Thursday 31 January 2019

The attitude of "Oh, that'll do because KIDS BOOK" should be nipped in the bud - a ReadItTorial

We're just on the cusp of waving bye-bye to January 2019, and in our first month of book blogging for a new calendar year, polishing off a whopping 113 picture books for our January / February / March schedules, and 45 Chapter Books there's a worrying trend that seems to be emerging.

It seems to be happening particularly in picture books but also seems to be creeping into a few chapter books we've looked at recently too.

To try and frame this, imagine you're watching your favourite action superhero alien zombie Jane Austen mash-up movie "Tilly Trotter and the art of piloting a Heavy Weapons Mecha" and the plot moves from the idyllic English countryside to a war-torn alien planet, with nary an explanation. Perhaps some lazy McGuffin thrown in later on in the film to 'magic away' the jump in scene and setting, but you don't really care because you're only watching popcorn for the eyeballs anyway, right?

A few times now we've read picture books (and as we said, more than a few newer chapter books) where similar plot jumps happen, or there's a jarring rush to resolve the book's core issue right at the end in the last page or two - or worse still no explanation whatsoever, because - hah - you're reading a children's book, what did you expect? Dostoevsky?

The thing is - and I'm pretty much 100% sure of this - We're not the only folk who notice stuff like that. As C gets older, she has an increasing lack of patience when it comes to books that skirt over plot points or do a 'lazy pass' on getting from A to Z completely missing out all the other letters in the alphabet as they do.

Children's writing is a craft, and it requires a unique set of skills that should definitely not be underestimated.

To begin with, you need to be able to hook a child's attention in a picture book within the first couple of pages. Then you need to sustain that over the 'humps' of the book's definining plot twists and turns. Finally you need to deliver a pay-off that either feels incredibly satisfying to the reader, or perhaps leads the reader back into their own imaginations to picture what might have happened next in the story if the writer decides to leave 'em hanging.

There's no official name for this pattern, and as much (as a writer) I hate the idea that there are rules and formulas, structures and patterns that picture books should ideally have, if any of the above elements are missing - or if a picture book feels like someone hit the 'fast forward' button part-way through just to speed to the resolution, it's horribly noticeable.

Sadly we have indeed seen this a lot in celebrity-penned books, where I could well imagine there's more than a bit of pampering and ego-massaging going on by an editor or a publisher willing to let some discrepancies pass in order to put a book by a well known / well-loved name through because the pound signs are flashing in their eyes, and at the point the book begins to come together they're already imagining that cheesy POS material flooding every book shop, or the round of media interviews said author will undertake in their whirlwind promotional tour for the title.

What jars the most is that with the most recent examples we've seen, we know full well that any debut or emerging author would have had that piece of work torn to shreds at the agent / editorial / commissioning stage, and that's where the sting comes in.

Fair enough - we've encountered many book reading (and movie-loving) kids who probably don't pay much attention to the finer points of character development or story plotting. But there must be an equal (or hopefully greater) number who do not like having the wool pulled over their eyes, or are unsatisfied with "The Wizard Did It" as some universal get-out clause to apply when something in a story doesn't quite add up. C is now at the age where the side-eye or eye-roll is perfected to the nth degree whenever we read books like these for review, to the point where we are now having to drop titles from our review schedule because A) we're extremely honest when it comes to our reviews and B) we really don't want to write horrid things about a book (sure we'll be constructively critical if a book does have one or two saving graces about it but we won't enter into an utter bitch-fest about something, what would be the point, what interest would we have in putting someone off buying a book - even a poor one - if it means a kid will end up reading?)

We stress again - writing for children is hard. Good grief is it ever hard! If you don't believe us, sit down with the rule set in front of you, give yourself a 500-600 word limit, come up with a topic and try and write a 12-spread children's picture book text yourself that doesn't fall into the endless traps of bowing to cliches, or going over well-trodden ground, or - shudder - being an absolute bore-fest of a read.

We know how tough it is from personal experience, we've talked about it many, many times on the blog - and editing / proofreading / stress-testing children's books must be equally hard (and again it's worth pointing out that the majority of agents, editors and publishers REALLY DO want to find a successful story in your manuscript that's going to work as a book).

But succumbing to the lure of just applying the old 'that'll do' band-aid to something that really needs a thorough restructure really isn't any kind of an answer.

We have seen so much of it in self-published books (which, ironically, do seem to be getting better and better as self-published authors begin to realise what they're competing against in the commercial market) so let's hope this is just a temporary thing, and perhaps 2019 will actually pick up and dazzle us with the sheer quality of picture book and middle grade texts once again.

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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup: January 2019

Welcome, welcome to our first Chapter Book roundup of 2019. We've been collecting together the very best chapter books to share with you for our first roundup of this year, and we've got some absolute corkers, so strap yourselves in, and let's get right to it.

First up is "A Pinch of Magic" by Michelle Harrison, the best-selling author of the fabulous "Thirteen Treasures" trilogy.

The story is woven around three sisters stricken by a family curse, and an overpowering air of misfortune that they cannot shake.

However, three magical objects may hold the key to lifting the curse - and so the quest begins for the three sisters to seek out these artefacts and hopefully change their fortunes forever.

Though their quest is not without danger, the originator of the curse will not rest until the family dies out - so it's not only a race against time, but against a hidden foe.

Darkly tinged but absolutely amazing, this is truly atmospheric writing from Michelle, and utterly essential if your kids love deep-woven middle grade fantasy with a real touch of class.

"A Pinch of Magic" by Michelle Harrison is out in February 2019, published by Simon and Schuster. 

In total contrast now is the fantastic "Charlie Changes into a Chicken" by Sam Copeland, with cover and internal illustrations from Sarah Horne.

Charlie McGuffin would love to be the kind of kid whose glass is always half full, but in reality he's a bit of a worrier.

Charlie worries about everything, including:

· His brother (who is in hospital)

· Their very panicked parents

· Unwanted attention from the school bully

· The fact that he's started turning into animals!

Yep that's right, Charlie has the weird ability to assume the form of other animals - which sounds really cool, until you turn into a pigeon in the middle of your school play. Eeeeek!

With the help of his three best friends, Charlie needs to find a way of dealing with his crazy new power - and fast - before interested parties whisk him away to be dissected.

"Charlie Changes into a Chicken" by Sam Copeland and Sarah Horne is in February 2019, published by Puffin.

And now for something completely different! How about a superb supernatural YA novel with truly original characters.

In "Out of Salem" by Hal Schrieve meet Genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth, who has to adjust quickly to a whole new status as a zombie after waking from death from a car crash that killed their parents and sisters.

Always a talented witch, Z now can barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with Mrs. Dunnigan, an elderly witch and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner.

As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered by what seems to be werewolves, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to 'monsters,' and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.

Wrought with complex and compelling originality, this is more than just a 'monster of the week' novel, it's a superbly dark slice of self-aware and tantalisingly characterful horror.

"Out of Salem" by Hal Schrieve is out in March 2019, published by Seven Stories Press. 

Also from Seven Stories is a new print of an essential modern analysis of Greek culture in "The Siege and Fall of Troy" by Robert Graves.

For centuries, the ancient world was electrified by the story of the ten-year war that brought down the ancient city of Troy and destroyed the lives of countless Greek and Trojan warriors. In the modern world, according to Robert Graves, "English literature, to be properly understood, calls for as close a knowledge of the Trojan War as of the Bible." Here are ambition, greed, cruelty, suffering, madness, treachery, jealousy, pride, and foolishness in abundance, a tale of woe that brings the ancient world into a modern context.

The ancient city of Troy was sacked sometime early in the twelfth century BC; The Iliad and The Odyssey were composed some four or five centuries later. But there were many other accounts besides Homer's, and Graves uses them all. His writing style is sleek, action- driven, and to the point.

Reading like a real-life "Game of Thrones" at times, this is absolutely fascinating stuff. 

"The Siege and Fall of Troy" by Robert Graves is out now, published by Seven Stories Press. 

We both fell completely head over heels in love with this next one. "Alienated: Grounded at Groom Lake" by Jeff Norton dips into conspiracy theories and alien shenanigans in a suitably cool and modern way. 

Think your school is strange? Feel like you don't quite fit in?

Fourteen-year-old Sherman Capote is an Air Force brat used to moving schools. But he's never been to a place like Groom Lake High, the high school for aliens at Area 51. It's a totally alien environment filled with cliques and bullies, but he makes friends with a gang of galactic misfits: Octo, a quick-witted Ventitent (a twenty-tentacled "octopus"), Houston, a moody robot, Sonya, a rebellious lizard, and Juliet, an omnipotent goddess. But when the school bully, Ned, initiates a War of the Worlds, Sherman and his new friends must set aside homework, first crushes and high school proms to save the world.

It's like no other school you've ever seen and if like us you're into all things UFO and alien-based, you're going to absolutely love this one. 

"Alienated: Grounded at Groom Lake" by Jeff Norton is out now, published by Awesome Reads. 

As it's still cold and wintry outside, we think this book is perfect for this time of year.

Anne Booth's fabulous "Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Ice Swans" with illustrations from Rosie Butcher is the perfect read to snuggle up somewhere warm with.

"The Ice Swans" continues this fabulous series that began when Maya received a special colouring book - The Magical Kingdom of Birds. Every time she opens the book she is transported to a beautiful realm filled with magnificent birds and their fairy friends. 

But the Kingdom is in trouble, wicked Lord Astor has frozen the Diamond Lake and turned its beautiful swans into ice statues. 

Can Maya, with the help of her friends Willow and Patch, break the enchantment and save the day?

With lots of interesting facts about the birds that inspired the series, this is a really magical book series to collect and keep. 

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

Next it's "Veronica Twitch, the Fabulous Witch in Double Bubble girl-band trouble" by Erica-Jane Waters.

Veronica is truly fabulous, darling! She works for Twitch Magazine and is ridiculously excited as she gets her first assignment: To write a feature on the most exciting band in Witch City, Double-Bubble. 

Things take a mysterious turn when Double-Bubble are kidnapped! Calamities!

Could Belinda Bullfrog from Twitch's rival magazing Nosy Toad be behind it all? 

Veronica and her friends must piece together the mystery of the missing girl band, rescue them and get Twitch Magazine's article back on track before it's too late!

A spooky read with tons of fun, "Veronica Twitch the Fabulous Witch in Double Bubble Girl Band Trouble" by Erica-Jane Waters is out now, published by Wacky Bee. 

Time to wrap up our January Chapter Book Roundup with a fabulous new book from Karen McCombie. 

"Little Bird Flies is the story of Bridie, a little girl who lives on the remote Scottish island of Torrnish, the youngest of three sisters.

Although she loves her island, with its wild seas and big skies, she guiltily nurses a secret dream of flight - to America and the freedom of the New World. 

But her family are struggling under the spiteful oppression of the new Laird, and it seems that even some of the Laird's own household are desperate to leave. 

When the Laird's full cruelty becomes apparent, there's no more time for daydreams as Bridie needs to help the people she loves escape to safety - but not aboard a plane, instead a clanky old steamship that might just be their one way ticket to a new life. 

The first in a gripping, dramatic new series from much-loved author, Karen McCombie, filled with delicious highland atmosphere and tons of adventure for boys and girls. 

"Little Bird Flies" by Karen McCombie is out now, published by Nosy Crow. 

New books from Gill Lewis always cause a kerfuffle at home, she's extremely popular with little miss. So here's a real treat coming up in February.

"The Closest Thing to Flying" by Gill Lewis starts in the present-day world of a little girl called Semira.

Life is in upheaval. Semira doesn't know where to call home. She and her mother came to England when she was four years old, brought across the desert and the sea by a man who has complete control.

Always moving on, always afraid of being caught, she longs for freedom.

Running parallel to Semira's tale is a story that begins in 1891 with another young girl named Hen.

She knows exactly where to call home. Her stifling mother makes sure of that. But her Aunt Kitty is opening her eyes to a whole new world. A world of animal rights, and votes for women, and riding bicycles!

Trapped in a life of behaving like a lady, she longs for freedom.

The two separate worlds intertwine when Semira discovers Hen's diary and finds the inspiration to be brave, to fight for her place in the world, and maybe even to uncover the secrets of her own past.

This is a beautifully woven tale tiptoeing between Hen's diary and Semira's present-day angst filled life but one where characters generations apart can find common ground in standing up for the things they believe in. Things that are important to us all.

"The Closest Thing to Flying" by Gill Lewis is out on 7th February 2019, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Pirates! Yes indeed, they're a book trend that really never seems to go away - but here's a fun tale of a distinctly different type of buccaneer.

"Captain Cat" by Sue Mongredien and Kate Pankhurst is the hilarious tale of a young moggy named Patch.

She is a ship's cat who lives aboard The Golden Earring. Along with her friends, Cutlass the parrot and Monty the monkey, Patch frequently gets the pirate crew out of trouble – although they never realize quite how much she does to save their skins.

In their first adventure, the pirate crew discover a treasure map and set out to find where X marks the spot. But little do they know that the treasure is cursed and it's up to Captain Cat to stop them, before it's too late!

Fizzing with energy and superbly paced, this is a great little book for early chapter readers filled with giggles and laughs.

"Captain Cat and the Treasure Map" by Sue Mongredien and Kate Pankhurst is out on 7th February, published by Pan Macmillan. 

We're swimming under the sea now rather than sailing on top, with a new book from fabulous Cerrie Burnell, who has wowed us with her picture books previously, and is making her way into middle grade with "The Girl with the Shark's Teeth".

The story begins with Minnow, a girl who is different from the others in her town and there's plenty to set her apart: the blossom of pale scars which lie beneath Minnow's delicate ears, the fact that she has an affinity with the water which leaves people speechless, and that once - she is sure - in deep, deep water, her body began to glow like a sunken star. 

When her mum gets into trouble and is taken from their boat in the dead of night, Minnow is alone with one instruction: sail to Reykjavik to find your grandmother, she will keep you safe. 

Minnow has never sailed on her own before, but the call of the deep is a call she's been waiting to answer her whole young life - and so her journey begins. 

Perhaps a girl who is lost on land can be found in the Wild Deep.

Filled with magic and wonder, Cerrie's writing draws you into Minnow's amazing mystical world, and a quest fraught with danger - but also with a life-affirming message about the journeys we all take in order to 'find ourselves' sometimes. 

Beautiful stuff! "The Girl with the Shark's Teeth" by Cerrie Burnell is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Next, the latest book in a favourite and hugely popular middle grade series as once again we enter the world of The Night Zookeeper. 

"Night Zookeeper: The Penguins of Igloo City" by Joshua Davidson and Buzz Burman finds young Will once again transported into the world of the Night Zoo. 

This time Will is thrust into an incredible adventure, and is joined by his friends, Sam and Riya. 

Will journeys through a new portal and arrives within the high walls of Igloo City. It is a strange place where the animals follow strict rules put in place by their leader, Circles the owl. 

Circles is determined to stamp out any rule breakers and wants Will to track down a group of rebels, but is it the right thing to do? 

The safety of Igloo City depends on Will choosing the right side - will he follow Circles' orders, or break free from her rules and join the rebels?

Brilliant storytelling with fab illustrations once again from Buzz, this is a great title for kids beginning their solo reading journeys. 

"Night Zookeeper: The Penguins of Igloo City" by Joshua Davidson and Buzz Burman is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Finally here's a nice slice of geeky action from Nosy Crow. "When Good Geeks Go Bad" by Catherine Wilkins has just been released and should be bang on the nail for kids who feel like their parents are trying to RULE / RUIN EVERYTHING!

When Ella's dad refuses to let her have cool school shoes or stay up later than 9:30, Ella decides to take things into her own hands. 

Being good and doing as she's told hasn't got her anywhere, so why not try being bad for a while? 

It certainly looks a lot more fun and what's a few detentions here and there? 

But going bad is a slippery slope and soon things are starting to spiral out of control. 

Can Ella get things back on track? Or is she going to end up with egg on her face? 

Catherine has perfectly captured that tween angsty uproariousness in her new novel, perfect for C's age group when tiny acts of rebellion are part and parcel of everyday life. Who says parents know best, after all?

"When Good Geeks Go Bad" by Catherine Wilkins is out now, published by Nosy Crow. 

We'll be back again in February with another bumper bookbag full of awesome chapter books. See you then!

(all books kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 30 January 2019

"The Mega Magic Hair Swap" by Rochelle Humes and Rachel Suzanne (Studio Press)

Blimey! Did this one ever kick off a fizz-crackling debate at home with all three of us weighing in with an opinion or two on "The Mega Magic Hair Swap" by Rochelle Humes and Rachel Suzanne.

I must admit that I really don't know who Rochelle Humes is, but she's apparently a celebrity TV presenter and is about to add "children's book author" to her CV too.

We were initially grumpy that the press release that accompanied this book made absolutely no mention of the illustrator - concentrating on Rochelle rather than Rachel Suzanne, which is a bit of a shame considering that without the illustrations, this story would feel even more disjointed than it already is (#PicturesMeanBusiness - Come on, it's not hard to give credit to the illustrators in press releases, but hooray for putting a cover credit on at least!)

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the disjointedness of this story, let's focus on the positives for a moment. Sharing a house with two ladies with BIG hair, there was a lot of nodding and 'me too' stuff going on about the core theme of this story. My wife, in particular fully identifies with Mai and I'm sure an awful lot of little girls do too.

Mai, you see, has big curly hair. It's frizzy, voluminous and beautiful but just a bit unruly and difficult to tame.

Rose has poker-straight hair. It's long, flowing but Rose thinks it's utterly boring and it takes a LOT of brushing (again, furious nodding from the ladies present).

Mai loves Rose's hair. Rose loves Mai's hair - and thanks to Mai and a magic coconut the two manage to swap hair!

The problem is, Mai's little Sibling Raine bursts into tears, unable to recognise their sister! This is just the start of the two girls coming to the conclusion that perhaps it's just better to be happier in your own skin (and your own hair, at that!)

Both C and her Mum fully understood and nodded lots at the points that Rochelle was trying to make in her story, but we all agreed that the story felt like it needed a good solid edit and a far better 'flow' to it.

For example there's a whopping great big plot hole when the magic coconut is 'magically' produced by Mai as the mechanism for performing the magic hair swap (which, without the illustrations as we said, would not appear in the story at all until the swap occurs - we never see Mai actually winning it!) I wasn't sure why the actual worded story didn't feature Mai winning the coconut, perhaps it was to keep the page word count low? It felt like a hole though.

The end of the story also seems to wrap up rather quickly with little or no resolution other than "We've swapped back, and we're happy again". Almost like the story could have been a trifle longer, with a couple more examples of why the swap wasn't successful.

Admittedly we're probably being over-fussy for what is essentially a book for a much younger audience than ours (3-5 year olds will defintiely love this, particularly if they too have to sit through mum or dad combing tangles out of their hair! Owch) but kids can see through McGuffins and plot-holes just the same as adults so this is our attempt to be constructive about an essentially 'good' core idea, and I think with a tweak and a tease here and there, this could have actually been very good indeed.

As it stands, it falls a little bit flat, like Donald Trump's barnet when he forgets to pack his extra cans of Elnette Super-Hold Hairspray.

Sum this word up in a sentence: A good attempt to write a story with an important core message about being happy with what you've got and happy in your own skin that could've done with a better edit and a little more work to polish and perfect it.

"The Mega Magic Hair Swap" by Rochelle Humes and Rachel Suzanne is out on 7th Feb 2019, published by Studio Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 29 January 2019

"Grizzly Boy" by Barbara Davis-Pyles and Tracy Subisak (Sasquatch Books)

What do you do when you wake up one morning, and you just can't be bothered to 'human' ?

That's what happens to one little lad in "Grizzly Boy" by Barbara Davis-Pyles and Tracy Subisak.

Theo is the lad in question, deciding to shun his human traits to become a GRIZZLY!

Alas, Grizzly Boys still have to go to school. Grizzly Boys don't get to eat sugary cereal, and yep they even have to obey all the rules too - whether or not they think scratching their bums with the bed-post is acceptable once you decide on their new Grizzly status.

A fun and entertaining romp this, with lots of clever shadow-play in the illustrations underpinning a highly amusing story of getting out of bed on the furry fuzzy side.

Will Theo change his ways? Or will being a Grizzly be too much fun to want to change back?

Scratchy paws, big yawning mouth, sounds familiar!
Really love the illustrations in this, with lots of grizzly / forest-ey touches throughout (look at that duvet and bedside lamp for example!)

Again, more brilliant illustration touches here!
"Grizzly Boy" by Barbara Davis-Pyles and Tracy Subisak is out now, published by Sasquatch Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 28 January 2019

Find out about fascinating wildlife with the "Secret Life" animal series by Laurence Pringle and Kate Garchinsky (Boyd Press)

We do love awesome wildlife books that show a little bit of what the secret lives of animals might be like.

In "The Secret Life of the Red Fox" by Laurence Pringle and Kate Garchinsky, you'll find out all about these elusive, nocturnal and extremely intelligent creatures - that quite often roam our streets at night, piercing the darkness with their plaintive cries and shrieks.

Laurence and Kate bring their subject to life with simple descriptions and glorious painted illustrations for a wildlife book with a real difference, almost storifying the lives of Foxes in a completely immersive and fascinating way.

If foxes aren't really your thing though, perhaps take to the air with another fascinating nocturnal creature...

"The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat" again by Laurence and Kate takes a deep delve into this amazing creature's life, habitats, favourite foodstuffs and amazing prowess at catching insects even in total darkness.

Bats are incredible and fascinating creatures, and this book once again uses simple (but not dumbed down) text with gorgeous illustrations in a book suitable for children just beginning to want non-fiction titles for reference or just to read for pleasure.

"The Secret Life of the Red Fox" and "The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat" are both out now, published by Boyd Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday 25 January 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 25th January 2019: "The Secret Diary of Kitty Cask, Smuggler's Daughter" by Philip Ardagh and Jamie Littler (Nosy Crow / National Trust)

Once again, Messrs Ardagh and Littler land slap bang in the middle of our Chapter Book of the Week slot with the fourth in their fantastic "Secret Diary" series...
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ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 25th January 2019: "Spider-Verse" by Christos Gage, Dan Slott, Olivier Coipel, Michael Costa and others (Marvel Comics)

This week's Comic of the Week was the inspiration for our super-hero movie of the year last year, the superb "Into the Spider-Verse"...
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ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 25th January 2019: "Amazing" by Steve Antony (Hodder Children's Books)

Steve Antony's journey to picture book superstardom has indeed been amazing, as I think Steve himself would agree...
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 25th January 2018: "Lifesize" by Sophy Henn (Red Shed / Egmont)

We see a lot of animal books on the blog. A huge number, and normally they follow a pretty strict formula of presenting facts dotted with photo plates or illustrations, perhaps a glossary etc.

As lovely as they all are, we've felt for a very long time that we'd love to see an animal book that's a tad more playful, perhaps something that kids can more readily relate to and perhaps even play around with a bit...

It comes as no surprise to us that Sophy Henn is the author / artist to absolutely nail the sort of book we meant in her new picture book "Lifesize".

Kids really love anything that's relatable to themselves, and what Sophy does is to show them just how they measure up to some of their favourite animals. Literally measure up, as each life-size illustration shows just how small, large, weird or cute each animal's identifying characteristics are.

How big is a squid's eye, for example? Almost as big as your head (perhaps bigger for tiny tiddlers!)

What would you look like with a Toucan's beak? (Pretty funny actually!)

What would it be like to high-five a polar bear? You'd probably be knocked for six, they have some pretty big paws for a very good reason.

Sophy's book is a playful exploration of animals for younger readers who love books that have an element of interaction with them (and this book really does deliver in that regard, not only does it look brilliant but you can really mess around with it and see what you look like holding a panda face up in place of your own).

What an utterly brilliant work of genius!

"Lifesize" by Sophy Henn is out now, published by Red Shed / Egmont (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 24 January 2019

Reading "Older" books with your kids (and that whole age rating thing again) - A ReadItTorial

Book bloggers will probably be able to identify with the (sometimes almost daily) problem of recommending books to folk when they ask a question like...

"What books would you recommend for a Year 4 kid who likes (such and such a book / author)"

...or "Can you think of anything my 8 year old can read next? They like David Walliams".

It's quite tricky to give an appropriate answer based on anything other than perhaps your experience with your own child - which opens that whole "age rating" thing up to a fairly broad interpretation.

It gets even trickier when your kids start to approach the twilight years of Middle Grade and start heading towards YA / Adult books. How do you ensure that they're going to be reading something that doesn't contain a lot of the YA / grown up tropes? Bad language, sexual activity, questionable taste in music / fashion sense?

I kid - but for a while I'd wanted to read Andy Weir's "The Martian" to C, purely because I know she'd enjoy it as much as I did (we'll skip right past the fact that Weir's "Artemis" was a pile of poo, if that's OK with you).

"The Martian" contains a hefty chunk of science, maths and of course a very human story of survival against the odds.

If it wasn't for Mark Watney's copious use of the "F" word, I probably would have let C read it herself - as she'd be more than capable, despite the book's fairly science / tech-heavy approach in places. We probably sound like prissy parents, trying to wrap our daughter up in cotton wool for a bit longer before that word enters her vocabulary (if it hasn't already through school) but it's been fairly easy to read the book and substitute that word for 'flip' or something else while reading aloud.

As I suspected, she has been completely gripped, the rest of the book's content really doesn't need that much sanitizing (thought: When the swears don't actually add much to the story, or have much of a purpose other than allowing the character to vent their frustration, would the book suffer if a non-swear version was produced for a younger audience? Or does that sound even more prissy?)

Coming back round to the point of this post and the upper-middle-grade / switching to YA thing, I am finding it quite difficult in my own writing to know how to pitch the language right. No not the 'bad' language, just the use of certain words and terms that - during the "Writing for Children" course I recently completed - were described as not being appropriate or at the right level for a middle grade book.

Again here is the assumption that the intended Middle Grade audience can be comfortably penned into a fairly narrow holding pattern of being able to cope with a fairly restrictive vocabular. I fully understand the need for characters to have an authentic middle grade voice, way of speaking, way of referring to things but outside of the character's narrative, should writers be trimming their use of the English (or any other) Language down to the simpler stuff? Surely the way children learn new words and increase their vocabularies is by finding and discovering new words in their favourite stories?

Keeping count around half-way through "The Martian" I think I've only had to explain or expand on about 6-7 plot points, expressions or words to make them slightly clearer for C (and a lot of that has been because she won't understand a lot of Weir's cultural references - explaining "The Dukes of Hazzard" for example by showing her a couple of clips on YouTube was 'fun').

Age ratings for children's books should only ever be used as an outline, vague guidance with the emphasis on parents being more involved in assessing whether a book is suitable reading material for their child. I fully understand the publishing industry's need (some may say obsession) with compartmentalisation but sometimes it's used as an iron rule in cases where it really shouldn't be.

It'd be an interesting experiment for other book-loving folk out there who regularly read to their kids, and may have switched away from picture books towards middle grade or even grown up / YA fare (having previously trudged through reading "The Deathly Hallows" with C, I think she can pretty much cope with a hefty word count at least - but word counts are another bugbear of mine along with age ratings, which should only ever be 'suggested' not 'enforced'). If you do have space-obsessed kids, I would heartily recommend the long haul of "The Martian" purely because there are so many things that they'll love learning about in it, even though the setting is 'near future' it really does use a lot of authentic and well researched science and maths at its core - without turning into some sort of horribly dry documentarian-like book.

If you do read 'older' books than your kid's intended age / audience's age rating I'd be really interested to know how you handle things. Drop a comment below, it's free! Or just pester us on @readitdaddy on Twitter as we're usually hanging around on there anyway.
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"Where's Mickey?" (Studio Press)

After celebrating 90 years in the business, Mickey Mouse's popularity shows no sign of slowing down.

We love all things Disney so we naturally loved "Where's Mickey?" to bits.

A spotter's search and find activity book featuring the awesome and iconic mouse, it's a globetrotting puzzle book par excellence as we join Mickey and all his friends in super-detailed scenes across the world as Mickey celebrates in some of the most amazing cities on the planet.

London? New York? Rio baby! They're all here and you'll need keen senses and a sharp pair of eyes to spot Mickey in amongst all the characters having fun in each scene.

Don't forget to look out for Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto too! They all make an appearance.

So are you ready to test your mettle and your observational powers? Have a look at some of the page spreads below to test yourselves before going out to grab this fantastic book.

London at Christmas? Cosy! So can you spot Mickey? Squint very carefully!
We love the fact that so many iconic characters make an appearance in this book. Peep in at every window, look at every door, you'll see quite a few!

Minnie gets the red carpet treatment. But where's Mickey? 
Fab stuff for Disney fans everywhere. "Where's Mickey?" is out now, published by Studio Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 23 January 2019

Monster Match by Caroline Gray (Hodder Children's Books)

Monster books were among the first titles that C always sought out on our weekly library trips.

We went through all the greats and it's awesome to see that monsters are still very much a cool choice of subject for picture book authors and illustrators.

Here's "Monster Match" by Caroline Gray which is the ideal story for your own little monsters, a simple, fun and totally entertaining story about a group of monsters who desperately want to be YOUR favourite beastie.

Will you choose the squishiest smelliest monster? The greediest? The most energetic perhaps? Or twins even!

Each monster is different and has their own characteristics and of course their own reasons why they'd just love to be your monster.

Fans of Monsters Inc will know where this book is headed...

A giant monster to run around and help you keep fit perhaps?
The scene stealing dog, cat and rabbit in this book are hilarious!

All kids will have their own favourite monster
There's also an entertaining pay-off at the end of the book to look forward to (which we, of course, won't spoil for you).

Huge monstrous bristly scaly squidgy fun!

"Monster Match" by Caroline Gray is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 22 January 2019

"A Home on the River" by Peter Bently and Charles Fuge (Hodder Children's Books)

It's the return of Peter Bently and Charles Fuge's awesome "Home" series, this time with Bramble the Badger having a serious problem watering his garden in "A Home on the River".

As idyllic as it sounds, life by the side of the river takes an unexpected turn for Bramble when he turns on the tap one day to find no water.

His friends and neighbours all have the same problem - and it's only when Bramble treks down to the river that the answer is obvious - there's absolutely no water in the river, not a single drop.

Bramble decides to take a perilous trip further up the river to find out what's going on...

What could be the cause? Or more importantly WHO could have stopped the river dead in its tracks? When Bramble discovers the answer he's as surprised as everyone else.

A hose is no use if there's no water coming out of it!
We just love the gentleness of these stories, with glorious illustrations from Charles too.

Living by the river was idyllic, until one day all the water disappeared!
Reminiscent of the sort of stories I'd read as a kid (anyone who's familiar with the Brambly Hedge books will absolutely love these stories too). Beautiful!

"A Home on the River" by Peter Bently and Charles Fuge is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 

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Monday 21 January 2019

"Thunder Pug" by Kim Norman and Keika Yamaguchi (Sterling Publishing)

It's the welcome return of what can only be described as the most adorable pug character in children's books. Step aside buster, it's "Thunder Pug" by Kim Norman and Keika Yamaguchi.
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Friday 18 January 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 18th January 2019: "Midnight at Moonstone" by Lara Flecker and Trisha Krauss (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

Our Chapter Book of the Week won't be with you until the 4th of April (ARGH!) but trust us on this one, it'll be worth the wait...
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ReadItDaddy's YA / Adult Comic of the Week - Week Ending 18th January 2019: "On a Sunbeam" by Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)

Our YA / Comic of the Week comes with a "Parental Advisory: Strong Language / Adult Themes" sticker attached to it, but like a great many comics I've read recently, this is one I can't wait to share with C when she's older.

Once again, super-talented Tillie Walden has demonstrated why she was one of the youngest ever Eisner Award nominees, this time with a sprawling science fiction queer space epic that - for someone so young - could almost be a piece of career defining work.

"On a Sunbeam" at first feels like one of those comics you're going to need to read through a dozen or so times before you're going to understand its layers and nuances.

Yet the themes it explores are familiar, heart-wrenching, joyful, sad and relatable all at the same time, covering a lot of ground - and in a comic with 544 pages, plenty of space to go into great depth in the way the story unfolds.

This is the story of a young girl named Mia, and her chronicle begins as she embarks as a crewmember of the Spacecraft Aktis.

Tillie Walden's storytelling and artwork are just incredible

The team aboard the ship are responsible for cruising through space, repairing ancient monuments and buildings - but Mia constantly casts her mind back to a rebellious time as a pupil at a spacegoing Boarding School (honestly, who the hell WOULDN'T want to read a story about a space-going Mallory Towers!?)

"On a Sunbeam" conveys so many heartfelt moments with pure use of visual panels rather than words. Stunning. 

Mia's past and present weave together as we discover more about Mia's past, and a doomed relationship with another rebellious girl at school, as she becomes closer to her crew on the Aktis. 

Mia's story is hugely complex, with many incidents and tragedies to cope with along the way as well as lost love. Tillie has the amazing gift to ensure that each scene is so beautifully described and drawn that you'll find yourself turning blue about mid way through the book as you realise you've barely dared to breathe. 

Tillie's characters always feel relatable, believable - even in the most surreal settings. 

Originally published as a webcomic, On a Sunbeam was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2017 and won Best Webcomic with Walden winning Best Artist at the 2017 Broken Frontier Awards. Deservedly so, as this is just one of the most beautiful and heartfelt comics you'll read this decade.

Absolutely stunning in every sense of the word. If you can hunt it out, go for the glorious hardback version with full colour covers from Tillie. It's absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous. 

"On a Sunbeam" by Tillie Walden is out now, published by Avery Hill (very kindly supplied for review)
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ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 18th January 2019: "Mole's Star" by Britta Teckentrup (Orchard Books)

Our second Picture Book of the Week is the utterly charming and delightful "Mole's Star" by Britta Teckentrup.

Gently imparting the important message about how beautiful the world is, and how sometimes we take so much for granted, it's the story of a little mole who absolutely loves his new home underground.

But every evening, Mole comes out of his burrow to watch the twinkling stars in the sky above.

He falls in love with the stars, so much so that he wishes he could keep them all to himself.  

Then one night he sees a shooting star, and suddenly his wish comes true. 

There's just one problem: now that Mole's burrow is full of beautiful, shining stars, none of the other animals can enjoy them!

Mole's wish comes true, the stars are his for the taking!

Utterly beautiful page spreads like this really make this book stand out. 
It's a warm cuddly story with a strong moral message that sometimes sharing can be better than just keeping things all to yourself, as mole discovers. 

Simple, beautiful, brilliant. Britta is such an amazing talent in kidlit and this book really should be right at the top of your book buying list for 2019. 

"Mole's Star" by Britta Teckentrup is out now, published by Orchard Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 18th January 2018: "Mickey Mouse Museum: The Story of an Icon" (Studio Press)

We're very excited about all things Disney this year as we're finally taking the plunge and jetting off to fully immerse ourselves in the world of this iconic little mouse.

"The Mickey Mouse Museum: The Story of an Icon" is a timely book to drop through our letterbox.

After celebrating his 90th birthday last year, Mickey still looks as spritely as ever - and in this fascinating slice of Disney history there's a brilliant look at Walt Disney, his most famous creation, and all the other characters that gave Disney its first cartoon successes back in the earliest days of the studio.

Featuring original sketches, cartoon cels and some awesome discussions about the evolution of everyone's favourite cartoon mouse, it's a huge book full to the brim with information for Disney-Philes everywhere.

Dip inside and check out some of the amazing spreads, and you'll see why we got so excited about this keepsake collector's edition from Studio Press. It really does look fantastic.

Some fascinating insights into how Mickey Mouse became one of the most instantly recognisable characters on the planet
Disney's earliest efforts to bring feature-length cartoons to the screen weren't without their own ups and downs, and the historical and anecdotal accounts of how the studio first found its feet are as fascinating as learning more about Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto and all the other characters who appeared in the early 'shorts'.

As much as we love Mickey, we also love Minnie Mouse to bits too!
It's absolutely gorgeous this book, a great mix of timelines, info and awesome stills and sketches. What more could Disney fans wish for?

"Mickey Mouse Museum: The Story of an Icon" is available now, published by Studio Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 17 January 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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