Tuesday 31 March 2020

"Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble" by Paul Morton (Five Quills)

Here's a right ribbeting (hah) read that's perfect for little ones who love reading on their own, want to begin reading more wordy books, but also still love loads and loads of awesome illustrations in their books.

The hugely fun "Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble" by Paul Morton sees the titular froggy on babysitting duty.

The only trouble is that he's babysitting for the taddies, wriggly slippery tadpoles who just love getting into trouble - and can't wait to try out their uncle's cool water slides, death-defying dragonfly drops and fancy frogball games.

But soon Bug Belly hears a rumbling from his tummy. He's absolutely starving, but what can he do with all his tiny new charges if he nips off for something to eat. As Bug Belly launches himself off his slide to find a tasty worm snack, he accidentally floods the pond!

It's now a race against time for Bug Belly as he has to make sure all his wriggly little pals are safe. Luckily he's a frog with brains, and he's got a foolproof plan to make sure all his nieces and nephews are safe from the snapping beak of Heron, and the gnashing jaws of Old Pike.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A bouncy fun read that's perfect for new solo readers, with a cast of hilarious and engaging characters sure to win any tiny tots over.

"Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble" by Paul Morton is out on 1st April 2020, published by Five Quills (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 30 March 2020

"100 adventures to have before you're grown up" by Anna McNuff and Clair Rossiter (Walker Books)

It might feel like the worst time in the world to find a book like this in our review pile, but if there's anything we need right now, it's the thought of tackling the sublime list of things to try in this wonderful book.

"100 Adventures To Have Before You Grow Up" by Anna McNuff and Claire Rossiter is like a divine bucket list of all the things you could do as a curious, energetic and imaginative child.

(There's an awful lot of stuff in here to enjoy with mum and dad too!)

Though many of us are still in social distancing / isolation / lockdown mode, there's plenty in here to help you start building those wishlists of things you'll want to dive headlong into once things get back to a semblance of normal.

As outdoorsy types, we very much liked all the sections in the book that talk about things to do out in the fresh air, and thankfully at the time of writing this review, we've still been staving off our cabin fever at home and doing some of these at weekends.

Let's take a look inside at Anna and Clair's wonderful book:

Packrafting sounds too awesome for words!

One thing that's captured brilliantly in this book is how accessible and possible these adventures feel. You CAN do these things, in fact you can do most of these things fairly easily. 

Travel might feel like a distant wish but seeing the world is well worth it!

Clair's beautiful illustrations help to tease us with a taste of these wonderful adventures, beautifully described by Anna - who feels like she's done them all and would quite happily embark on them all over again!

We did try slack-lining once, but it's trickier than it looks!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Indulge in a spot of daydreamy wishlist creating, and make a pledge to yourself that when things get back to normal you'll get out there and do some of these amazing things!

"100 Adventures to Have Before You're Grown Up" by Anna McNuff and Clair Rossiter is out on 2nd April 2020, published by Walker Books (kindly supplied for review). 

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Friday 27 March 2020

ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 27th March 2020: "Paolo Emperor of Rome" by Mac Barnett and Claire Keane (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Our second Picture Book of the Week is like a brilliant travelogue of one of our favourite places to visit.

Italy is a beautiful country, and though we've never visited Rome, we have made it our business to plan a trip there once the world gets back to normal.

But this isn't just the story of Rome, this is the story of an amazing little pooch.

"Paolo: Emperor of Rome" by Mac Barnett and Claire Keane is a glorious little book that begins with a dog's daydreams of escape. Most of the time he's stuck in a busy hairdressers, staring out of the shop door as the world passes by.

Paolo sees enough of the busy world out there to know that he wants to be a part of it, but every time he tries to go outside, his owner (who is a bit harsh on her poor pooch) pushes him back indoors.

But one fateful day, a little old lady visiting the salon leaves the door open - just long enough for Paolo to make a break for it..!

Paolo dreams of the world outside but can't get past his grumpy owner
Out in the wild streets of Rome Paolo discovers an amazing world full of excitement, and danger. Though Paolo gets into a few scrapes, he soon discovers that his tenacity and bravery serve him well, and he begins a grand adventure amongst some of Rome's most famous landmarks.

Dreamy spires and amazing rooftops in Rome's gorgeous city streets

Mac and Claire weave an amazing story where you can almost smell the amazing smells of Rome's famous pasta dishes and pizzas, hear the roar of motor scooters, the coo of pigeons gathering around the Trevi Fountain, and experience all the wonders in this ancient and amazing place.

It's a beautiful book. Claire makes it feel instantly like a well loved classic and now it's made us more determined than ever to go back to visit Italy.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant original poochy tale that's as much a fab travelogue of Rome as it is the story of a brave little dog who finds his place in the world.

"Paolo: Emperor of Rome" by Mac Barnett and Claire Keane is out now, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 27th March 2020: "Why do I feel Like this?" by Shinsuke Yoshitake (Thames and Hudson)

Oh yes! A new book from Shinsuke Yoshitake is always cause for celebration. This genius creative has an amazing knack for knowing what makes people tick, and in "Why do I feel Like This?" we find a little girl wrestling with her feelings, her moods and her inner demons (and angels).

The adorable little girl in the book is in a thoroughly bad mood as she walks home - but why? What causes a bad mood, what makes us scared, happy, grumpy, angry? What's with all these durned feelings and how do we make them go away (or, in the case of nice ones, stick around a while?)

In Shinsuke's trademark comic style each busy panel spread is chock full of detail and humour, as we quite literally delve into the girl's head to find out what's going on.

We've seen a ton of 'emotions' books - that quite often miss a trick of being engaging enough or interesting enough for kids to pay attention to, but that's not a problem here - as the jaunty story allows the little girl's character to shine through, and the zany antics of her actual (and imaginary) character compadres adds up to one of the most original and engaging picture books we've seen since...well since "Can I build Another Me?"

Sum this book up in a sentence: Sheer and utter brilliance from one of the most talented creatives working in picture books today, a real treat on every level imagineable and a thoroughly deep dive into what makes us tick.

"Why do I feel Like This?" by Shinsuke Yoshitake is out now, published by Thames and Hudson (kindly supplied for review).
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Thursday 26 March 2020

Blogging in the time of a national crisis - How do I get my Mojo back? This Week's ReadItTorial

When I was a kid, I hated the spring and summer. The sunny weather, and the fresh air were always the precursors to parental and grandparental nagging to "get outside, climb some trees, go get some Vitamin D into your skin" and it took a long time (well, adulthood really) before I began to crave being outdoors.

Under the current craziness, the near lockdown of the country and folk being urged to stay at home (obviously super-effective as a strategy because, from my window, I can see a couple of hairnetted old dears merrily having a chat outside my window, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they - in the highest risk group - could literally be talking their last) it feels like something's changed in terms of writing a book blog.

Now I'm working from home, the day job currently involves supporting a whole metric ton of other workers who are similarly working on creaky old computer equipment, trying to look like they're capably doing their work as efficiently as they would be if they were sitting in an office. That, of course, still relies on them having a strong work ethic, and buckling down to adapting to what is the new norm (don't you just hate that cheesy cliche and every time someone uses it? I know I do, I think I got tired of it a fortnight ago).

For book blogging, amazingly thanks to our awesome postal service and a lot of hard working PRs out there who are still kicking arse, the books are still arriving and I'm dutifully adding them to our review schedule.

The tough part is getting excited about them. I mean they're wonderful books, but it's so damned hard to focus and concentrate on something you love, when the world is filled with all the things you hate.

People's anger, people's selfishness, an inept government assuming that folk are going to be fine and dandy with staying in all day every day as the sun shines overhead, who won't mind being rounded up and told off by their local coppers if they're seen more than twice in one day. The way certain things just don't work any more, and the saddest of all, if you are crazy enough to venture out of your house - all those local shops and businesses you were once proud of being in a permanent state of lights off / no one home, with sad little printed posters up in their windows apologising to their customers in that typically English way we do when we're apologising for something that's not our fault - with eloquence and politeness edged with sarcasm and annoyance.

All these distractions, and also staying largely away from Twitter (because god, I really am sorry, but I don't need the constant moany grumpiness of the place laced with cheery folk playing ukuleles and singing John Lennon songs, on balance I can't decide which is worse).

As a family unit we are spending more time together (we don't live in a gigantic mansion, we kind of have to!) but the book stuff is suffering, and I don't honestly know what's going to happen over the next few weeks as I increasingly struggle to find time to write up our reviews.

We're still reading the books, still enjoying them but a troubled mind isn't one that lends itself well to focusing on nice things like kidlit. That's really pissing me off more than anything else at the moment.
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - March 2020

Welcome, welcome to our Chapter Book roundup for March. We have a huge selection of books to get our teeth into this month (hooray) so let's get going straight away with a piece of code-crackingly brilliant genius.

"Mickey and the Animal Spies" by dream team Anne Miller and Becka Moor introduces Mickey, a girl who loves nothing better than puzzling over secret codes and ciphers.

When she spots a strange code on a poster while on the way home from school, Mickey's curiosity is piqued. What can the poster mean? Can she unscramble the letters to spell out the intended message?

Soon she's hot on the trail of diamond thieves, dognappers and makes a whole crew of new allies - a bunch of wisecracking code-cracking animal spies to help her in her strange case.

Built around real codes for kids to solve, this is a captivating book idea that goes beyond most middle grade 'tec novels, delving into the intriguing and interesting world of spying, codes and riddles.

"Mickey and the Animal Spies" by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is out now, published by OUP / Oxford Children's Books. 

Something slick, stylish and fast-paced next with the third book in Sophie Green and Karl James Mountford's awesome "Potkin and Stubbs" series.

"Ghostcatcher" picks up after Nedly and Lil successfully defeated evil ghost Mr Grip. Now they're on their next case, and a particularly disturbing haunting. But Peligan City has had enough of ghosts and has hired ghost catchers - and Nedly finds himself being hunted!

Luckily, he has Lil on his side. Now an apprentice reporter for the Klaxon, Lil manages to talk her way into a job shadowing intrepid journalist Marsha Quake, who is writing a feature on Ghostcatcher Inc.

So with Lil's help, Nedly is able to stay one step ahead, but can Lil keep Nedly safe for long?

As Nedly develops his own inimitable and slightly haphazard haunting style, hoping to become a hero of Peligan City by protecting the weak and thwarting the powerful, Lil finds herself clashing with her mum, a journalist committed to uncovering the truth at all costs. Lil must protect Nedly by covering his tracks or risk losing him forever. Can she find a way?

The characters and settings for this ghoulish novel are pitch perfect, pairing a ghost who wants to be a  good spirit with a naturally curious girl who wants to protect her new found friend.

"Potkin and Stubbs: Ghostcatcher" by Sophie Green and Karl James Mountford is out now, published by Piccadilly Press. 

A real treat for us next, and a book series from an immensely talented young lady.

"Amelia Fang and the Naughty Caticorns" by Laura Ellen Anderson is the latest adventure for her awesome half fairy half vampire mighty girl.

But Amelia might not be the only fairy vamp on the block soon, as her mum has a little vampish sibling on the way and Amelia couldn't be more excited - though soon she begins to think that everyone's so wrapped up in new baby news that they haven't got time for her! Oh dear.

Luckily, Amelia is asked to practice her babysitting skills with three very mischievous Caticorns (half cat, half unicorn, what could possibly go wrong? Gerard, Butler and Mo might look sweet and cuddly, but they're very good at getting into mischief, and super-expert at getting poor Amelia into trouble too! Suddenly Amelia finds she's once more the focus of attention but not in a good way!

These books are so much fun, perfect for emergent solo readers who love illustrations, awesome characters and great little stories. We adore Laura's sense of humour and her knack for making us giggle loads.

"Amelia Fang and the Naughty Caticorns" by Laura Ellen Anderson is out now, published by Egmont UK. 

Something super-weird is on its way, in fact in "A Super Wrird Mystery: Danger at the Donut Diner" - the new fantastically funny series from Jim Smith, expect the unexpectedly strange!

When Melvin moves from the city to Donut (a perfectly round island with a hole in the middle), he thinks it's the most rubbish place ever.

Then he meets Rhubarb. Rhubarb is OBSESSED with mysteries and has her own school newspaper to investigate the strange goings on in Donut. (Unfortunately nothing ever happens in Donut so she's never had anything to write about.)

But then Melvin notices that the kids at school are acting very strangely. Could it be something to do with the Donut Hole Monsters that everyone is collecting?

Soon Melvin and Rhubarb are on the trail of a mystery – one that is going to lead them right into the centre of the donut hole… And Rhubarb might actually have something to write about in her newspaper, if they make it out alive.

Will they get to the bottom of the Donut Hole Monster mystery before it’s too late and the whole town is brainwashed?

From the demented genius mind of one of the funniest authors on the planet, this is cool and crazy, chaotic and frenetic storytelling.

"A Super Weird Mystery: Danger at the Donut Diner" by Jim Smith is out now, published by Egmont

Truly inspirational stuff next in the sparklingly brilliant and thoroughly original "Martin McLean Middle School Queen" by Alyssa Zaczek.

Martin McLean has always been surrounded by people who can express themselves. His mother is an artist, his colourful uncle Billy works in theatre and his best friends Carmen and Pickle are outgoing and don t care what other people think.

But Martin can only find the right words when he's answering a problem at a Mathletes competition - until his uncle introduces him to the world of drag.

In a swirl of sequins and stilettos, Martin creates his fabulous drag queen alter ego, Lottie León. As Lottie, he is braver than he has ever been; but as Martin, he doesn't have the guts to tell anyone outside his family about her - not Carmen and Pickle, not his Mathletes teammates and definitely not Chris, an older boy who gives Martin butterflies. 

When Martin discovers that his first-ever drag show is the same night as the most important Mathletes tournament, he realises that he can only pull off both appearances by revealing his true self to his friends - and channelling his inner drag superstar.

This is joyous stuff, with such a whomping great big positive message throughout, really inspirational for kids who feel that, like Martin, they are destined for something more in this life. 

"Martin McLean Middle School Queen" by Alyssa Zaczek is out now, published by Sterling Children's Books. 

More action-packed storytelling with an ecological heart next, in the superb "Agents of the Wild: Operation Honeyhunt" by Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens. 

When 8-year-old Agnes is signed up for SPEARS (the Society for the Protection of Endangered and Awesomely Rare Species), she has no idea of the adventures that lie ahead with her elephant-shrew mentor Attie (short for "Attenborough" - great name!)

Operation Honeyhunt sends them to the Brazilian rainforest, on a mission to save an endangered, dance-loving bee named Elton. 

Will Agnes pass the test and become a full SPEARS agent? 

Species in danger? Girl and shrew to the rescue in this inspirational adventure filled with awesome animals and mild peril. 

"Agents of the Wild: Operation Honeyhunt" by Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens is out now, published by Walker Books. 

A beautifully atmospheric tale next, the truly fantastic "The Threads of Magic" by Alison Croggon. 

Pip is a street urchin living in the huge city of Clarel, and used to living on his wits. 

But when Pip mistakenly pickpockets the wrong man, he comes into possession of a strange object - a heart in a silver casket - an object wrapped in magic and mystery. This seemingly innocuous trinket seems to want to communicate with Pip, and soon he finds himself in danger, pursued by royal officials who will stop at nothing to get the object back. 

For Pip's thievery has broken an ancient spell, unlocking a war between witches and spectres, and threatening the very existence of Clarel itself. 

Can Pip be the key to righting an ancient wrong or will the mysterious heart succeed in wreaking horrible revenge for its tempestuous past. 

Absolutely mesmerisingly written with tons of originality and a fabulous Vic-punky feel to it, this is fab!

"The Threads of Magic" by Alison Croggon is out now, published by Walker Books. 

Just enough time for a few more fabulously atmospheric books, and we do love a good haunted house novel!

"The House on Hoarder Hill" by Kelly Ngai and Mikki Lish might well be set at Christmas, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a comfy little seasonal tale. 

When Hedy and Spencer start receiving messages on dusty picture frames, Christmas at their grandfather's spooky house turns into a mission to solve the mystery of their grandmother's disappearance. 

What is their magician grandfather not telling them and why is he so evasive about his own wife's disappearance? 

With the help of a (talking) mounted stag head, an (also talking) bear rug, and other (currently) disembodied spirits, and against the resistance of gargoyles and ravens, Hedy and Spencer set out to find the truth. 

"The House on Hoarder Hill" by Kelly Ngai and Mikki Lish is out now, published by Chicken House. 

Next up, something vastly different to our usual middle grade fare, a superbly gritty slice of life for a little girl who has led a less than perfect life. 

In "The Faraway Truth" by Janae Marks, we meet Zoe Washington. Zoe never got the change to meet her father, who was sent to prison just before she was born. 

But when she receives a letter from him on her 12th birthday, she begins to learn that everything she was told about him may be completely wrong. 

Zoe's mother always told her that he was a monster, a liar, a criminal - but his letters make him sound completely different. This leads her to indulge her curiosity about his case. Was it as cut and dried as it seemed, or could her father Marcus be entirely innocent after all? 

There's more to the whole thing than anyone could imagine, particularly Zoe. 

Full of brilliant plot twists and cliffhangers, this is a fantastically observed tale of one little girl dealing with two entirely different opinions of her dad, with a determination to find out the truth and make up her own mind once and for all. 

"The Faraway Truth" by Janae Marks is out now, published by Chicken House. 

Rounding off this month with another fabulous book by a hugely talented author who covers a subject that has been touched on many times in children's books but not always at middle grade.

"Talking to the Moon" by S.E. Durrant is every bit as captivating as "Running on Empty" or "Little Pieces of Sky".

Tackling the subjects of getting old and early onset Alzheimers, this is the story of a little girl called Iris who loves holidays with her beloved grandmother Mimi.

Mimi's behaviour has been a little strange lately. Her memory is getting worse - so much so that she's started to tie ribbons around her fingers just to remember things - only she's forgotten what the ribbons are for.

She's also started to put jam on her scrambled eggs, and as things get worse, Mimi's house becomes a stranger to her, and is becoming harder and harder to navigate.

When Iris goes to stay, she feels as if a whole life is becoming muddled up. As her grandmother's memory fades, a mystery is uncovered. Who is Coral, and what happened to her?

Tackling such a tricky subject, but also keeping the reader on the edge of their seats is quite a fantastic balancing trick, and S.E performs it with aplomb in a heart warming, bittersweet and ultimately hugely emotional story.

"Talking to the Moon" by S.E. Durrant is out now, published by Nosy Crow. 

That about wraps it up for this month, and what an amazing selection. Tune in next month when we'll be dishing up even more amazing chapter book awesomeness. 

(all books kindly supplied for review).

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"Meet the Planets" by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woolvin (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

Time for a light-hearted and hugely fun tour of our solar system with a dynamic duo of kidlit creatives ready to whisk us off in a fab little spaceship, with a poochy companion who steals every scene.

"Meet the Planets" by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin is brilliantly engaging, and perfect for mini space fans who love finding out more about outer space, and the amazing planets that are our galactic neighbours.

From mysterious Mars to sultry Saturn, gigantic Jupiter to gaseous Uranus, climb on board for a really brilliant and innovative way to explore space.

We love that Bethan still manages to work in her brilliant art style into this book. A real piece of genius linking up two of our favourite creative folk.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fun and bouncy journey around our solar system for mini space fans, this is the perfect introductory book for kids who love finding out more about our galaxy

"Meet the Planets" by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin is out now, published by Bloomsbury (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 25 March 2020

"Once Upon an Atom" by James Carter and William Santiago (Little Tiger)

Little Tiger's brilliant non-fiction range gets down to the atomic level with a truly fantastic book for budding scientists.

"Once Upon an Atom: Questions of Science" by James Carter and William Santiago is perfect for younger children who are just discovering the magic of science, and the amazing ways in which science features in our everyday lives.

With clever rhymes and clear explanations, James and William take us on a journey that stretches right back to the Big Bang, then brings us bang up to date, sending us out into space to find out all about amazing experiments out there in the inky blackness, and down on earth as we begin to learn more and more about our amazing world through the main science disciplines.

It's the perfect book for kids who are beginning to attend science clubs for the first time, or are just finding out about the sciences at school.

With tons of beautiful illustrations, it's perfect for curious kids who love asking "Why!"

Sum this book up in a sentence: A dazzling introduction to the sciences for younger kids who love to find out more about their world, even at a microscopic level!

"Once Upon an Atom: Questions of Science" by James Carter and William Santiago is out now, published by Little Tiger (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 24 March 2020

"I Saw It First: Ocean" - A family spotting game with brilliant illustrations from Caroline Selmes (Laurence King)

Our oceans are teeming with life, a rich diverse and amazing world exists beneath the waves.

What better way to get to know all those amazing creatures than with this brilliantly simple but hugely entertaining new board game from Laurence King Publishing.

With fab illustrations by Caroline Selmes, "I Saw It First! Ocean" compliments the previous "I Saw It First: Jungle" edition, with a fast paced observation-based game for younger players.

Each player takes it in turn to draw a token from the box, and then the first person to spot that creature on the board gets a point.

Are your sharp eyes quick enough to spot the creatures before your opponents?

Packaged in an attractive triangular box, with a huge hexagonal board and accompanying tokens, it's perfect for a bit of family gaming time - something we're hugely keen on here at ReadItDaddy Towers

Sum this game up in a sentence: A hugely entertaining, fun and beautifully presented game that's perfect for tiny natural historians who love finding out more about our amazing oceans and the animals that live in them.

"I Saw It First: Ocean" with illustrations by Caroline Selmes is out now, published by Laurence King (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 23 March 2020

"Bob Goes Pop" by Marion Deuchars (Laurence King Publishing)

I remember the first time I properly fell in love with pop art, mostly through the works of artists like Roy Liechtenstein and Andy Warhol. But in "Bob Goes Pop!" by Marion Deuchars, everyone's favourite artistic bird hears that there's a new artist in town - a sculptor called Roy whose works are causing something of a fuss in Bob's neighbourhood.

"But I'M the best artist in town!" squawks Bob, but when he finally sees Roy's work, it lights a fire of inspiration under Bob's tail feathers - and Bob's world is about to POP, POP, POP!

Bob is determined to reclaim his crown as top artist but as he enters into friendly competition with Roy, they soon realise that competing with each other can be counter-productive.

There's a nasty showdown after Bob surreptitiously spies on Roy's new project - but Bob sees the error of his ways, and together he and Roy realise that they can make the most amazing art in the world if they can work together to achieve great things.

Marion expertly plays with the concept of pop art through this engaging story, and children will love joining Bob in finding out what pop art means - perhaps even indulging their own curiosity about art movements and why the Pop Art movement was so hugely influential and inspirational in the mid to late 20th century, and continues to be such an amazing branch of the art world even today.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Marion cleverly works in several amazing works of art, inspired by real-life artists in the pop-art movement such as Yayoi Kusama, Claes Oldenburg and Jeff Koons - offering a fabulous little story to serve as a great introduction for kids to begin their own appreciation of amazing art and awesome friendships.

"Bob Goes Pop" by Marion Deuchars is out now, published by Laurence King Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 

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Friday 20 March 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 20th March 2020: "Girl 38 - Finding a Friend" by Ewa Jozefkowicz (Zephyr Publishing)

Our Chapter Book of the Week this week is a superb time-hopping story that combines several things we love into a real life-affirming tale of an amazing cross-generational friendship.

"Girl 38: Finding a Friend" by Ewa Josefkowicz begins with a 12 year old girl who is very much like the "Boss" of this blog. Kat is similarly obsessed with superheroes and graphic novels, and loves working on her own comic, the amazing "Girl 38".

But Kat's school and home life keeps getting in the way of her creative endeavours. At school, her 'bestie' is no longer her best friend.

At home Kat never finds a sympathetic ear, as her mum and dad are always working - and are hardly ever there. So Kat turns to a kindly neighbour Ania.

After helping Ania recover from an accident, the two become close friends, and even though Kat is slightly afraid of her outspoken elderly pal, she finds herself drawn to Ania's stories of what life was like during the war, and in particular the story behind a haunting and unfinished portrait of a girl that Ania once worked on.

Kat learns that the girl was called Mila, and both Ania and Mila were interred in a walled village during the outbreak of WWII as soldiers began to take over their country. Kat finds herself inspired by the hardships suffered by the girls, and soon begins to work out how her own story - and the story of Girl 38, her mighty superhero, may play out in the end.

This is breathtaking writing that had us both completely immersed in Kat's world, and an amazing heartfelt story that reminds us that our 'elders' are always worth listening to, and their stories, their ups and downs, and their heartbreaks and triumphs serve as a lesson to us all that we are very lucky in our own lives, even when we think we're not.

Beautiful stuff.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A breath of fresh air amongst middle grade books, with a superbly woven tale of a cross-generational bond between a young creative girl and her elderly but equally creative neighbour.

"Girl 38: Finding a Friend" by Ewa Josefkowicz is out now, published by Zephyr Publishing (Kindly supplied for review) 
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ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 20th March 2020 - "Be An Artist Every Day" by Susan Schwake and Charlotte Farmer (Ivy Kids)

Our second book of the week has filled us with artistic inspiration and has so many amazing things packed into it, we can't stop wondering what the next creative day will bring.

As any artist will tell you, drawing and doodling, painting and creating is almost like a muscle you need to exercise every day. If you can manage to fit a bit of creativity into your daily life (as we both do) you'll find it immensely satisfying.

"Be an Artist Every Day" by Susan Schwake and Charlotte Farmer tackles one of the most difficult things most artists struggle with - getting that initial creative spark to kick off a doodle or a drawing.

In this fab little compact book you'll find a whole year's worth of art activities, prompts and projects to really give your creativity a huge boost.

From simple exercises and doodles to more wide-ranging and in-depth ideas that will turbo-charge your artistic abilities, with lots of advice and references from the way famous artists work.

Let's take a look inside this fantastic book, and see what's on offer!

Nearly all art books like this start out with a 'materials' page - Always useful for reference!
Gather up your favourite drawing and painting materials, get yourself a nice big piece of paper or a sketchpad and get cracking!

Unlike most books, this one positively encourages you to doodle all over it! Just don't do this with your other books, OK?
It's perfect for imaginative and creative kids who love the idea of working through an artistic exercise every day.

You will have a whale of a time with this 'swap-around' art challenge!!
Be as creative, as colourful and as fanciful as you like!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly fabulous idea for creative kids, a whole years worth of art exercises, prompts and doodling opportunities in a compact book small enough to tuck into your bag along with your fave art materials!

"Be An Artist Every Day" by Susan Schwake and Charlotte Farmer is out now, published by Ivy Kids (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 20th March 2020: "Lego: Absolutely everything you need to know" (Dorling Kindersley)

We are absolute Lego nerds on the blog, and though this book is a few years old, it was rather a lovely present to receive from my wonderful Mother in Law (who REALLY knows how to pick presents out for me).

"Lego: Absolutely Everything you Need to Know" is a luxurious deep dive into the world of those utterly addictive plastic bricks.

If you, like me, find yourself still playing with Lego as an adult, you'll absolutely love the approach this book takes - digging back in time to the history of the Lego company, and also taking a look at the various innovations, the different sets, and of course a whole ton of amazing anecdotes surrounding this brilliant building block - and all its weird and wonderful variants.

Did you know, for example, that Lego are the largest tyre manufacturer on the planet? They make more tyres for Lego vehicles than anyone else.

Did you also know that Lego kits have genuinely been into space?

The history of the Lego company, from wooden toys to plastic bricks and beyond
The presentation and layout of each spread is absolutely brilliant, and we loved spotting kits that we'd had as kids - as well as some that are still being proudly displayed here at ReadItDaddy Towers.

Lego is 'wheely' great!
All the stats, facts and clever 'in jokes' that get worked into the products are just amazing, and this big thick tome will keep your (ahem) youngsters occupied for ages.

Utterly, utterly awesome stuff.

Sum this book up in a sentence: The ideal gift for your Lego-loving loved ones, packed full of amazing detail and a ton of jaw-dropping facts about the humble bricks.

"Lego: Absolutely Everything you need to Know" by Dorling Kindersley is out now (bought as a birthday present, not supplied for review). 
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Thursday 19 March 2020

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel slightly cheated - This week's #ReadItTorial

I honestly can't tell you why I've always been attracted to dystopian fiction. From an early age I remember reading the works of "The Three Johns" (John Gordon, John Christopher and John Wyndham) when I started to cut my teeth on chapter books, and each of them were past masters at describing the end of the world.

In Wyndham's case, "The Day of the Triffids" came fairly close to describing what is going on in the world in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19, in particular people's selfishness coming to the fore rather than their 'blitz spirit'

Sure there are good people in the world, but there are seemingly more people in the world who will panic buy toilet roll, then sell it on whatever online retail platform they can war-profiteer on for ludicrous amounts of cash (a 12 pack of cushelle being openly advertised on (spit) Amazon for £94.99 by one particular seller just made me laugh, then grimace, then made me extremely angry that Amazon were facilitating this, but then again they're not the only ones seeing an opportunity for huge economic growth in Q1 of this year).

No one really wrote about panic buying or shortages of bog roll in any of the books I grew up with. No one ever wrote about the truly awful measures most employers would stoop to in order to ensure their workforce stay put, stay in work, and in most cases stay in danger of enabling the spread of the virus.

In Stephen King's "The Stand" - a book that dealt with a worldwide pandemic of a virulent killer flu, and the lives of survivors on both sides of good and evil, the breakdown of society was more or less immediate - it almost felt like the novel wanted to get to the nitty gritty of 'what comes after' rather than concentrate on the bits where society unravels like a poorly knitted sweater for want of a couple of packs of dried pasta.

One other thing that most of these books missed was the truly evil depths that news agencies would stoop to as the pandemic grew worse. It's almost as if Randall Flagg (the main evil protagonist in "The Stand") has been granted free reign to incite panic and irresponsible behaviour almost at will.

Max Brooks' sublime "World War Z" did a better job of picking at those details, as things started to really become grim, there were harrowing passage in the book that described a ragtag band of humans trying to make their way to a non-existent sanctuary, banding together but still with the element of self-preservation driving them more than anything else. One passage about 'a bowl of stew' just about finished me off. Let's hope we never get to that stage, though I guess I'm corn-fed so I'll probably taste great, just saying.

For the majority of folk waking up to the news every morning, and wishing they could just go back to bed, it feels like I'm almost coming at this from the perspective of Henry (Hank) Palace in "The Last Policeman" - probably the best piece of 'end of the world' fiction I've read in my grown-up years.

Carrying on as if the world isn't burning around us, dutifully setting off to work every morning (for how much longer, I really can't say - Universities are shutting up shop and moving into online / virtual environments day on day - and in the particular area of work I cover in my day job it's almost like the loo roll in terms of watching people practically knifing each other to grab a piece of online workspace for themselves as cloud services begin to falter and fail globally, completely unable to keep up with the demand).

There have been several folk musing over what children's publishing may look like in a year or more's time, when those first inspired authors begin to spin up their own grand stories about pandemics, dystopias and abject misery at the end of civilisation.

So many launches and events are getting cancelled that it feels like the creative industry is getting a royal kicking, but we so need it - we really do.

If we're all still here once the dust settles and the mania subsides (of course we will be, I hope!) I think I'll have had enough of the world as we know it by then, and may even have to give up my filthy dystopian reading habits and look for happy shiny joyful books instead. So if you're digging into your manuscript pile digging out all those unfinished dystopian novels, shuffle them to one side and look for the happy, positive stuff instead. I have a feeling that's going to end up being what people will want to read, need to read.
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"Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren" by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Linzie Hunter (White Lion Publishing)

Another fabulous addition to this awesome little book series, this time celebrating a truly creative person who dreamed up amazing story worlds for us to play in.

"Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren" by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Linzie Hunter is the story of a little girl with a colossal imagination.

From a very early age, young Astrid Lindgren loved to dream up stories and characters, fairy tales and adventures.

Growing up on an old farm in Sweden, young Astrid was inspired by her surroundings and her happy childhood life - so much so that she never wanted to grow up.

After she was read her first story, Astrid fell completely in love with books and stories, and vowed that one day she would write her own. Once she began to read she would read until the wee small hours.

In this mini-biography, learn how Astrid turned her love of books and stories into her eventual career as one of the world's best-loved children's authors, dreaming up the most amazing stories and her best-known character, Pippi Longstocking.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A gorgeous celebratory book all about the life of one of the world's most famous and best-loved children's authors.

"Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren" by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Linzie Hunter is out now, published by White Lion Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 18 March 2020

"The Great Big Brain Book" by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Your brain is an amazing thing. No really, it is. Sometimes you might not think so, but the human brain is a complex and dynamic organic machine that is capable of some truly wonderful things.

Following on from their successful books about our bodies, our families and our world, "The Great Big Brain Book" by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith once again takes a colourful and diverse look at our amazing brains in a bumper book filled to the brim with brainiac facts about our grey matter.

Think of all the things it allows us to do - most of which we take for granted - and you'll find them in this book, everything from the day-to-day functions of our bodies that our brain largely controls automatically, to the more fanciful things that our brain is capable of.

Our dreams, our imaginations, our creativity and our cleverness are all down to that wrinkly grey thing we keep in our skulls!

Let's take a closer look inside this wonderful book!

Your amazing brain can do all these things and more (look out for that scene-stealing cat on every page!)
Poor cat! Might be a tiny brain but they still rule the internet
Different areas of the brain do different things, even from left to right!
Sum this book up in a sentence: Another brilliant, colourful, fact-filled and characterful book by Mary and Ros, cooking up a superb slice of non-fic all about our amazing brains!

"The Great Big Brain Book" by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith is out now, published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 17 March 2020

"Stars Before Bedtime: A Mindful Fall-Asleep Book" by Dr Jessamy Hibberd, Claire Grace and Hannah Tolson (Wide Eyed Editions)

In this busy world we live in, it's sometimes easy to underestimate just how much children are affected by the pace of life.

We've written about this many times on the blog, and described the huge pressure kids are under at an increasingly early age - and the need for their bedtime routines to be more restful and mindful, as the lure of gadgetry and technology, YouTube or TikTok videos and other distractions occupies them before they finally do hit the hay.

"Stars Before Bedtime: A Mindful Fall-Asleep Book" aims to assist parents and children with a more restful and relaxing bedtime, imagining the stars and constellations in the night sky as a means of slipping gently into a wonderful snoozy dream state.

Child psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd, along with Claire Grace, has devised a series of exercises to bring on a deeper and more satisfying sleep through mindfulness techniques.

With gentle, calming artwork from the wonderfully talented Hannah Tolson and simple, melodic text, children explore the sky’s constellations and the mythical stories behind them as they get their minds and bodies ready for bed.

Let's take a look inside the book: 

Time to settle down for the night with a good book
This book is perfect for younger children, particularly those who love space and the stars, and are just learning about constellations for the first time too. 

A bit of restful bedtime yoga? Why not!
Sum this book up in a sentence: A sonorous and restful book for little ones, hopefully lulling them into a nice gentle bedtime routine and a sound satisfying night's sleep. 

"Stars Before Bedtime: A Mindful Fall-Asleep Book" by Dr Jessamy Hibberd, Claire Grace and Hannah Tolson is out now, published by Wide Eyed Editions (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 16 March 2020

"Superkitty vs Mousezilla" by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Stand by for action as two unlikely allies team up for an awesome and pacy picture book story!

"Superkitty vs Mousezilla" might sound like a titanic kaiju movie but this little book is about something we could all do with learning about - how to work together to achieve awesomeness!

It's the day of the picnic party and the residents of Big City are busy making preparations, when disaster strikes!

Mr Fizz's pop shop has run dry, there's not a single bottle of Dandelion and Burdock on the shelves, but there's worse news, Mrs Appleton's bakery has also run out of gorgeous tasty comestibles! CAT-ASTROPHE!

But what's that in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No wait, it's a mask-wearing kitty and her band of amazing animal superheroes, ready to save the day, hooray!

They're hot on the trail of the culprit - but with a twist in the tale, the miscreant might not be an evil genius after all! 

Sum this book up in a sentence: Colourful, zappy and full of awesomeness, it's the sort of picture book that could keep a bunch of kids absolutely enchanted from first page to last. 

"Superkitty vs Mousezilla" by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles is out on 19th March 2020, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 

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Friday 13 March 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 13th March 2020: "DustRoad" by Tom Huddleston (Nosy Crow)

We're beginning to wonder whether anyone else will get a look-in in our Chapter Book of the Week slot, as once again Nosy Crow prove that they have a steely glint in their eye for publishing some of the most scintillating middle grade / YA fiction on the planet.

"DustRoad" by Tom Huddleston is one of those books that we cleared the decks for, in fact the same thing happened with "FloodWorld" (Book one in Tom's fantastic post-apocalyptic climate crisis series) - and once again we were wrapped up in the dying world of Kara and Joe.

This time the action eventually sees the duo back on dry land, but still very much in the thick of things as opposing forces - The Five and The Mariners - begin to duke it out over their own visions for the planet's future.

As the action switches to a sun-baked version of the US, like all good dystopic fiction you instantly feel like you're in a world that feels like it's depicting our own future, maybe less than a decade away (unless of course there's a near-miraculous turnaround in the way people think).

Kara and Joe's quest continues as they once again evade Cortez's nefarious Mariners, finding dubious comradeship with a band of outlaws who are determined to make the ruins of planet earth their own.

Kara and Joe, and the villainous Captain Cortez are the sort of characters that stick in the mind long after you've polished off the last chapter - and without any hint of spoilers, leave you almost gnawing the book in half to find out what's going to happen next (cliffhanger much?)

Do they have a future? Are the battle lines as clear cut as good vs evil? What Tom depics so well here is that these are characters that feel believable. In fact they feel like ordinary everyday folk facing up to the reality of a world being dragged through irrevocable change, and dang, if there's ever a reason we're addicted to dystopian stories, it's to wonder (and worry) about how we ourselves would cope in Kara and Joe's well-worn shoes.

But ah, the other character in the book - the amazing sun-blasted ruined world, described in meticulous, mesmerising and horrifying detail - is the real star. There's a hideous beauty to the way Tom describes some of the more memorable locations in the story (again if you read the influences article, you'll recognise some of these). Again this is like a siren song to both of us, fans of "Urbex" (a movement to photograph and capture the atmosphere of long-abandoned or ruined places, that feels like something Tom has nodded to in several parts of the book where previous bustling examples of civilisation are reduced to skeletal rotting ruins).

We both loved this. C because, to her, this sort of thing is all new - moving swiftly on from the usual middle grade fare into books that are far more dark and gritty than other things she's previously read. Books that feed into her own interest in climate change and the youth resistance movement that has risen up to challenge our horribly unsustainable consumer-led lifestyles.

For me, it feels like Tom Huddleston deserves to join the ranks of hallowed authors I loved as a kid and still love re-reading as an adult. Authors like John Christopher and John Wyndham, Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg and even modern dystopia masters like Ben H. Winters and Margaret Atwood.

I'm gushing, of course I am. This is a bloomin' fantastic book, tinged with a dark hearted view of a possible (some might say 'inevitable') future, but with moments that offer a tiny silver-hued glimmer of hope that humanity will somehow prevail.

Tom very kindly wrote about some of the influences for his books (click here for a rivetting read!) and after devouring this book in a couple of marathon sessions (it's that good), all those influences are clearly identifiable in this fast-paced story that keeps you reading way into the wee small hours.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Another truly amazing, rivetting and addictive slice of dystopian fiction from an author who is fast becoming the 'go-to' for darkly tinged and utterly essential middle grade sci fi.

"DustRoad" by Tom Huddleston is out now, published by Nosy Crow (Kindly supplied for review). 

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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 13th March 2020: "Obsessive About Octopuses" by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books / NoBrow Press)

We absolutely LOVE Owen Davey's range of natural history books as he takes an expert look at the animal kingdom, in a truly dazzling visual way.

This time it's the turn of our eight-legged ocean-dwelling pals in "Obsessive About Octopuses" - taking a closer look at an animal that is absolutely fascinating on many levels.

Most kids will know that octopuses have eight legs and live in the sea, but did you know that Octopuses are highly intelligent, and in some cases can even use tools to manipulate their environment?

Did you know that they have multiple hearts, just like Doctor Who?

Did you know that they can adapt their skin tones as camouflage to terrify would-be predators, or to hide out of sight amongst the rocks and sand?

Octopuses are truly amazing and Owen takes a closer look at the many species that exist around our planet, from the scary Giant Pacific Octopus to the clever and adaptive common octopus. These amazing creatures really do come in all shapes and sizes, and Owen depicts them fabulously here.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A truly fascinating book for animal fans, dishing up a ton of amazing facts on Octopuses big and small and showing that this amazingly adaptive creature is more than just a leggy sea-dweller.

"Obsessive about Octopuses" by Owen Davey is out now, published by Flying Eye Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 12 March 2020

"Modern children's books are ugly" apparently - are you !*Y@£*&@ kidding me? This week's #ReadItTorial

"Ugly?" - What planet are you on?
Ugh, snobs. I hate snobs and always have. I hate elitism but from time to time it creeps into things I like - and this week it crept into kidlit like an unwelcome fart in a broken-down elevator packed with people.

As ironic as it probably sounds from someone who has a mere peripheral involvement in children's literature through blogging about kids books with my daughter, I cannot stand articles from sites that profess to cover kidlit 'professionally', but serve no purpose other than to get everyone's backs up.

With sweepingly inaccurate statements from the outset, designed to serve as nothing more than anger-inducing clickbait (I don't know what makes me more angry, the fact I clicked on the damned site, or the fact I read through the whole article, right through to its contradictory non-event of a conclusion), there's really no place for stuff like that in kidlit - but it seems even our hallowed favourite place to hang out is not without its trolls.

Like many others who were equally outraged and took to Twitter to vent about the particular article in question, I won't bother linking to the site or the article (and in fact I'm never going to make the mistake of going there again for children's book news or opinions, pretty sure they won't miss me) but if you missed it and want to read some drivel (delivered by someone whose mouth was probably in this shape while typing it up), go google for "modern children's books are ugly".

Here's the thing though. Kidlit folk are, in general, absolutely lovely so when you find a jarringly critical article that tries to pass itself off as a deep thinkpiece on children's abilities to decode illustrations, it throws you a curveball, and you're left wondering what the original intention of the piece really was other than the aforementioned trolling / clicks for kicks aim.

Initially, two things rolled through my mind once I got to the bitter end...

1) Of course modern children's books aren't ugly. That's probably one of the most inaccurate statements about kidlit I've ever heard, and what the hell does 'ugly' mean anyway?

2) Making a huge sweeping judgement of particular art styles based on your own (seemingly extremely limited and narrow) taste, then assuming that your views should be shoved up everyone's nose is, quite frankly, breathtakingly conceited. Apparently the article took two years to see the light of day. What a shame it ever did.

One of the artists in the firing line was Ella Okstad whose work we've always enjoyed (particularly in the fantastic "Squishy McFluff" books - which are just huge amounts of fun). Hailing from Norway, Ella's work is full of energy, often full of colour, and really is quite beautiful (the header pic above is from Morag Hood's excellent "Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert" - a book the article piled into like an angry rhinoceros).

Others were mentioned, before the article started to contradict itself by describing several examples of what the author considered 'beautiful modern classics' - works by some of the industry's most celebrated authors who do indeed turn out beautiful books - but are probably horribly embarrassed to be name-checked in a piece of tosh like this (in fact one of them very quickly took to Twitter to make a solid point about the richness and diversity of art styles present in modern children's books - Well done Benji, you're the man, and you phrased a response with a far more level head than I can manage!)

The more I thought about it (read: ranted about it to anyone who would listen), the more problems I found with the article.

In fact in 10 years of writing this blog, seeing many, many amazing children's books and a huge diverse variety of different art styles, quite often I'm amazed at how children are not only one of the toughest audiences to write / illustrate for, they are quite capable of making up their own minds about particular art styles that some adults might turn their nose up (or make that stupid upturned trapezoid mouth shape about).

It's all about context. Sometimes a story works just as effectively with sparse, energetic, sometimes even monochrome or pure line art. Sometimes stories work beautifully with highly rendered art that has quite obviously been laboured over. The key message is that the many different styles (of illustration AND writing) that exist in kidlit are the very thing that have kept us writing about children's books in our spare time for ten years.

I remember this sort of knee-jerk stuff being commonplace when I was a lowly art student, on the sharp end of criticism during my two years of formal training. With every project came a critique session, and with every critique session, usually came a stream of very personal (and sometimes quite cruel) "reviews" of particular art styles or finished pieces that didn't fit with that critic's own preferred styles.

Such is the nature of any creative endeavour that you will encounter negative criticism as well as positive, but there's a huge difference between constructive criticism or outright nastiness, or a lazy-pass crit just trotted out to massage the person's own ego (and by gad, I bet the author of that article is enjoying all those angry clicks, grrrr!)

Children are very tough, truthful and yet also constructive critics - yet the "boss" of this blog (my daughter) has never once levelled the insult "ugly" at a children's book (in fact again, after ten years of this, I can't actually recall a single commercially published children's title that has passed through our hands that you'd class as ugly). Sometimes C objects to books and we don't review them because of this - but I can honestly state that it's very unusual for the issue she has with a book to have anything do to with the artwork or an illustrator's particular chosen style. Quite the opposite in fact, it's usually the author who gets both barrels - and even that is such a rare occurrence that I can count the number of books on the fingers of one hand (after ten years and many thousands of reviews).

The article's core insult isn't just levelled at the book illustrator, it's levelled at the designers, the layout artists and the hard working art teams who can sometimes take an illustrator's work and turn it into something magical, within the severe confines imposed by the current favoured picture book "standards". It's also levelled at those who work hard to ensure that their catalogue of books represents the rich diversity currently present in the industry. Where would we be if all books looked the same just to fit a narrow view of 'beauty'?

Probably in the same place the beauty industry is currently.

Commercial art is not a breeze to produce (as anyone with meagre art skills will tell you - turning out professional commercially viable art is ridiculously hard, ever wondered why you rarely see celebrity book ARTISTS rather than authors?) - so we have nothing but admiration for children's book illustrators who define their own style, and use it to lift a story from something mundane into something magical.

I could list many, many gorgeous books - even books published this year in just two short months - that are absolutely stunning works of art in their own right. Both Fiction and non-fiction, living testament to the talented folk who didn't listen to twerps like the article author, and continue to hone their craft with each and every piece of work they put out there.

One of those cases where my own curiosity at what several disgusted twitterites were talking about actually bit me on the bum. Really wish I'd never seen it, though a week on at least it seems to have disappeared into a black hole so, ahem, sorry to bring it all up again.
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