rachel Caldwell (Templar Publishing)

Our first Picture Book of the Week this week is a serious "WOW!" book, and a thoroughly absorbing guide to what's under your skin...
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

"To Rhyme or not to Rhyme" - When did picture book commissioning editors and agents fall out of love with rhyming stories? A ReadItTorial

Our first ReadItTorial of 2019 was inspired by excellent poet and all round good egg Joshua Seigal who resides on Twitter as @soshuajeigal

Joshua's casual query to an agent was to ask whether rhyming children's stories were once again acceptable. It prompted a response from us that we've heard time and time again that publishing has 'fallen out of love' with rhyming stories, choosing only to publish rhyming PBs from a relatively small and well established 'elite' of arch-rhymers who seem to make it all look so easy.

Julia Donaldson - arguably one of the top bods when it comes to making rhyming stories that trip off the tongue - seemingly gets a pass despite the industry's usual warnings when it comes to would-be authors who feel they can cook up a rhyming storm just as easily as "The Gruffalo Lady" herself.

Joshua's poetry is awesome and funny, and kids love his work. But his tweets got us thinking about the rhyming stories we've read over the last few years, and how we've always looked for anything that can comfortably tick a couple of really important boxes.

1) Clever use of language, but absolutely pitch perfect meter. 

There is absolutely no wiggle room on this, not one tiny little bit. We've been notoriously tough on rhyming stories we've reviewed on the blog if they step away from this vital rule just to make a 'clunky' rhyme fit. It instantly breaks the rhythm of a piece of work for 'read aloud' parents. In some cases, and in quite well known children's books from major publishers we've encountered rhyming stories that feel like someone pushed a piano down a flight of stairs and wrote their piece to match the rhythm of that calamitous noise. Again back to Julia Donaldson and her stuff is so utterly well polished that this is rarely the case, so if your work does read as well as that, and is as polished as that, you're over the first hurdle.

2) There has to be a story in there that fits all the usual picture book rules.

Forget it if your rhyming story is too long, or goes into too much descriptive detail that could be picked up in the illustrations, or actually has zero plot at all but just features some cleverly composed lines. Kids still want a story, still want to be able to identify with the characters and the situations being described - and if the story rhymes then that's a bonus. Put it this way - if your story doesn't work when written in flat rhyming prose, it has naff all chance of working as a rhyming story.

3) Weirdly, rhyming books always seem to 'dilute' their main characters.

Again it feels like this is mostly because the writer has got so carried away with their cleverly rhymed lines that they've actually left out some of the most vital parts of what makes a picture book appeal to kids. Characters are (arguably) the most important part of a children's picture book story. These are the folk that your little darlings are going to be dressing up as on World Book Day, regardless of whether they're featuring in a story that tricks along with rhyming style. Even in some of the biggest and best rhyming picture books we've often been quite frustrated by the fact that characters rarely get any depth, definition or dimension and that's extremely puzzling. Think of a cracking example of a rhyming picture book...

The sublime "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss imagine if your core character could be as easily and universally recognised as that hat-wearing feline.

4) Likewise, rhyming books also seem to skip hugely on their setting / world building. 

For most writers who aren't also illustrating their rhyming books, it's fair to say that they rely on their illustrator partners to do a lot of the scene setting and world building for them. Yet again it feels like a common occurence that we find a rhyming picture book that treats the setting as a thin veneer, which again can dilute a book down into just being an exercise in 'clever' use of language. That won't float with kids. They really do need to feel that they can invest in the world your book and story is set in.

5) The whole "Translation / world rights / practicality of writing in one language" thing for publishers.

It's probably the number one thing you'll hear from agents and publishers if you feel that your rhyming story is good enough to submit. The main reason that rhyming stories are a big 'nay' is because most rhyming texts are absolute GITS to try and shift into another language. Most publishers are interested in titles and IPs that they can turn into global successes (though again if a book is good enough, domestic sales in the country of origin can often outweigh the necessity to produce something that works in any language / culture / translation). Agents and publishers are very unlikely to trust that kind of thing to a debut unless it's amazingly phenomenally ground-breakingly good and they believe in it entirely. Again very rare for debut authors to find themselves in this enviable situation.

6) Rhyming stories are sometimes seen as being limited in appeal to certain age groups. 

Most folk have a fondness for rhyming stories from their childhood - but quite often they're referring to stories that they enjoyed as quite young kids. It feels like it's even rarer to find a rhyming picture book that moves beyond the EYFS age groups into, for example, 7 upwards (though again we'll state that age ratings / groupings on children's stories are hugely subject to further scrutiny almost on an individual basis). So could it be true that publishers no longer want stories that might only appeal to such a small age group perhaps, and that's why rhyming stories have fallen out of favour?

7) Overall, kids really, REALLY do love clever rhymes. 

It's been reflected in our Book of the Week choices throughout the history of this blog. It's been described anecdotally again and again by all the folk we have met and know that have any dealings with kidlit, whether reading to classrooms full of kids in nursery or school, or in public readings in libraries etc. Kids love rhymes. So how do we convince the publishing industry to invest more in rhyming stories and authors who can lovingly craft clever verse?

8) On the flip side, a lot of new authors (particularly of picture books) fall into the "Bad Rhyming" trap.

Over the years we've seen a lot of writing by folk wanting to get their first published picture book out there and into eager hands. More often than not these are rhyming pieces of work that break just about every single rule around rhyming text, with an attitude of "Yeah that'll do for a kids book".

Nonononononononono. It simply won't do. Don't assume that you can slide just about any rhyme under a kid's nose and get instant approval, and don't assume that just because we're championing rhyming here that it's always the right way to go for your story. Again harking back to points made above, try your story without the rhymes - just as flat prose - and see if it works just as well. If the answer is yes, go back over the previous 7 points and polish that durned thing until it's like something Elizabeth Taylor would've worn on her ring finger.

9) There are so many rhyming variations so if one method doesn't suit, try another. 

Most of the time we've seen rhyming stuff that rhymes every alternate line. That's fine. That's great. That's a good path to producing a nice easy to read fun picture book that kids will love. But it's not the only way. There are so many different types of rhyme to choose from that there are even ones we didn't know about. For example have you heard of some of these types?

End rhymes. The usual 'rhyming the last word in each line' type of thing

"He made the tastiest milk shakes
by liquidising rancid snakes"

Internal rhymes. Rhyming within the same line, then passing the next line over without one.

"I looked upon rolling seas, my boat cut through with ease
No storm to hold us up, we were on our way"

Slant rhymes (or imperfect, partial, oblique, off-rhyming). These are a bit sneaky and a lot of first-time rhymers seem to love 'em but don't overdo it with these, they can swiftly become really annoying.

"I'll be riding shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feeling like someone, WITH YOUR MUM!"

Eye Rhymes. Words that look like they should rhyme but are actually pronounced differently. Not great to use in picture books particularly if you want to read them aloud.

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Though art more lovely and more temperate
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer's lease hath all too short a date."

(Temperate and Date wouldn't work as a read aloud rhyming pair)

So lots of choice! Choose wisely and your work will really pop!


10) Have fun - above all even if your ultimate aim isn't to get something published, and you've got a stack of rejection letters, that doesn't mean that kids won't still enjoy your work. 

Consider other means to get your poems and rhymes out there into the world. Elli Woollard (now a hugely successful children's author) started out by creating a fantastic poem blog called "Taking Words for a Stroll" (go google it) and this was a huge part of how she came to so many people's attention, tweeting about her poems and talking about them on social media. Book deals followed and...well the rest is history! So it definitely is possible - good luck with it folks!

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Celebrating another important book birthday with the 20th Anniversary Edition of "The Gruffalo" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Macmillan Children's Books)

The Gruffalo? The Gruffalo? It's 20 years old, don't you know!

Wow, is it really 20 years since Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's gigantic behemoth of a book redefined our expectations of what a humble children's picture book could turn into. The book sold by the bucketload, has been translated into many, many languages across the world, spawned a hugely successful animated film as well as a colossal tidal wave of book-related merchandise.

And it all began 20 years ago with a collaboration that has stood the test of time. Julia Donaldson's pitch-perfect rhymes and singsong story complimented perfectly by Axel Scheffler's bold bright and colourful artwork has ensured this mighty book's success for the last two decades.

It's a book that was one of the first titles we loaned from the library, before I finally relented and bought copies of "The Gruffalo" and "The Gruffalo Child" for C, just so we had our own copies to hand.

We've read it again and again, though in later years C hasn't demanded it as much. Perhaps there's room in the market for a Gruffalo middle grade book or two?

It's the story of a humble but extremely clever mouse, who uses his brains rather than his meagre brawn to successfully trick his way out of being eaten by various forest dwellers such as a fox, an owl and a snake.

Added fun with the anniversary edition as the cover slip folds out into a cardboard play scene. How awesome!

The looming threat of the mythical Gruffalo is enough to see off his attackers - until the delightful twist in the story that turns things completely upside down as The Gruffalo turns out to be very real, very big but thankfully pretty benign.

Kids love this book, parents love this book, and I'm pretty sure the publishers love its mighty sales too! One of the most important and influential picture books ever written, arguably and the 20th Anniversary Edition (with its fantastic cardboard play scene and new process drawings) is an absolute must.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A gigantic steamroller of a book that helped define what we've come to expect from modern picture books with a fantastically clever story, brilliant illustrations, perfect rhymes and a cast of awesome characters.

"The Gruffalo" (20th Anniversary Edition) is available today, published by Macmillan Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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"That's not my Puppy" 20th Anniversary Edition by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (Usborne Books)

Can you believe that the fantastic "That's Not My" books are celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year?

Wow! These were amongst C's favourite books when she was the tiniest of tinies, and Usborne are rolling out the gold carpet with special sparkly gold-edged-page editions of their best "That's Not My" books - including the one that kicked it all off. "That's Not My Puppy" by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells.

Wee ones love the multi-textured and tactile pages, and the books are wonderfully chunky and long lasting - standing up to even the most ardent chewing (whether by puppies or kids!)

Absolutely essential for little ones getting into books for the first time, the range is now colossal so head over to the Usborne web site to see the entire range.

Sum this book up in a sentence: An absolutely brilliant first book for any child, and a brilliantly imaginative range of subjects to keep all kids engaged in their first reading experiences, happy 20th Birthday!

"That's Not My Puppy" 20th Anniversary Edition is out now, published by Usborne Books (kindly supplied for review).
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"Kingdom" by Jon McNaught (Nobrow Press)

There's something to be said for a book that manages to perfectly encapsulate the essence of a typical British family holiday.

Jon McNaught's "Kingdom" is quite a strange little beastie, a graphic novel that feels more like a gorgeous piece of art than anything else. Yet it conveys a story in tightly rendered artwork and tiny little panels that so many of us will be utterly and completely familiar with.

A mum and her two kids are embarking on a holiday to a windswept caravan park seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

The book begins as their journey begins, complete with all the usual annoyances any journey in the British Isles comes complete with. Rubbish traffic, kids playing up in the car and kicking each other's seats, appallingly soulless motorway service areas - yet Jon gives them an almost ethereal beauty, thanks to some truly stunning art.

We both love how the book captures the child characters so accurately too.

Holiday! Celebrate! A book that perfectly captures a british seaside holiday. 
For example the younger sister is a bit of a daydreamer, consumed with all things girly. Her older brother is a typical teen boy, always with an edgy interest in anything remotely subversive.

A british holiday without torrents of rain? Unheard of!
Jon's tight panelling almost makes you dizzy with so many tiny little gorgeous panels crammed into most page spreads, with the book breaking out into full spread illustrations in places as well.

"Let's go to the museum!" (SO familiar, this!)
I was quite taken by this as it felt like it was mirroring my own childhood experiences of family holidays, and 5 (oh my god, FIVE!) people crammed into a Mini Metro along with their luggage, tootling off to some coastal caravan park.

 C was less impressed though I think it's probably because we don't actually have many holidays like this ourselves, almost a shame as there's an undeniable charm and appeal to something so simple and yet so satisfying.

"Kingdom" by Jon McNaught is out now, published by NoBrow Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"Alba the Hundred Year Old Fish" by Lara Hawthorne (Big Picture Press)

If there's one prediction we'd like to make - and truly hope for it to come true - it'd be that children's books continue to comment on the massive damage we're doing to our planet, encouraging our youngsters to take a stand and do something about it - and convince their daft elders to do the same.

In "Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish" by Lara Hawthorne a clear ecological message is beautifully woven into the story of Alba who loves to roam the oceans.

Alba has spent her entire life collecting precious objects that drift down to the ocean floor.

From delicate shells to brightly coloured coral, each year on her birthday she gathers one more precious item.

But over the years, Alba notices her collection is losing its sparkle and that the world is changing.

What are these bits of plastic and metal?
Alba loves to collect rare and precious objects in the oceans. 
As the coral reef fades, Alba decides to leave her home behind - and after a traumatic incident with a plastic bottle, Alba makes it her new mission in life to try and educate folk - to bring the oceans back to their former glory.

The coral reef is beautiful but how long can it stay that way if we continue to pollute our oceans?

After a year when the true extent of pollution in our oceans was finally brought into the public eye in the harrowing scenes witnessed in Blue Planet II, there's still a huge need for books like this. Not preachy, but full of glorious illustrations and a touching story that will really help to bring its point across.

Glorious stuff.

"Alba the Hundred Year Old Fish" by Lara Hawthorne is out now, published by Big Picture Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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"A Year of Nature Poems" by Joseph Coelho and Kelly Louise Judd (Wide Eyed Editions)

It's definitely never too late to start your year with a book that collects together all the amazing sights and sounds, smells and feelings of the seasons as you dip into "A Year of Nature Poems" by Joseph Coelho and Kelly Louise Judd.

Following each month through its accompanying seasons, Joseph's poems are a soothing balm in a sometimes crazy and hectic world - and at the moment, couldn't be more welcome for parents and children alike.

See how animals behave through the seasons, hibernating in Winter but coming out to play in the Spring

Follow the cycle of trees and plants, from the first blossoms of spring through to the stark winter wonderland in December. 

There are 12 inspiring poems in total from Joe, paired with folk art from Kelly to get your year off to a restful and mindful start. 

Here's a look inside: 

Beautiful isn't it? We knew you'd like it!

"A Year of Nature Poems" by Joseph Coelho and Kelly Louise Judd is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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"Hug this Book" by Barney Saltzberg and Fred Benaglia (Phaidon)

Encouraging a love for books in the very young is always made easier when you find a really cool and engaging board book you can share with them.

"Hug this book!" wears its heart on its sleeve, an unashamed celebration of all the ways books can be loved and shared with the tiniest of tinies.

Of course you can read a book but did you know you can smell a book? Share a book? Give a book as a gift? And of course hug it?

In Barney and Fred's (surely a name match made in heaven) lovely whimsical story you'll meet a cast of kids who truly love books and really love sharing them with all their friends too!

Books can be enjoyed just about everywhere!
With simple yet stylish illustrations using a reduced palette, this board book keeps the word count down too - so little ones of every age, right up to solo readers, can really get into the swing of the story quite quickly.

This is our favourite spread. A booky warm snuggly cuddle! Perfect for this time of year!
"Hug this book" by Barney Saltzberg and Fred Benaglia is out now, published by Phaidon (Kindly supplied for review)
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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"Collecting Cats" by Lorna Scobie (Scholastic)

We love cats, probably more than we love any other domesticated animal - so we had high hopes for Lorna Scobie's gorgeous looking "Collecting Cats".

A little girl has a grand and rather convoluted plan. She's going to collect cats. Lots of cats of all shapes and sizes.

But all she has is cheese!

So her plan evolves. Using the cheese the little girl decides to collect mice (successfully) - and you can probably guess what comes next.

The perfect mousey lure for all those beautiful moggies. The only problem is that a lot of cats are also a lot of work.

Perhaps the little girl might be better off starting - and staying - small scale!

If you've ever heard the expression "herding cats" you'll understand the spirit of this story. It feels like it needed something more in the actual 'story' department but if there's one thing we truly did love, it was Lorna's inventive and many hued moggies in all their glory.

"Collecting Cats" by Lorna Scobie is out now, published by Scholastic (kindly supplied for review). 
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"The Sound of Magic: Cinderella" by Sanna Mander (Lincoln Children's Books)

It takes a touch of magic for a classic fairy tale to be given a new lease of life with a sprinkle of fairy dust.

"The Sound of Magic: Cinderella" has a neat little wand tucked inside the cover, and once kids activate the book, they can read the story - and tap magic spots throughout the book to trigger accompanying music and sound effects to enhance the storytelling.

Everyone is familiar with the classic story of Cinderella, the poor downtrodden girl who is given her chance to shine at the Prince's Ball by her Fairy Godmother.

At the ball Cinderella truly stuns, and dances with the Prince - before dashing home just as Midnight strikes, leaving nothing behind but an exquisite glass slipper.

Sanna's retelling of the tale is purposely kept simple, so that the illustrations can shine through - and the addition of the neat wand will give this huge appeal to little ones who are just beginning to discover a world of fairy stories themselves.

Tap the yellow spots with the magic wand to unleash the audio magic!
It's a really great idea, and hopefully this is the first of a series of books that will use the same mechanism to truly bring stories to life.

Will cinders ever find her prince charming? 
"The Sound of Magic: Cinderella" by Sanna Mander is out now, published by Lincoln Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday, January 7, 2019

UK kids comics? Are these mythical beasts? We say NAY with some of the best publishers and comics hailing from this side of the Atlantic

A few short years ago, people would openly scoff at you if you dared ask about comics for kids. Supermarket magazine areas were (and sadly are) rammed with horrible ad-filled plastic-tat-toting licensed comics and magazines for kids that skipped on quality storytelling in favour of encouraging kids to nag their parents to buy even more tat.

But things have changed radically over the last few years, in the US undoubtedly but also in the UK where we're lucky enough to have several publishers going great guns in producing some of the best child-friendly comics and graphic novels money can buy.

We're kicking off our whirlwind tour of innovative UK kid comic publishers with Blank Slate, a mighty indie whose titles push way past the boundaries of what most folk will think of when they imagine what a modern child-friendly comic looks like.

Have a leaf through "Beetroot" for example. At first glance it's a surreal trippy story about a young boy making his way through a bizarre magical land, but author Barnaby Richards has constructed a glorious work of allegorical fiction based around the real-life experiences of what it is like for a child to grow up in a war zone.

Barnaby recounts how his family moved to Beirut in 1980 just as the already unstable situation in the Lebanon was about to turn into something worse. We see what it is like to live amidst chaos in a city where guns and bullets are commonplace, where danger lurks just round the corner. All seen through the eyes of a child who can’t get his tongue round the word Beirut–it becomes Beetroot–a world populated with his own wild imaginings as well as the reality of feeling he is living as if he were Lebanese: a blue eyed, Arab boy.

Gloriously original, harrowing and entertaining in equal measure, this is quite something. 

"Beetroot" by Barnaby Richards is published by Blank Slate and is available in good comic stores and online through the Blank Slate store

Next let's take a look at Self Made Hero publishing, who stormed the UK comics scene with a series of fantastic Manga adaptations of popular classic stories such as Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice, but now have a truly mighty catalogue of original fiction and biography titles in their colossal and brilliant range. 

As an impressionable teen I was completely obsessed with Deadline comic - and in particular one female comic creator, Rachael Ball, whose "Melon Thief" story has stuck in my memory as being one of the weirdest and best strips to feature in that mighty tome. Rachael's incredible graphic novel "Wolf" sees her riding the peak of her career with dark and sumptuous storytelling, and incredible art. 

After a tragic accident leaves his family bereft, a young boy called Hugo finds his world turned upside down. His new home comes with new neighbours, among them (according to the boy next door) a dangerous recluse who eats children: the Wolfman.

Desperate to return to happier days, Hugo draws up plans for a time machine. But only the Wolfman has the parts that Hugo needs to complete his contraption, and that will mean entering his sinister neighbour’s house…

Beautifully illustrated in pencil, Wolf is a captivating and poignant exploration of family, grief and that blend of the everyday and the fantastical that is childhood.

Delving deeper into darker themes but with some of the UK Comic scene's top creators producing works for them are Scar Comics. 

Though most of their content is more suitable for the upper end of middle grade and into YA / Adult age groups they have a few titles that are brilliant for kids just finding their feet in the wide world of comics. 

"The Mice" by Roger Mason is a particular standout title with a completely brilliant hook. 

Imagine living in a world were you are nothing more than vermin to giant aliens who have now invaded Earth and have taken your place at the top of the food chain.

Roger's fantastic dystopian invasion thriller is introduced in this stunning graphic novel. 

Check out a free preview of The Mice at:

Titan Publishing have been around for a very long time and recent offshoot Titan Comics specialises in producing some of the best licensed comics around. 

Most famous for publishing the brilliant BBC "Doctor Who" official comic tie-ins, we've really been enjoying the first couple of issues of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor, with stories brilliantly reflecting the fresh approach the TV series has been taking, with a fabulous female doctor helming the Tardis.

Eisner Award-nominated writer Jody Houser (Faith, Mother Panic, Stranger Things) leaps in with mind-blowing adventures for the Thirteenth Doctor and her brand new companions! 

A mysterious new time traveller appears – but can he be trusted when he says he's human?

Illustrated by award-winning artist Rachael Stott (Doctor Who, Motherlands) and colorist Enrica Angiolini (Shades of Magic, Warhammer 40,000), this has been one of C's favourite comics of the past year and just one example of Titan's broad range of titles stretching across most age groups with plenty of stuff suitable for kids. 

Next up some serious fun over at Bog Eyed Books. They have a fantastic range of titles for Middle Grade readers, again with some of the most fantastic UK-based creators publishing titles with BEB. 

We're totally in love with everything Tor Freeman does, and in "Welcome to Oddleigh" you'll meet Chief Inspector Jessie and Sergeant Sid, a dynamic duo tasked with policing the animal-filled town of Oddleigh. 

Oddleigh is no ordinary place; strange things and bizarre behaviour are the order of the day. But Jessie’s sworn to uphold the law of the town, and she's going to do it - no matter how weirdly its citizens are behaving. 

I love the description of this being like "Hot Fuzz meets Zootropolis" which is an absolutely perfect summary of the kind of craziness you can expect. Tor's eye for delicious details feels a lot like Richard Scarry's work, and this is a brilliant starter comic for kids who still love loads of funnies that are a cut above the rest. 

"Welcome to Oddleigh" by Tor Freeman is available through the Bog Eyed Books website. Check out their site for more brilliant and hilarious titles too!

Last but by no means least, a publisher whose comics have been a huge part of our reading journey together, and it's by far C's favourite comic in the entire universe. "The Phoenix Comic" has been leading the charge in UK-based kids comics for a number of years now, and their recent collected works "The Phoenix Presents" with stories and strips taken from the weekly edition have ended up in our "Book of the Week" slot with practically each and every new release. 

Newly released from David Fickling Books (the publisher behind the comic itself) and from awesome comic talent Neill Cameron is "Mega Robo Revenge" - the third collected instalment in Neill's "Mega Robo Bros" comic series. 

Alex and Freddy are two ordinary everyday kids living in a futuristic London. Well, ordinary if you consider being a hugely powerful robot 'ordinary'. 

Using their robotic powers, they're drawn into an end-game against arch-enemy Wolfram, who holds a dark secret, and a grudge against Alex and Freddy's mum. Wolfram's dastardly scheme is far more insidious than just a cheap moment of revenge though as the two robo bros discover they have closer links to Wolfram than they could ever imagine. 

A futuristic fusion of brilliantly observed family life, blisteringly paced action scenes and truly mammoth showdowns, this is superb stuff. 

The UK comics industry is alive and well, and we've just dipped a toe into the waters with this article. 

We are always on the lookout for new kid-friendly comic titles, particularly from UK based publishers so if you know of any good ones, or would like to send us items to review, please do get in touch or drop a comment in the box below!
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"Dinosaur Craft Book: 15 things a dino fan can't do without" by Laura Minter and Tia Williams (Little Button Diaries / GMC Publications)

It's DINO TIME! Laura and Tia are back with yet another fantastic and imaginative craft book, this time on a scaly prehistoric theme.

Kids absolutely love dinosaurs, and they particularly love dressing up as dinosaurs, roaring and stomping about.

Whether your little ones are budding palaeontologists or just dream of being a Tyrannosaurus Rex (hey, who doesn't?), they will love these fun crafts. 

There are 15 fantastic dinosaur-themed projects to make, all designed to get children crafting and creating in no time. 

Each dino-themed project is perfect for kids of all ages from 3+ 

The book contains handy templates and makes use of common but otherwise-wasted household items to keep the outlay on materials down to a minimum. 

Grown-ups need little or no crafting experience to help! 

It's another winner from award-winning parenting bloggers Little Button Diaries

"The Dinosaur Craft Book" is out now, published by GMC Publications (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday, January 4, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 4th January 2019: "The Dog Who Saved the World" by Ross Welford and Tom Clohosy-Cole (HarperCollins Children's Books)

The genius behind "The 1000 Year old Boy" and "Time Travelling with a Hamster" is back with our first Chapter Book of the Week for 2019, and it's an absolute belter...!
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