Friday 28 June 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th June 2019: "The Jolley-Rogers and the Pirate Piper" by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing)

Our Chapter Book of the Week heralds the triumphant return of our all-time favourite pirate family and their best friend Matilda, this time for a tuneful but ratty tale!

"The Jolley-Rogers and the Pirate Piper" by Jonny Duddle might seem a little familiar at first...riffing on the well-loved children's tale of "The Pied Piper" but made all the more awesome by a righteous injection of yo ho hos and oo-ars!

Matilda and the Jolley-Rogers find the sleepy town of Dull-on-Sea plagued with a rather horrible bunch of unwelcome visitors. This time they're not pirates, but pie-RATS! Ready to scoff, guzzle and chomp their way through the town's comestibles.

There's only one thing for it, the mayor seeks a solution post haste, and soon the Pirate Piper arrives to play a dainty little hornpipe ditty to lure away those scabrous beasties.

But as you've probably guessed, there's a twist in the tale when the mayor refuses to pay up and the Pirate Piper turns the tables on the mean old skinflint, and unfortunately the town too!

Can Matilda and the Jolley-Rogers sort out the ratty mess?

Tons of new illustrations from one of our fave author-illustrators. It's a right good read this!
Jonny's early chapter / middle grade books are every bit as good as his picture books, perfect for kids making the jump between pic books and chapter books. There are tons of new stylish illustrations, and of course another cracking cover, making the Jolley-Rogers series hugely collectible.

Love all the little details in Jonny's illustrations, even his black-and-white ones!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A squeaky squirmy ratty tale filled with giggles and delight, perfect for pirate fans of any age.

"The Jolley-Rogers and the Pirate Piper" by Jonny Duddle is out now, published by Templar (kindly supplied for review)
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th June 2019: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll and Julia Sarda (Two Hoots)

Pairing one of the most magical and influential children's stories of all time, with one of the most incredible illustrators working in children's books today is, quite honestly, a stroke of genius.

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll and Julia Sarda may well be yet another edition of the classic story, but it's Julia's illustrations that you've come for this time round, and though you may own about a zillion copies of this book in all its various forms (and like us, might think that no one can better the original John Tenniel illustrations) you might just change your mind once you see the 30 new pieces Julia has worked on for this book.

You're probably already familiar with the story of a young girl who daydreams about adventures, but is drawn into the chaotic and crazy world of Wonderland after a chance meeting with a talking white rabbit.

Following the rabbit into a deep hole is just the beginning of Alice's adventures as she meets some truly strange and wonderful characters like the caterpillar, the cheshire cat and of course the Queen of Hearts and her rather strange entourage.

Those illustrations though, let's tease a few below:

Personally we think Julia should illustrate EVERYTHING and we make no apologies for making this our Picture Book of the Week this week, even though technically it's a chapter book. You will not want to miss this one, it's a real keeper!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Lewis Carroll's chaotic and crazy story is beautifully brought to life by Julia's glorious art style, filled with detail and charm.

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll and Julia Sarda is out now, published by Two Hoots Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 28th June 2019: "Akissi Volume 2: More Tales of Mischief" by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin (NoBrow / Flying Eye)

We need joy in our lives right now. Pure unbridled joy, whether in book form or not. "Akissi: More Tales of Mischief (Akissi Volume 2)" by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin provides a heck of a lot of joy, with the newly translated volume of Akissi's extended adventures now available for the first time from NoBrow / Flying Eye.

My French isn't that great, I can just about parse a French graphic novel (just about) but poor C lags behind a little bit (mostly because schools here are absolutely rubbish at teaching foreign languages - she gets a single French lesson per week and no French homework, GAH!)

Anyway, joy - yes joy - the joy of observing the comic adventures of a fizzingly energetic young African girl living on the Ivory Coast, and finding something new to get into every day.

Alongside her long-suffering parents and siblings, Akissi and her pet monkey Bubu are once again getting up to all sorts of mischief.

Akissi is no stranger to scrapes and shenanigans, and this time, she has to keep herself from drowning, stands up to a bully, makes peace with her arch nemesis--the prettiest girl in school, and even manages to evade a witch doctor's weird potions.

Inspired by her childhood on The Ivory Coast, writer Marguerite Abouet acutely observes what it's like to be a kid living your best adventuresome life while dealing with the usual stuff kids have to deal with over here. There are some truly brilliant observations about teachers and school in particular in this one, truly loved hearing C's cackles of laughter as Akissi exacts a particularly nasty revenge on her grumpy and mean teacher (who, quite honestly, doesn't really seem that bad compared to some of the ones I had at school). 

These comic strips are superbly written and illustrated, and we've mentioned them many times as the perfect 'jump-in' point for kids who want to discover just how awesome comics are, but don't know where to start. 

Needless to say, "Akissi" also ticks all the right boxes for us when it comes to diversity of character, and showing that girls can do absolutely everything boys can. Alongside Hilda, she's one of the most important characters in kid comics, so treat yourself - pick this up (and also grab Volume 1 while you're about it) and I guarantee you'll thank us later. NoBrow / Flying Eye are, as ever, knocking it out of the park when it comes to publishing some of the best translated foreign language comics you can lay your hands on. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A delicious joyful brilliant and hilarious collection of Marguerite and Mathieu's awesomely excellent comic strips featuring a brilliantly energetic mighty girl not to be missed!

"Akissi: More Tales of Mischief" (Akissi Volume 2) is out now, published by NoBrow / Flying Eye Books (very kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 27 June 2019

We need diverse books and better diverse book coverage more than ever - but who's actually to blame for the kidlit whitewash? Today's ReadItTorial

Last year, this infographic presented a stark view of diversity in children's books and it seems not much has changed this year either.

No one even vaguely interested in children's literature could possibly deny that there's been a huge upsurge in the number of brilliant and diverse books featuring BAME characters arriving on bookstore shelves (and, thankfully, our review pile). Yet once again a recent article in The Guardian makes it abundantly clear that even in 2019, when you could argue we're going through something of a 'golden age' for diverse titles with a good mix of genders as lead characters, there's still an awful lot of work to be done.

The article in question:…

Though the article specifically highlights a huge problem with mainstream children's titles still failing to give girls the central / lead / speaking role, it also highlights the lack of BAME / Disabled characters  - now often used as little more than 'fillers' in a story where their character could be removed and have no effect on the story at all).

Sometimes it feels like these characters are just 'stickered in' so that major publishers can comfortably say they've got the diversity base covered.

Why the hell is that happening, I mean at all?

What is the point in just adding in a BAME character in some vain box-ticking exercise?

It's just not enough, not nearly enough.

What frustrates me is that it still feels like it always has to be some sort of an uphill struggle to make any progress with this whole thing, rather than something that should just happen naturally in children's storytelling. Surely it's in everyone's best interest to ensure the widest possible audience for the books you publish?

Where is it all going wrong? I have many theories and some of them are distinctly less palatable than others but first and foremost I agree with others who believe that the problem isn't that these books aren't there, it's often that they're not well publicised / high profile enough.

PR campaigns always seem to over-hype children's books that really do not need that extra push. Book store POS displays again do the same, and the less said about supermarket bookshelves (if they even have any) the better, but find a decent bookstore (even a high street chain) and start looking through the shelves - and you'll often find the diverse books you're looking for placed edge on in the shelves.

So they're there but practically invisible to casual browsers who come in and see the bigger displays and are drawn to them without rootling through the other stuff. We visit book stores a lot and we tend to see a very predictable pattern of behaviour from some parents who take their kids in there. They seem to want to get in there, buy a high profile book, and get out again as swiftly as possible. Something we find completely bizarre tbh.

So it's all marketing's fault then? But why would PR and marketing folk purposely ignore a huge swathe of books and potential customers intentionally?

Is it that they feel that these titles would not "make bank" as much as the others? After all, if you've got a big-name author on your books, and they're getting a huge advance, you've got to make sure their books bring the money in, so the focus of attention currently seems to be to push those harder than anything else (ironically, spending more PR / Marketing money in the process. Bonkers!)

Sadly, as well as the above, I also believe that there's a real problem with representation in the industry itself, right across the board from top to bottom, and it's horribly evident if you've ever been to any non-festival PR / book tour events (a recent one made me so uncomfortable that I had to bolt for the door, it was a completely surreal experience that one of these days I'll sum up the courage to blog about in another ReadItTorial rather than bore you to death with a huge wall of text here).

We've talked before about the race / class thing in publishing and within picture books in general - and how BAME and working class folk are definitely being squeezed out of things, but that still doesn't give a solid answer why we're still seeing large-scale issues with gender imbalance and of course a lack of BAME / Disabled / working class representation too.

The most upsetting thing from a casual observer's point of view is the fact that the very people who are champing at the bit to make children's books more inclusive are the very folk who often get blamed for the shortfall.

I don't like seeing creatives getting targetted by (well meaning but obviously misinformed) folk who suspect that the issue with the industry imbalance of white / middle class folk vs BAME / Disabled / working class creatives is being perpetuated by writers and illustrators themselves. I don't believe this is the case, though others obviously do and are making a lot of noise about that.

Most creatives actually welcome the opportunity to work on a wide range of diverse subjects and titles and should not be pilloried for the types of characters they include in their books (it's very easy to see why some creatives won't touch anything that deals with human characters at all, preferring to make their stories and points with animals, monsters or - agh - anything but people - but this just exacerbates the problem, it does nothing to kick-start progress on this matter).

We've seen it so many times in articles and thinkpieces on children's books. If kids can't see themselves reflected in the books they read, they won't dig in and fall in love with reading for pleasure - and from that they also won't be as likely to branch out and embrace other cultures and diverse subjects should the opportunity arise.

We've always tried our best to champion diverse titles on the blog (both of us are really passionate about this - even C who, for an 11 year old, thankfully understands why this is so important and always welcomes the opportunity to tackle any new books regardless of the colour, creed, sex, ability or age of the central character - and I guess it's important to say "the central SPEAKING character" at that, not just the stickered-in black / girl / poor friend who barely gets to utter a word).

More needs to be done, and we can all help - at all levels of involvement in kidlit, whether creator or consumer, and the rewards will eventually speak for themselves. We will hopefully have an industry that is future-proof rather than one consumed internally by its own asshole-wallpapering.

Broaden the audience and you'll broaden the sales, broaden the sales and you have more money to put into producing even more wonderful books. paying your creatives better too (and more money to promote a wider range of titles, not just the 'big name' stuff).

Or, y'know, just carry on the way you are and watch the whole industry end up a bland and disinterested money-making operation that eventually collapses in on itself in generations to come.
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - June 2019

Welcome, welcome! Settle down and sit a spell, it's time for another dip into our Chapter Book bag of win for another selection of gorgeous titles to become your new summer best book friends.

Starting off with the sizzlingly tense "The House of Light" by Julia Green.

Bonnie is a girl who loves the beach, and loves picking for treasures amongst the sandbars.

One day while she's scavenging,  she finds a battered old upturned rowing boat, and underneath it the most bedraggled looking half-starved wretch of a boy she's ever seen. 

Bonnie decides to nurse the boy back to health as he's very weak, and seems to have undertaken a perilous journey. But the boy is being hunted, and both Bonnie and her Granda may be in more trouble than they bargained for by harbouring the poor lad.
Doing their best to keep the boy hidden from the border guards, Bonnie wonders if it's time to escape the life she's always known and help the boy escape. 

Under cover of darkness they set sail to the 'house of light' in search of a new beginning, and a sense of hope.

Filled with the positive message of human kindness and helping others wherever they're from, this is a strong and brilliant book that's very much needed in our current socio-political climate. 

"The House of Light" by Julia Green is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

There's nothing short of a huge revolution going on in middle grade fantasy at the moment, with books of the most amazing quality really giving kids a kick-start in the right direction when it comes to engrossing characterful fantasy stories to really get your teeth into. 

"The Last Spell Breaker" by Julie Pike is a stunning debut for OUP, and a book we just couldn't put down. 

The book opens with Rayne, a girl who is destined to become a Spell Breather whether she wants to or not. 

Like most youngsters, she has very clear ideas about what she'd rather be doing than studying stacks of scrolls, or trying to master her spell breathing skills. But despite her reluctance she knows her skills are much needed, as her village falls under threat by an ancient and monstrous curse that could devour their entire home in one foul swoop. 

The magic is horribly fragile, and can't last forever - and on one fateful day when the unique spells that protect her village are unravelled, Rayne's real adventure begins and her destiny is mapped out - but will she find the strength within herself to prevail or will she need the help of others to realise her true potential. 

It coils you round its little finger this one, as Rayne is such a brilliantly realised and beautifully observed character with huge appeal for kids who love the likes of Hermione Granger or Percy Jackson.

"The Last Spell Breather" by Julie Pike is out on 4th July 2019, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

We always love fantasy books that start out with a curious "What if...?" question, and in "Dino Knights" by Jeff Norton the story starts off with a belter. 

"What if the dinosaurs never died out, and were the noble steeds of medieval knights?"

Well you've got to admit that a setup like that draws you straight in, with Jeff's trademark pacey and exciting writing driving along a fantasy adventure with a difference. 

When dinosaur stable boy Henry Fairchild stops a vicious T-Rex from attacking his master, he is invited to join the most elite group in Brecklan, the brave Knights of Panterra, the Dino Knights.

But before he can prove himself, the enemies of Brecklan attack with a flock of pterodactyls and kidnap Lord Harding. 

Whether he's ready or not, Henry and the Dino Knights mount a daring rescue mission...but nothing is what it seems. 

Blisteringly paced plotting and an amazing array of characters mark this one out as something truly special, get in on the ground floor with a book that feels like it's going to become a hugely successful series. Mark our words!

"Dino Knights" by Jeff Norton is out now, published by Awesome Reads. 

Massively talented and hugely prolific Holly Webb is back with another glorious selection of early readers for Stripes Publishing. 

"The Hideaway Deer" is the latest book in Holly's brilliant animal series featuring animals from around the world. 

The story opens as young Lola moves house. Lola feels she can’t help feeling sad to leave her old friends and life behind. She’s always been shy and worries it’ll be hard to make friends at her new school.

It’s not all scary, though. Lola loves her new home with its rambling garden and the deer that sometimes wander in through the broken fence.

Then one day she comes across a fawn who seems to be in trouble. Lola is determined to do everything she can to help the terrified little deer, but will she be able to do it on her own?

Lola may find a hidden strength within herself, and seizes the chance to help her new deer friend. 

Perfect for animal-loving middle graders who are taking their first steps into solo reading. 

"The Hideaway Deer" by Holly Webb is out now, published by Stripes (Little Tiger). 

Also from Holly is the next book in a series that C absolutely loves to bits.

"Shine: Lily's Secret Audition" with fab artwork from Monique Dong is Holly's next book in her brilliant middle grade drama and musical series. 

This story is all about Lily - a girl who has enrolled at the Shine School for the Performing Arts, but a girl who has a secret fear that she really doesn't belong there.

Lily truly believes she's only been allowed in because of her hugely successful actress mum, but soon she has the chance to prove herself - auditioning for a part in the dramatisation of one of her all-time favourite books, Little Women. 

Can Lily put aside her thoughts of impostor syndrome to really shine in the new role?

This series is brilliant for C who loves drama and singing, dancing and acting. How on earth does Holly do it!

"Shine: Lily's Secret Audition" by Holly Webb with illustrations by Monique Dong is out now, published by Stripes (Little Tiger).

Rachel Delahaye's "Little Rescue" books add a new animal to the roster with the next book in the series, "Little Dolphin Rescue" 

A very timely one for us this, as we've just come back from visiting the amazing Dolphin Rescue Centre in Clearwater, Florida. 

Fliss is a very special little girl who has a magical secret - she can be whisked away on secret missions to save the animals she loves.

A swimming lesson takes an exciting turn when Fliss is magically whisked away to the Indian Ocean! 

There she finds a young dolphin in trouble and she knows she has to help. 

But she’s scared of deep water, and who knows what other animals there might be out there!

Can Fliss face her fears and save her new friend?

Exciting stuff again for early readers who love animals and have the reading confidence to move on from picture books into chapter-based fare. 

"Little Dolphin Rescue" by Rachel Delahaye is out now, published by Stripes (Little Tiger). 

Rounding off our selection of awesome titles from Stripes Publishing is the newest addition to the "Star Friends" series. 

"Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief" by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming is another fab book for animal fans who love fantasy and magic. 

Sita and her friends love going on adventures, and as the "Star Friends" they're never too far from a mystery to solve.

When the residents of Westcombe enter the Best Kept Village competition, they appear to have a helping hand – someone has tidied the village overnight!

No one knows who has mowed the lawns and painted the fences but the town is looking neater than ever. 

Then things take a darker turn. Toys and pets begin to go missing!

The villagers are upset and worried, and the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is involved. They're going to have to use all of their skills to solve this latest mystery, with a little help from some animal friends. 

Brilliantly paced middle grade adventuring for girls and boys who love stories by E Nesbit and Enid Blyton. 

"Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief" by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming is out now, published by Stripes (Little Tiger). 

More from Stripes with something we're rather excited about. We love the thought of early reader chapter books with full colour illustrations in them, rather than just the usual black and white ones - to ease kids in the transition from picture books to chapter books.

"The Missing Bookshop" by Katie Clapham, with illustrations from Kirsti Beautyman is a fab little story kicking off an entire new range of similarly formatted books.

Milly loves going to story time at her local bookshop.

Mrs Minty is an encyclopedia of books and knows the perfect story for every occasion. Tales of mischievous children and faraway lands, magical beasts and daring adventures. But the bookshop is old and creaky, just like Mrs Minty herself. When Milly arrives one day to find the shop gone, she's determined to find out what happened to her favourite place.

A warm and uplifting tale about the importance of stories, "The Missing Bookshop" by Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman is out now, published by Stripes. 

Phew, what's next? More, we need more books. MORE I SAY!

How about a heartfelt WWII story like the sublime "Anna At War" by Helen Peters (with cover artwork from Daniela Terrazini).

At the beginning of the second world war, life became increasingly dangerous for German Jews. This story begins as young Anna is sent by her parents to live in England, hopefully away from Nazi persecution.

But the war follows her to Kent, and soon Anna finds herself caught up in web of betrayal and secrecy. How can she prove whose side she's on when she can't tell anyone the truth?

But actions speak louder than words, and Anna has a dangerous plan that could either see her triumph, or cruelly seal her fate. This is one of those amazing middle grade books where you barely dare breathe as you read it, with Anna's tale unfolding amidst the tense and spellbinding backdrop of life as a refugee during WWII.

"Anna at War" by Helen Peters and Daniela Terrazini is out on 4th July 2019, published by Nosy Crow. 

A salt-encrusted and truly atmospheric tale of undersea kingdoms and mermaids next in the superb "Lampie and the Children of the Sea" by Annet Schaap, translated by Laura Watkinson.

Lampie is the lighthouse keeper's daughter, given the most important duty of all - to light a lantern every night to ensure the safety of passing ships as they approach the treacherous rocks around her home. 

One disastrous night, Lampie fails in her duties, resulting in a terrible shipwreck - an event that changes the young girl's life forever. 

Sent away to work as a maid at the Admiral's Black House, Lampie's miserable life is lifted slightly by the discovery of an unexpected ally and friend, who draws the young girl into a fantasy world of mermaids, pirates and fantastic undersea vistas. 

Every bit as atmospheric as our tiny snippet makes it sound, and beautifully translated by Laura, this is an absolute essential for kids who love mermaids and the thought of living beneath the waves with a young girl who discovers her own inner strength and bravery.

"Lampie and the Children of the Sea" by Annet Schaap and Laura Watkinson is out now, published by Pushkin Press

Our mailbag has been awash with books about butterflies - and circuses - at the moment, so here's a fantastic middle grade / early YA book full of the roar of the crowd and the smell of greasepaint. 

"The Butterfly Circus" by Francesca Armour-Chelu is the tale of two sisters, Tansy and Belle, who live an enviable life as child stars in a stunning circus. 

High on the trapeze, the two sisters always star at the grand finale of the circus show, taking to the air like butterflies.

But Tansy is a risk taker, always looking for new ways to wring gasps of admiration from the crowds and as she attempts a spectacular jump as part of the act, she falls - and her life changes at the snap of a finger. 

Belle becomes the solo trapeze star, but when she disappears one night - and Tansy's shadow inexplicably comes to life, it's up to the younger sister to embark on a dangerous journey to find out what happened to her older sibling. 

A spellbinding, timeless and beautifully told adventure about two sisters and their journey to find each other again. "The Butterfly Circus" by Francesca Armour-Chelu with cover by Helen Crawford White is out now, published by Walker Books. 

A classic fairy tale is given a contemporary twist or two in our next book, "Cinders and Sparks: Magic at Midnight" by Lindsey Kelk and Pippa Curnick. 

You may think you know this tale - but be prepared for a surprise or two along the way as we meet Cinders, a young girl who lives a boring life with her selfish stepsisters and mean stepmother.

She's at their beck and call every single day, but constantly daydreams and wishes for something amazing to happen to rescue her from her miserable life. 

So when her wishes start magically coming true it’s a surprise to say the least!

Then Cinders meets her fairy godmother: she’s magic, she can fly, and she’s called . . . Brian.

Soon, Cinders finds herself heading to the glamorous ball at the King’s palace. 

But Brian is NOT very reliable and Cinders is NOT very good at magic. Now her life isn’t boring at all – it’s total chaos! Can Cinders somehow become the belle of the ball despite all the setbacks? 

Perfect for younger solo readers, taking a familiar tale and giving it a good shot of laughter right in the funny bone, "Cinders and Sparks: Magic at Midnight" by Lindsey Kelk and Pippa Curnick is out now, published by HarperCollins Children's Books. 

Next, a story that reminded us of the classic Francis Hodgson Burnett book "The Secret Garden" but with a darker and more mysterious atmosphere all told. "The Garden of Lost Secrets" by A.M Howell is set against the backdrop of the first world war, as young Clara is sent away to the country to live with her aunt and uncle on a sprawling estate (sounds great to us!)

Clara realises that there's more to the house than meets the eye, and her natural inquisitive nature soon leads to trouble. But what does a locked room hide? What is opened by the mysterious key Clara has found? 

...and who is the mysterious ghostly young boy who appears only at night, wandering the gardens as if he's searching for something. 

Clara seeks answers to these questions, and many more about her own past, and what the war could truly mean for her future. 

Scintillating, brilliant and breathlessly paced, "The Garden of Lost Secrets" by A.M Howell is out now, published by Usborne

We're pretty much guaranteed to enjoy any book with "Dragon" in the title, and definitely loved our final book for our June roundup, the superb "The Secret Dragon" by Ed Clarke. 

Meet Mari Jones, a girl whose curiosity always has her asking questions, and digging deep for the answers. You see Mari wants to be a real honest to goodness scientist. Even though she's only eleven!

So when she makes an unexpected discovery while fossil hunting, her inquisitive nature goes into overdrive. She finds a tiny dragon and is determined to get to the bottom of this very peculiar mystery - after all, dragons don't exist right? It's a scientific fact!

Unfortunately for Mari, this is one secret that doesn't want to be kept. And as she starts to form a deeper bond with the mischievous dragon, she might have to admit that, when it comes to friendship, science might not have all the answers.

Perfect for curious kids like C who absolutely loved this one, coupling a mighty girl character her age, with a curious and unutterably cute dragon friend, it's absolutely brill stuff from Ed. 

"The Secret Dragon" by Ed Clarke is out now, published by Puffin. 

Let's squeeze one more in, an absolute belter for animal lovers - particularly if you like your animals small, cute and furry.

"The Adventures of Harry Stevenson" by Ali Pye squeezes in not one but two adventures for the cute rotund little fellow.

Meet Harry Stevenson. He doesn’t live in a castle, or a witch’s cottage, or anywhere exciting like that. His home is in a flat with seven-year-old Billy and his mum and dad. And at first glance, Harry doesn’t seem any different from your average guinea pig. He has ginger fur and sparkly black eyes and likes nothing more than snacking on a piece of broccoli.

But don’t be fooled! Harry may just want to sleep and eat (and then eat some more) but somehow he always manages to get swept up in adventures: whether it’s surfing the Pacific on a picnic plate or accidentally attaching himself to a helium balloon.
Full of fab illustrations, and a really great little feelgood story, this is perfect for younger readers.

"The Adventures of Harry Stevenson" by Ali Pye is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books.

Squeezing one more in, as it's just too good and demands inclusion in our June list...

"Darkwood" by Gabby Hutchinson-Crouch brilliantly balances magic and fantasy with a good dose of snort-gurglingly awesome humour. 

Meet Gretel Mudd. Not the most alluring and attractive name in the world, and that's just the start of Gretel's problems. She lives in the dark realm of Myrsina, where magic is forbidden, and girls doing weird stuff like maths is definitely frowned upon (a bit of a problem for Gretel, who knows an awful lot about numbers and all things mathematical). 

When the sinister masked huntsmen accuse Gretel of witchcraft, she narrowly escapes persecution, finding herself in the murky depths of Darkwood - a place that's filled with monsters, witches and deep magic! No place for a girl who has absolutely no idea how magic works, let alone the will to use it. 

Gretel is lucky enough to meet an ally - the hapless Buttercup who is a witch with a unique problem - everything she touches turns to gingerbread (sounds like someone we'd love to meet, to be honest!) 

Gretel also meets Jack Trott, a strange individual who can make plants grow at will, and The White Knight - a fabulous warrior with a band of dwarves who cater for her every whim, and Trevor, a talking spider who is just utterly confusing!

With the Huntsmen on the warpath, Gretel must act fast to save both the Darkwood and her home village, while unravelling the rhetoric and lies that have demonised magical beings for far too long.

This is brilliantly written, with shades of Pratchett-like genius fused with a superb mighty girl character, and a ton of awesome supporting characters just begging to be discovered amongst the darkly delicious tale of good vs evil. Love it!

"Darkwood" by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is out now, published by Macmillan. 

And that's a wrap! Tune in next month for more stunning chapter-book goodness in our July roundup! See you then!

(All books kindly supplied for review)
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Out Today! The fantastic "A Planet Full of Plastic" by Neal Layton (Hachette Children's Books)

I think if we could have chosen one author-illustrator to write the perfect eco-message book, it'd be Neal Layton.

The illustrator of the fantastic "Emily Brown" books (with Cressida Cowell) and author-illustrator of several brilliant stories, Neal's trademark collage / doodle style is absolutely perfect for "A Planet Full of Plastic".

This is a subject that has really hit home in recent years, particularly with us - and we like to consider ourselves as a family who take recycling seriously, but get completely frustrated by how much single use plastic appears in our weekly shop.

"A Planet Full of Plastic" moves through the history of this 'miracle' material, and how the world fell completely in love with the convenience of it - at the cost of the stuff sticking around far longer than intended, and beginning to take a toll on our planet, our oceans and all the animals that live here (including us of course!)

Plastic doesn't age, doesn't rot and in some cases can be recycled a finite number of times before it becomes useless, even dangerous.

Plastic was fantastic - but now we need to look at new ways of moving on from using it everywhere
Neal's book is entertainingly illustrated and brilliantly written, balancing the quite often serious and harrowing topics surrounding plastic pollution with a lighter touch of humour to try and show just how crazy the world's obsession with plastic really can be.

Best of all, kids will find a rallying call to action - simple things that they can do to cut down on the consumption of plastic, or to tidy up our beaches and habitats making the world a nicer (and healthier) place for all animals and plants, fish and fowl, and humans too.

Blue Planet II highlighted the horror of plastics in our oceans and how many animals die from consuming the horrible stuff

This is such a fantastic book, brilliantly suitable for classroom projects and school work based around  changing just a few things to cut our plastic consumption. But it's also great for home too, containing tons of facts and advice to help kids who want to make these changes themselves (and recruit their families into bucking their ideas up too!)

Absolutely awesome stuff as usual from a hugely talented writer-illustrator.

Sum this book up in a sentence: One of the best books on a subject that is really hitting the headlines at the moment, raising awareness with kids who are absolutely determined to get behind eco issues.

"A Planet full of Plastic" by Neal Layton is out today, published by Hachette (kindly supplied for review). 

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Wednesday 26 June 2019

"The Tide" by Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay (Little Tiger)

We're horribly late to the party with this one but after tracking down our lost copy (post office had somehow managed to lose it down the back of the sofa) we're glad to be all caught up with one of the most powerful and impressive books about dementia that we've ever had the good fortune to read as part of this blog.

"The Tide" by Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay taps into this tricky and difficult to describe subject with aplomb.

It beautifully describes the fantastic relationship between a grandpa and his grand-daughter. They love spending time together, particularly at the beach.

The little girl always feels safe with grandpa as he holds her hand, splashing through the tide or when they make sandcastles. But the little girl senses that there's something wrong. Sometimes Grandpa forgets things - even her name.

The little girl's mummy explains that poor Grandpa's memory isn't what it once was, sometimes things get jumbled up - and just like the ebb and flow of the tide, Grandpa's memories come and go - and sometimes they're distant and quiet, and sometimes they're near and full of life.

Where the book wins out is in the delicate way it describes not just what it's like to live with Alzheimers, but simple things that families - and in particular children or grandchildren - can do to make life a little easier for those who suffer from this horrendous disease.

As a family who have had first hand experience of Alzheimers ourselves (several times, in fact), and the effect it has on everyone, we really thought this was one of the most sensitive and thought-provoking children's books dealing with the subject, through a truly touching and beautifully observed story about cross-generational relationships between grandparents and their grandkids.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Quite rightly being celebrated as one of the best children's books ever written on the subject of Alzheimers, with the most amazing illustrations helping to reinforce the touching and sensitively handled story.

"The Tide" by Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay is out now, published by Little Tiger Press (kindly supplied for review)
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Tuesday 25 June 2019

"The Worst Book Ever" by Elise Gravel (Drawn and Quarterly)

Owchers, here's a book that sets out its stall right from the front cover with a piece of self-deprecation that is, we're pleased to say, entirely unjustified. But let's hear Elise Gravel out, as we delve into "The Worst Book Ever".

This is the quirky and very funny new book from Elise who sets herself up for a drubbing from her own character creations.

You see they're fed up with the author's lack of imagination - and stage something of a book based revolt as the story unfolds around the lack of story the characters perceive.

In fact as the characters take over, with their own sassy opinions making this an even more hilarious read than intended, the author begins to let them take the narrative in their own direction. After all, it's their book, why shouldn't they be in control? Even if they are extremely rude!

In Elise's trademark cartoony style, the tale is blissfully original, turning the world of picture books and comics inside out and upside down and also highlighting just how important it is for the characters to shine through when you're devising a story.

After all, you wouldn't want to be a character stuck in a boring book - would you?

Sum this book up in a sentence: Absolutely brilliant, you'll never read anything quite as crazy as this!

"The Worst Book Ever" by Elise Gravel is out now, published by Drawn and Quarterly (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 24 June 2019

Dreams PS4 Early Access - The First Few Hours (A ReadItDaddy Game Review)

Creative little souls that we are here at ReadItDaddy, we're instantly drawn to anything that promises to unleash the power of our imaginations.

Though C and I don't actually get a lot of time to play videogames, when we do we're always looking for stuff that allows you to put your own personal 'stamp' on something. C is quite obsessive about MineCraft when she's allowed to spend some time with it, but I'd had my eye on Media Molecule's "Dreams" for a long time, probably as far back as when it was first announced aeons ago.

So now the Early Access version of dreams is available, and despite it costing you £24.99, there's the promise that you'll get the 'full' version once that goes live (given that the boxed cost of Dreams is currently £54.99 it's a bit of a no brainer to get it now, get in early, and get it cheaper, surely?)

So what the hootin' heck is Dreams? For those of you familiar with Media Molecule's quirky legacy, they're the studio behind the superb "Little Big Planet" series, and the mildly entertaining "Tearaway". A studio who love the power of your imagination so much, they're prepared to spend years crafting a set of tools to literally bring your dreams to life. Well, sort of...

Connie, the cone, and a tutorial level. Damn, how we miss the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry in these though!
In "Dreams" you start the game by selecting a sprite who will be your controlling character throughout the game. With this handy little scribbly pointer character you're able to control the game's various settings, creation tools, characters and menus.

Like LittleBigPlanet, it's deceptively easy to start tinkering around, making a mess as you go, but there's an extensive set of tutorials in Dreams to get you up and running with most of the creative bits and bobs you'll need to start building...something.

So what CAN you make in Dreams Early Access? The simple answer seems to be just about anything, as Early Access also includes access to the Dreams Community, and the creations of other folk who have far more disposable time on their hands than we do. C fell hopelessly in love with a game that is all about being a cat, causing as much havoc as possible in a house, before embarking on some Cat Karting! Needless to say, so much work has been put into this little game that it was well worth giving it a thumbs up (the Dreams equivalent of a "Like").

Fancy knocking up a stylish and moodily lit street scene in 3D? You can, once you master the tools!
So far we've probably spent around 4-5 hours playing with this and we've barely scratched the surface. It's like a cross between Blender, ProCreate, Little Big Planet and Z-Brush all mashed together into something that at its heart shares some of the mechanics of LBP, but more of a free-form creative pot-pourri of tools that could (and emphasis on the *could*) elicit the most amazing results.

We were buzzing with ideas that, sadly, will probably never come to pass. Not because of the sheer complexity of this once you dig deeper into the multitude of tweak menus and tools, but because even doing the simplest bit of modelling saw hours disappear as we twisted, turned and manipulated our controllers to try and beat Dreams into submission.

But for those of you who have the sort of disposable time on your hands to build Ankgor Wat in Minecraft, you're going to find Dreams almost impossible to resist. We keep thinking that this would be the ideal platform for storytelling as there are more than enough tools in there to allow you to produce totally absorbing story worlds and characters - so we'll be keeping a close eye on that aspect of Dreams for sure.

Sum this game up in a sentence: A sprawling and extensive set of creation tools allowing you to truly unleash the power of your imagination, if you've got acres of time on your hands.

"Dreams" Early Access is currently available from the PSN Store for Playstation 4. The full game will be released sometime during August 2019 (Self Purchased - Not provided for review)
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"Colours" by Anita Lester (Encounters Publishing)

Books that take you on a journey of discovery are vitally important for kids, particularly at an early age when there's so much for them to experience and to learn.

Children very quickly learn all about colours when books go the extra mile to present these simple lessons in an original and gorgeous way, and that's how it is in "Colours" by Anita Lester, a book that's a work of art in its own right.

Embark on a whimsical flight through the imagination of a young child discovering the colours in the world around her for the first time.

Vibrant sun-kissed yellows, bright fiery reds, subtle blues and purples. Her world is filled with colours, and yours will be too as you read through the book and enjoy Anita's truly amazing illustrations. Let's take a look at a couple of them...

Our favourite spread, nothing to do with the camper van, honest!
Juicy strawberries, and floating balloons
This really is a gorgeous book, each page spread is filled with gorgeous details and sumptuous colours.

You can pick up a copy of "Colours" by Anita Lester from the Encounters Publishing website here:

(Copy very kindly sent for review by Encounters Publishing)
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Friday 21 June 2019

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st June 2019: "Geek Girls Don't Cry" by Andrea Towers (Sterling)

Our Chapter Book of the Week this week is a truly original idea for a self-help book that's chock-full of pop-culture references and characters in a book that's a hugely positive and inspirational read about a wide range of issues young folk (not just girls) go through in their transitions from tweens to teens to adults.

"Geek Girls Don't Cry" by Andrea Towers draws in a ton of fictional characters to show examples of how those characters deal with particular situations involving mental and physical health, stress, PTSD and other things that we, the reader, might experience during our lives.

It's a durned clever idea that could have gone so horribly wrong, ending up sounding rather patronising and twee - but Andrea uses solid examples and relatable fictional superhero (and not-so-superhero) characters to underpin her excellent counterpoints and advice.

Helping girls and boys deal with bullying, body positivity, isolation, grief, and depression but also dealing with more fine-grained issues that fictional characters and real-life humans like us, the book's approach steers towards a more positive tone, suggesting exercises, means and methods to use in your own life.

Let's take a look inside at this one, as it's really something special:

Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is a prime example of a character coping with adversity and toughing out horrible situations
Andrea interviews and features excerpts from character writers and creators to help show how their own lives and influences directly fed into the way they wrote those characters in comics, novels and movies.

A fantastic Q & A with Margaret Stohl, bestselling author of "Black Widow: Forever Red"
Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely inspirational read for geeks and non-geeks, helping ordinary everyday non-superhero folk to deal with situations in a realistic way thanks to some sage examples from superhero and fictional character stories.

"Geek Girls Don't Cry" by Andrea Towers is out now, published by Sterling (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st June 2019: "Secret Agent Elephant" by Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins (Orchard Books)

Our second Picture Book of the Week is a hilarious spy romp with a difference.

In "Secret Agent Elephant" by Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins, the spy isn't some suave sophisticated lantern-jawed action man. It's an elephant, and one who can barely wriggle into his stylish tuxedo, let alone cope with the rigours of a life as an international elephant of mystery.

There's a nefarious plot by an arch super-criminal to end the world, and the only Elephant for the job is a pizza-obsessed klutz who is going to need some firm but gentle guidance in the ways of becoming a spy.

Eoin and Ross offer up a great little picture book homage to James Bond (check out Elephant's poor crushed sports car, for example) before diving headlong into the giggles with a brilliant showdown with the nefarious Vincent Le Morte.

As always with picture books, I can never quite tell whether they're going to be a hit, miss or maybe with C - but she enjoyed this one. Psst, secret stuff, she was actually rooting for Vincent at the end so I hope there's a sequel planned with some sort of super-villain jailbreak involved!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant spy romp with lots of knowing nods and winks to spy movies, as well as the brilliant physical humour of a colossal klutz of an animal trying to slink their way (largely unsuccessfully) through an awesome spy adventure.

"Secret Agent Elephant" by Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins is out now, published by Orchard Books (kindly supplied for review).
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st June 2019: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie" by Ramin Zahed and various artists (Titan)

It's taken absolutely ages for us to get hold of a copy of this, and in the end it was well worth the 8 MONTH WAIT (Yes, it really has been that long since I ordered it).

It's not hard to see why "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie" by Ramin Zahed was out of stock for so long just about everywhere (we couldn't even find a copy when we visited the US recently - not that I would have fancied trying to get this hefty tome into my baggage allowance!)

Chronicling probably the best movie of 2018 with a metric ton of pre-production art, Phil Lord and Chris Miller's awesome re-imagining of Miles Morales' Spider-Man origin story was so good it even won an Oscar (quite right too!)

But the movie wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for a distinct mindset from the artists who worked on it. Given some pretty loose reins by Sony Pictures / Marvel, Lord and Miller instructed their artists to produce an animated movie like no other, using groundbreaking techniques of building out an entire Spider-World in CGI but using traditional art and comic techniques to really bring the movie to life in an eye-popping way.

Does whatever a spider can...!
As huge fans of Spider-Man, both C and I wanted to see the movie as soon as we first saw the trailer, and absolutely loved every second of it (we were very lucky to have a cinema to ourselves for a really early morning preview showing, and dang, that was a good way to see this film!)

Back to the book, and inside you'll find some utterly incredible artwork from some of the most talented artists in the business, all with that same remit - do something that will be unforgettable, perhaps even genre-defining.

Gahd wouldn't it be great to be able to draw like this!
Everyone rose to the challenge, inspired by the original comics, the newer characters and of course the delicious possibilities that playing in multiple spider-man realms would present. The rest, as they say, is history but this book beautifully brings all that together.

It's not perfect by any means. I could probably have done with a lot less scenic / interior stuff, and a heck of a lot more character artwork (characters such as Spider-Man Noir barely get a mention and there's not nearly enough Spider-Gwen in here for C - who loves her to bits!) but it's still one of the most impressive art books we've ever laid our hands on.

Some great character art but we'd have loved a lot more. 

Well worth the wait then!

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - The Art of the Movie" by Ramin Zahed and various artists is out now, published by Titan (self purchased - not provided for review). 

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Thursday 20 June 2019

Can picture books just STOP ALREADY with the "You can only succeeed if you have / make / get the help of friends" books? A ReadItTorial

"I'll be there for you...for a hundred grand a showwwwwwww"
I've finally lost count.

I have, I've honestly lost count of the number of books we've seen for review over the last few years of blogging that have had one core moral at their heart.

Sometimes that moral is delivered with all the subtlety of a breezeblock to the face. Sometimes it's intricately woven within the story and may fool you into seeing the worth in promoting the message, sure. But for us at least, most of them just make us wish picture books would move on and fixate on something else.

The subject of friends seems to be a rich fertile patch of soil that has been worked over, and worked over, and worked over again until now, for us at least, it's now a dry and dusty desert, incapable of sustaining the seed of an original idea.

There are so many ways to show how awesome it can be to be a social gadfly, popular and well loved, cared about, supported. But for kids who struggle to make friends, and for folk who are naturally anxious and a bit socially awkward (HELLO SIR!) these books can end up having the exact opposite effect to the one they intend.

For kids like C, making friends can be pretty tricky. Sometimes kids lack the confidence, the belief in themselves, and perhaps even the communications skills to instantly strike up a rapport with other kids.

Sometimes if they are only children it can be doubly tough as they do not have the experience of having an older / younger sibling at home, and thus do not learn some of the valuable life lessons that come from having a sib who either dotes on you or (in my case at least) is likely to swipe you around the head with a length of hot wheels track for a giggle.

It's easy to cast a critical eye over picture book texts that feel like they're still raking over that dusty patch of desert mentioned above, claiming that they bring absolutely nothing new to the party, but within the (sometimes horrifically predictable) picture book pattern (that I believe will end up being the death of the children's picture book industry if publishers and agents don't do something about it - and fast) these books often follow the same pattern and by GAD if I never see another while we're still running this blog, it'll be too soon.

Let's take a look at that formula. Does this sound like the premise for an exciting original book to you?

1) Central character is either happy or miserable. But could they be happier?
2) Something happens - central character is completely stuck, lost, trapped, lonely etc (cut and paste to suit)
3) They get a friend, make a friend, build a friend, stick batteries into a friend, trap a friend in a gigantic bubble machine accidentally...
4) THEY BECOME AMAZING! They achieve all their goals. All because they made a friend who shows them the true path to enlightenment

Actually I've probably made this formula sound more exciting than it inevitably ends up. In most cases the story pattern is so formulaic you could literally swap in / swap out any animal / human / robot / alien / sentient sea cucumber character and still end up with the same result.

BUT DO THESE BOOKS WORK? Do they really? Do kids read them and instantly have it dawn on them that making friends is great, and they absolutely must do that thing, otherwise they're doomed to failure? I sincerely doubt it, but I would love to hear from folk who talk from the other end of the table and can think of instances where 'friends' books have actually worked, been a positive boon to a child's well being. I do want that, I just don't want so much of it, if that makes sense.

From this year's picture book submissions (lower than most years for us, hovering around the 300 book mark) we've seen roughly 60-70 picture books that contain some or all of the elements above.

The problem is they're so interchangeable, so samey, and so immemorable that it's becoming very difficult to review them - and in fact we've dropped an awful lot of unsolicited review submissions, leaving us with a fairly skeletal schedule for 2019 - something that we're really not used to on the blog (that sounds horribly needy, but usually we're drowning in picture books, and though we do turn a fair few down that are just too young to appeal to C, we seem to be seeing fewer books in general right across the board).

So what to do? I still don't understand why picture books absolutely HAVE TO HAVE A MORAL LESSON IN THERE SOMEWHERE and reading a book creative's recent tweet about wanting to just do a book that had 'a load of meaningless but entertaining chat in it' I really do think we've got a problem that's beginning to eat the entire industry inside out, that publishers and agents really are against taking any form of risk, so play it safe with fairly formulaic and samey old themes.

I don't understand why we don't see more picture books that just want to convey a story without feeling they have to lecture you, or try to fix you, or manipulate you into being a different person than you actually are. It's possible to write those stories, but whether it's possible to sell them for a profit is the real issue I guess.

If kids need anything at the moment, they need picture books and stories that take them away from the pressures they're under in virtually all other aspects of their lives (particularly the pressure to be more sociable, friendly, and have more pals).

Ugh, totally aware that this is one of those horribly cynical groany old ReadItTorials, so apologies if you've stuck through to the bitter end and think I got out of bed the wrong side this morning, but it really is getting to the point where the market is getting flooded with this stuff.

Kids either naturally make friends or they don't - but why should their worth be measured by this?
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"Humperdink our Elephant Friend" by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander (Words and Pictures)

What would you do with the elephant in the room?

One set of nursery school kids find out in the adorable "Humperdink, our Elephant Friend" by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander.

Playtime at the nursery is always awesome, but one little girl discovers that she loves to play games that the other kids don't.

She has a daring streak and loves rough and tumble games but when Humperdink the baby elephant joins the children’s playgroup, he seems friendly enough, but it soon becomes clear that he’s not very good at the usual games the children play, like dressing up or hide-and-seek.

When he breaks the children’s favourite slide, everyone feels sad.

But with a little patience and understanding the children soon discover that Humperdink is good at some things – especially if they use their imaginations – leading to a riotously fun conclusion.

There are lots of neat little touches to this story, acceptance and learning that sometimes playing games others prefer rather than pushing your own choices can reap rewards, and maybe gain you a new friend or two (elephant shaped or otherwise!)

Sum this book up in a sentence: Sean Taylor makes storytelling look easy in this rather delightful little tale, perfectly complimented by Claire Alexander's characterful and gorgeous illustrations.

"Humperdink Our Elephant Friend" by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander is out now, published by Words and Pictures (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 19 June 2019

"There's a Spider in my Soup" by Megan Brewis (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

Yikes! Not a fan of spiders here at ReadItDaddy Towers, and definitely not a fan of finding them languishing in our food.

In "There's a Spider in my Soup" by Megan Brewis, a mischievous spider loves nothing more than energetically swinging on her web.

Despite her mum and dad's warnings, little spider can't stop swinging - but when her swinging lands her in someone's lovely tasty lunchtime comestible, it's an opportunity to make new friends and do something adventurous that the whole family can enjoy!

Time for some splishy splashy fun!!

We rather liked the message here, that sometimes the rules are there to be bent a little if not totally broken - and sometimes getting messy is a whole lot of fun.

Sum this book up in a sentence: With a lovely bounce-along story, tons of energy and gorgeous illustrations, this is rather awesome indeed!

"There's a Spider in my Soup" by Megan Brewis is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review)
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