Friday, January 31, 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 31st January 2020: "Pests" by Emer Stamp (Hodder Children's Books)

You're going to have a bit of a wait on your hands before you get hold of our fantastic Chapter Book of the Week but we were so excited about it, we couldn't hold it in any longer.

We first read "Pests" by Emer Stamp as an ARC over Christmas and for quite some time now we'd been wondering what Emer would come up next. Her fabulous "Secret Diary of Pig" books have long been faves of ours, and C in particular really began to find her reading confidence with those books, and Emer's hilarious but brilliantly touching writing style.

So now Emer turns her attention to those little creatures that perhaps hide behind the wainscotting, or scurry around in the dark while the rest of us sleep. Pests? Perhaps not...

Stix is the hero of this tale, a tiny yet brave mouse who manages to keep out of trouble - most of the time. Stix is actually very kind and caring, but to join the ranks of "The Pests" Stix might have to change his ways.

Stix's wise grandma teaches him that staying away from humans, and out of trouble, will enable him to have a long and happy life - just like hers. But the Peewit Educatorium for Seriously Terrible Scoundrels (Yep, PESTS) demands more than just stealth from its members - and so Stix is about to do something very silly indeed - ignore his Grandma's sage advice and get into all sorts of mischief.

But is it worth changing your behaviour just to fit in with a whole new crew of friends?

Straight away Stix finds his voice as a character, and you're instantly drawn to him in the same way we were both drawn to Pig. Sometimes he's not the brightest mouse in the skirting board but there's something quite sweet, innocent and endearing about any tiny character outscaled by the trials and challenges of the world - and sometimes even the human world at that, scaled up and gigantic and equally full of wonders and dangers. There are laugh out loud moments, and those divine moments of bittersweetness that crop up in the very best middle grade books. It feels unusual to have them in a book that is meant to be light and funny in tone, but they work beautifully, and reinforce our love of Stix and this bookworld.

This is utterly fantastic stuff and Emer is an immensely talented lass!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Emer shifts gears effortlessly to deliver a potential new book series that's every bit as engaging, characterful and downright fun to read as "Pig"

"Pests" by Emer Stamp is out on 2nd April 2020, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 31st January 2020: "The Art of Disney Costuming" by Rebecca Cline and Jeff Kurti (Disney Editions)

Our Book of the Week this week is a mammoth tome indeed, showing some of the most amazing character costumes created for some of you favourite Disney live action movies.

With a family of Disney obsessives, and a daughter completely obsessed by fashion design, this book was an absolute must.

It'll give your poor long-suffering postman a hernia if you order it online though, it really is that big - the best way to showcase the amazing work of the Walt Disney costumiers, designers, art directors and archivists who see these designs through from sketches to amazing finished products, and collect together all these amazing pieces in the archives.

Think of a blockbuster Disney live action movie of the last few decades and you'll likely find at least one of the character costumes here. Everything from the grubby slightly down-at-heel leather-clad looks created for "Pirates of the Caribbean" through to the glorious dresses of Disney's live action princess movies such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella.

"In West Arabia Born and Raised" - Will Smith's Genie costume from the live action "Aladdin" movie. 
The baddies also get a look in, with everything from Gaston's showy soldier-like threads, to Jack Frost's business-like frost-covered pin stripes from Santa Clause 3.

Though the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast" was computer generated, costumes are often made as live-action references. 

Cinderella's amazing dress from the live action movie, worn by Lily James. Check out those slippers!
As well as the most sumptuous photo plates of the costumes themselves, there are great snippets of design information and anecdotes from the designers. If anything we'd have liked to have seen a few more all-round shots (not just front-facing pics) and more process drawings, but as it stands, this is an utterly amazing and inspirational book for fashion fans and is worth every penny.

"The Art of Disney Costuming" by Rebecca Cline and Jeff Kurti is out now, published by Disney Editions (Self Purchased - not provided for review). 

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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Cheerleading online buddies vs the bizarre sense of entitlement around being published - This Week's Readitorial


It's been a hectic week as January seems to linger on like an eggy fart in a VW Beetle, but there have been some fab moments in kidlit, with several of our online pals finally getting their first publishing deals, mentorships and - in a couple of cases - seeing their books finally make it into print.

We've always been deliriously happy to see these folk achieve their dream of making it into print, or entering into the exciting process of getting professional help with their fledgeling works. It's hugely satisfying to see a name on a front of a book that you recognise - not because that person's a famous author, but because that person's been a long-standing and awesome pal online and (hopefully) someone who's dipped into our blog from time to time to read our opinions on books.

Yet there's a flip side to all this. I spotted a couple of articles this week about the other side of the coin - the thorny pain of rejection.

Creatives are normally sensitive types, hugely protective of their work and though most will accept criticism (grudgingly) it's also easy to understand why so many feel kicked in the teeth whenever they get a fairly soulless boilerplate rejection letter.

Through normal processes of submission to publishers or agents, there is an acceptance that if you don't get a frenetic level of interest in everything you do (almost unheard of, but not entirely unknown), you've somehow failed. If you hear the dreaded words "Thanks but it's not right for us" or "Needs a lot of work" or any other form of actual feedback, it can at least feed back into the creative process. If you get something fairly 'flat' back, you have very little to go on.

The weird thing for me is that sometimes I read blogs or think pieces where the sense of entitlement some writers / illustrators feel is clearly misplaced. They have such a strong level of belief in their work that they also strongly believe they deserve to be published, they belong in that hallowed cadre of published authors - and perhaps even if they do make it there, and get one book published, each and every piece of work they submit from that point onwards should be automatically greenlit.

We all know that it really doesn't happen that way. Children's publishing is an industry, a business, a divine entity that may have the very best of intentions but also the clear intention to make a shedload of money (not all of which finds its way into prospective author / illustrator pockets, but let's not go down that road, that's still a subject for another blog).

Commissioning editors are canny folk. They have a deep knowledge of the trends that affect the book-buying public's decisions to purchase or not to purchase. They go to the book fairs, and spot potentially awesome book opportunities - or see other publishers taking on certain projects and books and think "We could do one of those, email our pet writers to knock out a few like that as it's obviously gonna be a big thing!"

In the UK the industry feels like it's more reserved, less likely to take risky chances (hop across the English Channel to France or Belgium and you'll probably find the exact opposite - where kidlit is seen as another branch of art, not necessarily as a way to print money). That makes it tough as hell to get a book out there - and again that draws me neatly back to the top-end of this article and the sheer admiration I have for those folk I know that have made it.

If the sense of entitlement comes from creative self-belief, that's a boat that's inevitably going to run aground, hit the rocks and sink.

However, if someone's truly put in the maximum effort possible, joined every organisation out there, SCBWI'd and networked their butts off, submitted to countless agents and publishers, read a ton of children's literature across all possible genres and yet still gets those fairly flat letters of rejection back, perhaps the message is clear - it may never happen and for some that's just something they'll never willingly accept.
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - January 2020

Wow, I can't quite believe we're here in the year 2020! Still missing our robot servants, flying cars and food in pill form but thankfully books are still around - amazing chapter books, and so it's our solemn duty to once again bring you the brightest and best chapter books month after month, starting with January's amazing selection.

"Little Bird Lands" by Karen McCombie is the first book we're delving into today, a truly amazing slice of adventure for folk who love the spirit of the wild, wild west and the pioneering families who settled in a new land and made their lives there.

After "Little Bird Flies" we pick up the story as Little Bird arrives from her native Scotland in America for the first time.

Assuming that her family are now free from danger (which we can't talk about too much, but definitely read the first book to get the whole story, it's well worth it!) Little Bird soon discovers that even the new world holds new perils, and soon she's on the run again.

Karen's gorgeous, atmospheric and descriptive writing takes her characters from the teeming streets of New York out into the prairies and wilderness of the true wild west, and to faces new and old, welcoming and most unwelcome. Absolutely essential for fans of "Little Women" and "Little House on the Prairie"

"Little Bird Lands" by Karen McCombie is out on 6th February 2020, published by Nosy Crow. 

Next up we're shifting continents away from the U S of A and back to Europe - Venice to be precise for the superb and atmospheric "The Mask of Aribella" by Anna Hoghton.

Aribella is the daughter of an impoverished lace-maker, working tirelessly to try and eke out a living amongst the rich and well-to-do. But Aribella is no ordinary child, she has a power she doesn't understand - unleashed by her temper, a strange magic erupts from her fingertips.

As dissenting voices cry "Witch" Aribella decides to flee the city, but could unwittingly be the only thing that stands between its destruction and the dark forces of evil that are rising from the lagoon.

Thankfully she is taken under the wing of a mysterious stranger, and introduced to the world of the Cannovacci, a mysterious warrior caste who have devoted their lives over generations to protecting Venice and its people.

Is Aribella up to the challenge of joining them?

Taut, thrilling writing and a brilliant original setting mark this out as a standout early title for Chicken House's 2020 range.

"The Mask of Aribella" by Anna Hoghton is out now, published by Chicken House. 

Something fun for younger readers next, with the 2nd book in Nick East's superb secret agent adventure series.

"Agent Weasel and the Abominable Dr Snow" by Nick East sees the illustrator flexing his author muscles for a second outing accompanying the weasel with a nose for adventure on a snow-bound mystery as the Winter Whopper Games opens.

Agent Weasel is called in as animal athletes begin to disappear. Soon, rumours of a mysterious snow beast swirl like a blizzard around the athlete camp, and Agent Weasel and his trusty sidekick Doorkins must work out what's going on.

This story cracks along at a blistering pace, as Weasel and Doorkins begin to unravel the mystery, hopefully popping back home in time for a well deserved cup of hot chocolate (marshmallows and sprinkles too, of course!)

Fab stuff for readers finding their own confidence in solo reading, who love animal antics as much as we do.

"Agent Weasel and the Abominable Dr Snow" by Nick East is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books. 

More fun stuff for younger readers with fab screams, squeaks and scares in "Ghoul Scouts: Welcome to Camp Croak!" by Taylor Dolan.

Lexie Wilde was pretty sure she was supposed to be joining the Happy Hollow Camp for Joyful Boys and Girls for the summer. So why did her Grams just drop her off under a big ol' sign saying WELCOME TO CAMP CROAK? 

And is she really sharing a cabin with a werewolf, a skeleton, a fancy-schmancy zombie and a baseball-hat-wearing ghost? Yep, looks like she is!

But after earning some rather unusual Ghoul Scout badges, Lexie becomes the best of friends with her new pals, and before long is one of the team. However, danger lurks as the wicked Euphemia Vile has plans of her own. And when their beloved camp counsellors succumb to an odd sleeping sickness, Lexie and her new friends become suspicious ... can they overcome the saccharine sweetness of their new Scoutmaster and save Camp Croak?

The laughs come thick and fast in this illustrated chapter book, perfect for newly confident solo readers who still like their text laced with awesome images. 

"Ghoul Scouts: Welcome to Camp Croak!" by Taylor Dolan is out on 6th February 2020, published by Guppy Books. 

We've sneaked a peek at Chicken House's amazing lineup for 2020, kicking off with "Demelza and the Spectre Detectors" by Holly Rivers. 

Demelza is your ordinary everyday girl who truly loves science. She stays up late into the night to conduct experiments and research, totally obsessed with figuring out what makes the world tick. However Demelza seems to have also inherited her grandmother's distinctly unscientific gift for detecting spooks, ghouls and ghosts!

Can she somehow make these two unique skill sets work together? She may need to, as her beloved Granny has been kidnapped by a nefarious ne'er do well, and Granny's own nosey nature when it comes to spectre-detecting may have something to do with this tricky case. 

Only Demelza and her pasty best friend, Percy, can solve the deadly mystery before Granny ends up on the other side herself!

A brilliant mix of originality, spookiness and fun, "Demelza and the Spectre Detectors is out on 6th February 2020, published by Chicken House. 

Next up, one of the most hotly anticipated Middle Grade titles of 2020 surely? Well we like to think
so, in fact we've been wondering what beetle-obsessed M.G Leonard might get up to next. 

Along with Sam Sedgeman and Elisa Paganelli on cover illustration and interior illustration duties, they've cooked up the first in the "Adventures on Trains" series, "The Highland Falcon Thief. 

Harrison Beck is reluctantly joining his travel-writer Uncle Nat for the last journey of the royal train, The Highland Falcon. 

But as the train makes its way to Scotland, a priceless brooch goes missing, and things are suddenly a lot more interesting. As suspicions and accusations run high among the passengers, Harrison begins to investigate and uncovers a few surprises along the way. 

Can he solve the mystery of the jewel thief and catch the culprit before they reach the end of the line?

Hear whispers in the dining car, find notes in the library, and unknown passengers among the luggage as you help Harrison to solve the mystery aboard one of the world's grandest trains.

We've become a bit jaded with the constant stream of 'detective' middle grade books, so trust M.G and Sam to come up with something wholly original, full of mystery and suspense, a fabulous setting - and we've long been saying there aren't nearly enough train-based books around in early years or middle grade. This is a doozy where you can actually help solve the mystery alongside Harrison, page by page making this something truly special indeed. 

Brilliant stuff, don't miss "The Highland Falcon Thief" by M.G Leonard, Sam Sedgman and Elisa Paganelli - out TODAY! YAY! and published by Macmillan Children's Books. 

You can't kick off a new year without at least one Tom McLaughlin book in your reading pile, and as topical as ever, Tom has brilliantly nailed the subject of those pesky Echos / Alexas / Siris in "Attack of the Smart Speakers". 

Smart speakers are undoubtedly the new craze in town. Everyone wants one, everyone buys them, and soon they're commonplace everywhere in Tyler's home town.

Underneath their seemingly innocent exterior of helpfulness and usefulness, these nefarious devices are plotting the downfall of humanity, eventually morphing into mobile menaces with spidery limbs, ready to enslave humanity.  

It's up to Tyler to bravely make a stand. Can these nasty little menaces be stopped before everyone ends up zombified by their favourite playlists, or recipes for chocolate brownies? 

Filled with Tom's trademark awesome humour, this is bang on topic - particularly if you got one of these annoying things for Christmas (we won't allow them in the house at ReadItDaddy Towers, particularly if the durned things start sprouting legs and walking around!)

"Attack of the Smart Speakers" by Tom McLaughlin is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

The 6th of February is something of a booky avalanche so we're going to devote the next section to a ton of releases out on that date. Including one that really caught our eye, a turn for the distinctly weird and wonderful in a book that felt heavily inspired by the glorious "Gravity Falls" TV show.

In "The Bigwoof Conspiracy" by Dashe Roberts, you'll get a ghoulish welcome to the world of Sticky Pines - where things get weird!

Lucy Sladan, pretty similar to a 12 year old me, is totally obsessed with UFOs and her home town is just the right place to live for those drawn to the strange, the unusual and downright sinister.

Sneaking out in the middle of a thunderstorm to try and investigate the odd disappearances in her home town, Lucy is drawn into a grand conspiracy surrounding a giant menacing and hairy creature.

Meeting Milo Fisher, a mysterious 13 year old stranger, Lucy begins to form an alliance with this peculiar chap - to try and discover what's really going on in Sticky Pines. With all the elements we love in a mystery book, and a fantastic dose of chills and spookiness, it's an absolutely cracking debut from Dashe. "The Bigwoof Conspiracy" by Dashe Roberts is out on 6th February 2020, published by Nosy Crow. 


More suspense and mystery and a completely engaging set of characters find their way into "Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things" by Matilda Woods, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta.

It begins on familiar ground, as we first meet Otto - living in the City of Hodorf, a city locked in a seemingly eternal winter.

Otto's mother has disappeared and soon Otto's desperation drives him into the company of a band of orphans known as the Tattercoats - who vow to help Otto track down his missing mum.

So begins a quest across the land, through dark forests inhabited by witches and sinister magic, and through the caverns where sleeping dragons wait to snap up anyone who dares enter their domain.

Woven in the finest storytelling traditions where the magical and mythical setting still managed to ensnare kids who can identify with Otto's struggle to be brave and courageous in the face of such adversity, Matilda's glorious descriptive prose draws up a first adventure for the Tattercoats and Otto that will immediately hook you in. Plus there are dragons in this book, and you just cannot go wrong with dragons, right?

"Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things" by Matilda Woods and Kathrin Honesta is out on 6th February 2020, published by Scholastic.


Something fun for younger readers now, with a highly illustrated and brilliantly colourful new adventure for a very special porcine fella indeed.

"Unipiggle - the Unicorn Pig" by Hannah Shaw begins with a very difficult decision for a young princess. Today is the day she will select her own special Unicorn friend from the grand parade. But instead Princess Pea meets more than she bargained for. Not quite a unicorn, but a unipiggle!

Princess Pea is no ordinary princess either. She can't eat sweets because her mum wants the whole kingdom to have perfect teeth (bit weird, but thanks Mum!) - Of course Princess Pea hates salad, but perhaps her newfound friend might be able to help?

Unsure at first, Princess Pea begins to realise that there's far more to making friends than judging a book by its cover - but this book will definitely give you a fun and riotous romp for readers who love a giggle giggle or two.

"Unipiggle - The Unicorn Pig" by Hannah Shaw is out on 6th February 2020, published by Usborne. 

If you're still feeling mildly traumatised from watching the recent "Cats" movie, perhaps you need something a bit more - well - super! Step forward Gwyneth Rees with a fantastic new action packed middle grade series with superb illustrations from Becka Moor.

"Super Cats v Maximus Fang" builds on the story of Tagg and Sugarfoot - two very special moggies who have developed super-powers.

Recruited by the mysterious Topaz Top Cat, the two heroes are pitted against a mean super villain, Maximus Fang, who is set on breaking his criminal buddy out of cat jail, ready for one last stupendous and nefarious job.

In order to get more information, Tagg and Sugarfoot will need to infiltrate Hamish's infamous band of Hit Cats. They are going to need all their wits - and superpowers - about them this time!

Fast-paced and great for kids beginning to find their own reading confidence, but still packed with awesome illustrations from one of our fave artists, "Supercats v Maximus Fang" by Gwyneth Rees is out on 6th February 2020, published by Bloomsbury. 

We've got room for one more very special book, from an author who completely blows us away with sheer talent for designing the sort of book worlds we love to spend as much time in as possible...

"A Sprinkle of Sorcery" by Michelle Harrison is the next brilliant book following on from the sublime "A Pinch of Magic" reuniting us with The Widdershins Sisters.

Now free to leave the cursed prison isle of Crowstone, Betty Fliss and Charlie feel like they deserve a well-earned rest.

But they meet a stranger, a mysterious girl who arrives at "The Poachers Pocket" with a weird tale, a will-o-the-wisp, a pocketful of hagstones and a cry for help.

So the girls are once again drawn into an adventure, but when Charlie goes missing, Betty and Fliss must find their way through the murk and mists of sinister marshes to an island that seems to appear out of nowhere, and mysteriously doesn't appear on any maps. What is the stranger's link with this weird place and what on earth has happened to poor Charlie?

You know what you're in for with Michelle's fabulous books. You're in for page-turning cliffhanger adventuring of the finest order, with characters who make you cheer and root for them at every twist and turn, and a setting that always has a magical sheen to it, and a dark side that will completely envelop you and draw you in.

"A Sprinkle of Sorcery" by Michelle Harrison is out on 6th February 2020, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books. 


Be prepared for all manner of strange goings on in a new novel from A.M. Howell.

"The House of One Hundred Clocks" takes us back in time to 1905, and a time where the world felt like it was still coasting the wave of amazing advances in technology and science - and yet people were still intrigued by mystery and magic.

Meet young Helena, and her pet parrot Orbit - uprooted from their comfortable home to the streets of Cambridge where Helena's father is appointed chief clock-winder to one of the wealthiest men in the country. His job is simple but succinct - never let any of the clocks wind down and stop!

The House of 100 Clocks holds more than just ticking timepieces, it's a house where mysterious occurences happen almost on a daily basis. Ghostly figures flit just out of eyeshot, and the clock winding keys frequently go missing. Strange notes appear, and soon Helena gets the distinct impression that they're definitely not alone in the house - strange supernatural forces are at work. Can she be brave and solve the mystery before the last clock ticks out its time?

Utterly enchanting stuff, with just the right chilling atmosphere to drive a story that is tightly written and brilliantly addictive.

"The House of One Hundred Clocks" by A.M. Howell is out on 6th February 2020, published by Usborne. 

(All books kindly supplied for review).

So that's a cracking start to our Chapter Book Roundups for 2020! We hope you'll drop by again soon for our next monthly roundup of all the amazing stuff coming your way in Middle Grade and YA fiction. 
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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

"Put your Botty on the Potty" by Sam Lloyd (Pavilion Children's Books)

Getting a curmudgeonly 11 year old to review a book about potty training would normally be a hopeless cause - if it wasn't for the fact that this is a Sam Lloyd book, and Sam's books were a huge part of C's early reading journey.

"Put your Botty on the Potty" by Sam Lloyd might at first appear to be a zany scatological look at something that we might now take for granted, but for many parents trying to get their fidgety little misses or misters to stay put while they do their business isn't easy - so what better than a hilarious and strangely captivating lift the flap book to keep them occupied while they do their number ones and number twos!

With Sam's trademark crazy humour, little ones will soon demand this book every time they sit down to take a load off. Thankfully it's nicely designed and should survive a good wet-wiping or two!

Little Moo Monster is growing up and no longer happy to be in a nappy. Moo wants to be more grown up than his baby sister. So the lovable monster discards his diaper and suddenly there's poop everywhere (oh gawd, we do remember this all too well, even though it was over a decade ago!)

Mom gets a potty, and Moo practices sitting on it until, finally...success! Moo can progress to grown-up underpants that he can pull up and down--which means he can go to the Monster Pant Party with all his little potty-trained friends.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Zany illustrations and laugh-out-loud humor makes this the perfect potty-training tool for all toddlers and their parents.
"Put Your Botty on the Potty" by Sam Lloyd is out now, published by Pavilion Children's Books (Kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"Little People Big Dreams: David Attenborough" by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Mikyo Noh (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

The cutest biography series on the planet begins its 2020 run with the 40th book (wow, 40? Really?) in the series - and a very special chap who has become a national treasure, as well as a respected elder statesman and spokesman for the conservation movement across our ailing planet.

"Little People Big Dreams: David Attenborough" by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Mikyo Noh chronicles the life of the amazing broadcaster, presenter and ecologist whose eloquent and rich voice has underpinned many of the wildlife programmes and conservation movements that have made us sit up and take notice of the state of our blue planet over the last few decades.

David grew up in Leicester on the campus of a university, where his father was a professor. 

As a child, he spent hours in the science library, collating his own specimens and creating a mini animal museum. 



When he was old enough to go to university, he studied science and zoology – but what he wanted most of all was to be close to the animals he was studying. So, he started working in television, visiting animals in their natural habitats and telling the world the untold stories of these animals. 



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


Sum this book up in a sentence: Many children will already be familiar with David's amazing TV shows but this book brilliantly shows his journey through life, and hopefully will inspire them to tread their own path towards helping save our planet, and living more in harmony with the creatures we share it with. 

"Little People Big Dreams: David Attenborough" by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Mikyo Noh is out now, published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 


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Monday, January 27, 2020

"Find Your Girl Squad" by Dr Angharad Rudkin and Ruth Fitzgerald (Wren and Rook)

Here's a book that couldn't have arrived at a better time. I had no idea that becoming a parent would also involve a brutal lesson in human psychology that (to me at least) was entirely new, and completely all-encompassing in a young tween's life. It's absolutely incredible how the transformation into grumpy tweendom almost happens overnight, and we hear the same from just about all parents of 10+ year olds, so we know it's not just us.

Thank goodness for books like "Find Your Girl Squad" by Dr Angharad Rudkin & Ruth Fitzgerald. Books that speak to tweens and teens in their own language, which to most adults might sound like something encrypted and indecipherable.

The key messages in this book are built around loving yourself first, being happy in your own circumstances and of course in your own skin, and seeing how your nuances and character can help you find like-minded BFFs.

Having already coasted on the crest of some of the 'drama' that usually stems from school with our daughter, both my wife and I know that the landscape we might've been familiar with when we were at school has vastly changed, and continues to change - and sometimes even for teens and tweens who fully embrace it all and understand their own situations, it's quite a lot to take in.

The book takes an unusual approach. Rather than dishing up a cold 'wall of text' full of sage advice, it introduces Poppy - a character who has all sorts of the usual dilemmas tweens and teens encounter at school.

Dr Angharad Rudkin and author Ruth Fitzgerald are there to help with positive, practical advice. As you follow Poppy's trials and tribulations, you'll discover the secrets to finding your own ultimate girl squad - one which loves you for YOU.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly inspirational and worthy contender for your tween or teen's attention, filled with the sort of gold-dust advice that they'll need to navigate the troubled waters of senior school and beyond.

"Find your Girl Squad" by Dr Angharad Rudkin and Ruth Fitzgerald is out now, published by Wren and Rook (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday, January 24, 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th January 2020: "Darkwhispers: A Brightstorm Adventure" by Vashti Hardy (Scholastic)

Vashti once again makes our Chapter Book of the Week slot her very own with another delicious slice of sky-ship-soaring adventure, sizzling with steampunky goodness.

"Darkwhispers" follows in from "Brightstorm" and plays in the same gorgeously inventive book universe, this time pitching the Twins and Eudora Vane into a desperate search for missing adventurer Ermitage Wrigglesworth (god, how we love Vashti's names for characters!)

Harriet Culpepper and the crew of the skyship Aurora head for the Eastern Isles, on the dwindling trail of Ermitage's last know whereabouts. Arthur and Maudie aren't entirely sure that Eudora's motives are good, in fact as their desperate quest unfolds, the lines between allies and enemies become more and more blurred.

When disaster strikes and the twins are separated, will they ever find their way back to each other, and eventually track down the missing explorer?

From the moment you dig into the first chapter, you're there - you're in Vashti's absolutely incredibly detailed and beautifully imagined bookworld as Arthur and Maudie dig into their own inner strengths, building on their adventuresome escapades in Brightstorm. The thrumming jungle setting almost makes you hear distant drums, the sinister swish of vines, the buzz of insects and the suffocating heat as the story begins to clamp its addictive talons around your senses - and if you're anything like us, you'll be diving in for a second read as soon as you turn over the last page.

Many comparisons have been made between Vashti's work and the work of Phillip Pullman, but for our money she writes with far more enticing immediacy and a ton more humour (Pullman is dreadfully serious and morose most of the time, sorry Phil) as each amazing moment of action segues perfectly with the next, and we get to know a lot more about the adventurous twins and the mysterious Eudora Vane - a sizzlingly good baddie if ever we've read one.

As my daughter said after her first run through this one,  "you can tell the author's having a lot of fun writing these stories".

I really couldn't have put it better myself.

Utterly brilliant stuff. If you're looking for your next addiction after polishing off stuff like His Dark Materials, or fancy digging into a brilliant avianautic adventure series, pick this up, it's truly stunning stuff!

"Darkwhispers: A Brightstorm Adventure" by Vashti Hardy is out now, published by Scholastic (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th January 2020: "Search and Find a Number of Numbers" by A.J Wood and Allan Sanders (Wide Eyed Editions)

Wide Eyed effortlessly bag their first Book of the Week of 2020 with a book that we road-tested with our guest star mini book-blogger, C's 5 year old cousin. She loves maths and numbers already, and really loved this fantastic cross between a 'find the hidden objects' book and a counting book.

"Search and Find: A Number of Numbers" by A.J Wood and Allan Sanders is a huge amount of fun, filled with numbers of course but also filled with exquisitely detailed scenes, and a ton of fun characters to make this far more than just a 'by the numbers' learning experience (did you see what we did there?)

There are 26 fun page spreads with the usual numbers 1 to 10 and beyond, right up to a fantastically detailed spread containing 100 objects for you to discover.

There are also quirky extra things to find, and if you get to the back of the book, even more suggestions for things you may have missed (which caused squeals of delight from our guest little miss when we shared the book with her).




It's a large format book, which means it's perfect for sprawling out on the floor with to fully enjoy all the exquisite little sight gags and details that A.J and Allan have crammed into this one.

Absolutely brilliant stuff for early years, and far more fun than those dull books that just count from one to ten!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fun-filled slice of numerical awesomeness to kick off 2020 in grand style, making learning your numbers a huge amount of fun!

"Search and Find: A Number of Numbers" by A.J Wood and Allan Sanders is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday, January 23, 2020

"The Book Murderers" - What's with those people who mistreat lovely books in horrible ways? Today's ReadItTorial

They called him "The Book Murderer" and this image - of a particularly weighty tome being rent in half across its spine by a canny chap who just wanted to make it more portable - had Twitter a-fire this week.

When I first saw the image, the first thing I thought of was the cries of "Heresy!" that would erupt across my timeline from folk we follow - and sure enough there were some pretty nasty roasts and pithy comebacks to the fellah who bravely (well, let's face it, for clicks and giggles) shared this horrible image.

We've always gone out of our way to encourage our daughter to look after her books. When we visit other people's houses and see their children's books, bend, dribbled on, mutilated, drawn on or even in one case (shudder) with pages and images cut or town out, we almost end up in a cold sweat.

But is it really that big a deal? My own Twitter response was that it hugely depends on the book itself. If you're going to do horrible things to - say - an E.L. James book (let's face it, she did something pretty horrible to those books in the first place, she created them) or even Dan Brown (I remember seeing 36 copies of "The Da Vinci Code" all lined up, in pristine condition, at a National Trust second-hand book nook once, completely unloved but obviously flavour-du-jour for someone who thought that his achingly slow prose was worth persevering with).

Then there are those folk who do this sort of thing...



Or this...



..sometimes hacking apart old books to make something beautiful could possibly be allowable / acceptable (but in the image above I suspect those lovely old things were butchered needlessly).

We humans are a funny bunch. On one level we revere inanimate objects that bring us joy, on another level we are all about the convenience of the moment. Personally I think the book murderer is after the fame of it all, and is just being bloody-minded about not buying a Kindle and storing his over-length books in a handy portable digital device (which I'm won over on - not as a replacement for all books but certainly as the only way I can now consume longer books without going completely nutso).

Would love to see someone break a Kindle in half to make it more portable though!
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"Love from Alfie McPoonst, the Best Dog Ever" by Dawn McNiff and Patricia Metola (Walker Books)

Wow, this one will definitely deliver a solid 'whump' to your heartstrings. It's never easy to deal with the subject of grief in picture books but in "Love from Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever" by Dawn McNiff and Patricia Metola, a gentle and sometimes humorous piece of storytelling delivers quite a lovely surprise by turning the subject on its head, offering perhaps a smidgeon of solace to little ones who may have suffered the loss of a beloved family pet.

Alfie is the narrator here, writing a letter from Doggy Heaven to his owner Izzy - who misses him like crazy, and is very sad.

"Dear Izzy, I’m a Sky Dog now. I live in Dog Heaven, because I died..."

Yeah, that line - that'll get to you if nothing else does...!

Alfie wants Izzy to know that he misses her of course, but also not to be sad because Doggy Heaven is absolutely BRILLIANT!  There are postmen to chase, angels to tickle his tummy, and he never even has to take a bath! 

Can Alfie's letters comfort Izzy, even just a tiny bit?

Sum this book up in a sentence: Beautifully and sensitively observed, not shying away from the subject of loss but hopefully helping kids to imagine their own family pets having a wonderful afterlife. 

"Love from Alfie McPoonst, the Best Dog Ever" by Dawn McNiff and Patricia Metola is out now, published by Walker Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Delve into the fascinating lives of amazing people who left their mark on the world with stunning new books in the "Biographic" series from Ammonite Press

Biographies are a tough 'sell' to kids, who often don't want to read a huge long tome intricately breaking down the lives of the influential, inspirational and downright famous folk they would love to know more about.

The "Biographic" series from Ammonite Press is a perfect jumping-on point to learn a whole amazing truckload of facts and information about famous people, with an awesome array of titles in this huge (and ever growing) range.

We took a close look at "Audrey" which is a fantastic place to start, an amazing infographical look at the life of the famous actress, humanitarian and cultural icon.

Audrey Hepburn may have been born into a relatively humble early life, but she was to star in many blockbuster hollywood movies, devoting her later life to amazing causes across the world and raising huge amounts of money for charity.

The "Breakfast at Tiffany's" star is now instantly recognisable - even amongst younger generations, and this book comes up with some really amazing ways to present a whole ton of information about Audrey and her life.


With attractive illustrations and graphics, and eye-catching covers, this book range includes other amazing folk such as Bob Marley, Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles and tons of other amazing stars across a range that encompasses actors and actresses, scientists, artists and musicians in such a cool and engaging way.


The "Biographic" series from Ammonite Press is available now (books kindly supplied for review).
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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"The (Ferocious) Chocolate Wolf" by Lizzie Finlay (Five Quills)

Wolves get a bit of a raw deal in children's books. I mean quite often they're painted to be the baddie.

But in "The (Ferocious) Chocolate Wolf" by Lizzie Finlay, there's a bit of a twist.

The wolf in the story doesn't like eating his animal friends. Oh no, he loves nothing more than concocting the most amazing chocolate treats, in fact he's more of a whizz than Mr Wonka.

The animals await the grand opening of a new store in their village but none of them quite trust a wolf who claims he's a bit of a sweetie really. One brave pig is ready to prove otherwise though, and with Wolf, they come up with a grand plan to make the store a howling success.

But when Pig goes mysteriously missing during the first delivery run, the animals suspect that perhaps wolf isn't quite as innocent as he seems.

Can you guess what happens at the end of this gloriously twisty-turny tale with a sweet heart?

Sum this book up in a sentence: A choccy loving wolf like no other, and a brave pig, a real twist for a story full of originality (and chocolate, I mean what's not to love!)

"The (Ferocious) Chocolate Wolf" by Lizzie Finlay is out now, published by Five Quills (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday, January 20, 2020

"Discovering Energy (Discovering Big Ideas Series)" by Professor Veronica Sanz, Johannes Hirn and Eduard Altarriba (Button Books)

Kids absolutely love science - to them it feels like the closest approximation to magic, and in the fantastic Discovering Big Ideas series from Button Books, they can find a huge range of topics to fascinate, befuddle but most of all to inspire them towards looking at science in different ways.

"Discovering Energy" by Professor Veronica Sanz, Johannes Hirn and Eduard Altarriba uses simple - but not dumbed down - language and engaging illustrations to help kids discover all the ways in which energy is generated and used in our daily lives.

Creating and harnessing energy is a fundamental part of enabling life to exist and thrive on earth. 

Energy comes in a vast array of different forms - using our muscles and those of other creatures, enabling us to move, lift etc, creating heat and steam through fire, capturing the power of the wind in a ship's sails or to turn the blades of a wind turbine, harnessing the power of moving water to generate electricity in a hydroelectric power station, applying the forces of magnetism to turn an electric motor, using solar panels to transfer the sun's energy into electricity for our homes (Phew! And that's just for starters!)

The book brings these amazing achievements to life in a totally absorbing and engaging way, making science feel more accessible, and perhaps inspiring youngsters to become young scientists themselves. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastic book that delves deep into the subject of how we create, distribute and use energy every day, at school, in our homes and everywhere!

"Discovering Energy" by Professor Veronica Sanz, Johannes Hirn and Eduard Altarriba is out now, published by Button Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday, January 17, 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th January 2019: "The Cure for a Crime (A Double Detectives Medical Mystery)" by Roopa Farooki (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

It's fair to say that we have a very tough choice on our hands when it comes to middle grade fiction, separating out the also-rans from the truly stunning books that we know are going to be a huge hit with C.

When it comes to detective fiction our work is doubly difficult - it feels like there are SO MANY wannabe detectives running around in middle grade, all solving crimes, righting wrongs, and generally doing so in a fairly similar (some might even say tedious) way.

SO it's good to report that "The Cure for a Crime" by Roopa Farooki punts all those notions of 'sameyness' into the reeds, setting up a fantastic first book in what we truly hope becomes a hugely successful series, featuring twins Ali and Tulip.

Their mum is a successful surgeon, and both the twins have picked up loads of her knowledge of first aid, medicine and anatomy, becoming familiar with the hospital environment and the daily struggles and triumphs around making people better and saving lives.

But something's amiss. Their normally sharp-eyed sharp-witted mum seems to be suffering from a mysterious illness that is making her sleepy and forgetful. Mum's new boyfriend is instantly placed under suspicion, and it's up to the twins and their awesome Gran to get to the bottom of this tricky case, using all the medical knowledge and skills at their disposal (plus a good dose of wisdom from Gran too!)

Roopa's storytelling is slick, fast paced and completely engrossing (C read this through twice and was totally hooked on it, which in itself is unusual given the number of books she has on her review stack at any given time). Praise in itself for a superb novel that bucks the trend for 'boring' middle grade detective fiction, giving it a vital life-saving shot in the arm (and dang, you could almost put that on the back of the book, right?)

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly brilliant slice of awesomeness, a detective tale that feels instantly engaging and original, with a brilliant pair of characters and a compelling first case which we hope becomes a huge series for Roopa.

"The Cure for a Crime" by Roopa Farooki is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week: Week Ending 17th January 2020: "A Giant Dose of Gross" by Andy Seed and Claire Almon (QED)

Our fantastic non-fiction Picture Book of the Week comes from an author who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty when it comes to some truly gross things, and a talented illustrator who managed to turn us a little green around the gills as we read through this one.

"A Giant Dose of Gross" by Andy Seed and Claire Almon shines the spotlight on animals that you normally don't see in more prim and proper natural history books. Those animals who look pretty grim, have some of the most disgusting habits, and use some pretty stomach-churning ways of staying alive.

Not one to be read over breakfast (as C discovered as she leafed through this one while enjoying a healthy bowl of porridge), Andy and Claire dig through the more unsavoury side of the animal kingdom, uncovering a plethora of farters, pukers, slimers, bleeders, ploppers and piddlers.

From puking vultures and farting goats to stinky opossums who pretend to be dead, this book gathers them all together in a fascinating volume for those of us who don't mind uncovering nature's less salubrious side. 



Kids (particularly boys) will absolutely adore reading - and repeating to their horrified parents - all the grim facts on offer in this fantastic book.



Sum this book up in a sentence: A fascinating glimpse at the seedier (pun intended) side of the animal kingdom, and some truly grim, gross and yet strangely adorable creatures who use every means necessary to survive. 

"A Giant Dose of Gross" by Andy Seed and Claire Almon is out now, published by QED (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

That ol' "Book to Screen" thing raises its ugly (and beautiful) head again - This Week's #ReadItTorial

Oh Mrs Coulter... (sigh)

When the winter months arrive, the incumbents of ReadItDaddy Towers find themselves snuggling up on the sofa together to watch a bit of seasonal telly. There's usually something we agree we can watch together (though most of the time I find myself needing to disappear whenever stuff like "Strictly Come Dancing" comes on).

But before Christmas we were treated to the latest round of dramatisations from the BBC, adapting classic books for screen with varying degrees of success.

I've long loved "War of the Worlds" by H.G Wells - and still believe that the closest anyone's ever come to adapting it for the screen was a fantastic animated version that (unfortunately) arrived in the same year as Tom Cruise's truly awful blockbuster. Completely overshadowed, it's all but disappeared, but if you hunt around enough you'll find it on DVD.

The BBC had been trumpeting their new version for a long time, taking the story away from modern times, back to the Victorian era depicted in the original novel (hooray!) with a stellar cast (hooray!) and what looked to be a fairly decent effects budget (hooray!)

Then it arrived as a three parter. Straight away there was a problem. Initially it looked to be pretty faithful but then it started hopping around in the story's timeline, effectively jumping from the moments before the Martian invasion, to the aftermath of a world devastated by the war machines. As the episodes unfolded, this continued until the whole thing became an unwatchable mess, spending more time shoe-staring than actually dealing with the themes the book did so well to convey, that we may think we're top of the pecking order but when we're confronted by an apocalypse, we go to pieces when our technology (and capability for destroying things) fails us (kinda topical but...nah, just nah).

Hot on its coat-tails, into 2020 now and "Dracula" was also adapted by Messrs Moffat and Gatiss - upgrading the influential character, modernising him, camping him up (though - let's face it - Dracula has ALWAYS been pretty damned camp, even in the original novel) and producing another three episode drama that fired a scattergun at a beloved classic, annoying and delighting viewers in equal measure (I watched the first episode which was OK, dipped into the second which just completely slid over my eyeballs making no impact whatsoever - I bailed on the third).

YET for all these so-so adaptations, the BBC and HBO had us utterly gripped with "His Dark Materials" - Splicing together parts of Philip Pullman's first two novels in this series, playing between Lyra's escapades in Alt-Oxford and the frozen north, and a more modern-day setting for the second book.

Though there were scenes that we felt were badly handled and poorly realised (still cannot forgive 'em for essentially stuffing up one of the most important scenes in the first book, where a poor abducted urchin is separated from his Daemon and is found hugging a dead fish in a freezing hut), and a lot of criticism was levelled at the fact that the show obviously couldn't afford to budget for Daemons for every character. But the performances were stellar, with Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy acting their socks off to good effect, leaving us dangling on a cliffhanger and wanting the next series to hurry up and get here.

Elsewhere with more grown-up fare, Netflix's adaptation of "The Witcher" also boasts super-high production quality, and somehow manages to take the fairly toothy and 'not for the faint hearted' books (and for that matter a good dose of what made the games pretty special) and turn them into an amazing series. You see, it can be done - even with material that you'd swear was completely unfilmable.

Picture book wise, there was also a truly wonderful adaptation of "The Tiger Who Came to Tea" on over Christmas, perfectly honouring the memory of Judith Kerr's most well-known and celebrated book, in fact I don't think this got nearly enough love and plaudits on my timeline on Twitter. It really was wonderfully done.

Which is more than can be said for the BBC's version of "The Snail and the Whale" - For goodness sake give Magic Light something more decent to work with than stale Julia Donaldson books, PLEASE!

Adapting books isn't always easy - but sometimes, with the sheer amount of truly amazing stuff out there in kidlit (particularly in picture books) I'm left wondering why it always seems to be the 'safe' choices that make the leap from page, to script, to screen. We've said it in previous ReadItTorials and we'll say it again - there are many, many more authors out there whose works would make the perfect Christmas (or ANY time of year) movie or series. Give these folk a shot - and more importantly INVOLVE them in the project. No one wants to watch some producer / director's 'unique vision' for a story that stands up very well without any additional creative muddling.
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Out Today - "Fearless - How to be your true confident self" by Liam Hackett and Mike Perry (Scholastic)

Parents don't have all the answers. That's something both my wife and I have been brutally honest about with our daughter as she grows up, and though we can impart wisdom based on our own experiences, sometimes kids need a little bit more than that - they need to hear from other kids, and some sage advice from experts to help them find their way in an increasing mental and physical minefield as they rapidly approach their teens.

"Fearless" by Liam Hackett, with illustrations by Mike Perry is bang on the nail for my daughter's age group. Liam - founder of the "Ditch the Label" organisation, supporting anti-bullying strategies and working with kids and teens, has curated a fantastic book filled with a ton of advice on a huge range of subjects, mostly dealing with how stereotypes creep into young people's lives at an increasingly early age, and sometimes in the rush to conform or fit in, they lose a little bit of their own identities in the process.

Here then is a book that helps them claw some of that back with tons of amazing anecdotes and case studies from kids like my daughter, ordinary kids who may be dealing with extraordinary situations in work, at home and in their social lives.

Each chapter deals with a particular worry or fear kids might have, from the fear of being yourself, fear of failure, fear of not fitting in or expressing yourself - with plenty of amazing advice from Liam and his team of experts, as well as real life cases - many of which (sadly) my daughter has already encountered as she enters the next phase of her life.

The book is extremely strong on advice surrounding bullying in particular, in whatever form it takes from physical and emotional intimidation through to cyber-bullying and peer pressure, dealt with and discussed in a level-headed and mature way to ensure children do not feel alone in dealing with this nastiness, and giving them plenty of help and advice on who to turn to, and what to do.

This is absolutely superb stuff, it does the things it needs to do without talking down to kids or treating them like they were born yesterday.

"Fearless" by Liam Hackett and Mike Perry is out today, published by Scholastic (kindly supplied for review).
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"The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral" by Stephanie V.W Lucianovic and George Ermos (Sterling Kids)

Now and again a children's book comes along that makes you think "Well, that's a new one on me!"

So far I can't recall ever seeing a children's picture book that takes such a quirky, charming and original look at a subject that we go to great pains to avoid.

Death.

In "The End of Something Wonderful" by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and George Ermos, a fairly tricky subject is injected with a dose of slightly macabre (some might even say inappropriate) humour to help kids over the loss of a beloved pet.

So far we've managed to avoid this particular part of C's formative growing up, mostly because we don't have any pets or haven't had any. But what happens when a child's best furry (scaly, swimmy, or perhaps even tortoise-shelled) buddy dies?

It's time for a funeral - a right royal send off for the poor little critter. But how, and where do you even start with something like that?


We probably sound a bit down on this, but quite the contrary, and perhaps we find it funnier because we are petless. But it has a dark sense of humour running through the story, something that is sadly missing from children's books. Stephanie's text coupled with George's fantastic illustrations make this a real departure from the staid and boring, and dare we say rather 'safe' choices often made for subject matter when it comes to children's stories.


Sum this book up in a sentence: A quirky, charming if somewhat irreverent look at the loss of a beloved pet, and what to do next, brilliantly realised by an extremely talented pair of creatives.

"The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral" by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and George Ermos is out now, published by Sterling Kids (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shuing helped unlock the secrets of the Atom (People Who Shaped Our World)" by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang (Sterling Kids)

To most people, the name Wu Chien Shiung is completely unknown, but in "Queen of Physics" by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang, it's time to raise the profile of this astonishingly accomplished physicist, rightly placing her name amongst other more well known and easily recognised figures such as Oppenheimer and Fermi.

When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. 

But her parents felt differently. Naming their daughter Courageous Hero, they encouraged her love of learning and science. 

This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism at home and racism in the United States to become what Newsweek magazine called the Queen of Physics for her work on how atoms split. 

Wu Chien Shuing became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honours.






Sum this book up in a sentence: This book offers a fascinating glimpse at Wu Chien Shuing's life, and is a hugely positive and inspirational piece of work, showing that girls can achieve whatever they want to once the obstacles of prejudice and sexism are removed (as they should be!)

"Queen of Physics" by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang is out now, published by Sterling (kindly supplied for review). 
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