Friday 28 February 2020

ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 28th February 2020: "The Gamayun Tales Volume 1: An anthology of modern Russian folk tales" by Alexander Utkin (Flying Eye / NoBrow)

Wow, and once again WOW. This is the sort of graphic novel anthology that fills us with joy. After all, why settle for just one story in a fabulous comic-based anthology when you can have several.

In "The Gamayun Tales Volume 1" Alexander Utkin gathers together his previous releases from Flying Eye / NoBrow into one sumptuous and luxurious volume, a fantastic set of stories to curl up with - and the perfect introduction for kids who haven't yet got into comics or graphic novels but want a really good jumping-in point (warning though kids, it'll become a lifelong obsession, we can most definitely vouch for this).

Russian folk tales are a rich and verdant source for amazing stories filled with magic, excitement and fantasy.

Meet terrifying water spirits, lake-dwelling magical creatures and regal feathered friends (and fiends). Like a modern-day Aesops Fables filled with amazing creatures, Alexander's stories are dark, enticing and exciting - and the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, colourful and super-detailed.
Let's take a look at one of the panels inside:

Kids are naturally drawn to comic storytelling and rich visual narratives, and this is a prime example of the sort of graphic novel we get very excited about. We truly are living through a new golden age of amazing kid comics, and this is one of the finest.

"The Gamayun Tales Volume 1" by Alexander Utkin is out on 1st March 2020, published by NoBrow / Flying Eye Books.
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ReaditDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th February 2019: "A Cake for the Gestapo" by Jacqueline King, illustrated by Isla Bousfield-Donohoe (Zuntold)

My goodness, this book hit like a bomb dropped from a Stuka Dive Bomber. This week's Chapter Book of the week is the utterly gripping and fantastic "A Cake for the Gestapo" by Jacqueline Hill, with cover and illustrations from Isla Bousfield-Donohoe.

Set against the backdrop of the German invasion of the Channel Islands during the early part of World War 2, this is the mesmerising tale of how one plucky group of youngsters ran their own covert operations against the might of the German army. The unlikely friendship of four very different kids, Joe, Spinner, Clem and Ginger, sees a grand plan emerge as fear grips the islanders of Jersey, completely cut off from the mainland and relying on their own wits and tenacity to survive.

The kids decide to pool their cunning and their meagre resources to stage a subversive secret war against German forces, disrupting and tricking the soldiers until salvation can arrive.

Key to their plan is the elimination of a nefarious Gestapo officer, Viktor, a devilish man who will stop at nothing to crush the spirits of the islanders until they are entirely submissive.

When this book turned up I managed to nab it before C got to it, and with the full intention of only browsing through a chapter or two before handing it over, I realised it was 2 AM and I could not stop reading. Now we've both read it, we both absolutely love this book - instantly feeling fresh and so tautly written that it's impossible to resist.

As a huge, huge fan of "The Machine Gunners" (which the book has been likened to), I got right into the mindset of these kids who at first play fairly innocent pranks and tricks on the Nazi menace, before realising that they can do far more - and perhaps may even be pivotal to helping the islanders organised and provide their own resistance movement. I particularly loved Percy and Ginger's characters, both evolving throughout the story and finding their own inner strength and tenacity is boosted by their own belief in doing the right thing.

Rightly, the story doesn't shy away from describing in great detail the sort of conditions ordinary everyday folk would have had to put up with during the occupation of the Channel Islands - the only part of Britain successfully invaded by the Germans during WWII. Here then is one heck of a beltingly brilliant novel weaving in real-life anecdotal stories of what locals in Jersey, Guernsey and Sark did to disrupt the Nazi menace.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A mesmerising account of the channel island occupation told from the perspective of a plucky gang of kids who waged their own secret war against the Germans, utterly and completely unmissable.

"A Cake for the Gestapo" by Jacqueline King and Isla Bousfield-Donohoe is out on 2nd March 2019, published by Zuntold (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 28th February 2020: "Cinderella (Disney Animated Classics)" with foreword by Mark Henn (Studio Press / Disney)

We're absolutely in love with Disney, and though it probably looks like complete favouritism, our Book of the Week once again belongs to one of those gorgeous animated classics.

"Cinderella" comes with a foreword from Disney animator Mark Henn, who knows a thing or two about Disney's amazing heritage - and the early pioneers who helped to turn the studio into the behemoth it is today.

Cinderella was Disney's twelfth animated feature, released originally in 1950 and showcasing Disney's studio style for animating classic fairy tales.

The book tells the original story as depicted in the movie, but like the rest of the fantastic books in the series, dips into the archives to show amazing production artwork, stills from the movie and other gorgeous visual nuggets of set and character design.

We really loved this one, as it shows how that well-recognised studio style was firmly established by the time Cinderella was released, and how influential this movie was for generations of artists and animators inspired by the fabulous work here.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Beautifully cloth bound, it's another superb addition to Studio Press / Disney's book series, an absolute must for Disney collectors!

"Disney Animated Classics: Cinderella" with foreword by Mark Henn is out now, published by Studio Press / Disney (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 27 February 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - February 2020

February is fab-uary for children's middle grade and YA books, with a whole truckload of amazing releases hitting our letterbox this month and next. So let's dig in and take a closer look.

We're kicking off this month's roundup with the sequel to one of our fave middle grade books of last year.

"Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy" by Zanib Mian and Nasaya Mafaridik picks up from "Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet" and we're also very pleased to hear that a third book is on the way. YAY!

This time Omar and his pals are all of a tizzy, thinking up crazy and bizarre ways to scrape together enough pocket money to be able to afford a whole mess of Nerf Blasters for a truly epic battle.

The only problem is that something else is distracting Omar from his visions of mass destruction via the medium of plastic darts. His mosque is in serious financial trouble, and soon the pals realise that they might be better off raising money for the mosque instead. 

So what ideas do they come up with? Chores? Who wants to do chores! Bleehhhh! Making cookies? Slightly more preferable but can any of them cook?
Holding a talent contest? Perfect! So they throw all their efforts into setting up a fantastic talent show - only for their hard earned cash to go missing. Can Omar and his friends turn detective and track down the missing dosh before the Mosque closes down for good? 

Full of brilliant humour, tons of twists and a fab detective romp, perfect for kids who love books like Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates. 

"Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy" by Zanib Mian and Nasaya Mafaridik is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books. 

One of our favourite children's authors has once again come up trumps with her fabulous new book series completely winning us over, and a new book arriving just in time for our roundup. 

"Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure" by Paula Harrison and Jenny Lovlie picks up the action with a fab mighty girl feline-powered superhero finding her feet as a new force for good, following in the footsteps of her equally super mum.  

Kitty and her cat crew Pumpkin and Pixie discover a secret rooftop garden tucked in amongst the chimneys and tiles. It's the most adorable place, but soon word gets round that it's a great place to hang out - and not all visitors keep it nice and neat and tidy, in fact some really don't treat it with respect at all. 

Kitty feels guilty and decides that it's up to her and her feline pals to do something about the mess and restore the garden to its former glory, perhaps winning some new friends in the process and helping those nasty miscreants to change their ways. 

This series is absolutely perfect for emerging solo readers who are building up their reading confidence with longer books but still want some fabulous illustrations to look at - and both Paula's brilliant and easy-to-digest writing style and Jenny's truly lovely (pun intended) artistic style make this a standout amongst early middle grade adventures. 

"Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure" by Paula Harrison and Jenny Lovlie is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Awesome children's TV presenter turned equally awesome children's author Cerrie Burnell once again dazzles us with her glorious and atmospheric stories in "The Ice Bear Miracle" new out this month. 

Somewhere in the deep and frozen north is a mysterious island surrounded entirely by ice.

The inhabitants love their snowstorm isle-with its scattered wooden cottages, its small patches of forest, and its single mountain peak. Most of all they love the magnificent ice bears that roam the streets, giving the island its name-The Isle of Bears.

Life with bears is dangerous, as Marv Jackson knows-the large crescent moon shaped scar on his face acts as a constant reminder of the night he survived a bear attack. But something tells him the legendary tale of that night, isn't quite the full story, and that the truth lies with a mysterious skating girl and her magnificent polar bear.
If your children have been thrilled by the amazing Panserborn in "His Dark Materials" they're absolutely going to love this wintry tale with a dash of nordic charm and a fantastic message about friendship and looking after the things you love the most. Cerrie is firmly establishing herself as a brilliant author who knows how to weave together the most amazing bookscapes, and stories that stay in the mind long after you've turned the last page. 

"The Ice Bear Miracle" by Cerrie Burnell is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Fizzingly funny stuff next from an awesome author and illustrator team. "Beatrix the Bold and the Balloon of Doom" by Simon Mockler and Cherie Zamazing is filled with ticklish giggles tucked into a brilliant fantasy story filled with witches, crazy contraptions and very strange folk indeed. 

Beatrix the Bold is a queen. A very bold queen. And she's also only ten years old. But that's never stopped her from doing anything before, and it's not going to stop her now.

She's on the run from the Evil Army AND her evil aunt Esmerelda, but she's getting closer to finding her long-lost parents, whom she hasn't seen since she was a baby. She just has to cross the Sea of Sinking Ships and the Volcanos of Doom to get to them - easy, right? 

But when you're Beatrix the Bold and you've got Oi the boy, Dog the dog and Wilfred the Wise by your side, you can do anything - well, almost anything. 

The story romps along at a grand pace, instantly leaving us wanting more of Beatrix's adventures at the end of the book. A fantastic new voice to rank alongside funny book luminaries such as Roald Dahl, Danny Wallace and David Walliams. 

"Beatrix the Bold and the Balloon of Doom" by Simon Mockler and Cherie Zamazing is out now, published by Piccadilly Press. 

Catching up with the stunning stuff Nosy Crow are coming up with this year, we have been loving "Orion Lost" by Alastair Chisholm - a properly intense and intelligent piece of middle grade sci-fi, hooray!

The transport ship Orion is four months out of Earth when catastrophe strikes - leaving the ship and everyone on board stranded in deep space. 

Suddenly it's up to thirteen-year-old Beth and her friends to navigate through treacherous and uncharted territory to reach safety. 

But a heavily-damaged ship, space pirates, a mysterious alien species, and an artificial intelligence that Beth doesn't know if she can trust means that getting home has never been so difficult... 

Alastair expertly dips into a ton of different science fiction influences and themes but keeps things grounded and approachable for middle-grade readers who will identify with Beth's plight, despite the fantastical setting. We loved the way the story takes a darker turn mid way through, until you're left positively breathless by the amazing way this one wraps up. We will say no more, other than 'go and get a copy of this NOW'. 

"Orion Lost" by Alastair Chisholm is out now, published by Nosy Crow. 

...and continuing with awesome output from the crows nest, and one of our fave booky folk...

Louie Stowell's awesome follow-up to "The Dragon in the Library" sneaked up on us and booped us on the nose, and in "The Monster in the Lake" we're once again back in the awesome company of Kit - a would-be wizard whose magic is more often mischief mismanaged than anything even vaguely mysterious. 

Once again chaos seems to centre around Kit so she sets off with her two best friends - and the local librarian - to get to the bottom of the weird phenomenon that keep kicking off in her local otherwise sleepy town.

Louie expertly weaves a thrilling atmosphere of mystery and suspense, X-Files-Like 'monster of the week' brilliance and of course a believably brilliant lead character into another belter of an adventure for Kit. We're sincerely hoping a third is on the way, the possibilities for Kit are endless! Check out our "Book of the Week" review for Louie's fab 2nd Kit tale elsewhere on this very blog!

"The Monster in the Lake" by Louie Stowell, with illustrations by Davide Ortu is out now, published by Nosy Crow. 

Tailing off our short-but-sweet roundup this month with a book that's little over a week away...

"Eating Chips with Monkey" by Mark Lowery sets out a humours yet bittersweet adventure for its lowly hero Daniel. He's a lad who knows what he likes - and he likes chips, and he also likes his cuddly toy Monkey.

But one terrible November day, the lives of Daniel and his family are changed forever when an accident renders Daniel a shadow of his former self. As Daniel retreats into himself, his family slowly begin to fall apart, without this bright boy at the heart of their lives.

When an impromptu trip to a chip shop seems to briefly engage Daniel with the real world, the family decide to revisit their Chip Shop Championships, on a quest to find the best chip shop in the country.

Along the way, as they attempt to rebuild their family and regain Daniel, they must contend with hungry giraffes, nouveau cuisine, the loss of Monkey, the theft of Grandma - and of course a metric ton of chips, chips, wonderful chips.

This is rather beautifully written stuff, with moments of deadpan humour fused with raw and emotional moments as Daniel struggles to find himself once again, aided by his amazing and loving family (and of course Monkey!)

"Eating Chips with Monkey" by Daniel Lowery is out on 3rd March 2020, published by Piccadilly Press. 
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So it finally happened then - Mr Cowell and Son enter the children's book business - This Week's ReadItTorial

"If it's good enough for Walliams, it's good enough for me and my kid!"
I didn't really want to blog about this. We'd already blogged about it four years ago, and back then I made some predictions about Simon Cowell's ability to write a children's book.

Simon Cowell can write a better kids book than you (or so he thinks). Time for a wake-up call - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

But now I'm here, fetch yourself a nice cup or two of your favourite beverage and be prepared for a long rant. So news has broken that Hachette have signed the music supremo - and his son Eric - up for a multi-book deal.

Quoting from an article in the London Evening Standard discussing the books:

"Simon Cowell and his six-year-old son Eric have signed a publishing deal for seven children’s books celebrating “individuality and positivity”.

The father-son pair’s Wishfit series will follow a group of “magical and unusual” hybrid animals, such as a snail/dog creature called a Snog and a crocodile/cat blend called a Crocopuss.

The books, published by Hachette Children’s Group, will launch in spring 2021 with three separate tales set in the magical world.

A portion of the profits will go to the charities Shooting Star Children’s Hospice and Together For Short Lives."

I'm at a point where nothing in the above summary surprises me, nor excites me in the way a new children's book announcement should.

Oh and just to prove that nothing is original under the sun, I'd racked my brains for days trying to remember the name of a book that featured a similar idea - and it was this one from Ana and Thiago De Moraes, published by Andersen Press back in 2015:

(There are actually several books that use the same story mechanic, but I'm sure Simon must've read lots and lots of children's books before he crowdsourced for ideas for his 'epic' - after all, no one could possibly ignore the advice that to write for children you've got to have at least read a few children's books - and researched what your audience are into, right?)

If you read my original readitorial about Cowell's braggardly pre-deal musings on children's books (They're all 'boring' apparently) I rather naively predicted failure for Mr Cowell purely because at the time it sounded like he assumed he could just put any old tosh together and it would sell. But as we all know, writing children's books is phenomenally hard - and folk who believe they can just rattle out a whole series of kids books 'just like that' are often sadly mistaken. 

But ah, how stupid could I be? This is Simon Cowell we are talking about. At first I wondered why it had taken so long for his book deal to go through - but then I realised why. The man is a business genius, regardless of what you think of his music empire - and has obviously been analysing the children's book market in the time between when this was originally mooted as an idea, until the deal announcement with Hachette (a gigantic multinational publisher) today. 

Simon Cowell has cleverly done several things here that reinforce the deal, that may ensure sales and success, and that would win over an agent or a publisher (because by gad, the book pitch sounds like the very worst thing we've ever read, it almost sounds like something someone would come up with if they'd never read a children's book in their life. I hate being critical about something, sight unseen, but be honest - if you were an agent or a commissioning editor and you'd heard a pitch like that from a 'nobody' you'd have laughed them out of the place, right?) 

Simon has also brought his son on board for this project. Fair enough, he makes enough noise that his son may one day inherit his music making empire - and that he loves going to the shows and loves being involved - and to be honest, being a dad that engages with their kids when you're a music supremo is definitely something to be lauded. Naturally if there's a children's book in the offing, what better way to tug at the heart strings of prospective purchasers than bring your kid along for the ride. In fact thinking about the pitch, it does sound awfully like the sort of story a kid might dream up - so perhaps that could account for it (as a side note, does anyone remember that series of fruit-and-vegetable based ladybird books that a child author came up with in the 80s? I can't understand why, but I kept thinking about those when I was reading about this project). 

Then I started to get a bit annoyed. There's the whole ticking the boxes notion of making the books about individuality, diversity and positivity. That's right, dig into the 'trends' that will also ensure your book gets plenty of fuss, because it's easier to pass off a terrible pitch if you drop in a few buzzwords and popular themes that do well for others in the kidlit industry (we need to ensure you understand that we do not think these things are bad in children's books - but it feels horribly like they're being used as icing on a particularly undercooked cake). I hate that this happens enough out there in the 'real' world of kidlit, when these trends are tapped into purely for 'token' value. Real proper diverse books that celebrate individuality and positivity are very easy to spot - they don't fanfare this stuff, they just weave it into their stories and let the reader determine whether they work or not. 

Oh and in a similar vein, hah, there's the whole 'charitable donations' thing. A portion of the profits will go to children's charities (not all, because the publisher and Simon & Son still need to make some dough, right? Books don't print / pay for themselves, so it must be the reason, of course, I mean let's not assume for one minute that Simon would be using his vast personal fortune for this stuff rather than eating into the funds of a publisher who could've spent the money funding a few dozen debut authors whose work could genuinely fit into all the above categories!)

This is the only bit of this that I'm actually down for, and I think if this wasn't in the mix in some shape or form, this whole idea would be getting even more of a lambasting on Twitter than it's already getting. It's also the part of all this that makes me feel like a bit of a git writing a damning blog post about the whole idea.

My wise wife also pointed something out. When these books arrive, amidst their blizzard of PR and media pushing, they will inevitably fall into the hands of a kid who absolutely adores them. For some kids it might be their only book, and for some it might be the first picture book they encounter - and hopefully the very thing that leads them onto a reading journey, hopefully discovering other "proper" authors along the way. This is the one thing I solemnly hope happens out of this. Kids do get hooked on 'series' books early on, as sure as adults love sequel movies. So as surprising as a 7 book deal is in a risk-averse business like children's publishing, hooking kids into a series does actually make sense (by risk averse I mean that kidlit really does play it safe in the UK and US compared to other territories, certain trends, themes and stories seem to crop up again and again, endlessly remixed - so it's definitely not a risk-taking business at all).

Ugh I know, I'm going on a bit now - I really don't know when to stop but this point was also worth picking up on. Eric's involvement. Now, any parent will tell you that even the most capable creative kids can indeed come up with great ideas, weird whacked-out inspiration for authors and illustrators or other creatives, but when it comes to writing real and proper actual children's books that scan properly, and don't read / sound like a piano being hurled down a flight of concrete stairs - well that's another story entirely. I love the idea that Cowell has involved his son, but again I think it's just another cynical ploy to pluck at the heart strings of prospective book buyers (but I guess it'll be a great experience for little Eric - but please I urge folk not to be cruel to the poor kid off the back of this, no kid deserves to be the focus of anything nasty or negative just because you don't like their parents).

There is one positive in this whole project. The illustrator, whoever they are, will have landed a 'dream' gig on paper - being attached to something like this can only do their career the world of good, assuming of course that Cowell's massive ego will allow them to get any sort of equal credit.

Don't be surprised if the illustrator is pushed firmly to the background though, it is the industry norm after all whenever celebrity books happen - but I sincerely wish them the best of luck. From the short summary of the story and the core idea, they're going to have their work cut out making something cool out of this. It'd be somewhat ironic if Axel Scheffler got the gig, since the whole premise sounds an awful lot like his mixed-up animals flip books (as super blogger pal and superhero librarian - BookLoverJo - quite rightly pointed out). One last thing about the illustrator. They do not deserve your scorn or need to be the focus of your annoyance about this. They are doing what illustrators do, using their skills to earn a living - and let's not forget that some of the best illustrators in the business (Tony Ross, Chris Riddell) have done famously off the back of celebrity books.

There was one other thing I noted in the various Twitter rants about this - and that was watching well-established authors rounding on Hachette for their decision. I don't really understand this at all, I doubt that there would be a publisher (large multinational or otherwise) that would have passed this up if they'd had a shot at it (though I would hope there would be a few that would 'ethically' tell Cowell to go jump in a lake). Hachette is a large business, and they've been doing this a while so I doubt they're walking into this like a bunch of greenhorns. They will know exactly what they're going to get out of this deal, even if the books don't sell in huge amounts. 

Again though, this is just my horrible, cynical take on something that we haven't even seen hide nor hair of yet, and it does sound a bit like trolling to be so damning of the mere idea of these books existing. But when the gnashing of teeth and wailing on the internet pipes up every time a new celebrity book deal is announced, there's far more to it than authors just feeling that their noses have been pushed out of joint, and prospective authors have once again been passed over for the cult of celebrity to jump their place in the queue.

But be honest, we know why this happens again and again, all of us truly do know. 
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Wednesday 26 February 2020

"Midge and Mo" by Lara Williamson and Becky Cameron (Stripes / Little Tiger)

This is an adorable new book packed with colour illustrations that once again shows there's definitely a fantastic emerging market for books that successfully bridge the gap between picture books for early years, and chapter books for early readers.

"Midge and Mo" is a wonderful little heartfelt tale of friendship and starting anew, as Midge is anxious about starting a new school in a new town. Midge misses his old school and really wishes more than anything else that things could have stayed exactly the same. He misses his old friends too, and his first day is filled with worry.

But when Midge is given a new school buddy in class, he realises that this fab smiley little girl - called Mo - could be just the new friend he's been hoping for. But Midge is still not sure - and Mo wonders if she's done anything to upset him.

Mo is our kind of girl though, and doesn't give up. She remembers what it was like when she was new at school on her first day - and this helps her to understand Midge's feelings and slowly bring him round.

After all, that's what good friends do, right?

We love this - it shows that kids can cope with 'wordier' books that still keep their plots fairly simple, but convey a lovely little message. This range of early readers from Stripes / Little Tiger are perfect, with full colour illustrations to help drive the stories along, and really fantastically observed characterisations that kids can readily identify with.

Lovely stuff!

Sum this book up in a sentence: An absolutely perfect book for readers transitioning between picture books and chapter books, with a lovely heartfelt message that's perfect for kids on their first day at school

"Midge and Mo" by Lara Williamson and Becky Cameron is out now, published by Stripes / Little Tiger (kindly supplied for review)
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Tuesday 25 February 2020

"My Friend Earth" by Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna (Chronicle Books)

Here's a truly amazing love letter to our awesome planet in this fab new picture book.

"My Friend Earth" by Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna is a gloriously illustrated book that will win youngsters over with a mixture of amazing visuals and easy to digest text, highlighting how amazing the planet we live on is, and how we should all do our best to protect and look after it - now more than ever.

Released to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, this is a real treat of a book showing just how our friend Earth does so many wonderful things!

She tends to animals large and small. She pours down summer rain and autumn leaves. She sprinkles whisper-white snow and protects the tiny seeds waiting for spring.

With gorgeous die-cut pages to increase the level of interactivity, it's a real draw for younger children but also great for older kids who love gorgeous illustrations.  

Sum this book up in a sentence: A superb book about our home planet, destined to draw kids into a colourful world of incredible creatures and amazing habitats. 

"My Friend Earth" by Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna is out now, published by Chronicle Kids (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 24 February 2020

"Mister TV" by Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan (Maverick Arts Publishing)

Wow! Can it really be ten years since we first encountered awesome Maverick Arts Publishing? We share the same 10th anniversary year and I'm tickled to see that Julie "Ever So Series" Fulton is still writing for them, and alongside Patrick Corrigan has come up with a superb book celebrating the life of John Logie Baird.

In "Mister TV" this awesome duo chronicle the life of this tinkerer and inventor, who single-handedly changed the world with the invention of a mechanical televisor - the first device to transmit and receive a picture, and the forerunner to later electronic devices that perfected this amazing invention.

Logie Baird was always inventing as a child, though not always with the desired end result - but the lyrical storytelling details his inquisitive nature and his quest to come up with his own versions of gadgets, constantly refining and improving them until at last he came up with his breakthrough invention, the telly - something that still plays such a huge part in our daily lives.

Logie Baird later went on to conduct experiments in 3D TV and colour TV, and is widely recognised alongside others as "The Grandfather of Television".

It's great to see Maverick still publishing awesome books, and this brilliant account of John Logie Baird's life is well worth nabbing if your kids love science and love to learn more about the historical figures behind some of the world's greatest inventions.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly fabulous storytelling biography of one of the most innovative, inquisitive and clever inventors and his breakthrough work on bringing modern television to the masses.

"Mister TV" by Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan is out now, published by Maverick Arts Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday 21 February 2020

ReadItDaddy's YA / Adult Comic of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2020: "Locke and Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW Publishing)

Currently enjoying a successful run in its first season on NetFlix, I've been re-reading the excellent "Locke and Key" series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

It's not a new comic but the chance to hoover it up in a ComiXology Sale was welcome, as I stupidly loaned my print copy of this volume to someone at work - who promptly left, taking my precious copy with them (note to self: Never, ever EVER lend your precious graphic novels to anyone - I've lost more that way than through any other means or methods).

So with a hefty "This one's not for kids / parental warning" let's dig into this week's YA / Adult Graphic Novel of the week.

"Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft" sets up the story of a family moving back to their ancestral home after a horrific incident involving the death of their father at the hands of a crazed killer. The three kids and their mum in the story reluctantly move back to Key House - a crumbling gothic mansion on the coast of New England.

Nina (the mother) was injured in the tragic incident, and feels like she owes a duty to her husband to try and keep the family together. The kids (Tyler - the eldest son, Kinsey, the middle sib and Bodie - the youngest) have a mixture of feelings and emotions about being uprooted from their previous lives, but desperately need to escape the gossiping rumour-mongers. They soon find out that even in a completely new town in the middle of nowhere, those rumours aren't left behind...

The graphic novel sets up the genius core mechanic of the storyline early on. Key House is a house of secrets, and also a house where magic exists. Mysterious keys are found, that have special abilities. One key can unlock a door and take you to anywhere else in the world you've ever visited. One door can open up your head like a can of beans, allowing you to delve into your subconscious. Yet another door allows you to become an unseen ghost, drifting around to spy on those around you. There are many, and as the series unfolds, those keys and their abilities become the focus of an ancient evil, a dark character named Dodge / Lucas, who pursues the keys relentlessly, lusting after their power.

Needless to say, when the Locke kids discover the keys, all sorts of things begin to happen. Bodie innocently makes contact with Dodge early on, and promises to return any keys that he finds to this mysterious entity living in the house's old wellhouse. This unlocks a chain of events that will once again put the family in danger from the very person who destroyed their lives previously...

The graphic novel is far more grisly, disturbing and dark than the series (obviously) and though the Netflix adaptation is extremely well done in places, it doesn't quite capture the unsettling atmosphere the comic generates - nor does it satisfyingly capture Nina's descent into self-annihilation, her grief and ragged helplessness at her predicament.

Though we're talking about volume 1 here, the series has a habit of getting you used to a particular character's flaws and strengths before flipping that character on their heads to show their darker and more mysterious side, picked out with Gabriel Rodriguez' amazing gift for character design and expression that really lends a hefty weight to the storytelling.

It's rivetting stuff. Get in on the ComiXology deal and grab these while they're cheap, but if you do go for the gorgeous print versions, never lend them to anyone!!

"Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is out now, published by IDW (self purchased, not provided for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2020: "The Monster in the Lake" by Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu (Nosy Crow)

Oh yes, we are very much "down" for this takeover of middle grade by awesome fantasy and science fiction. In fact genre stuff feels like it's finally finding a home amongst readers who are fast becoming disillusioned by reading stories about yet another posho who, along with their cute toy poodle, fancies themselves as a detective.

So thank you once again to Nosy Crow for signing up genius author Louie Stowell and teaming her with Davide Ortu for the follow-up to one of our fave middle grade romps of last year, "The Dragon in the Library".

In "The Monster in the Lake" we're once again in the delightful company of Kit - a would-be wizard who seems to have a slightly disastrous touch when it comes to performing simple magic. Spells go horribly wrong, things are never quite what they seem - and to add to Kit's life hassles there's a boomin' great big lake monster to content with this time around.

Kit, Josh, Alita and Faith (the mysterious yet magical librarian) are back for this new adventure, helping Kit to figure out what's behind several bizarre outbreaks of magic in her local snoozy town - and perhaps once again save the world in the process. But what is that strange "thing" lurking in the lake? And who exactly is behind this weird shift in the magical world?

Louie expertly delves into her deep knowledge and love of sci fi and fantasy, with a ton of nods and references in this story that just had us hooting and cheering like cheesy nerdy fanboys / girls (which, we are, of course!) Kit's the sort of character we always love to see in books anyway, but here she begins to establish herself as that rare gem - a character that kids will begin to love enough to dress as on world book day. I'm kidding, but Kit is inspirational, full of curiosity, a tinge of self doubt but a ton of ability too - and dang, we want that in our books in spades.

Congrats Louie and Davide, this is another corker!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A darkly tinged, often extremely funny but reverent homage to all things gloriously B-Movie-esque with the sort of main character we just can't get enough of, and a supporting cast that make scooby and his gang look like cardboard cutouts. Awesomeness!

"The Monster in the Lake" by Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu is out now, published by Nosy Crow (Kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 21st February 2020: "Felix After the Rain" by Dunja Jogan, translated by Olivia Hellewell (Tiny Owl Publishing)

Our Picture Book of the Week this week is a truly special book.

Grief and depression aren't something that you see dealt with in children's books - yet there's an increasing need to do just that.

In the superb "Felix After the Rain" by Dunja Jogan, translated by Olivia Hellewell, the book begins with a young lad who carries around a huge heavy black briefcase. What's inside?

No one really knows - but Felix has carried it ever since his Grandma died. The case is heavy, and poor Felix never seems to feel happy any more.

But a chance meeting atop a hill shows Felix that sometimes it takes help from others to finally see the light. A young boy opens the case, and all the things inside - all the pent-up bad feelings and sadness - all escape.

Felix feels so much better - and begins to see the world in an entirely different way. Happiness breaks through the clouds for the first time and Felix can't wait to share his happiness with others, paying it forward.

A simple enough story, but so effectively woven with beautiful illustrations and a superb translation.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely important book for kids who may be experiencing depression, sadness or grief at the loss of a loved one.

"Felix Afer the Rain" by Dunja Jogan and Olivia Hellewell is out now, published by Tiny Owl Publishing (kindly supplied for review)
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Thursday 20 February 2020

The tedious 'tecs - A Middle Grade Plague - This Week's #ReadItTorial2020

Couldn't you just ping him on his annoying little nose? 
3 years ago we wrote a thinkpiece about emerging trends, and even back then we talked about how we were getting more than a bit tired of kid detectives.

It's now 2020, and in middle grade fiction, kid detectives are flippin' everywhere - and they're just as annoying and smug as they were back in 2017. 9 times out of ten we crack open a new parcel of middle grade books only to find that most books are based around a nosy over-privileged kid who has nothing better to do with their time than get in the way of grown-up law enforcement agencies, treading all over the evidence in crime scenes while trying to big up their own natural curiosity as some sort of detective insight.

We exaggerate of course - and as usual kid authors usually do a fantastic job of taking a well-worn trope and putting their own spin on it. We've seen kid detectives who carry out their sleuthing in hospitals their mums work at. We've seen kid detectives working their magic in creepy old hotels, and we've seen kid detectives scraping together a crime-solving gang of BFFs to bring miscreant criminals to justice in some of the great examples where the detective storyline plays out in a new and innovative way. So some detective books still make it into our "Book of the Week" slot despite us being pretty grumpy about JAKDBs in general.

But what is behind this trend? Do authors have a fondness for certain books from their own childhoods and certain detective heroes that they want to transpose into their own stories and situations?

One thing we're beginning to notice is that there's a change in the wind. My oldest and bestest genre buddy, Science Fiction, is once again becoming a rich fertile and inspirational ground for middle grade fiction authors looking to break away from "another nosy kid" books into something that - to me at least - offers a more exciting place to daydream in.

The future? Many possible futures in fact, and not all of them bright and rosy.

When I was struggling with the content of a middle grade writing course just over a year ago, I was told in no uncertain terms that science fiction / dystopia was 'a dead duck' in middle grade. No point in writing any, no one will give it a second glance.

Yet here we are in 2020 - when the idea of a dystopic setting has radically changed away from "This will never happen, but what if it did" towards "This is probably going to happen tomorrow, and here's how it'll play out".

This year, in particular, we've seen a whole brace of new science fiction / dystopia books in the middle grade market that are absolutely incredible. So much so in fact that it's becoming very difficult to pick "Chapter Book of the Week" winners each week, trying to balance out a decent set of content from the blog that doesn't go completely overboard and merely favour these books because we both like reading science fiction and dystopic stuff. No, these are great books regardless of their genre, beautifully written with breathtaking scene-setting and characters that feel relatable and believable even when you're talking about books that deal with some pretty far-out subjects, such as the colonization of other planets, or the rise and rise of AI and robotics.

To me, Science Fiction has always been about the impossible made possible, the far-off brought a bit nearer, and the terribly climactic apocalyptic made into a place where you want to spend your reading time. A neat trick if you can pull it off.

Science fiction allows you to get away with almost anything. In middle grade terms, this does not translate to being able to easily pull the wool over kids' eyes though, and your sparkly new sci fi middle grade novel will fall as flat as a well-worn-out detective novel if you treat kids like they're idiots, and don't show your working for the fantasy worlds and characters you're devising.

Now more than ever, kids are switched on to science - so in some ways you have a tougher job of writing middle grade sci fi. Your plot has to be bomb-proof. Your tech can be crazy and unimaginable but still needs to be relatable and feel like something that kids can picture in their own minds as 'working'.

But it's exciting stuff nonetheless. One thing we always try (and fail) to do when it comes to plotting book trends is to wonder what might come next, and I have a sneaky suspicion that kid detectives will still be around when we write a follow-up article to this in 3 years time (if indeed this blog still exists) but I'd love to see the rise and stellar rise of sci fi too, that's for sure.
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"Rabbit Bright" by Viola Wang (Hodder Children's Books)

Wow, now here's a multi-coloured cure for the doldrums, but actually "Rabbit Bright" by Viola Wang gently (but very colourfully) delves into a topic that many parents will nod along to, and many kids suffer from at one point or another in their early years - that fear and uncertainty about the dark.

Rabbit feels like this but in this amazing journey across the stars, underground and under the seas, Rabbit finds many dark places that are teeming with amazing life and colour, spectacular creatures and perhaps even new friends to make.

Settling kids who are afraid of the dark (without relying on the trusty night light - we still keep ours at home for when C's little cousins come to stay) isn't always easy, but a joyful explosion of colour is just the ticket - and rabbit is such a curious and engaging character that he drives this story along until those anxieties about darkness are banished.

Let's have a look inside this vibrant book...!

"Under the sea....under the's always better...ah you know the rest!"
Also: Could Rabbit's constant pink panda companion be any more adorable? We doubt it!

"Baby you're a firework!"
Viola's illustrations are fizzingly good!

"Going underground, goin' underground..."
Sum this book up in a sentence: A super little book for titchies to help them snuggle up tight and not worry about the dark, with the most vibrant and neon-tinted illustrations you've ever seen in a children's picture book.

"Rabbit Bright" by Viola Wang is out on 5th March 2020, published by Hodder Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 

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Wednesday 19 February 2020

"You Can Tell a Fairy Tale: Pinocchio" by Migy Blanco (Templar Publishing)

Now here's a neat idea that's perfect for kids who are just beginning to learn to read on their own, but still rather like having a parent or guardian kicking around to snuggle up to and share a story with.

In "You Can Tell a Fairy Tale: Pinocchio" by Migy Blanco, Migy lets kids find their own way through Carlo Collodi's classic timeless story, deciding how each scene will play out.

Those of us familiar with the story will know how things unfold, but the fun in letting kids choose what Pinocchio or Geppeto do at various story points lends this retelling a brilliant new dimension.

Migy's illustrations are also superb with plenty of character and colour, making the whole package both attractive and original with plenty of read-again appeal.

So let's take a look inside at how those story branching bits work...!

What is Geppetto building? We all know the answer but it's fun to come up with some alternatives!
Kids will absolutely love the interactivity of this, and also the feeling that they're the 'boss' and what they say goes!

Where is Pinocchio off to? There's a whole other story about what he got up to in the Black Spot Inn or at Dracula's Castle!
For older kids, there's even the notion that they could actually write their own story versions where the main plot thread forks or changes. We want to read a kids book where Pinocchio ends up at Dracula's castle! That could be awesome!

Yipes! What did Pinocchio find? And how would the story have played out differently?
This is a great idea that Migy has brilliantly done before in a similar "Red Riding Hood" themed book, and it's such a great idea to come up with a fresh and enjoyable way to read and be thrilled by classic fairy tales.

Sum this book in a sentence: Put kids in the driving seat of how a story unfolds, with brilliant alternative ideas and superb illustrations in a truly fab version of Pinocchio!

"You Can Tell A Fairy Tale: Pinocchio" by Migy Blanco is out now, published by Templar Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 18 February 2020

"Viking Voyagers" by Jack Tite (Big Picture Press)

There are so many ways to draw children's natural curiosity about times past and we've seen some stunning non-fiction titles over the last ten years of book blogging.

History texts have veered away from dishing up facts in a cold, almost academic manner into something far more rich, colourful and diverse and that's a fantastic way to describe "Viking Voyagers" by Jack Tite.

You'll already have a mental image in your head of what a Viking looks like. Red haired, horned helmet, swinging an axe, looting a few chapels and setting sail in fearsome longboats. But Jack digs far deeper into their history, their culture and the amazing achievements and discoveries they made, as well as their pioneering spirit reaching out across the globe to conquer new territories.

Vikings were incredibly artistic and creative, and the rich heritage of their art and designs is also described in the book with fantastic facts and brilliant illustrations.

A Viking Longboat. A fearsome sight but a truly brilliant nautical design
Every aspect of Viking life is examined in great detail, in a book that like all the best kid non-fic stuff works just as well in school / class or at home, perfect as the basis for classroom projects.

Amazingly detailed spreads like this really bring the subject to life
Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastically detailed and gorgeously illustrated book chock full of information about the Vikings and dispelling many of the myths built up around their amazing culture.

"Viking Voyagers" by Jack Tite is out now, published by Big Picture Press (kindly supplied for review)
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Monday 17 February 2020

"Everybody Has a Body" by Jon Burgerman (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

Another cracking slice of awesome colourful fun and hilarity from a truly original creative.

Jon Burgerman's fantastic books are brilliant for busy little ones, and "Everybody Has a Body" is no exception.

Everyone really does have a body - and your body is the most amazing instrument you'll ever own. So let Jon take you on a fun journey celebrating all the things that make us unique, in a brilliant and diverse bounce-along story.

Concentrating on Jon's characterful visuals, the story is intentionally kept minimalistic in order to show kids that no matter what they look like, or no matter what their bodies are like, they're all awesome!

One additional note. This book is also available in Welsh, which is pretty cool too!!

Sum this book up a sentence: Another superb book from a creator who manages to inject such a huge amount of energy into his books, making them instantly appealing to little ones.

"Everybody Has a Body" by Jon Burgerman is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday 14 February 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 14th February 2020: "Max and the Midknights" by Lincoln Peirce (Macmillan Children's Books)

We've long been interested in fab books that successfully bridge the gap between picture books and lengthier chapter-based stories, and our Chapter Book of the Week this week is a cracking example of something that could almost end up being a genre all of its own.

"Max and the Midknights" by Lincoln Peirce is almost like a mini graphic novel spliced with an early middle grade reader, but essentially the sort of romping adventure that's perfect for newly confident solo readers who want to move on from illustration-heavy / text light picture books.

This is the opposite, but features glorious monochrome illustrations woven into every page, like some of the middle grade awesomeness we've seen in books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dog Man (ironic then that the two cover quotes are from the authors of those books!)

So what on earth is it all about? A grand quest of course, undertaken by diminutive Max - who wants to become a knight more than anything else in the world.

But he's a tiddly little chap, and the adventure he's about to embark on might be too much for this little fellah - who soon realises he might need a friend or two along on a quest to defeat an evil king - King Gastley in fact.

The brave adventurers set off to free Max's awesome uncle Budrick, forming themselves into "The MidKnights", ready to rescue uncle, and restore Byjovia to its former glory, while putting King Gastley firmly in his place.

As you can see, the way the book is laid out is almost like a set of interlocking comic strips, instantly digestible by kids who are daunted by huge walls of text in their books - but with a ton of style and humour about them that makes them stand out. What a great idea!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly awesome romp for a new Knight-in-training and his gang of brave pals, tricked out in a format that makes it immediately accessible to a wide range of reading abilities.

"Max and the MidKnights" by Lincoln Peirce is out now, published by Macmillan Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).
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ReadItDaddy's Comic / Graphic Novel of the Week - Week Ending 14th February 2020: "Glass Town" by Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape PB)

Wow, what a treat for Bronte-sauruses such as us - a graphic novel that doesn't just dish up the usual stale old biography of the Brontes, but delves into their storytelling psyche in a completely unique way.

"Glass Town" by Isabel Greenberg digs into the backstory of Charlotte, Emily, Branwell and Anne. Living in a tumbledown house in the middle of a remote moor had an early effect on the adventuresome imaginations of the four children. Though their life was tinged with early tragedy and the loss of two siblings, the four developed a deep bond through their love of storytelling.

In particular their dreamed-up world where the four would often cook up narratives, plots and characters that would undoubtedly influence their later lives and in particular Charlotte and Emily's writing careers.

Isabel perfectly captures the often stark bleakness of their young lives, and how that completely contrasted with Glass Town and the world they wrote about, drew and mapped out as the four would play together.

But she goes a step further - this is Isabel Greenberg we're talking about after all, and soon the characters of Glass Town begin to seep into the real world lives of the four as the characters beg to tell their own stories.

As you'll discover once you dip in, the four (often contrasting) personalities of the Brontes fed directly into the evolution of their imaginary world, and the friendships and conflicts of the imaginary folk they populated it with.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Sumptuous, darkly delicious and gothic, and at times quite uplifting and heartwarming, this is an absolute must for every Bronte fan who's ever wondered "What if Glass Town was ever developed into a story in its own right?"

"Glass Town" by Isabel Greenberg is out now, published by Jonathan Cape PB (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 14th February 2020: "Everybody Counts: A Counting Story from 0 to 7.5 Billion" by Kristin Roskifte (Wide Eyed Editions)

"Oh no, not a counting book!" exclaimed Little Miss. "I'm not reading that!"

As we all know it's never a good idea to judge a book by its cover, and so "Everybody Counts: A Counting Story from 0 to 7.5 Billion" by Kristin Roskifte effortlessly pulled a double-bluff on us, and became our Valentines Day Book of the Week.

So why? There was something about it that caught my attention so I sneaked off and read it on my own. It begins with zero, nothing, no one, an empty scene picked out in blue line art - but as the book begins to unfold, the scenes are filled with colour - and people - and soon you're completely hooked into the multi-threaded wordless narratives of the characters that crop up throughout the book - until the very last scene (don't worry, you really won't have to count up to 7.5 billion if you don't want to!)

We sat down together and read through this - and there's a moment whenever we get together and review a book that we just know is going to be book of the week, where there's that unspoken agreement between us that this is something truly special.

It's those human stories. They're utterly addictive. As a lifelong people watcher, I was hooked more or less instantly and fully understood what Kristin was doing here. Little Miss took a little while longer to catch on but as a chip off the old block, she too couldn't resist the lure of following particular characters' threads through the book, guessing, making up stories or finding out what their ultimate goals were, what they were up to, and in some cases, their inherent naughtiness as they get up to no good (which is, of course, a massive lure to any kid who loves living vicariously through the characters in a book - which is, er, pretty much all kids right?)

So let's have a look inside...

This is how it begins. Subtly, slowly - a scene of a little boy trying to get to sleep, and then a moment of bonding.

In each page spread Kristin not only draws up a fantastic scene full of hidden details and nod-worthy points of reference, she throws in a sentence that causes your brain to do somersaults imagining what the characters might be thinking, or what they may be doing or planning.

As the book gets busier, so do the scenes - and suddenly you're presented with multiple narrative threads, and a whole brace of characters to follow, backtrack and find in other scenes, and to imagine the lives of. Again read the text, and it feeds your brain even more - sometimes with stuff that's actually quite bittersweet and heart-wrenching.

Kids are absolutely drawn to this sort of book, where they can essentially make up their own stories and narratives, and mould the book's intentions with the whims of their own imagination.

I don't think we've ever seen a counting book quite like this, and I can't understate how amazing it is. Sure it might initially sail completely over your child's head but once they get drawn in, and once they 'get' what the book is doing, they'll be utterly hooked like we were.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly stunning and amazing counting book like no other, dealing with a very human and multi-threaded book world that is filled with all the amazing things that make us special, secretive, joyful, conniving, sneaky, loved and 7.5 billion other characteristics in between.

"Everybody Counts" by Kristin Roskifte is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 13 February 2020

If males don't read books by, or strongly featuring females, do they build up a disregard for female opinions and worth in later life? This Week's #ReadItTorial

Sorry about the long drawn-out title of this week's #ReadItTorial2020 but I wanted to try and capture the essence of a tweet by fantastic author Joanne Harris - the author of the divine "Chocolat", "The Gospel of Loki" and many other amazing books.

Joanne's Tweet was:
At first I understood where she was coming from with this and it's something I've read other authors saying before. It is very true and very fair to say that boys in general do disregard books either about girls, or featuring girls in the main roles, or as the primary character, whereas girls are more magnanimous and don't mind books where lead characters are male, female or nonbinary.

But does that automatically lead to the sort of sexist behavour we would all like to see stamped out for good? Where women are treated as second class citizens, abused or attacked, shouted down and generally given short shrift in many aspects of their lives?

Given that in this day and age books are such a small influence on our youth (I would say that books are probably right down there in 5th or 6th place trailing far behind the internet, peers, family influences, visual media and ads) would it be easy to tackle this thorny issue at the root?

Kids are tricky little blighters when it comes to any form of pattern analysis and a broad brush tweet like Joanna's makes assumptions that books somehow insidiously cause sexist behaviour - when in fact it's far more likely to be as a result of the way children are brought up, and what they take away from their key influencers as they grow up and begin to take more than just a bit part in the world around them.

I grew up reading anything and everything I could get my hands on (quite literally - if stuck at a relative's house I'd just trawl through their bookcases until I found something to read, whether it was copies of Woman's World magazine, old Readers Digest mags, encyclopaedias, cowboy novels - you name it, I'd read it if I didn't have an armful of books of my own with me)

I also grew up in households that quite often lacked 'strong' male authority figures, and these were the key influences on my current belief that men and women are equal, and that strong female figures and characters in fiction and non fiction deserve as much respect as anyone else.

I'd also consume books by the bucketload thanks to a decent school and local library (things that in this day and age are underused, underfunded, or are becoming more and more rare sadly) always with a sort of blissful ignorance about what boys were actually supposed to read (remember this was the 1970s, where despite the rise of sexual equality, there were still very hard lines drawn in school, particularly in peer groups of boys - and any deviation from those lines was seen as some sort of weakness). As I grew older I realised that I much preferred the company of bookish girls than boys anyway (if you couldn't care less about sport or 'scoring' or other 'bants' then it naturally follows that you'd always want to get into a conversation with a girl than a boy - and from what my daughter reports of what things are like in her school, it doesn't sound like much has changed in the last 40 years).

I loved books back then as much as I love books now, and read Heidi cover to cover, devoured "The Giant Under the Snow" (where, despite a couple of male accomplices, the awesome Jonquil Winters and her witchy mentor Elizabeth were undoubtedly the lead - and strongest - characters in the book). Now I'm trying to pass this notion on to my daughter so that she'll have a fairly broad (some might say 'adventurous') approach to what she reads and consumes, hopefully so she'll be far more well read than I am.

In ten years of reviewing children's books, there have been so many books that I dearly wished boys would read - but could understand why those books switch even the most bookish boys off.

Conflict is often an underlying initial setup or continuing theme of any books where a female main character features, and is oppressed by, bullied by, or constantly rolls her eyes about any male characters that are woven into the story (though again in the majority of stories, this is unfortunately good observation on the part of the author - that those conflicts really do exist in the real world, and that they make an excellent plot foundation - personally I find that horribly sad).

The rot sets in right from picture books for younger readers. Male characters are often set up as the pratfalling idiot in a story where parents feature. We've seen gluttonous dads who quite often need a mum to come along and show them how to do even the simplest parenting tasks. We've seen absentee dads more than absentee mums - even in some of our very favourite picture books. We've blogged at length about the 'dumb dad / missing dad' tropes in picture books and it seems that this also quite often continues well into middle grade books, where dads are undoubtedly (and perhaps more accurately) the parental figure who displays clear signs of immaturity, boorish behaviour, or will just muck about or behave like an idiot either through an assumption that they're less intelligent than their female counterparts, or follow a well-worn character cliche.

This is beginning to sound like a horrible "not all men" type of argument and believe me that's really not my intention at all. My point is that I want boys to enjoy character driven fiction without having any need to even consider that the main charactrer is either male or female, and that what they're going to read will be some diatribe against either sex.

Instead it should be the story itself, the theme, the setting, the moral (if there is one) and the twisting plot intricacies, the delicious descriptions and the writing that cuts through any gender gap.

For example consider that the truly amazing "Lockwood and Co" series by Jonathan Stroud is beautifully balanced, and not only female-narrative-led, but contains male and female characters that appeal to both sexes, treat each other (mostly) as equals in the course of each tale, and are hugely appealing to girl and boy readers. I'd probably mention the Harry Potter books too, though I'm still not convinced that JK treats the female characters in her books very well (apart from Hermoine, who still somehow manages to be written as the class know-it-all, the swot, the annoying whiny one, or the sensible one in a semi-detrimental way for all the moments when it's clear her character is the brains of the outfit - and some might argue the 'main' character in the books (because lord knows, Harry is pretty fecking useless most of the time, let's face it, and Ron is a very short step away from being a complete a-hole most of the time - sorry, my opinion, feel free to shout me down about it!)

So do we want to carry on with conflict in stories if we are ever to cut through toxic male (and to a lesser extent female) behaviour out there in the real world, if the opening chapters of most books do their level best to underline that conflict and make it one of the foundations of the plot?

What message does that convey and leave a reader with other than it's the norm, and really is that the root cause of the way boys treat girls and vice versa?

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