Thursday, February 28, 2019

The issue with "Issues" books and book awards - a ReadItTorial


I've been tapping away at this ReadItTorial for a while now, and danged if one Philip Ardagh didn't just tweet about something that reminded me to pull my socks up and finish this off. His Tweet below (with a link through to the original):



We've always found it very difficult to cover book awards, mostly because there are so many, and we only have our spare time to put this blog together.

But often it's also because we really don't want to be seen to be sucking up to books that have quite often been chosen by a group of grown-up book experts, librarians (as is the case with the Carnegies / CKGs), children's mental health professionals, authors and illustrators, television presenters or the odd celebrity - but oddly, rarely a panel consisting of kids - or parents who buy books for their kids.

The Carnegie / Kate Greenaway Awards are probably the highest profile annual children's book awards and we were extremely pleased to see a fantastic selection of books chosen by folk who really know their stuff and many that have either been "Book of the Week" here, or have garnered very positive reviews from us.

Here's the longlist in full for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Awards 2019 for example...


This is a fantastic list for sure, and any author or illustrator would give their right arm to be on that list - it's a huge chunk of kudos for sure, but going back to Philip's point above, we can't help but agree that this year as in many other years it's a fairly sombre and serious list, with a lot of 'issues' books.

You know the sort of stuff that kids would very much read under the direction of well-meaning adults who want their younglings to grow up fully aware of, and indeed ready to cope with (or indeed campaign for / against) the issues dealt with in these titles - but perhaps wouldn't directly choose themselves if given a book token and taken into a local bookstore.

As Philip rightly says, there's a distinct lack of 'fun' books in this list, and we've found in the past that it feels like some book awards automatically favour well meaning 'issues' books over other titles that are more geared around entertaining kids than educating them. It's almost like they're being picked not just because they have merit (and to be fair to the panel putting together the Carnegies / CKG longlists, each and every title here DOES have a lot going for it) but because, like oft quoted but rarely read classics, it seems to be the right thing to steer our kids towards.

It's not always like that with every book award. The recent Lollies (Laugh out Loud Book Awards) featured books that swung the balance in the opposite direction.

Pure escapist funny stuff that kids would definitely pick themselves (but some educators would probably frown and tut about) if they went into the local independent book store, instantly drawn to something that doesn't remind them of all the stresses and strains of a world they are increasingly already aware of being a place that, for some kids, has more lows than highs.

Similarly the Roald Dahl Funny Prize Awards keep things light, smiley and fun - but not at the expense of quality of story, or importance of topics covered. Some of the funniest books we've read have also imparted important messages about friendships, family relationships, and sometimes even dark humour can serve to better prepare kids for some of the challenges they'll face in their lives far more than a finger-wagging book that lays things out in a more serious way.

We've covered a few awards in the past where the focus has been on book choices made, not by a panel of select experts, but by the very people who buy or read those books. Book awards featuring choices by parents or kids themselves are our absolute favourites - and I think the industry needs to recognise these awards as being of vital and equal importance to the ego-massaging more high profile awards. Again, retuning briefly to the CKG list we've read 10 of the books on a list of 20 - and we'd consider ourselves pretty well read and well supplied with children's books (no kidding, right?)

So were some of the choices just to tick a few well-meaning boxes? Is this perhaps why serious / educational / issues books always get chosen in awards like the Carnegie / CKGs?

We congratulate absolutely everyone who made either list of course, it's a colossal achievement to get published in the first place in the heady maelstrom of children's publishing, but getting official recognition like this - for author, illustrator and publisher - must be the royal icing on an already luxurious cake. But for our two penneth, we will always be on the look out for those awards that let the kids do the talking (such as the excellent Blue Peter Awards, and the Federation of Children's Book Group Awards).

Maybe some well-respected blogger should start up (or perhaps already has started up) a national children's book bloggers book choice awards (and come up with a far fancier snappier title for it). Unless one exists already and we've somehow missed it...!


Read More

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - February 2019

Welcome, welcome to another fantastic Chapter Book Roundup with some of our favourite reads of February.

We're kicking off with a truly awesome slice of fantasy for middle graders in the form of "The Little Grey Girl" - the second volume in the awesome Wild Magic Trilogy by Celine Kiernan.

Described as Ireland's answer to J.K. Rowling (which isn't a comparison to be sniffed at), "The Little Grey Girl" is the story of witches and forbidden magic from a beloved and award-winning Irish writer.

The story opens as the queen and her raggedy witches have fled, but the kingdom is not yet healed.

The castle is haunted by memories of its brutal past. The ghosts are angry, and one of them in particular possesses a magic which may be too much for even Mup and Mam to handle. Step forward The Little Grey Girl, with her own mastery of magic still yet to be determined, with a dark secret linked to an ancient legend.

It's tightly written, richly immersive fantasy that will draw you in.

"The Little Grey Girl (Wild Magic Trilogy Book 2)" by Celine Kiernan (with cover and art by Jess Courntney-Tickle) is out now, published by Walker Books


Time for something a little more light-hearted now. "Hotel Flamingo" is the awesome new holiday destination from Alex Milway but don't wait till the long hot summer to read this one, it's out now and the perfect antidote to cold grey wintry days.

When young Anna inherits a dilapidated once-grand hotel from her Great Aunt Mathilde, she's determined to restore it to its former glory.

But this is no ordinary hotel - all of her staff and guests are animals! 

Anna soon rises to the challenge. Whether it's a flamingo, a penguin or a hippo knocking at the door, Anna is ready to welcome them all - with the help of her trusty sidekicks T Bear the doorman, Squeak the friendly elevator mouse, and Lemmy the lemur receptionist!

As she soon finds out, though, running an animal hotel is no easy task. Can Anna make Hotel Flamingo a success once more?

It's the sort of place you'll just love to check in with, and hopefully this will be the first in a series, as we just can't wait to get back to "Hotel Flamingo" by Alex Milway, out now and published by Piccadilly Press. 

More mystery and suspense now with a deliciously dark middle grade adventure. 

"The Tunnels Below" by Nadine Wild-Palmer is a truly impressive debut for a new author who looks set to wow the world with her first book. 

On her twelfth birthday Cecilia goes out with her parents and sister to celebrate with a visit to a museum.

On their way Cecilia drops the marble that her sister gave her as a present, and running to pick it up she is taken away on an empty underground train into a dark and deep tunnel! EEK!

The fun family outing becomes a much more serious mission when Cecilia finds that she and her marble have a very important role to play in freeing the inhabitants of the tunnels from the tyrannical rule of the Corvus.

A truly inventive, clever and magical story about the power of friendship and the importance of self-belief, with a really amazing atmosphere that will keep you gripped with every page turn. Just how we love our books!

"The Tunnels Below" by Nadine Wild-Palmer is out now, published by Pushkin Press. 

Next, a tale of cats with superpowers!? Count us in! This brand-new series is every young animal lover's dream come true.

"Super Cats" by Gwyneth Rees and Becka Moor is the story of young Tagg the kitten who discovers that his parents have superpowers, changing his life forever. And just to think, all this time he thought he was an ordinary cat.

Suddenly a whole new world opens up before his eyes. His mum has the most extraordinary claws. His dad is super strong. What will Tagg's power be? He can't wait to find out!

But cats are disappearing from the streets - cats rumoured to have special abilities of their own. And when a new cat arrives in town, things aren't quite what they seem. 

Nemesissy is a sleek lilac Siamese with the power to hypnotise humans. Unfortunately for Nemesissy she messes with the wrong cats when she targets Tagg and his new friend, Sugarfoot - they may be kittens, but they are SUPER, and it's time for a right royal rumble!

A superbly paced super-feline treat! "Super Cats" by Gwyneth Rees and Becka Moor is released on the 4th April 2019, published by Bloomsbury. 

Dog lovers needn't feel left out this month either, with the arrival of "Storm Hound" by Claire Fayers. 

Storm of Odin is the youngest stormhound of the Wild Hunt that haunts lightning-filled skies.

He has longed for the time when he will be able to join his brothers and sisters but on his very first hunt he finds he can't keep up and falls to earth, landing on the A40 just outside Abergavenny.

Enter twelve-year-old Jessica Price, who finds and adopts a cute puppy from an animal rescue centre. And suddenly, a number of strange people seem very interested in her and her new pet, Storm. 

People who seem to know a lot about magic . . .

An ancient myth, a dose of magic and a little girl who has the most difficult quest of all - to work out just who she can trust, this is a perfectly pitched middle grader for kids who love stuff like "Who Let the Gods Out" and also like a bit of Norse-style mythology to boot!

"Storm Hound" by Claire Fayers is out now, published by Pan Macmillan. 

Next up we're bringing you a delicious collection of gorgeous chapter book and middle grade fiction, kicking off with another fantastic collection of classic stories from Kaye Umansky, with illustrations by Katy Riddell.

"Even More Pongwiffy Stories" once again collects three brilliant adventures featuring Kaye's hapless but utterly adorable witch.

The three classics featured are "Pongwiffy and the Pantomime", "The Spellovision Song Contest" and "Back on Track"

Pongwiffy and the rest of the witches need to earn some money, and fast! But every idea they come up with to raise funds seems so BORING ... until Pongwiffy suggests they put on a pantomime and sell tickets. Get ready for some theatrical chaos with the witches of Witchway Wood...

In the second story, all the witches are transfixed by spellovision and no one wants to do anything fun anymore. Until Pongwiffy decides to launch a song contest to liven things up!

Finally, Pongwiffy decides that being a witch of dirty habits is holding her back. It's time to get healthy, but can a witch who prefers sludge to sprouts really get back on track? Definitely one to identify with as we still seem to be polishing off Christmas goodies that are somehow STILL hanging around!

"Even More Pongwiffy Stories" by Kaye Umansky and Katy Riddell is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books. 

The next book is an absolute corker, definitely not to be missed!

"The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet" joins a stout and brave little fellah who roams the galaxy in search of the most incredible sights in the universe. 

From giant sand lobsters on planet Maureen and the Twang Bears of Mumsy, to the eerie (yet oddly quite boring) brains in jars on Brains-in-Jars World - there's something for everyone. 

If danger's your thing you won't want to miss Outlandish, with its gold-hoarding dragon, take-your-life-in-your-hands cuisine, and welcoming locals who'll fire lightning bolts at you. 

C was absolutely hooked on this book from the get-go, loving the crazy and creative mix of science fiction, and truly bizarre creatures. Superb descriptive and immersive storytelling from Martin fused with scritchy-scratchy but gorgeous art from Chris. It's a winner! Hopefully one day we'll have a better pic of the cover to stick in here!

"The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet" by Martin Howard and Chris Mould is out on 7th March 2019, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 


Something a little more light hearted now, and the latest in Laura James' awesome snub-nosed series. "Pirate Pug" by Laura James with illustrations by Eglantine Ceulemans finds our heroic puggy pal heading for the high seas. 

As Pug and Lady Miranda head off to the seaside, Pug is dreaming of naps under the beach umbrella, but when a little mishap means he has to wear an eyepatch, things quickly get a lot less snoozy!

Soon Pirate Pug and his ragtag crew of friends find themselves on the trail of buried treasure. They have to reach the island where X marks the spot before the other pirates beat them to it. There's just one problem - Pug is scared of water!

The fourth book in the series, this is brilliant stuff for wee middle graders who want something fantastic to start off their solo reading journeys, with tons of fun and giggles with a charismatic and imaginative doggy character. 

"Pirate Pug: The Dog Who Rocked the Boat" by Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans is out now, published by Bloomsbury Children's Books. 

Next, the start of a fabulous new series filled with wonder and magic, witches and rather grumpy moggy sidekicks.

"Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day" by Dominique Valente and Sarah Warburton is book one in this awesome new series that instantly won C over with a ton of atmosphere.

The story of misfit witch Willow Moss unfolds as she holds the fate of the magical world of Starfell in her rather unremarkable hands.

Willow is the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches. She has a magical ability for finding lost things – like keys, or socks, or wooden teeth. Though her magic is undoubtedly useful, it’s not exactly exciting or world-changing.

Until, that is, the most powerful witch in the whole of Starfell turns up at her door requesting Willow’s help.

A whole day – last Tuesday to be precise – has gone missing, and the repercussions could be devastating for Willow's world of Starfell.

Can Willow find the missing day and save everything?

With gorgeous illustrations from Sarah Warburton, this is definitely going to be a huge hit with girls and boys aged 8-12 who love a touch of magic in their tales.

"Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day" by Dominique Valente and Sarah Warburton is out now, published by HarperCollins Children's Books. 

We're all of a buzz about this next one, the third in Tony De Saulle's excellent "Bee Boy" series.

In "Bee Boy: Curse of the Vampire Mites" our titular hero once again finds himself immersed in all things buzzy.

Melvin Meadly is half bee, half boy and in his latest adventure the world's bees are in big trouble! 

All over the planet, plagues of bloodsucking vampire mites are infesting hives and wiping out entire colonies!

 Mel must battle to protect his beloved bees from attack, but he has more than just mites to worry about when beekeepers start to mysteriously disappear. There's definitely something rotten going on in and around the hives and Melvin might need every ounce of his bee-like strength to figure this mystery out. 

The third adventure in this action-packed series. Filled with fantastic bee facts, and illustrated in stunning black and yellow and I swear if you hold this book up to your nose and give it a good solid sniff, you'll be able to detect the faint whiff of honey, and the rapidly approaching spring! Hooray!

"Bee Boy: Curse of the Vampire Mites" by Tony De Saulles is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books"

More from OUP now, and a fantastic atmospheric new adventure from Tim Bowler, with stunning cover art from one of our fave illustrators Tom Clohosy-Cole. 

"River Boy" opens with a family tragedy unfolding. Jess's beloved grandpa is dying, crippled by a debilitating disease. 

He can barely move his hands any more but, stubborn as ever, refuses to stay in hospital.

He's determined to finish his last painting, River Boy, before he goes.

At first Jess can't understand his refusal to let go, but then she too becomes involved in the mysterious painting. And when she meets the river boy himself, she finds she is suddenly caught up in a challenge of her own that she must complete - before it's too late!

It's very easy to see why this one a prestigious Carnegie medal, and this attractive new edition should win over a whole new stack of readers completely drawn into this mysterious and moving tale. 

"River Boy" by Tim Bowler with cover art by Tom Clohosy-Cole is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Polishing off this month's chapter book roundup with a truly stunning book we've been itching to get our hands on, and it's every bit as good as we knew it would be. 

"The Kite Rider" by Geraldine McCaughrean is the latest from the amazing double Carnegie medal-winner who draws us into a tale set in Ancient China. 

Young Haoyou knows that his father's spirit lives among the clouds. He also knows that to save his mother from being forced into a new marriage he must now follow in his father's footsteps and take to the skies, riding a kite through the clouds and the spirits of the dead. 

Then the Jade Circus offers him a chance to escape his enemies and travel throughout the empire, and maybe even perform before Kublai Khan himself. 

But is going with the circus really the best option?

Could the circus master be leading him into even greater danger?

Thoroughly original and compelling with such an unusual setting, drawing in influences from ancient Chinese myth and legend and wrapping them around a story with heroism and family love at its heart, spectacular is not the word!

"The Kite Rider" by Geraldine McCaughrean is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

(All books kindly supplied in exchange for a fair and unbiased review).
Read More

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Forest Craft: A Child's Guide to Whittling in the Woodland" by Richard Irvine (GMC Publications)

Whittling. You may be forgiven for thinking this is the sort of thing you might see a septuagenerian widdling away at on an episode of "Countryfile" but Richard Irvine aims to change that perception with a fantastic book for taking with you on your next woodland journey.

"Forest Craft: A Child's Guide to Whittling in the Woodland" is an absolutely fantastic craft book with a ton of amazing projects and makes - but more importantly, some really excellent lessons on how to do everything safely and responsibly. After all, you can't just wander into the nearest clump of trees with a bowie knife and start hacking away!

"Forest Craft" comes from that utterly absorbing line of thinking that all of us can take time out, get out into the countryside, get some fresh air and unleash our creativity in a really cool way.

With the book's emphasis on safety and adult supervision, Richard takes us through a series of amazing projects and makes such as a kazoo, mini furniture, duck call, whimmy diddle (!), rhythm sticks and the 'biggest gun' in the Harry Potter universe, an elder wand!

Each of the 20 projects comes with simple step-by-step instructions accompanied by photographs and useful tips. 

Also dotted throughout are interesting nuggets of information about woodland folklore, which add to the book's appeal. There are also plenty of inspirational photographs, showing how much fun it is to get out into the woodland with friends and family (something we try to do every single weekend if we can) and share in this relaxing, rewarding pastime. 

The book would also be a boon to forest school teachers looking for some interesting things to do in their sessions. 

It'd be awesome to think that a book like this could help keep the skill of whittling alive for generations to come. All these skills are dying out in the modern world's obsession with all things electronic, but this shows there's a lot more fun to be had out in the woods if you just take the time. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A really fantastic 'manual' for would-be woodland crafters and whittlers with 20 simple but absorbing projects to keep kids interested and engaged. 

"Forest Craft" by Richard Irvine is out now, published by GMC Publications (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"Chicks Rule" by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Renee Kurilla (Abrams Young Readers)

I've often wondered whether children's books start to tackle issues of feminism and diversity early enough, and in some cases we've seen some truly brilliant books for middle grade kids - but not much for age groups earlier than that.

"Chicks Rule" redresses the balance quite nicely with a gorgeously illustrated and empowering picture book for younger readers (both boys and girls) which is a triumphant rhyming story all about mighty girls - or in this case, mighty chicks.

Girls can do anything - as can chicks! All in step with wing in wing . . . Chicks can conquer anything!

In this story, Nerdy Chick has been waiting all day for the Rocket Club meeting.

But when she gets there, she finds a disturbing sign tacked to the door: “NO CHICKS ALLOWED!!!”

Puzzled, then baffled, then just plain mad, Nerdy Chick sets out to change the rules. Along the way, she meets other chicks who are just like her: passionate and determined. From Soccer Chick to Science Chick and Wordy Chick to Yoga Chick, these chicks aren’t willing to take “NO” for an answer.

Spread the word, little chicks rock!

They rally together, march to the barn at the center of town, and—when they hear “NO” once again—chart their own path forward (or, rather, up, up, and away!)

If there's one thing this book should definitely be praised for, it's the rallying call that 'no' is no longer acceptable for girls when it comes to being involved in all the cool activities on offer to youngsters. We've always made sure C knows that if any boy dares tell her that a particular activity or pastime is for boys only, that she digs her heels in until that attitude changes.

Busy building, busy thinking, busy not accepting 'no chicks' as an answer!

I'm in two minds with the whole 'chick' thing though, I can't help thinking that the message here would have been more strongly reinforced if the story centred around actual girls rather than a comfy compromise of choosing a 'cute' animal. But the message is very strong and clear in this regardless, and that's definitely something to celebrate.

Sum this book up in a sentence: An empowering message in an attractive picture book to kick off a fantastic mindset in the very young, full of positivity and diversity.

"Chicks Rule!" by Sudipta Barhan-Quallen and Renee Kurilla is out now, published by Abrams Young Readers (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

"Think Big" by Kes Gray and Nathan Reed (Hodder Children's Books)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, and contemplated his entire existence and worth as an egg-like being.

No it's not quite as snappy as the usual nursery rhyme but in "Think Big" by Kes Gray and Nathan Reed you'll find the rotund nursery rhyme character doing just that.

Along with his friends, Humpty soon finds out that the simple question of what you want to be when you grow up is actually far from simple.

Humpty's aspirations are fairly low-end though - he wants nothing more than to be a boiled egg, but his friends are encouraging him to think bigger!

"You could be an artist!" said Little Boy Blue.

"Look for clues and become a detective!" said Little Bo Peep.

"Buy a pair of football boots and become a footballer," said Wee Willy Winky.

"You really don't want to be a Boiled egg!' cry the three blind mice. So Humpty's thoughts begin to fizz with all the possibilities of things he could become and things he could achieve.

Will Humpty think big and reach for the stars?

Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant positive message inside a brightly illustrated story from two mega talents in children's books.

"Think Big" by Kes Gray and Nathan Reed is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

Monday, February 25, 2019

Celebrating 30 years of Kipper the Dog with a special edition of "The Blue Balloon" by Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children's Books)

We both remember how much fun we have had with Mick Inkpen's fantastic "Kipper" stories as C's reading journey has continued. Looking back on Mick's first successful children's book "The Blue Balloon" it seems almost impossible that this book is 30 years old. It still feels so fresh, simple and brilliant now as it must have back then.

This story is the very first appearance of Kipper the Dog who went on to massive success in many followup titles and even an animated TV series.

This is a fabulous tale celebrating the imagination of a child whose dog finds a soggy blue balloon in the garden.

A soggy balloon? That doesn't sound like the basis for an adventuresome and joyous story but this is no ordinary balloon. This is a magic balloon that takes the boy and his dog on a magical journey of daydreamy imagination and fun.

With Mick's trademark glorious illustrations, this is the sort of book that's going to win over a whole new generation of Kipper fans, as well as pleasing those of us who may have missed this one first time around.

Sum this book up in a sentence: As fresh and brilliant now as it was 30 years ago, a defining moment in Mick Inkpen's successful children's writing and illustrating career and one we're very happy to see back in print.

"The Blue Balloon" by Mick Inkpen is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

Friday, February 22, 2019

ReadItDaddy's YA Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd February 2019: "Judges: Volume 1" by Michael Carroll, Charles J. Eskew and George Mann (Rebellion Publishing)

As a lifelong Dredd fan, I've never actually read any 'pure text' versions of stories from that amazing universe (aside from a novelisation of the Stallone movie - which really doesn't count, does it?)

Also, as a lapsed Squaxx Dek Thargo (friend of Tharg, the mighty alien Editor of 2000AD) recently rediscovering just how fantastic 2000AD's publications still are, I was firmly out of the loop about these fantastic novelisations until recently.

With this week's YA Chapter Book of the Week, it's been truly fantastic to catch up with Dredd's world in a hitherto different form than the fab comic strips.

"Judges: Volume 1" by Michael Carroll, Charles J. Eskew and George Mann expands on the origin story of the whole system that spawned The Judges, that brutal fascist combination of Judge, Jury and Executioner that ruled the streets of near-future America with a nightstick of iron (well, probably high-impact carbon fibre but you get where I'm going with this).

I've seen tiny snippets of the story of Judge Eustace Fargo (the very first Chief Judge) and how Dredd's world descended into chaos before the US President was removed from office and the Judges took over.

Here though is a fantastic triple-header of a novel that feeds tons more detail into that origin story, beginning with a story of dissent, a grisly murder and the initial few years of establishment of the Justice System, through to stories that touch on everything in Dredd's world long before ol' chinface stalked the streets himself.

Set in 2033 and thereafter, this is a fine-grained and beautifully detailed piece of work that - for me as a JD fan - feels like a real breath of fresh air covering a ton of ground that had remained largely untrodden in the comic strips, graphic novels and even the Judge Dredd Megazine. Even if you're entirely new to Judge Dredd (where HAVE you been?) or the worlds created by Pat Mills, John Grant and Carlos Ezquerra, this is a durned good jumping in point that builds an incredible picture of what life is like in the Mega Cities in JD's world.

The stories are surprisingly human, extremely atmospheric and grittily written by three authors who feel like they've really immersed themselves in the Judge Dredd universe, to the point where you feel like you're reading something that draws parallel to the Karl Urban Dredd movie more than the far-flung often fantastical stuff that appears in the comic strips.

It's dark, brutal, pulls no punches - pretty much like a Judge then. Though our usual fare is firmly Middle Grade I'd probably put this somewhere in the YA / Adult category due to the subject matter the stories open up with, but even so it's absolutely essential stuff for fans of Dredd who want a bit more background.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastic novel building background to a set of stories that have been a massive part of my life, filled with a lot of very human tales of why the whole Justice System came about in the way it did.

"Judges: Volume 1" by Michael Carroll, Charles J. Eskew and George Mann is out now, published by Rebellion (kindly supplied for review as a digital ARC)
Read More

ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd February 2019: "Harold Snipperpot's Best Disaster Ever" by Beatrice Alemagna (Thames and Hudson)

Our Second Picture Book of the Week is from a talented author-illustrator whose work is always utterly fabulous.

We always love the totally surreal set-ups in Beatrice Alemagna's books, beautifully illustrated and totally involving for kids who don't just want the same old ordinary everyday world to be reflected in their stories.

In "Harold Snipperpot's Best Disaster Ever" meet the hapless young chap who is determined that his birthday this year won't just be the same boring non-event it is every other year.

After all, seven years old is a pretty important age to reach - well, when you're seven anyway!

Harold desperately wants something special to happen.

He's never had a real birthday party because his rather mean parents are just too grumpy for all that frivolity. They hate parties, in fact they don't seem to like each other very much either. 

But this year Harold's mum does come up with a plan and thanks to an amazing man named Mr. Ponzio, something incredible is going to happen on Harold's birthday - and it's going to be absolutely extraordinary (and just a bit crazy, chaotic and...disastrous?)

Mr Ponzio is such a great character, with a touch of mischief and craziness which initially horrifies Harold's family, and even poor Harold himself before they end up going along with the complete chaos. After all, it's going to be a far better way to spend a birthday than being grumpy, right?

On the day of Harold's birthday, animals start arriving at the house! It's amazing, but disaster looms - have you ever tried to play host to an entire zoo's worth of animals?

As ever Beatrice cooks up a crazy story with fast paced action and the most luscious illustrations. Another fab winner from her!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A superb little lesson for all of us, particularly grumpy parents, and a riotous celebration of the imagination and wonder of being a child again. 

"Harold Snipperpot's Best Disaster Ever" by Beatrice Alemagna is out now, published by Thames and Hudson (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

ReadItDaddy's Comic of the Week - Week Ending 22nd February 2019: "Zodiac Starforce Volume 2: Cries of the Fire Prince" by Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau and Sarah Stern (Dark Horse Comics)

Our Comic of the Week this week practically jumped off the library stacks and into C's hands. It could almost have been made for her and her alone.

Thankfully "Zodiac Starforce Volume 2: Cries of the Fire Prince" by Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau and Sarah Stern has been made for ALL girls (and boys) like C who are enjoying this new wave of amazing kid and middle grade comics (though I think it's probably fair to describe this as 'upper middle grade') where superheroes don't have to be grumpy, gritty misery-guts clad in shades of beige and grey.

For anyone who has loved the recent runs of Netflix animations like She-Ra and Carmen Sandiego, you could almost imagine the streaming service optioning Zodiac Starforce as an animation at some point in the not-too-distant future (given their committment to optioning a lot of comic IP - to great effect in most cases).

This though, well OK let's not get ahead of ourselves as this is volume 2 after all - and we're coming in a bit late.

The Zodiac Starforce team are a bunch of kick-ass superhero girls, each with their own unique set of powers.

Working effectively together, but just as devastating in their own individual rights too, meet Taurus, Libra, Gemini, Aries and Pisces, the US based Zodiac Starforce team.

When an innocent teenage prank goes hideously wrong, and a group of wicca-loving perps unwittingly unleash the Fire Prince on an unsuspecting world, the US Zodiac Starforce team must join with their (slightly grumpy and standoffish) UK counterparts to combat the demon menace before his disgusting denizens take over the entire world and turn it to ash.

Y'know, standard 'saving the world' stuff.

What marks this comic out is the way that the characters instantly gel, and just plain work together as a collective without feeling like some insidious marketing exercise in ticking all the diversity / inclusivity boxes.

You have characters of colour, kick-ass gals who don't conform to the usual 'superhero body shape', LGBT characters who express their love for each other in such a flipping fantastic and MG friendly way, wonderfully naturally within the threads of the story as volume 2 unfolds. Everyone will find their own faves (Naturally C loves Pisces as that's her star sign, and the character is as full of sass, fashion nous and individuality as C herself. I of course loved Taurus!)

I really wish we'd discovered this fantastic comic series sooner. I'd always assumed (wrongly) that Dark Horse were all about gritty, dark and dystopian stuff but this is a cut above just about every other superhero team comic we've read in the last couple of years.

Utterly fantastic. Now can we have that series, Netflix?

Sum this comic up in a sentence: Kick-ass, joyful, serious, funny, colourful and downright essential for mighty girls and boys everywhere.

"Zodiac Starforce Volume 2: Cries of the Fire Prince" is out now, published by Dark Horse Comics (Library loan). 
Read More

ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 22nd February 2019: "Hello Lighthouse" by Sophie Blackall (Orchard Books)

When I was a kid, I was mildly obsessed with lighthouses. Many family holidays to the Isle of Wight, and visiting the amazing lighthouse at The Needles - and the one at the end of Portland in Dorset cemented my love of these amazing buildings with their vital role to play.

I still dream of living in one.

In our first Picture Book of the Week this week, the sublime "Hello Lighthouse" by Sophie Blackall you will meet one such family who live in a tall lighthouse in the middle of tempestuous seas.

From dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams, sending its light out to sea, guiding the ships on their way. A lighthouse keeper primes the wick and keeps the lamp burning all night, winding the clockwork mechanism to keep the light turning. As the seasons pass and the waves rise and fall, outside, the wind blows; inside, the lighthouse keeper writes, and the rhythms of his life unfold.

Soon he is joined by his wife, and eventually their baby daughter is born, all within the circular confines of the lighthouse's sturdy walls. Life is good.

But change is on the horizon...and an all too familiar tale begins to unwind as the Lighthouse keeper realises that his way of life is becoming increasingly rare. Times are changing, and with them technology is changing too. So will there be a place in the modern world for his vital role?

Sophie's book is quite dream-like, feeling instantly like a classic children's story in the making, the sort of book we always clamour about on the blog as harking back to that golden age of children's books where characters had a role to play, a sense of purpose - and weren't just there to be the conduit for whatever the book's simple message is. 

In this case there is a message of hope tucked into the pages of this utterly gorgeous story - that despite the march of technology, and the way the world is changing rapidly, there is still time for those 'human' moments to contemplate our lives, our loved ones and the sheer beauty of our world - and it's one we could all do with hearing at the moment too.

Really wonderful stuff, this. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A beautiful, classic-feeling simple story of the passage of time and how people are affected by it, luxuriously illustrated and woven with exquisite skill by Sophie. 

"Hello Lighthouse" by Sophie Blackall is out now, published by Orchard Books (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Kidlit needs more than just 1 dimensional 'mighty girls' - A ReadItTorial



"Mighty Girl" books have been a huge part of our blog since the very beginning.

I'm so glad that our daughter has grown up amongst reading material that acknowledges and understands that girls can do absolutely anything boys can, and that the 'battle of the sexes' is increasingly an outdated and crazy notion that a few misguided folk still cling to, perhaps because of tradition, upbringing or just some weird primal instinct.

Perhaps.

The problem is, as we see more mighty girl characters in books and comics, we're also seeing the rise of a disturbing trend, described pretty perfectly in an article about movies over on IO9, but certainly applicable to a large section of children's literature too:


It's interesting that quite often in picture books, the approach is to show that characters must undertake a journey or a discovery of self, in order to achieve their 'mighty' aims (which can be practially anything, thus is the joy of writing for kids).

We began to notice a trend. C was drawn not to the characters who were self-assured, confident and instantly 'mighty' but always to the characters who messed up, or had self-doubt, or some upset on their journey path that made them take a step back, pause, think for a minute before re-embracing their task or quest.

Consider the sublime "Rosie Revere, Engineer" by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.

By anyone's measure, here is a book about a 'mighty girl' who wants to turn her adept skills at inventing things towards making the perfect flying machine.

Most books would've taken the direct path of showing Rosie working for a while and eventually achieving her aims. But Andrea's 'mighty girl' suffers setbacks, has flaws, and needs some inspiration - and a little steer here and there from an understanding (mighty) Aunt in order to finally realise that achievements aren't always easily attained, skills must be learned, praise should be earned, and that the way we learn to deal with defeat can define how we learn how to achieve success.

We love this book, and though we love the rest of Andrea and David's 'mighty kid' books too, this is the one that gets things absolutely right. Rosie isn't some brash self-confident character who makes it all look easy, she is aware of - and learns to work against - her flaws, and the story (and characters) are so much better for it.

So many times, children's books merely assume that the reader will bond with a character that is basically a flat 'echo' of what we've come to expect and demand from mighty girl characters. Their girls are strong, outgoing and confident and they seem to arrive at the beginning of the story fully formed in this way. To be quite honest, if there's no development or we're not taken through that character's evolution in some way, the story will suffer for it, and the characters will be as memorable as what we had for breakfast on the 22nd Feb 2017.

Of course, writing flawed characters who realistically have other things to cope with that underpin or sometimes even undermine their mightiness takes extra effort, and that's not effort that many authors are willing to put in for something like a 12-spread 32 page picture book or sometimes even a middle grade book. It's something that begins to emerge more in upper middle grade and YA, but perhaps that's due to the luxury of having more space to breathe, more space to flesh out our characters, and more space to have them fail as well as succeed, in order to drive a story successfully.

Would be great to hear other opinions on this. Well aware that no one bothers to comment here but hit us up on Twitter @readitdaddy by all means!
Read More

"Paper World: Planet Earth" by Ruth Symons and Bomboland (Templar Publishing)

We love, love, LOVE Natural History books - particularly books that take a closer look at our planet, its wonders, its beauty, and just how fragile it is when it comes to natural and unnatural earth-shaking events.

"Paper World: Planet Earth" by Ruth Symons and Bomboland (that fantastic French illustrative collective) offer views of our amazing home planet from the inside out.

With innovative and artistic use of cut-outs and 'lift the flap' elements, this is a geography lesson like no other, as we take a deep dive beneath the oceans, or dig beneath the planet's surface to find out what bubbles at its core.

There are 30 flaps to lift, and lots of 'peep through' sections in each page spread to keep young minds completely engaged in the subject matter.

It's absolutely perfect for little ones who might want to learn a little more about earth, and how it came to be.


Let's take a look inside!

Falling in love with Volcanoes!
Bubbling lava and blasts of gas (sounds like an average day at ReadItDaddy Towers!)

Tites hang down, mites stick up!
Deep dark caves full of Stalactites and Stalagmites...

No, not for serving dinner on!
Earthquakes and tectonic plates!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Amazing stuff, beautifully described and illustrated, full of tons of ways to pique the curiosity of little ones everywhere!

"Paper World: Planet Earth" by Ruth Symons and Bomboland is out today, published by Templar Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 


Read More

"Frockodile" by Jeanne Willis and Stephanie Laberis (Hodder Children's Books)

Now here's an interesting book, and though it may be tiptoeing over ground that has been covered before in children's books, there's a rather nicely done and subtly satisfying story to go along with "Frockodile" by Jeanne Willis and Stephanie Laberis.

Cliff is a crocodile - and Cliff rather likes dressing fabulously in a lovely red dress.

Unfortunately for Cliff, Hyenas seem to think that rather than being charming and stylish, Cliff is utterly ridiculous.

"Boy crocodiles don't wear dresses!" they laugh. But Cliff is out to prove them wrong, along with his fantastic friend Freddy.

Between them the two cook up an idea - to create a fabulous show just for Cliff to strut his funky stuff in the clothes he loves, clothes that help him express his individuality and that help him feel comfortable in his own crocodile skin.

But what will Cliff's dad say when he sees his son parading around in a red dress and high heels, and pink frilly knickers?

Perfect for younger readers, and hopefully the sort of picture book to generate really interesting chats around inclusivity in school or nursery, and perhaps put to bed that irritating "bants" that seems to kick in at an increasingly early age whenever boys or girls want to tread their own paths when it comes to their clothing preferences (or any other preference for that matter).

Nicely done, subtle but not too subtle. I think the only thing we could possibly wish for with a book like this was that the author / illustrator didn't have to resort to playing it safe with animal characters to push home a point that is well worth making for all little girls and boys everywhere, regardless of species or race.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A huge powerful positive message wrapped subtly around a story of one boy living his best life and finding a friend to help him express himself in such a cool way.

"Frockodile" by Jeanne Willis and Stephanie Laberis is out on 7th March 2019, published by Hodder Children's Books. 
Read More

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The boys get a chance to shine in new titles from the fantastic "Little People, BIG DREAMS" range of books from Lincoln Children's Books

One thing we hoped for with the superb "Little People, Big Dreams" range of books was that we'd start to see the boys getting a chance to find inspirational characters of their own in amongst the titles. Not that books featuring amazing inspirational women shouldn't inspire both boys and girls, but we definitely got the impression from a lot of our readers that boys were just itching for the chance to dive into new titles featuring inspirational males.

So the first crop of titles are here, and the range is kicking off with two amazing guys from the world of science and sport.

First is "Little People Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking" by Isobel Sanchez Vegara and Matt Hunt.

Detailing the life of one of the greatest theoretical and practical scientists of the 20th and 21st Century, the late Professor Stephen Hawking's time on our planet was filled with amazing scientific discoveries, and some of the best selling science publications ever written.

Bit of a brainbox at school, was Stephen!
Although Stephen Hawking was never top of the class, his curiosity took him to the best universities in England: Oxford and Cambridge.

It also led him to make one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the 20th century: Hawking radiation. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the brilliant physicist's life.

"Little People Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking" by Isobel Sanchez Vegara and Matt Hunt is out now, published by Lincoln Children's Books. 

From the world of Boxing, one of the most accomplished and inspirational boxers next, in "Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali" by Isobel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Brosmind. 

The early life of Cassius Clay is where this book begins. When he was little, Muhammad Ali had his bicycle stolen. 

He wanted to fight the thief, but a policeman told him him to learn how to box first. 

After training hard in the gym, Muhammad developed a strong jab and an even stronger work ethic. 

His smart thinking and talking earned him the greatest title in boxing: Heavyweight Champion of the World. 

This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of 'The Greatest's' life.

We loved the different artistic approaches with these titles, which is a trademark of the series. But the main point is that these potted biographies offer a fantastic entry point for kids to find out more about some of the most inspirational people of all time. 

Learn to fight before you take on a thief. Not sure this is the world's greatest advice but it did result in the world's greatest boxer!
"Little People Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali" by Isobel Sanchez Vegara with illustrations from Brosmind, is out now published by Lincoln Children's Books. 

(Both books kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

More hysterical historical fun from James Davies as we "Meet the Ancient Greeks" and "Meet the Pirates" (Big Picture Press)

History and humour go together like the silkiest peanut butter and the most sticky strawberry jam (and if you don't like peanut butter and jam sandwiches, you can basically do one!)

James Davies is back with his stylish and irreverent look at history, in two fantastic new titles from Big Picture Press.

First is "Meet the Ancient Greeks" - the civilisation that arguably gave us mathematics, astronomy and enhanced our cultural well-being with works of gorgeous art, amazing architecture and some blisteringly brilliant myths and legends.

But were the Ancient Greeks all they were cracked up to be? Let's really take a look at what made one of the greatest civilisations tick in this fab little book full of crazy humour but with tons of facts to underpin the giggles.

Who let the gods out? Well, the Ancient Greeks did. A lot. 
Delving expertly into all aspects of Ancient Greek culture, James' stylised illustrations work brilliantly once again, making this a fantastic addition to any young would-be historian's book collection.

"Meet the Ancient Greeks" by James Davies is out now, published by Big Picture Press. 

James doesn't stop there though, he spins his time-wheel further forward in history in "Meet the Pirates" - another fantastic title in the "Meet the" series, tackling the real-life subject of pirates who were the scourge of the seven seas around the 15th Century and beyond.

Learn all about some of the most famous pirates, such as Blackbeard (famous for - well, you've guessed it - a big bushy black beard and various creative ways of dispatching his enemies - ew!)

Find out what life was like on-board ship. Scurvy-raddled, dying of thirst, often missing eyes and limbs, but with the lure of booty ever-present, a pirate's life for thee? Well why not, eh? James makes it all look so fun and brilliant but there are plenty of real-life facts that show life on the ocean wave wasn't all it was cracked up to be!

No washing! Sounds like C's dream come true, the stinky little tyke!
"Meet the Pirates" by James Davies is also available now, published by Big Picture Press. 

(Both books very kindly supplied for review).
Read More

Monday, February 18, 2019

Two tempting treats for little tigers, from Little Tiger Press

We're celebrating the release of two brilliant little books from Little Tiger Press, and the first is a real treat for mighty girl fans who love seeing sisters "doin' it for themselves".

"The Girls" by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie (Ace and Lovlie - what a fab pair of names and what a team!) introduces Four little girls who first meet as tiny toddlers, playing under an apple tree.

As the tree grows tall and begins to bear fruit, the girls form a bond that grows as they share secrets, dreams, worries and schemes.

It's a wonderfully observed and beautifully illustrated tale that charts the girls' lives through ups and downs and laughter and tears.


Find out how their friendship flourishes as the years pass by and the girls become women.

Wonderfully written with some really fab illustrations, this is a real 'feelgood' picture book that little girls will absolutely adore.

"The Girls" by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie is out now, published by Little Tiger Press. 

Next up is "The Kiss" - a mite late for Valentine's Day but a thoroughly original tale from Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle.

The story begins as young Ewyn blows his beloved Grandma a kiss that brings smiles, laughter and dancing! 

But someone jealously covets that kiss and a rich man thinks that he can use his power, money and influence to steal the kiss, and keep it all to himself. He will stop at nothing to get it, but needs to learn the most valuable lesson of all - some things just can't be bought!

Wonderful lyrical storytelling coupled with sumptuous luxurious colourful painted illustrations, this is a really gorgeous book with a simple but powerfull message at its heart. 

"The Kiss" by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle is out now, published by Little Tiger Press. 

(Both books kindly supplied for review)
Read More

Friday, February 15, 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week ending 15th February 2019: "Against All Gods" by Maz Evans (Chicken House)

So here it is. The final book...and our Chapter Book of the Week this week, the stunning "Against all Gods" by Maz Evans.

Book lovers everywhere will know what it feels like when you are holding in your hand the final book in a series that has wormed its way into your heart, and become such a firm favourite that you know the minute you're done with this, you'll want to go right back to "Who Let the Gods Out" and re-read the entire series all over again.

That's how it is with us. Each of Maz' brilliant books has slid with ease into our Chapter Book of the Week slot, and this is no exception.

It wasn't a foregone conclusion though. As C gets older she gets tougher, and when this arrived she grabbed it with a 'whoop' and what followed was a couple of days of agonising questioning until I could comfortably get her opinion on it.

"It's good" she said simply, quietly, almost with reverence, and a tinge of sadness...

So what are you in store for? Well, if you have been following Elliot's escapades across all four books (and if you haven't WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING, MORTAL?) you'll know where things stand at the start of this book.

Elliot faces his darkest period yet. Having vanquished unearthly foes, narrowly avoided losing his home, then suffering from the highs and lows of amazing triumphs and horrid losses, Elliot's final quest could decide the fate of mankind.  

Luckily Elliot isn't alone, though with a bunch of misfit gods to help, it's a wonder the world hasn't been hurled into a dark abyss before now. 

Every single chapter in this book feels crafted, as once again Elliot is on the trail of the fourth and final chaos stone, with gods such as Zeus, Hermes (our fave character, BOSH!) Aphrodite and of course Virgo, the wayward constellation all 'helping' in their own particular ways. But as the story winds to a close, Maz keeps you guessing right until the very end (which we, of course, can't reveal! We're mere book bloggers after all, not immortal Greek gods and goddesses!)

Suffice to say that you will not be disappointed in the least, and like us you'll be wondering what Maz will get up to next. Having crafted such a funny, heartfelt, brilliantly observed and hilariously pop-culture-referencing piece of anarchic greatness as this series is, we can only gasp in awe at her talent as a writer and hope that it won't be too long before we find out what Maz got up to next. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly brilliantly written finale to a series that has been consistently fantastic, and whether you're a fan or a new reader of "Gods" you are in for a solid treat. 

"Against All Gods" by Maz Evans is out now, published by Chicken House Books (kindly supplied for review). 
Read More

ReaditDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th February 2019: "A Story about Cancer with a Happy Ending" by India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer with translation by Solange Ouellet (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Sometimes I think we're emotionally unprepared to run a children's book blog, when you get books like this that utterly destroy you emotionally with just a few words...
Read More

ReadItDaddy's First Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 15th February 2019: "The Wall in the Middle of the Book" by Jon Agee (Scallywag Press)

Our first Book of the Week this week probably should find its way onto the desk of a certain Brillo-Pad-Haired President...
Read More

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Battling with anxiety and discussing children's mental health - Huge, sprawling, complex and nothing to do with snowflakes. A ReadItTorial


This week's ReadItTorial is probably a bit of an ironic thing to post on Valentine's Day, but revisits a topic I've touched on before, and something that I've tried to write about in children's picture book texts more than a few times.

With our own experiences as parents of a naturally anxious child we've found time and time again that this is something that will touch most kids' lives at one point or another.

The problem is that not everyone 'grows out of it' - and I'm not even sure if it's something that can easily be shrugged off. I know this, and speak from bitter experience.

Anxiety is - quite frankly, and excuse my language - absolutely shitty. It manifests itself on a daily basis, sometimes in innocuous (sometimes even laughable) ways, but quite often in ways that will prevent you from achieving things you dearly want to do.

I recently went along to the fantastic "Sketchbook Social" event held at The Story Museum in Oxford. Whenever I go to any events, even something that's really informal and pretty low key, I have to practically beg my inner voice to just STFU, stop overthinking things, and almost enter some sort of weird 'autopilot' mode in order to be able to sum up enough courage to attend. I imagine that most folk check out the time and place an event is going to take place at. Maybe even set a calendar reminder. Then when the time comes they just leave the house, make their way to the place and take part in whatever it is.

For me, it's like a one-sided conversation that takes place entirely in my fizzing brain and for a lot of anxiety suffers it's like we're trying to pre-plan and predict every facet of what might happen in the hours to come.

It's ridiculous really. Every single time I've actually made it to any event I always meet really nice folk, all with a common interest (usually creative but we'll come back to that) who love to talk or better still, get involved in drawing, cooking, painting or other awesome pursuits.

Anxiety is a fickle beast. The whole overthinking thing (which our poor daughter seems to have inherited from us both, though more from me, I fear) and this busines of our brains trying to map out every eventuality just makes no discernible sense at all.

It can't be shut off though as it tries to predict the sort of people you will meet. It may also try to offer exit strategies, get-out clauses, may hold you up while it engages in constructing elaborate excuses for non-attendance. If you don't give it an audience it then turns to sneakier methods of subverting you. You'll sweat or shake, absolutely convinced that your body is turning against you. Your limbs will feel stiff, your brain goes from racing like a high-end sports car to trundling along at a snail's pace once you get under way, fighting that damned inner voice as you go (and trust me on this, it is a fight).

I have various means and methods that I try to use in order to combat anxiety and these are the ones I've also tried to share with our daughter as she suffers in similar ways (even now, even if she's going somewhere with us or if she's about to sit down to dinner, she needs to be fed as much detail about what's coming up as possible and we've had screaming fits on the doorstep if we've stubbornly tried to hide a day-out destination from her, or have refused to reveal what we're about to eat).

For me, the most common method is to try and 'mask' it. Adopt a persona that does not seem naturally anxious at first or second glance. Perhaps try and present some sort of normality. Again though my sneaky brain looks for elaborate ways to subvert this and I'll often say the most inane and stupid things simply because I'm sitting there trying to cope with a situation where the absolute concentration required for maintaining a mask is being chipped away at by a screaming inner voice demanding attention.

I know, right. People are probably reading this and thinking "Dear boy, you are quite mad". Trust me, I'm not mad, but I'm damned mad about this.

So back to a typical evening out and of course once the event is finished, your brain once again starts up in supercar race mode, raking over absolutely everything that's happened during those couple of hours or so, a mental post-mortem, kicking you in the arse to remind you of stupid things you might have said or done, or mapping out what your brain or imagination feels folk who were 'unfortunate' enough to encounter you during the event would be going away and saying about you. Even putting forward the notion that you had no business being there, and were actually butting in.

How absolutely *&!%£% rubbish is that?

It has been interesting reading some of Matt Haig's tweets and posts recently about anxiety too, highlighting just how misunderstood - if understood at all - the whole thing really is, not just by folk who don't suffer from it, but even from folk who do.

In children, I truly believe it's becoming more and more commonplace because kids are under colossal amounts of pressure that we really didn't have ourselves as kids (certainly not in my generation at least).

There's immense pressure at school to perform well, there's immense pressure from some parents for kids to 'do their best' when really the parents are mapping out their child's near-future, perhaps with the goal of University in mind, or securing a good job, being mentally and physically well, being happy. Imagine either consciously or subconsciously being on the receiving end of a barrage of expectations from all directions when really all you want to do is sit in a pile of Lego and build stuff, or draw unicorns riding clouds, or play with your friends, or a zillion other things kids should be doing other than studying, doing homework or being force-fed reading materials they really have utterly no interest in.

Add social media and the internet into the mix later on, and the heightened sense of a need to 'belong' to a particular clique, mindset or set of friend-driven ideals - and of course the further erosion of childhood as kids are put under intense pressure to grow up as soon as they hit their teens (and have all the physical and hormonal changes to pile onto their teetering set of anxieties).

Mental health is a huge, huge topic to try and tackle in the space of a blog post but for me, anxiety is absolutely not something to dismiss lightly. Sometimes the very processes of the modern world seem almost conspiratory towards this stupid imagined ideal that we can merely 'toughen up, grow up, deal with the adult world' but it's not merely as simple as that - and I'm sure I'm not the only one who goes through this sort of stuff every time they see something they really want to be involved in, right?








Read More

Feeling the BOOK love on Valentine's Day with a selection of gorgeous cuddly titles.

Awww, Valentine's Day. Love it or hate it, it's the perfect opportunity to pour on the book love with a selection of cuddly, smoochy and loved-up books from awesomely creative folk.

First up is a real "HUG" in book form, in fact it's called "The Hug" and it's by Eoin McLaughlin with glorious characterful illustrations by Polly Dunbar.

In the spirit of "Guess How Much I Love You" you'll meet a cute Hedgehog and a wrinkly tortoise.

Both are feeling very sad because they can't seem to find a hug anywhere. Each animal they encounter shies away, but when they find out that it's because Hedgehog is too spiky, and Tortoise is too bony, perhaps all they need to do is find each other!

A beautiful little book which comes in a large paperback format, or a cuddlesome and cute tiny hardback edition. Lovely!

"The Hug" by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar is out now, published by Faber and Faber. 

Our perennial fave characters, those awesome Mr Men and Little Miss characters from the creative minds of Roger and Adam Hargreaves are back with a very special book all about love.

The Mr Men and Little Miss Folk will help you show that special someone just how much they mean to you with this warm and witty celebration of love and friendship.

Following the bestselling My Mummy and My Daddy, this delightful book pairs Roger Hargreaves classic artwork with affectionate and humorous new text to help children and adults share the love on Valentine's Day or at any time they want to say I love you.

We've loved the Mr Men and Little Miss books for years, so don't miss out on this very special new book that's perfect for the book lover you know (or just as good as a special treat for yourself!)

"Mr Men and Little Miss: Love" by Roger Hargreaves is out now, published by Egmont.

Another brilliant lovey-dovey book from Egmont now. "Love from Pooh" couples lovely little verses and prose taken from A.A. Milne's classic books, coupled with the gorgeous line art of Pooh's world from the pen of E.H. Shepard.

It's the perfect gift for Valentine's day. Wear your heart on your sleeve with this lovely gift book featuring words of love from Winnie-the-Pooh. 

When you are Pooh, honey is your first love, and your best friend loves you despite you being a Silly Old Bear. 

Bet you never thought of saying it with "Pooh" rather than flowers. 

"Love from Pooh" by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard is out now, published by Egmont. 

Last but not least in our loved-up quartet of brilliant books is one of our all-time favourites. 

Hunt high and low for a copy of this one as it's absolutely brilliant at any time of year, not just Valentine's Day. 

"Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone" by Frieda Wishinsky and Neal ("Emily Brown") Layton is a true work of genius, coupling a hilarious rhyming story with the budding hearts and flowers of first love. 

A young lad is annoyed by the fact that his new classmate Jennifer Jones really won't leave him alone. When she's not buying him hearts at the store, she's doodling little messages to him and really isn't backwards in coming forwards. He thinks she's a complete pest - until the fateful day when Jennifer Jones leaves for good...and the boy realises he really misses her like mad (men eh? Can never make their blimmin' minds up!)

It's just so funny on so many levels, and of course it goes without saying that the combination of Frieda's perfect sing-song rhymes and Neal's brilliant characterful illustrations make this a complete win. I hope it's not out of print, because it's an absolute belter. 

"Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone" by Frieda Wishinsky and Neal Layton is out now, published by Picture Corgi. 

Here's hoping you get lots of cards and pressies on Valentine's Day! Big booky love from us!

(All books kindly provided for review purposes). 
Read More