Tuesday 30 April 2019

A creative children's magazine with a difference - Meet the marvellous Munch Cats! #MunchCatsMag

On the blog we're always interested in new magazines and comics for kids - particularly when they take a stand against ad-laden movie / tv licence driven plastic-tat magazines.

Needless to say, the subject matter of cute chibi cats, creativity and awesome activities was of massive interest to my daughter - and so Munch Cats Magazine plopped through our letterbox!

Available issue by issue from most reputable stockists, but also through subscription, the first thing you'll notice about the magazine (aside from the uber-cute kitty filled cover) is the fact that this one doesn't come wrapped in a single-use plastic wrapper (subscription copies arrive in a recyclable envelope - HOORAY!)

You'll also notice there are no ads, no tacky plastic gifts - but instead the magazine features a 6 page fold-out activity cover, paper origami sheets, pull-out interactive story book, 2 full-size sheets of stickers and so much more! There are board games, puzzles, colouring sheets and of course tons and tons of cute cats - what could be better?

Issue 4 is about to hit the news stands, available through ASDA, Morrisons, Waitrose, Tesco and your local newsagent, or order online securely through PayPal via the Munch Cats Website (where you'll also find lots of fun downloads and activities to get you started!)

We really loved the mix of crafting and awesome origami in the magazine, absolutely perfect for kids who love papercraft, colouring, drawing and making things. We also really loved the idea that the magazine encourages kids to think about household waste, and how they can upcycle items into cool and fun new things to play with too. A truly awesome idea!

Get on board with Bubble Cat, Pudding Cat, Noodle Cat and the rest of the fabulous Munch Cats (C's favourite Munch Cat is Honey Cat who loves reading) for a brilliant fun packed and creative new kids mag with a ton of eco-cred.

(Disclaimer: We were sent a single issue of Munch Cats Magazine in exchange for a fair review).
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"Charlie and Mouse: Even Better" by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes (Chronicle Children's Books)

These two little scamps are utterly adorable, and we've really enjoyed previous books in this fantastic series, so let's dig into the superb "Charlie and Mouse: Even Better" by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes.

Charlie and Mouse are two brothers who love getting up to all sorts of mischief. Their long-suffering parents love them to bits, and Laurel's brilliant observations of children's behaviour (and their parent's reactions!) are what make these stories great.

Four perfect little tales wrapped up in one book, with stunning art from Emily Hughes. So let's have a closer look.

It's Pancake Day, and if, like us, you spent a very messy couple of hours making pancake batter, covering your pancakes in glorious toppings and devouring them in a matter of seconds you'll love the first tale. Charlie and Mouse's mum gets some pretty odd requests for pancakes from her boys. First they want tiny itty-bitty baby pancakes. Then a pancake turtle, and finally a pancake dragon! But mum figures out the perfect way to put a stop to their pancake gluttony!

Poor Mom! Who on earth knows how to make a pancake dragon!!
The rest of these tiny little tales are equally charming as Charlie and Mouse go shopping with dad, try to come up with the perfect birthday present for Mom, and cope with a cookery disaster with some well-timed diversionary tactics.

Moms are amazing (like we didn't already know this!)
Sum this book up in a sentence: Ticklish tales that are perfect for little ones. We love 'em!

"Charlie and Mouse: Even Better" by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes is out now, published by Chronicle Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 29 April 2019

"Lesser Spotted Animals 2" by Martin Brown (David Fickling Books)

When it comes to animal books we're rapidly getting to the point where C needs something...."more" from non-fiction titles that talk about various animal species, their habits and habitats, lives and er...yes, even loves.

So we're overjoyed to see "Lesser Spotted Animals 2" by Martin Brown. The sequel to smasher "Lesser Spotted Animals" but more than that, another chance to find out tons about animals that aren't the headline-grabbing superstars of other animal books, but nonetheless are cute, cuddly and in some cases downright pongy!

Discover more brilliant beasts you never knew you needed to know about from the Altai Argali to the yellow-throated marten and everything in between. 

Martin deftly notches up yet another winner, in the same irreverant and hilarious style as his illustrations for Terry Deary's million-selling "Horrible Histories" books. You'd have to be nuts to miss this one!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastic, funny and irreverent look at a huge collection of animals you may never have heard of before, in a fact-filled giggle-a-thon of a natural history book. 

"Lesser Spotted Animals 2" by Martin Brown is out now, published by David Fickling Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday 26 April 2019

ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 26th April 2019: "Brave Molly" by Brooke Boynton-Hughes (Chronicle Children's Books)

What an amazing Book of the Week this week! A real wow and no mistake.

But first, let's talk for a moment about the power of (almost) wordless picture books. Sometimes it's very difficult for books to address a particular issue in a language that's simple enough, but not patronising, for children to absorb and identify with.

When it comes to the issues in "Brave Molly" by Brooke Boynton-Hughes, the immensely talented author-illustrator has opted to use an entirely visual way of talking about anxiety and it's one that works so amazingly well, you'll wonder why no one's thought of doing anything like this before.

Any anxiety suffers, young or old, will immediately be able to identify and decode this story of a young girl who sees monsters lurking outside whenever she looks wistfully out of her window.

But what do you do when no one can see your monsters but you? 

That's exactly what it's like when you try to explain to people what anxiety feels like, how it affects your life - and can sometimes stop you doing the things you really want to do. 

When you want to go out, but your anxiety takes a monstrous form...

At first, Molly runs from the monsters. But they follow her down the sidewalk, getting in the way when she tries to make a new friend, popping up unexpectedly out of shadows, and multiplying. 

Perfect visual metaphors for the struggles of anxiety and self doubt. 

Until finally...Molly faces her fears head on and confronts them - which is sometimes the only way to deal with monsters (and anxiety, of course). 

Brooke has created a perfect visual metaphor for the manifestation of our worries and fears in her insidious monsters that lurk around every corner. The artwork in this is truly stunning, like a cross between Garen Ewing's gorgeous dot-eye style, and a smidge of Anthony Browne's surreal storyscapes as well.

There is a single word in this book, and that moment ends up being one of the most powerful moments in a story that is full of them. I think there's a tiny concern that some of the scenes might be a bit too much for younger readers but it's certainly the sort of book that - even though it's wordless - a parent and child can curl up with and work through together. In fact that's probably the best way to read this one. 

We can't recommend this one highly enough though, it nails the feelings around shyness, anxiety and agoraphobia perfectly.

OH and by the way...there's one last surprise waiting for you if you get the hardback edition of this book. Just slide that slip cover off once you've finished the book. Isn't that a lovely, lovely touch?

Sum this book up in a sentence: A book that we've been waiting for, perfectly picturing and relating what it feels like to be an anxiety sufferer, and what it truly means to be brave and confront your fears. 

"Brave Molly" by Brooke Boynton-Hughes is out now, published by Chronicle Children's Books (kindly supplied for review)

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Thursday 25 April 2019

ReadItDaddy passes one million clicks - HUGE HUGE massive thanks to you lovely folk! Today's ReadItTorial

Oh my, what a thing to come back from our holiday to...

While we were away, it seems our humble book blog passed an important milestone, and one that I (once semi seriously) said would signal the end of our blogging efforts.

We passed the one million hits mark early in April. I'd been measuring hits with a really shonky piece of counter code, but also backed that up with Google's own stats (amusingly the counter code broke spectacularly, seemingly unable to cope with a 6 digit number).

So what does this actually mean? Well it means over the course of the last 9 years a million folk have fetched up at our door to read about children's books, or read random musings about all sorts of esoteric subjects from the political to the paranormal, from the goofy to the downright weird but amidst all of this, to read reviews of the truly amazing books we've been fortunate enough to read during our blogging career.

We've seen so many things change during that time. We've seen arguments over E-books 'killing off print' fizzle and die - in fact it'd be interesting to revisit the sales figures for E-Books back when we started, vs the sales figures for them now (not necessarily talking about Kindle type e-books but those app-driven stories that were once the darlings of parents who trusted a tablet to nanny their kids for them while they went off and did other things). Looking at the way children's books have become a mighty force in most publisher sales during the period we've been blogging, and seeing how packed the children's departments have been when we've ever dropped into high street chain bookstores, that's definitely made us very happy - that not all kids were lured away from print books by the promise of more whistles, bells and bleeps from their iPads.

We've seen children's authors rightfully become superstars in their own right, household names, and yet we still feel that mainstream media largely ignores children's books, still seeing them as a somewhat whimsical and fleeting thing (again, laughable when you consider sales of kidlit vs book sales in general). Authors express their frustration about this on Twitter almost on a daily basis, and though there are a few folk who could do with a kick in the pants for claiming that there's no 'quality' coverage of children's literature to guide parents (ahem, book blogs anyone? Remember those? Run by extremely passionate and knowledgable book-loving folk who commit hours and hours of their time every week to writing them? No?) TV, Radio, Magazines and Newspapers could do so much more and do it so much better than just supplying a glib quote for a back cover now and again (we always laugh when we see the sheer effort that some places go to for their one line of endorsement that appears in the press releases of books we recieve for review - you can always spot the blogger ones, they're always better, just sayin')

We've also seen the rise and rise of celebrity authors muscling in on the market, to the point where authors long-established and newly minted really get fed up to the back teeth of the huge effort publishers go to in order to nurture and market sleb kidlit, quietly scuttling any notion that the person didn't actually write the durned books themselves (you know who we're talking about though, right?)

But of course the main thing we've seen is the rise, and rise, and rise of the quality of children's fiction and non fiction, comics and magazines, to the point where no one can really deny that kidlit is enjoying a golden age, making our jobs as bloggers both wonderfully blissful and extremely hard (particularly when it comes to nominating books of the week or books of the year).

Alongside the amazing world of books, for C, her mum and I it's been 9 years of our lives. During those years, just like any family, we've had ups an downs, we've seen our daughter's original tiny seed of interest in books grow into a complete obsession, and we've seen the payoff from her love of books in her school work, her imagination, her creativity and her character too and if there's ever a reason to share a love of books with your kids, dang, that's got to be a good one surely?

We wouldn't be here without you though, our readers. Whether you're a fellow book lover, a parent, a guardian. Whether you're a book-obsessed hard working PR working for a publisher producing dazzing titles. Whether you're an author, an illustrator, translator, book designer, or the person who loads the books onto pallets to ship 'em off to a bookshop, or the big chief at a publisher, we owe you a massive and huge thank you, particularly to you kind folk who week after week send us parcels filled with wondrous books to cast our eyes over, making every week feel like Christmas.

Will we quit, as I jokingly suggested when we started out all those years ago? Will we heck! We still love doing this, we still love books and we absolutely adore talking about them - particularly with you lovely folk, so why on earth would we? If anything, knowing that a million folk came here to read about books just makes us want to redouble our efforts, do things better, mix things up a bit, try new things, evolve with the reading material that C now favours (middle grade and comics, eventually morphing into YA and perhaps one day even adult books - the sky really is the limit!)

So 1 million down, here's to the next!
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ReaditDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - April 2019

Welcome to our post-Easter Chapter Book Roundup, we'll try not to go too overboard with chocolate-themed or egg-punned books, in fact our first choice for April has nothing to do with either.

The exquisite "Cloud Boy" by Marcia Williams is the sort of book that beautifully charts the highs and lows of friendships, and our ability to cope with joy and sadness in equal measure, in a truly heart-wrenching but gorgeous book.

Harry Christmas and Angie Moon are best friends and almost-twins.

Ever since they were born two days apart they’ve been partners in cloud-spotting, sweet-eating and treehouse-building. 

But when Harry is taken to hospital for headaches that won’t go away, he needs Angie more than ever. Because when things fall apart, only a best friend can stitch them back together. 

Marcia tells the story through Angie's voice and observations with pin-sharp clarity in a really stunning tale. 

"Cloud Boy" by Marcia Williams with cover art by Markus Motum is out now, published by Walker Books

Our next book is fantastical, whimsical and light-hearted - the sort of book that makes you think "What if..."

"We Won an Island" is Charlotte Lo's truly impressive debut for Nosy Crow. 

When Luna's family win an island, Luna thinks it will solve everything AND she can finally get a donkey, hooray!

But things don't go entirely to plan - no one expects Luna's younger brother to win a Sheep Pageant, for example.

Then plans for their secret island festival go completely awry.

But the island is beautiful, and the family are happy, and maybe Luna will get her donkey after all!

A book that just begs to be read ahead of the summer, to get you right in the mood for days of sunshine and sand, this is a thoroughly original and amusing book. 

"We Won an Island" by Charlotte Lo is out on 2nd May 2019, published by Nosy Crow. 

More thoroughly original stuff now, based partially on factual events at the turn of the 20th Century, and adapted from Jill Jonnes' fascinating book for grown-ups. 

"Eiffel's Tower (for young people)" by Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff has kept C and her mum enthralled over the past few weeks. 

Weaving together the behind-the-scenes history of the Eiffel Tower with an account of the 1889 World's Fair in Paris for which the tower was built, Jonnes creates a vivid, lively pageant of people and cultures meetingand competing.

On two sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the French and Americans are preparing for the World's Fair.

As Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley become the toasts of Paris and Gustave Eiffel, builder of the tower, rises to the pinnacle of fame, only to suffer a tragic fall from grace, this amazing story plays out against the backdrop of a world of innovation, amazing scientific discoveries and above all huge progress and change. 

Revolving around two nations, whose potent symbols were the twin poles of the fair. France, with its long history of sophistication and cultivation, and with a new republican government eager for the country to take its place at the forefront of the modern world, presented the Eiffel Tower - the world's tallest structure - as a symbol of national pride and engineering superiority. The United States, with its brash, can-do spirit, full of pride in its frontier and its ingenuity, presented the rollicking Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody and the marvelous new phonograph of Thomas Edison. Eiffel, Cody, Oakley, and Edison are just a few of the characters who populate Jonnes's dramatic history. 

A sprawling novel that encompasses amazing human stories depicting the achievements of the day, this is a must-read for kids who have thrilled to the era of "The Greatest Showman" and want something that's even more spectacular. 

"Eiffel's Tower (for young people)" by Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Steffof is out now, published by Seven Stories Press. 

Time for something completely engrossing and gripping. "The Middler" by Kirsty Applebaum begins with  Eleven-year-old Maggie, who lives in Fennis Wick, enclosed and protected from the outside world by a boundary, beyond which the Quiet War rages and the dirty, dangerous wanderers roam. 

Maggie has known no other life. 

Her brother Jed is an eldest, revered and special. A hero. Her younger brother is Trig - everyone loves Trig, and like every youngest sibling he has a habit of getting away with everything.

But Maggie's just a middler; invisible and left behind. 

Then, one hot September day, she meets Una, a hungry wanderer girl in need of help, and everything Maggie has ever known gets turned on its head. 

Told in Maggie's often irreverent, funny and charismatic voice, we experience the trials and frustrations of being the forgotten middle child, the child with no voice, even in her own family. A truly brilliantly observed story of sibling relationships, human failings and amazing circumstances, set against a thoroughly original fantasy backdrop, this is another book that has really wowed us this month. 

"The Middler" by Kirsty Applebaum is out now, published by Nosy Crow.

We always like to include a few books for younger readers beginning their solo reading journeys with illustrated chapter books, and the antics of one "Spot Guevara, Hero Dog" by Zaro Weil, with illustrations and cover from Katy Riddell is absolutely perfect for animal-loving kids everywhere. 

Born rough on the streets of Brooklyn this is Spot's story, told in his own voice and from his unique point of view.

Life on the streets is hard, and one terrible day Spot's entire family are carted off by the Dog police and he vows never to give up searching for them. 

This is the beginning of Spot's many adventures as he roams the city meeting new friends, fending off danger and learning about humans and other dogs. Can Spot be a hero? Will he need a friend or two along the way? 

This is fast-paced but really fab stuff, perfect for kids who are moving on from picture books and want an exciting waggy dog tale. 

"Spot Guevara Hero Dog" by Zaro Weil and Katy Riddell is out now, published by Troika Books. 

We're really excited about this next one...We absolutely loved Stewart Foster's "The Bubble Boy" and now he's back with a new story, and a character that's sure to win his way into your heart. 

"Check Mates" by Stewart Foster is the story of Felix. 

Some people think that Felix is a problem child, lazy and inattentive in lessons.  But Felix is actually a child with a problem. 

His ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. 

Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one seems to understand just how hard he finds it. 

When Mum suggests Felix spends time with his grandfather, Felix can’t think of anything worse. 

Granddad hasn’t been the same since Grandma died. 

Plus he’s always trying to teach Felix boring chess. But sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places, and Granddad soon shows Felix that there’s everything to play for.

Just like "The Bubble Boy" before it, this is a story that has you completely gripped as Felix's story unfolds, and the relationship with his granddad grows. 

Be warned though, there are moments in this where you will definitely need a lot of hankies to mop up your tears!

"Check Mates" by Stewart Foster is out on the 27th June 2019, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books. 

More great stuff for younger readers now, with the latest greatest adventure for that scruffy but loveable little urchin. 

"Dirty Bertie: Spider" by Alan MacDonald and David Roberts is the 31st (!) book in the series, and once again the titular scruffbag is up to various tricks involving soap dodging and bath-denying. 

Bertie has a new pet and he can't wait to show it around.  He shocks and amazes his classmates with his huge pet spider, is tricked into wearing one of Gran's knitted horrors to school, and finds nothing but trouble when he digs for treasure in the park.

Just an ordinary day in the life of Bertie then!

A fun romp with tons of gigglesome humour and David's trademark awesome character art, even if you've never heard of Bertie before but love funny books, get your Bertie collection started today!

"Dirty Bertie: Spider!" by Alan Macdonald and David Roberts is out now, published by Stripes. 

Another awesome well-loved but misbehaving character is back for four new adventures in his latest book. "Horrid Henry: Up, up and away" by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross sees the titular scamp finally being allowed to go on a plane, on a real holiday! Wow, imagine the other poor passengers' reactions when they find out!

This latest volume contains four brand-new stories, featuring Horrid Henry wreaking havoc on an airplane, being forced to write an essay about the Tudors, sabotaging the school play and sneaking on to a forbidden rollercoaster.

Kids absolutely love living vicariously through this thoroughly naughty scamp's adventures, with the usual brilliant art from Tony Ross - and a ton of misbehaving fun to be had.

Again, the perfect read if you're jetting off on holiday with the kids and they want four awesome stories instead of one!

"Horrid Henry: Up, up and away" by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross is out now, published by Orion Children's Books. 

A truly powerful book next, that pulls no punches about what life is like for children in war-torn Syria. 

"No Ballet Shoes in Syria" by Catherine Bruton tells the story of young Aya, who at 11 years old has just arrived in Britain with her mum and little brother, seeking asylum from a terrible war that is tearing her home country apart. 

When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.

But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya's father - separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria. 

With beautiful, captivating writing, wonderfully authentic ballet detail, and an important message championing the rights of refugees, this is classic storytelling - filled with warmth, hope and humanity, and so timely for children to learn and understand about the conflict that affects innocent children and families who just want a safe place to live and thrive. 

"No Ballet Shoes in Syria" by Catherine Bruton is out on 2nd May 2019, published by Nosy Crow. 

Truly atmospheric and original stuff next from a publisher who has the knack of picking the most amazing books to publish.

"Lampie and the Children of the Sea" by Annet Schaap tells the story of Lampie the Lighthouse-Keeper's daughter.

Every evening Lampie must climb sixty-one steps to light the lantern, to warn ships away from the rocks and keep them safe.

One night, in the midst of a terrible storm, she discovers that her matches have run out... Disaster strikes, and an adventure begins as Lampie must dig deep into her own reserves of courage and resourcefulness.

Lampie is sent to work as a maid at the Admiral's Black House, where rumour has it that a monster lurks. What she discovers there throws her into a world of pirates and mermaids and puts her in terrible danger.

Can she find a way to save the ones she loves?

Who can possibly resist the lure of a book so entangled and entwined with a love of the ocean. This is beautifully told and realised, with tons of atmosphere.

"Lampie and the Children of the Sea" by Annet Schaap is out now, published by Pushkin Children's Books.

We've saved a real treat till last, and one of our favourite books from this month's roundup. Vashti Hardy's "Brightstorm" was one of the most amazing books of last year, and the hotly anticipated follow-up from this immensely talented author is "Wildspark".

This amazing tale begins a year after the death of Prue Haywood's beloved older brother.

Prue's family is still shattered by grief. But everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm.

A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have developed a way to capture spirits of the dead in animal-like machines, bringing them back to life.

Prue knows that the "Ghost Guild" might hold the key to bringing her brother back, so she seizes the stranger's offer to join as an apprentice. 

But to find her brother, she needs to find a way to get the ghost machines to remember the people they used to be.

Yet if Prue succeeds, all of society could come apart, and this new innovation could be exposed for what it actually is. 

Just as inventive, compelling and original as "Brightstorm", Vashti once again expertly weaves a book world par excellence and populates it with characters you'll root for, placing them in situations that will test them to their limits. It's all so rich, visual and gorgeous so definitely do not miss out on this one. 

"WildSpark" by Vashti Hardy is out on 2nd May 2019, published by Scholastic. 

The summer holidays might be a way off yet, but you can definitely notch this next book up as the sort of summer treat that you could stretch out for the whole holiday long.

Enid Blyton's "Animal Stories" is a new compilation of 30 of Enid's short stories, all with animal themes.

Animals of all shapes and sizes will charm children aged 6 and up. 

From pet puppies to woodland wildlife, garden birds to pond-dwelling frogs, Enid Blyton was a devoted and knowledgeable animal-lover and it really shows in the variety and cleverness of these little tales. 

Readers who feel the same way are bound to love her wonderful stories about our furry friends - and scaly, feathery or fluttery ones too! 

These delightful stories are ideal for newly confident readers and are the perfect length to be read aloud in the classroom or at bedtime.

"Animal Stories" by Enid Blyton, out now from Hodder Children's Books. 

Very happy to see this next one as we adored "Ella on the Outside". 

"Not My Fault" by Cath Howe is the story of two sisters. 

Maya and Rose won't talk to each other.

Ever since a tragic accident Maya has never been the same, running wild and causing trouble.

Rose doesn't know what to do with her or about her. 

Now Maya and Rose have to go away together on a week-long school journey. 

But will the trip - and a life-threatening adventure - fix their relationship... or break it for good? 

A sharply observed and beautifully emotional story of families and relationships, particularly between siblings who don't always see eye to eye. 

"Not My Fault" by Cath Howe is out on 2nd May 2019, published by Nosy Crow.

Love a trick or two? Then this next book is for you!

"The Fire Maker" by Guy Jones is a truly prestidigitatious book indeed.

Meet Alex, who really loves magic tricks - and he's good at them, too.

But when he stumbles into eccentric Mr Olmos's back garden, he sees a kind of magic he can't explain: three tiny flames floating in the air.

Before long Alex meets the mysterious magician himself and soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry.

Fun, original and thoroughly absorbing, with more than a few tricks and twists up its capacious sleeves.

"The Fire Maker" by Guy Jones is out now, published by Chicken House. 

"Tin" was definitely one of the highlights of our middle-grade year last year and we're delighted to see Padraig Kenny back with the glorious "Pog", new from Chicken House Books.

Imagine how amazing it would be to live in a house surrounded by dense forest just like David and Penny.

It's the childhood home of their mother, but she has recently passed away leaving David and Penny to fend for themselves against the unexpected. You see it's not just their home, but home to many other magical creatures.

Like tiny, hairy Pog. 

He's one of the First Folk, protecting the boundary between the worlds.

 As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. 

Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker, a nefarious force that insists there's a way he can bring his mother back. 

This one wraps its dark tendrils around you and drags you into a truly atmospheric and astonishing story, instantly feeling like a classic fairy tale but with huge contemporary appeal. Absolutely stunning stuff. 

"Pog" by Padraig Kenny is out now, published by Chicken House. 

Here's one that'll grab you the minute you spot that glorious cover. 

"Bloom" by Nicola Skinner is the tale of a girl. Not an ordinary everyday girl, but a truly extraordinary one - a character that will have you nodding in recognition if you've ever felt like you don't quite fit in with the usual crowd. 

Sorrel Fallowfield is growing up – in a REALLY surprising way.

She is so good at being good that teachers come to her when they need help remembering the school rules – and there are LOTS of school rules (we all identify with that, right?)

Luckily, Sorrel doesn’t have any trouble following them, until the day she discovers a faded packet of Surprising Seeds buried under a tree in her backyard.

Now she’s hearing voices, seeing things, experiencing an almost unstoppable urge to plant the Seeds in some very unusual places… and completely failing to win her school’s competition to find The Most Obedient Child of the School.

And all that’s before flowers start growing out of her head.

Funny, heartwarming and absolutely blisteringly original stuff. 

"Bloom" by Nicola Skinner is out now, published by HarperCollins Children's Books. 

Finally, something really different, fresh and original from a publisher whose books are really grabbing our attention at the moment.

"White Horse" by Yan Ge is a gorgeous book that underpins a sharply psychologically-driven story with the most wonderful chinese brush art.

Yun Yun lives in a small West China town with her widowed father, and an uncle, aunt and older cousin who live nearby. 

Yun Yun's life is content, simple and easy but then her entire world is ripped apart, her life no longer as simple as it once was.

Through Yun Yum's keen observational eye, we see her cousin Zhang Qing keen to dive into the intoxicting excitements of adolescence, rebelling against opressive parents. 

Ensuing tensions reveal that the relationships between the two families are founded on a terrible lie that Yun Yun will discover the truth of as the story unfolds. 

Once again this is mesmerising stuff, filled with a sharply dark wit at times, and at others filled with angst and frustration that many contemporary teens will fully identify with. 

Masterfully written, this - and just look at the illustrations!

"White Horse" by Yan Ge is out now, published by Hope Road. 
(All books kindly supplied for review). 
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"Arnica the Duck Princess" by Ervin Lazar (Pushkin Children's Books)

Time for something thoroughly original and compelling now, from a publisher who really knows how to pick some of the most fascinating and amazing stories to translate.

"Arnica the Duck Princess" by Ervin Lazar brings onf of the late author's best known and well loved stories to a whole new generation of fans. 

A hilarious classic children's tale about true love, friendship... and what happens when your fiancé is turned into a duck.

Meet amazing plucky heroine Princess Arnica. 

She is so sweet and gentle that when she smiles even wolves and bears forget their fierceness. 

Everyone loves her, but she loves only Poor Johnny. 

Luckily, he loves her too, and even more luckily, Arnica has a very sensible king for a father, who is happy for her to marry whomever her heart desires. So, no problem then?

Beautiful Princess Arnica, so lovely of heart that even fierce beasts smile at her and snuggle up!

Well, maybe just one - The Witch With with a Hundred Faces has cast a spell on Arnica and Johnny which means that one of them, at any one time, must always be a duck, and the other human! 

Only the Seven-Headed Fairy can help them, but will they be able to find her in time?

What we loved most about this is that it feels like a properly deep and satisfyingly long story that became staple fodder for us over the course of a few bedtimes. Kids really aren't scared of longer books if the story can sustain their interest, and that's exactly what "Arnica the Duck Princess" achieves with aplomb. Just lovely!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A classic Eastern European tale brought to life in a stunning new edition for a whole new generation of admirers - impossible not to smile at Princess Arnica!

"Arnica The Duck Princess" by Ervin Lazar is out now, published by Pushkin Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).
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Wednesday 24 April 2019

A brilliant new subscription service for letter-loving kids - Let's meet Banjo Robinson the Globetrotting Cat!

Meet Banjo Robinson, a rather special cat with a penchant for travelling the world - and writing to his many pen-pals across the globe.

Banjo is the star of a new subscription based service to encourage kids to learn more about the amazing countries around our planet, and of course follow Banjo's travels as he visits different places, experiencing the sights, sounds, tastes and smells the whole world has to offer.

How it works

Once you purchase a subscription and supply some details, your child (or you can purchase it for a relative) will receive your first letter from Banjo - and a truly amazing wall poster-sized Map to help you track Banjo's amazing adventures.

The child will also receive some activity sheets, stickers for their poster, and of course the important bit - a nicely personalised letter from Banjo himself, telling you which country he's in and a few interesting nuggets of information about the place too.

We rather liked the way the letter was put together. The parent or subscriber supplies a few details about their child's likes, hobbies, favourite foods, pets etc, and the letter is written to take note of these. Fabulous and feels instantly tailored and personal. Nice touch that!

Kids can then leave their own letters back to Banjo under the sofa (for you to collect and keep as a rather lovely memory of their early years and imaginations, worth starting a scrapbook to keep the bits and bobs together.

How to subscribe

Subscriptions can be taken out for 3 months, 6 months or a year, with 3 monthly letters from Banjo (click the above link to check the pricing for each subscription tier). Subscriptions can also be bought on behalf of someone else as a gift via this link

Each letter from Banjo will contain some stationery pages, sketchbook pages, stickers and info about other animals - plus the odd surprise from Banjo too, giving kids something really cool to look forward to with each letter and inspiring their own creativity in their replies and with their own sketches etc. As they track Banjo's progress on the poster, there's a great sense of enjoyment to gain from slowly filling in each section on the map, seeing all the interesting places Banjo can travel to, and using that to inspire more interest in our world and the amazing diversity of each country.

Find out more about Banjo

To get you started, the above link gives you an introductory bedtime story to read to your children, all about Banjo and his amazing adventures.

We've seen quite a few subscription ideas for kids, and this is definitely one of the most interesting ones we've been lucky enough to review. Letter writing is a lost art, and it's something we've always encouraged our daughter to enjoy - even the simple act of writing thank you letters to relatives is a worthwhile thing to encourage in early years, so imagine the excitement of receiving letters from a jet-setting moggy like Banjo Robinson!

Find out more about the fab service over at the Banjo Robinson website. 

 (Disclaimer: We were sent a sample letter and the map, activity sheets and stickers in exchange for this review).

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"The King of the Golden River" by John Rushkin and Quentin Blake (Thames and Hudson)

Time for a beautiful new clothbound edition of a classic story, with all new visuals by one of the most widely celebrated artists working in children's literature today.

"The King of the Golden River" by John Rushkin, with illustrations by Sir Quentin Blake, is a gorgeous edition of a book that first came out in 1851.

A victorian moral story, the tale of three brothers black. Gluck the kind-natured big hearted brother, and his two older siblings Hans and Schwartz who mistreat their younger brother terribly.

For Gluck, play is cleaning the floors, and his education consists of a wholesome quantity of punches courtesy of his nasty older sibs (what rotters!) 

One stormy evening, Gluck is left at home to prepare his older brothers’ dinner when an extraordinary-looking little man knocks at the door. 

Having been strictly warned not to let anyone in, Gluck watches as the little old man becomes increasingly drenched at the door. His soft heart tells him to ignore his brothers’ advice, and so Gluck’s encounter with the mysterious King of the Golden River begins. 

Appearing at first as a beggar, then the Southwest Wind, and finally as a Toby jug who Gluck unwittingly transforms into a dwarf, the King of the Golden River issues Gluck with a challenge: to climb to the source of the Golden River and cast into the stream three drops of holy water. 

If he can achieve this, the river will turn to gold.

There's truly nothing like this for kids these days, so it's actually pretty amazing to hark back to a time when children's stories were wordy but worthy, long but utterly absorbing. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A gripping fairy tale aided perfectly by the addition of Quentin Blake's glorious scritchy-scratchy art style for a luxurious new edition, this is a real keeper. 

"The King of the Golden River" by John Rushkin and Sir Quentin Blake is out now, published by Thames and Hudson (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 23 April 2019

"The Usborne Book of Planet Earth" by Megan Cullis, Matthew Oldham and Stephanie Fizer-Coleman (Usborne Publishing)

Usborne's absolutely gorgeous range of non-fiction books encompass so many amazing areas of interest and "The Usborne Book of Planet Earth" by Megan Cullis, Matthew Oldham and Stephanie Fizer-Coleman is no exception.

Children are becoming more and more aware of their planet and their world at an earlier and earlier age, and it's utterly fantastic to see a publisher like Usborne bringing books out for that younger age group that will instil a sense of wonder and curiosity in them as they grow with Usborne's range.

"Planet Earth" takes them on a whirlwind tour of our amazing, diverse and incredibly beautiful home world.

Where in the world would you most like to go? 

You could join a stampede of wildebeest in the Serengeti, dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, climb soaring mountain peaks in the Himalayas or take a gondola ride along the canals of Venice. 

This spectacular picture book has it all - taking readers on a fascinating tour of our amazing planet.

There are of course lots of notes about ecological issues and the challenges we all face in saving our planet so that generations to come can also enjoy reading about what an incredible place we live on. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: Usborne's amazing quality non fiction has ranges to suit all ages, starting with brilliant books like "Planet Earth" to stimulate their curiosity and enthusiasm for a truly globe-spanning subject. 

"The Usborne Book of Planet Earth" by Megan Cullis, Matthew Oldham and Stephanie Fizer-Coleman is out now, published by Usborne (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 22 April 2019

A trio of tempting titles for tenacious tiddlers from Templar Publishing

We do love bright and breezy board books and books designed specially for the teeniest tots. Templar Publishing have come up with a brace of corkingly good books to tempt your little ones away from endless episodes of Paw Patrol. Meet some altogether more fascinating creatures instead!

"Hello Mr Dinosaur" and "Hello Mrs Elephant" are new from Sam Boughton. Perfect little stories to introduce kids to a whole host of new creatures with awesome lift-the-flap bits to keep them fully engaged and happy.

Both books feature gorgeous splishy-splashy artwork and cute characters as we take a trip across the Savannah to meet lots of amazing animals, or take a trip back in time to the reign of the dinosaurs to see some of the biggest creatures that have ever stomped across our earth.

"Hello Mr Dinosaur" and "Hello Mrs Elephant" by Sam Boughton are both out now, published by Templar. 

Still on the subject of animals, there's also the range of utterly gorgeous Jane Foster books for even younger book fans.

"Jane Foster's Dinosaurs" is just one of the titles in a range including a truly diverse set of subjects, designed as board books with lots of friendly and colourful images to help the tiniest of tinies really get engrossed in each subject.

Other books in the range include "Dress Up" and "Pets" and even "Washington DC!" so there's truly something for everyone.

We love the mix of simple and beautifully designed illustrations and minimal text, the perfect range of 'first books' for babies and younger toddlers who will absolutely adore these to bits.

The "Jane Foster" books are out now, published by Templar. 

Last but not least is a scintillating little book from a megastar in children's publishing.

Emma Dodd's perfect bedtime story "What Matters Most" tackles topics of identity and acceptance, and asks the sort of questions that kids would ask themselves.

So what does matter most?

Is it being very big or being super-small?
Is it having lots of stuff or not that much at all?

Is it having lots of friends or only two or three?
Is it talking all the time or listening carefully?

Beautifully lilting text and gorgeous clear illustrations make this topic approachable and fun for little ones.

"What Matters Most" by Emma Dodd is out now, published by Templar. 

(All books kindly supplied for review).

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Friday 19 April 2019

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th April 2019: "When The Stars Come Out" by Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright (360 Degrees Publishing)

Our Book of the Week this week shows that there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark. In fact, when the sun goes down you might find that the night-time world is every bit as fascinating as the daytime.

"When the Stars come out" by Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright is a thoroughly detailed and absolutely fascinating look at our world when shrouded in darkness.

Beginning with a look to the stars and a guide to the constellations and other amazing things we might see in the night sky, the book goes on to encompass a wealth of subjects that aren't just all about space or the stellar skyscape, but takes a look at how we humans are affected by the darkness, and how our friends in the animal kingdom also use the night-time as well.

There are many myths and legends surrounding the fall of night, and these too are examined - along with the mythical creatures that we've dreamed up in oral history and written stories, passed down from generation to generation.

For us, the really amazing facts marry perfectly with gorgeous stylish illustrations to bring this fascinating subject to life. The best bits were the passages about how important sleep is, like a thorough recharge of our bodies' depleted energy levels.

What an amazing book. Definitely not to be missed.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A huge book filled to the brim with amazing facts and nuggets of info around the cover of darkness and the fall of night, with truly stunning illustrations lending it a real touch of class.

"When the Stars Come Out" by Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright is out now, published by 360 Degrees Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 18 April 2019

Space Exploration - Inspirational, captivating and amazing - This Week's ReadItTorial

No it won't fit in your Vauxhall Corsa...
I make no apologies for this week's slightly skewed ReadItTorial. We've just come back from 3 weeks in sunny Florida, soaking up the sun and - more importantly - visiting a place that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.

The Kennedy Space Centre is an amazing place at the best of times, but we visited a few days before the Falcon Heavy / Space X Launch, you could almost TASTE the anticipation in the air. There was a buzz going around Kennedy, a frisson of excitement that made it feel like once again the place was coming back to life after being mothballed for so long - with SpaceX and Boeing both taking part in exciting rocket projects, and with the phrase heard throughout the day definitely being "Bringing space launches back to American soil".

Of course it's massively important to the USA and Kennedy to see legendary Pad 39 being put back into action. Not just from a sense of patriotism (something you can't escape when you're walking around the place, Americans sure love sticking their flag on anything, even distant astral bodies) but from a sense of opening a new chapter in our quest for space, and inspiring the many, many young kids who were (like most of us adults) walking around the place, completely agog at the rockets, capsules and of course the mighty Space Shuttle Atlantis - but also carrying the knowledge that new projects are kicking off, that space exploration is still important, still happening, and could still be a viable career path for a lucky, lucky few.

Sadly for us, a few days later - the day we staked out our spot on nearby Cocoa Beach to watch the Falcon Heavy go up was also one of the windiest days of our holiday.

We'd made the journey from Orlando all the way over to the coast, sat for HOURS on a burning hot beach only for the mission to be suspended (as it turned out, just for a day and we're kicking ourselves that by the time the Falcon did launch, we were a 6 hour drive away, right on the other side of Florida in Clearwater, and wouldn't have made it back in time to see the launch itself).

So close...yet so far! ARGH!

Walking around, it was so easy to see why the subject of space travel and exploration is so inspirational for kids. Listening in on a couple of school groups who shared the tour bus with us as we drove around the complex, and went over to the massive Saturn V Rocket Centre, it was joyous to hear a different point of view from the last time we attended a space event, and heard a rather dour and pessimistic view from a collective of Science Fiction authors (sorry ladies and gents who were there!)

The US is fired up again with renewed vigour to explore the great unknown - not just because of the amazing commercial possibilities of harvesting resources from beyond our planet (and let's face it, commercial concerns now bringing life back to the space program are of course thinking about investment returns on the billions of dollars they're sinking into these enterprises) and definitely not from some ridiculous need for a "Space Force". But from a scientific point of view, here are new opportunities to showcase our amazing achievements in all branches of science and engineering, pushing the boundaries of technology way beyond anyone's expectations.

Mission control we are go for launch!

It was an amazing place to visit though, and it was great to see C walking around with an identical expression to my own. One of sheer awe. For me though the most inspirational and fascinating parts of visiting Kennedy were seeing the original Mercury and Gemini mission rockets and capsules, suits, technology and other artefacts which were amazingly primitive-looking, and yet were cutting edge tech for their time.

The men who donned those suits knew that they were entering unknown territory, and would be likely to pay for their bravado with their lives if even the simplest thing went wrong, but they stepped up and made so many of those missions a success (seeing the original Gemini capsules just made me realise what it must've been like climbing into something not much bigger than an oversized wheelie bin sitting atop a huge firework!)

Looking to the future, and despite the seemingly futile hope and dream that we might one day see manned missions to Mars, I like to think that Gene Krantz, the legendary astronaut and mission controller had it right. "Nothing's impossible. You dream it, then you do it"

For all those authors and illustrators out there working on space books, keep on doing what you're doing because it's so worth it - inspiring kids in the way you do, and it really does work!
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"Ultimate Football Heroes: Kelly Smith" by Charlotte Browne (Dino Books)

We're delighted to find that the fantastic "Ultimate Football Heroes" series finally reflects the sheer excellence of women's international and league football at long last.

Though we're not footie fans, we most certainly know who Kelly Smith is, and Charlotte Browne's new book in this fab series charts her life and achievements perfectly.

By the time Kelly Smith was nine years old, she was already so good she was running rings around the boys at her local club and scoring goals for fun.

But angry parents complained she was making their sons look silly, and Kelly had to move to a girls' team (ugh...wouldn't you love to live in a world where this sort of stuff didn't happen, and where sports was just "sports" - not women's sports / men's sports?)

From that day, she knew she had to be twice as skillful and brave as any boy to succeed in the game she loved.

"Smith" is the story of how the girl from Watford refused to be held back, and became an Arsenal superstar and the England women's national team's top scorer.

Ultimate Football Heroes is a series of biographies telling the life-stories of the biggest and best footballers in the world and their incredible journeys from childhood fan to super-star professional player. Written in fast-paced, action-packed style these books are perfect for all the family to collect and share.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely inspirational superstar, Kelly Smith's story is every single bit as interesting as any of the overpaid male football superstars.

"Ultimate Football Heroes: Smith" by Charlotte Browne is out now, published by Dino Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 17 April 2019

"The Book Dragon" by Kell Andrews and Eva Chatelain (Sterling Publishing)

Reading isn't for everyone, as completely strange and weird as that sounds.

I remember my own personal reading journey only began once my junior school teacher realised the reason I took a while to take to reading wasn't because I didn't love stories and books, I just didn't love the ones they started out with in school. After all, who wants to read about spot the dog, or a cat sitting on a mat when you can read about "The Book Dragon" by Kell Andrews and Eva Chatelain.

Rosehilda and her friends are warned to beware of the Book Dragon! 

She'll steal your books in the middle of the night to add to her stash. 

But soon brave young Rosehilda dares to confront The Book Dragon and discovers that books really shouldn't just be judged by their covers (though "The Book Dragon" does have a rather fabulous cover, if we do say so ourselves!)

Yawn! Who would want to learn to read like this? Ugh! Gimme books!

Rosehilda's home town won't allow books of any sort, thanks to the Book Dragon - and learning to read is a real slog.  But after Brunhilda meets the Book Dragon, everything changes for good, and soon everyone can once again enjoy books and stories in the way they're meant to be enjoyed - by sharing them around!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A lovely little story with glorious illustrations to celebrate a love of books, and hopefully encourage little ones to embark on their own reading journeys. 

"The Book Dragon" by Kell Andrews and Eva Chatelain is out now, published by Sterling Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 16 April 2019

"Sounds of Nature: World of Forests" by Robert Frank Hunter (Wide Eyed Editions)

We do love a fabulous natural history book or two on this blog and "Sounds of Nature: World of Forests: by Robert Hunter is absolutely pitch perfect.

For not only does this book LOOK brilliant, it also SOUNDS brilliant too thanks to some fabulous 'sound spot' technology to really bring its core subject to life.

We're taking a trip across the world to many different forest habitats that are all rich in diverse plant and animal life.

See the animals that live in our forests, and also hear them as they screech, squawk, tweet and roar.

Explore ten diverse habitats—from the Amazon Rainforest, to Redwood National Park to the New Forest (our own personal favourite weekend destination. We love it there!)

Evergreen forests full of badgers, deer, capercalies and wild lynxes! Wow!

Listen to animals in the wild with this extraordinary sound book. Simply press the page to hear the exquisite sounds of animals around the world, from the pandas of the bamboo forest of China to the bald eagles of Tongass National Park in Alaska. 

What does nature look like - and sound like - in icier climates?

A stunning interactive book for young nature lovers.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly wonderful resource for little ones beginning their learning journey about our world, with fabulous sound technology to really bring the subject matter to life. 

"Sounds of Nature: World of Forests" by Robert Frank Hunter is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 15 April 2019

"Lubna and Pebble" by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egneus (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

For a moment we had a little bit of book Deja Vu about this one, though there's no doubt that this is a superbly powerful story that is very timely indeed. 

"Lubna and Pebble" by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egneus tells the story of a little girl caught up in a crisis in her home country. 

Lubna retreats from the world by confiding in her best friend. Not a girl, nor a boy, but a pebble. 

Lubna discovered Pebble on a beach as she arrived in the dead of night along with her family and others fleeing a country destroyed by war. 

Lubna tells Pebble everything. 

About her home and her own country.  

About the terrible fighting and the war that came closer and closer to home until her family was left with no choice but to leave. 

Pebble always listens to her stories and smiles when she feels afraid. But one day, when a little boy arrives, alone in a world of tents, Lubna poignantly understands that he needs Pebble even more than she does. 

This really reminded us of "Wisp: A Story of Hope" but with more of a child's voice, and an emphasis on how children are sometimes forced to cope with the most horrific and extreme situations by retreating into their own fantasy worlds when ours can be so hideous. 

Tough, emotional, heartfelt storytelling. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly absorbing and emotional tale of a young refugee forced to cope with the atrocities of war in her own country, relying on a very special friendship to help ease the horror of her situation. 

"Lubna and Pebble" by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egneus is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday 12 April 2019

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 12th April 2019: "Dumbo (Disney Animated Classics" by Disney Studios / Studio Press

No apologies from us for once again featuring these glorious cloth-bound Studio Press books in our Book of the Week slot.

If you're getting excited about the new live-action Dumbo movie from Disney Studios, take a moment to revisit the classic animated movie instead, with another truly beautiful storified version of the movie with that utterly glorious production art and animation stills illustrating the story throughout.

The story of a young elephant with a difference - born into a circus, but separated from his mother (in a scene that still reduces me to tears even after all these years), Dumbo soon realises his huge flappy ears mean that he can do something that no other elephant can.

He can fly, he can fly, he can fly!

This highly collectable book once again extends Studio Press's impressive range of books chronicling the processes and sketches that led to the final movie. As we said before, this is nigh on essential for Disney fans, but also fans of animation and art as the illustrations in this are just absolutely gorgeous. I mean take a look at them!

Special delivery! One large-eared ele-baby!
I love the way these feel like classic storybooks I had as a kid.

Don't listen to 'em Dumbo, you're special!!
It's also great to hear that more are on the way in this fab range, including Aladdin, which should be out in the blink of a Genie's eye! YESSSS! Can't wait!

Sum this book up in a sentence: You'll believe an elephant can fly with this superb collectable edition of one of Disney's best-loved classics.

"Dumbo (Disney Animated Classics" is out now, published by Studio Press / Disney Studios (very kindly supplied for review and thanks for the hat-tip in the presser, folks!)
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