Thursday 30 April 2020

Reading and the lockdown, have we really changed our reading habits? This Week's #ReadItTorial

Ah reading, there's nothing quite like becoming entirely immersed in a book to take you away from the stresses and strains of the real world.

Though a lot of the news articles at the moment seem to be from folk who've discovered reading anew, we're book worms and haven't really noticed a massive upsurge in the amount of books we're reading compared to normal.

If anything, sadly, the Coronavirus has taken its toll on the number of books we're getting to review (but we have plans to deal with this, as you'll see in a few days' time - starting on the 4th May in fact).

So we are reading fewer "different / new" books but it's given us time to work our way through our back catalogue to some extent.

For C, this has meant working her way through her beloved "Dork Diaries" books, simply because she wants to indulge in a bit of 'comfort' reading, blasting through a series that she's familiar with is like bubblegum for the eyes, though by now she must know those books from cover to cover.

I've been working through a lot of comic series I've meant to catch up on for ages but am also pulling out books I've previously read (most of which are 'end of the world' novels, I guess I just have some morbid obsession with dystopian fiction at the moment).

I wonder if other folk who are working from home are scoffing at some of the suggestions that a lot of us suddenly have more time on our hands. Other than the time I've clawed back from not having to take part in the rat race / morning and evening commutes, I've got no more time than I had before - and often the pressure of working from home (currently as part of a team administering and supporting our place's major strategic lynch pin for other home workers) means I'm even more burned out in the evenings than I was before (I can only guess that without a boss looking over their shoulders, some work from home folk are slacking off!)

Books are magic, we all know this, so when I do finally settle down in the evening to read, I'm instantly taken out of the world and into the book world I'm immersing myself in.

The one thing about my current chosen taste in books is that I am finding a lot of dystopian fiction somewhat twee in comparison to the real-world experiences of the last few weeks.

I like the fact that each piece of fiction is rooted absolutely in the era that it was written in, where the imagined horrors of the end of the world are actually about the imagined horrors of that author's particular direct view of the world, its experiences and its benefitst, ending abruptly or changing to reflect 'the new norm' (I still hate that phrase).

I was discussing with my brother whether there would ever be a need for dystopian fiction ever again after this current crisis becomes a memory (a time some distance in the future, I really do believe that even when the lockdown is lifted, we won't ever quite return to what we once perceived as 'normal') -

Human nature dictates that for years to come, there'll be a lot of weirdness around simple acts we previously took for granted, like shopping in supermarkets, passing strangers in the street or even the simple act of someone sticking out their hand for a handshake upon meeting, or the way people react when someone coughs in a queue at the post office. One thing missing from a lot of dystopian fiction is the way that the 'social' aspect of social media is conveniently disposed of. Even in books that are set well within the timelines of the rise and rise of Facebook and Twitter, even MySpace for that matter, social media scarce gets a mention yet in the current lockdown and pandemic conditions, social media is the glue that is keeping many people sane and on an even keel, and of course is also keeping them in touch with friends, family and loved ones.

My brother, the wise well-read weirdo that he is, seemed to think that we really are on the brink of the death of dystopia - and that despite the many cash-in novels you can probably imagine that will emerge initially from this crisis, there will be a huge demand for bright, breezy, happy and positive stuff as that's the 'norm' that people will want to return to.

Dystopia well and truly fell out of favour a few years back, only to begin a slow and steady rise back into the spotlight before the current pandemic. I still believe that there may be a place for it, even despite all this.
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - April 2020

Welcome, welcome to this month's fabulous Chapter Book Roundup where we once again dip deep into our book bag to come up with a truly stunning range of middle grade and YA fiction to tempt you with.

We're kicking off with something magical, mysterious and darkly tinged in the fabulous "The Vanishing Trick" by Jenni Spangler, with art by Chris Mould.

Madame Augustina Pinchbeck is a medium, and travels the country conjuring up the long-dead spirits of dearly departed loved ones. Madame Pinchbeck may seem more like a trickster and an illusionist, but there are genuine dark magical powers at her disposal, and sometimes her abilities surprise even her.

Sometimes she preys on children, convincing them to part with precious objects, but instead binding them to her as her dark slaves, locked in magical and enchanted cabinets which she can use for her own nefarious means.

But Pinchbeck's comeuppance may be at hand, in the form of three children determined to break her dark magic spells before it's too late, and they're lost for good.

Breathtakingly original, chock full of atmosphere, and perfect for kids who like dark and spooky stuff, this is stunning and Jenni's writing just completely draws you in. Chris's illustrations are also as fab as ever.

"The Vanishing Trick" by Jenni Spangler and Chris Mould is out today, published by Simon and Schuster. 

Hotly anticipated stuff next, with a return to the fabulous book world of "Wolf Brother" and the seventh (!) book in this amazing series.

"Viper's Daughter" by Michelle Paver begins with Torak and Renn who live in the forest with their pack-brother Wolf.

But danger is afoot, as Renn realises that Torak is in danger, his life is threatened and she may unwittingly have been the cause.

When Renn mysteriously disappears, Torak and Wolf brave the Far North to find her.

At the mercy of the Sea Mother and haunted by ravenous ice bears, their quest leads them to the Edge of the World. There they must face an enemy more evil than any they've ever encountered before, calling on all their resilience and determination to beat a seemingly indestructible foe.

Wholly original, with a truly amazing prehistoric setting, but with a very human and identifiable story , it's gripping from start to finish, and can be read as a standalone story or as part of the fabulous Wolf Brother series.

"Viper's Daughter" by Michelle Paver is out now, published by Zephyr. 

Time for a brilliant update to a classic literary hero, in a story that's fast-paced, action packed, hugely cinematic and completely contemporary.

But wait, does the cover not say "Robin Hood" on it? Robert Muchamore's "Robin Hood: Hacking, Heists and Flaming Arrows" is a truly amazing spectacle, successfully bringing Robin of Locksley into a near-future world that still has a ring of familiarity about it if you love the original characters and don't mind a bit of tinkering.

Locksley was once a prosperous town based around the motor industry, but as the vast factories close, and demand completely drops, many find themselves on the breadline. The local 'law' - the Sherrif of Nottingham - is in cahoots with Guy Gisborne, the evil underworld crime boss.

When Robin's dad is framed for a robbery, he and his brother Little John are hounded out of Locksley and must learn to survive in Sherwood forest, stretching three hundred kilometres and sheltering the free spirits and outlaws who have also fled from the urban confines of nearby towns.

But Robin is determined to do more than survive. Small, fast and deadly with a bow, he hatches a plan to join forces with Marion Maid, harness his inimitable tech skills and strike a blow against Gisborne and the Sheriff, bringing their vice-like reign to an end.

Those familiar with Muchamore's writing will know what to expect. Gritty, dark and superfast-paced action that doesn't let up for a second, and a cast of characters that brings the band of merry men bang up to date in a truly interesting way.

"Robin Hood: Hacking, Heists and Flaming Arrows" by Robert Muchamore is out now, published by Hot Key Books. 

A change of gears now, and a book with a whopping great big beating heart, and an inspirational and life-affirming story.

"Fig Swims the World" by Lou Abercrombie is the tale of Fig Fitzherbert, a girl who excels at a great many things. She is brilliant at the piano, is a whizz at advanced mathematics but always feels under pressure from her mother, who pushes her daughter to the edge of her abilities and quite often beyond.

Each New Year's Day, Fig's mum sets her an impossible resolution, but one year Fig sets herself a challenge - a seemingly impossible one.

Fig is going to swim around the world.

But ah, there is a slight issue. Fig can't swim - at all, let alone around the world - so she sets out on her task with one aim - to show her Mum that she has her own drive and determination.

C really loved this, as a girl who knows her own mind and likes to prove her worth (she never needs to prove anything to us, we know she's amazing). It's just that kind of story though, one that will have you cheering Fig on with every success and defeat. Absolutely wonderful.

"Fig Swims the World" by Lou Abercrombie is out now, published by Stripes Publishing. 

Past, present and future collide in the next book to fall under our steely gaze. The stunning "Girl 38: Finding a Friend" by Ewa Jozefkowicz is based on a real-life story of enduring friendship set against the backdrop of World War 2 and also bang up to date in contemporary times too.

Kat loves working on her favourite obsession, her superhero comic - but sometimes she suffers from impostor syndrome. She's not mighty, brave or heroic and needs a little inspiration.

At school, Gem is no longer her 'best friend'. And at home Kat is lonely while her parents are busy working long hours.

She's even a bit afraid of her elderly neighbour, Ania. But when Ania has an accident Kat surprises herself by rushing to the rescue – just like Girl 38, her comic creation.

Ania becomes key to Kat's search for her own inner strength and their unlikely friendship blossoms. With it Kat's determination grows, as Ania reveals the haunting story behind the portrait of a girl she's left unfinished.

Inspired by Ania – her daring leap to freedom and her search for her lost friend, Mila, who was taken away by soldiers to a 'walled village' at the outbreak of WWII – Kat unravels the mystery of the girl in the painting.

Amazing, again a story with so many intricate moments of brilliance and originality, filled with breathtaking moments as Ania begins to detail her past life, and Kat deals with her own tween issues. Again C absolutely loved this one.

"Girl 38: Finding a Friend" by Ewa Josefkowicz is out now, published by Zephyr. 

Time for a grand adventure next, in a book that feels like an instant future classic, and perfect for kids who love stuff like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven.

"Orla and the Serpent's Curse" by C.J. Haslam takes Cornwall as a backdrop, a brilliant place to base an amazing and exciting adventure story.

Orla is on holiday with her family, but while exploring she finds. mysterious glowing necklace in the woods - and with it, an ancient curse.

Soon it becomes apparent that there's more to the strange village of Poldevel than meets the eye, as Orla meets a weird coven of old ladies who may know more about the mysterious artifact than they're letting on.

Along with Dave the Dog, Orla begins a grand adventure to unlock the secrets of the necklace, and of the magical landscape she finds herself in.

We love Cornwall and this story feels brilliantly interwoven with a place that we love spending summers in, and Orla's curiosity and encounters with magic are thrilling to read about.

"Orla and the Serpent's Curse" by C.J. Haslam is out now, published by Walker Books. 

Next, a scintillating follow-up to one of our favourite books of last year, following the fortunes of young Willow Moss.

"Starfell: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale" catches up with Willow after her last adventure, saving the world and finding her own inner confidence in her witchy powers growing.

Poor Willow finds that no one actually remembers her amazing feat, and what's worse - her newly-found powers seem to be on the wane.

Sometimes has discovered how to see ten minutes into the future. Unfortunately that’s only enough time to find out that his kidnappers are on their way! His only hope is to write an urgent letter to Willow, asking if she wouldn’t mind trying to find him.

As Willow and her friends piece together what has happened to Sometimes, their adventure takes them from an enchanted tower to the magical forest of Wisperia and into dangerous new realms… Can Willow save Sometimes when her own powers are out of control?

Brilliant fantasy adventuring for middle graders, who are spoilt for choice for amazing stories at the moment, and this is a corker.

"Starfell: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale" by Dominique Valente is out now, published by HarperCollins Children's Books.

Finally another follow-up to a book that also rocked our world when the series first appeared. We loved "Tilly and the Bookwanderers" and now it's time for "Pages and Co Book 2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales" by Anna James.

Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there.

 But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc!

On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning.

Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

As we've said before, this is an intoxicating core idea that is deftly and beautifully written, with tons of charm and so many moments that book lovers will crack a wry smile about as Anna delves into the realm of fairy tales and the rich story threads for Tilly to pluck on there.

"Pages & Co: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales" by Anna James is out now, published by HarperCollins Children's Books. 

(all books kindly supplied for review).

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Wednesday 29 April 2020

"Mabel: A Mermaid Fable" by Rowboat Watkins (Chronicle Kids)

Mabel is a mermaid, but quite unlike any other mermaid you'll ever meet.

Rowboat Watkins (possibly the BEST children's author name ever) has come up with an inspirational tale that will chime a chord with anyone who has never quite been sure that they fit in.

Mabel spends many a lonely day wondering why she can't be more like the other mermaids, until she meets Lucky the Octopus.

Lucky has a similar problem - in fact Mabel and Lucky are destined to become firm friends, both sharing that nagging feeling that they like who they are, but are expected to fit in. So will they ever discover the magic formula of balancing both?

The message here is lovely and positive, that we should all be a lot happier in our own skin and appearances are just surface, and can be deceptive.

Let's take a look inside at the lovely illustrations in "Mabel"

Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely positive message about being happy with who we are, and making a friendship that will last the test of time.

"Mabel: A Mermaid Fable" by Rowboat Watkins is out now, published by Chronicle Kids (kindly supplied for review).
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Tuesday 28 April 2020

"Take Me Outdoors" by Mary Richards (Agnes and Aubrey Publishing)

As difficult as it might sound to review an outdoorsy book under the current circumstances we all find ourselves, we know that this situation won't last forever, and if there's one thing us stir-crazy housebound folk will all need once the current lockdown rules are relaxed, it's a whopping great big dose of the great outdoors.

As a family we're normally outdoorsy types, and in the glorious weather we've (sadly) been having lately, we would normally be out somewhere in the middle of the countryside indulging in the sort of adventures Mary Richard richly describes in the latest in her "Take Me To" series, "Take Me Outdoors.

Each of the five adventure chapters gives you something to aspire to once we're all allowed out again, and each is designed to help kids get excited about getting back to nature and out into the countryside or even a local park or green area if you're a city dweller. There are always adventures to be had and the journal-like approach of this book encourages a high level of interaction as kids (and their adults) explore and record their own adventures right in the book itself.

Mary's gentle fun text is brilliant for getting kids to look at their world in a different way, rather than taking even the small and seemingly insignificant things for granted.

With tons of amazing facts about nature, flora and fauna alike, this is a total win for us and we love reading it - imagining the day (hopefully very very soon) when we'll be able to use the book out there in the wild and see its full potential.

Sum this book up in a sentence: Another fab addition to the "Take Me To" series, encouraging us all to imagine the great outdoors and all the wonders it will hold for us once we get to roam free once again.

"Take Me Outdoors" by Mary Richards is out on 30th April 2020, published by Agnes and Aubrey (kindly supplied for review). 

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Monday 27 April 2020

A Fabulous round of "This or That" questions with Nicki Thornton, author of The Seth Seppi mysteries including the latest awesome title "The Cut-Throat Cafe" - Out now from Chicken House Books.

We're joining a fabulous blog tour to celebrate a local author now, awesome Nicki Thornton whose brilliant Seth Seppi Mysteries are available from Chicken House Books, including C's favourite to date - the superb Book Of The Week-winning "The Cut-Throat Cafe".

We've cooked up a series of 10 "This or That" questions to tax Nicki's amazing brain, so here without further ado are our questions and Nicki's answers. Take it away Nicki!

Cats or Dogs?

Oh start with a tough one why not! There is a widely held belief that you do have to be more one or the other, but I would like to say I have met many dogs I have loved; many smart pooches, many soppy-but-lovely ones. And some real monsters I would cross the street to avoid. And it is the same with cats. I should like to make a plea that I be allowed to make a judgment on each individual.

Magicians or Sorcerors?

As you probably know from the fact that I make up words in my books, I am quite interested in words and their origins. There are many different ways of referring to magical folk. Did you know ‘wizard’ probably relates to being wise (as in the middle ages, philosophy and the ability to see into the future and magic, were pretty blurred).
The words magician and sorcerer are pretty interchangeable, but I generally use ‘sorcerer’ as just about the only difference I can ever find is that ‘magician’ can refer to someone using sleight of hand or tricks. (That’s more information that you really wanted, isn’t it?)

Cakes or Biscuits?

If you were to ask my family this question they would instantly tell you that I am ‘very strange’ because I really don’t have a sweet tooth so I don’t go mad for either. Worse, when I make my own I cut down the sugar. Any pudding that doesn’t taste particularly sweet in our house gets referred to as a ‘mum pudding’ and the rest of my family avoid these. Most shop-bought biscuits I can taste little except sugar (nasty). So I would go for the cake, but would quite probably remove that nasty layer of icing. Yep – strange, I have been told!

Would you rather run a cosy cafe or a busy bookshop?

This is a very easy one for me. My preference for books over cake is very high. I can spend all day talking about books, even ones I don’t personally like. Whereas I tend to look at anyone with a piece of cake and just think ‘why are you eating that?’ It is no surprise that I was actually a bookseller for many years. I have never had a great deal of success selling cake.

Seaside or Countryside for a holiday?

Too too tough. I am lucky enough to live somewhere we can get out into the countryside quite easily, so for holidays we tend to head for somewhere with big waves.

Enid Blyton or J.K. Rowling?

I spent many hours as a child enjoying the company of Enid Blyton. She was kind of a one-woman industry for years. I hadn’t re-read any since my childhood I was pleased that when I read my favourite series of hers (the five find-outers) to my children, they did love them too. Funny, with great, yet simple puzzles.
Before Harry Potter were there even any specialist children’s publishers? Or specialist agents exclusively for children’s books? Did any children’s books ever get reviewed? JK Rowling kind of single-handedly revolutionised an entire industry, and one where I now earn my living. I am a huge fan of JK Rowling.
I also totally love Harry Potter and a self-confessed nerd, so don’t get me started on just how much I love those books. (Ask me a HP question, go on, anything . . .) 

Brown Sauce or Tomato Ketchup on a Bacon Butty, Hotdog or Burger?

Easy one – you can keep all of it. I am vegetarian and although I would eat a veggie burger I would not put brown or red sauce on it (‘why are you eating that?’

Chocolate or Cheese?

I have nothing particularly against chocolate. It’s just that I love cheese. Cheese is my idea of pudding heaven. Chocolate is ok as long as it is not sweet. The plainer the better. Sorry cream eggs, you are the worst offenders in the ‘Why are you eating that?’ of the chocolate world

Winter, Spring, Summer or Autumn?

Tricky, tricky. One of the things I most love about the UK is the seasons. I like the UK weather, I really do. I love watching how things change and nature comes around. I like rain. The only thing I get fed up with is when anything goes on too long withoutchanging, so even I will grumble if it is still cold and rainy by May, but apart from that, you can’t really have any of them without the others, so I am going to choose them all. Greedy, I know!

Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee. 

You have caught me out on this one! You have picked two books I have somehow passed on. I have not even watched the Nanny McPhee film. So a poor show from me on your final question. Apologies (Nanny McPhee, based on Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books, right?) I have seen the Julie Andrews Mary Poppins film, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t entirely faithful to the book so possibly not fair to judge on that. Must now go and read Mary Poppins, I have heard it’s very good and that there are even several books.

Our huge thanks to Nicki for answering such tricky questions with aplomb! Check out Nicki's fabulous books including "The Cut-Throat Cafe", all available now from Chicken House Books and do check out the rest of the awesome stops on this blog tour - see below!

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Friday 24 April 2020

ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th April 2020: "The Undefeated" by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson (Andersen Children's Books)

This week's picture book of the week is a powerful and stirring piece of narrative non-fiction from an author and playwright who uses his immense talent to talk to a younger audience than usual.

The result is the stunning "The Undefeated" by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson.

It's a stirring piece of work, discussing the amazing figures in black history, with a spotlight on African-American history in particular.

But the book does more than just list those noted figures, this book is designed to show that ordinary everyday people's lives matter just as much as the artists, athletes and activists described in this book, and the injustices against them deserve to be discussed with youngsters, not hidden from them.

Powerfully poetic, mighty and memorable, this is the sort of book we can't champion enough - a vitally important piece of work for people of colour the world over, and for their kids who want to see more of their own history than current early years books can manage. 

Sum this book up in a sentence: A hugely important piece of work, providing an accessible inroad into black history for younger children who want to know more about their own ancestors, and their struggles to right the injustices served against them over generations. 

"The Undefeated" by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson is out now, published by Andersen Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th April 2020: "Goddesses and Heroines: Women of Myth and Legend" by Xanthe Gresham-Knight and Alice Pattullo (Thames and Hudson)

Regular readers of our blog will know we love mighty girls in our books, but how about a whole host of amazingly mighty women.

Our picture book of the week this week is the superb "Goddesses and Heroines: Women of Myth and Legend" by Xanthe Gresham-Knight and Alice Pattullo.

Xanthe and Alice have come up with a brilliant and diverse selection of mythical and not-so-mythical women in a truly brilliant book packed with classic characters we all know and love, plus quite a few more obscure ones waiting to be discovered and admired - even if some of them are probably not quite the role models you'd want your kids to emulate (Baba Yaga anyone?)

This book may sound like an instant classic, but it's actually the voice used to describe the characters that appeals the most. Talking to kids (particularly my daughter) in a cool and contemporary way about these characters is an instant way to win over your audience, and also a really fantastic way to describe legendary characters they may have encountered before in a new and exciting way.

From Aphrodite the mighty creator of the world, to Mulan the original cross-dressing mighty warrior herself, this globe-spanning collection of mythical mighty matriarchy is absolutely perfect - and a brilliant way to engage kids with finding out even more about these characters from other sources too!

Sum this book up in a sentence: An enviable cast of amazing mythical and legendary female characters that kids will love learning about, summed up in a mighty tome of awesomeness. Unmissable!

"Goddesses and Heroines: Women of Myth and Legend" by Xanthe Gresham-Knight and Alice Pattullo is out now, published by Thames and Hudson (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 23 April 2020

"This is the really real world, there ain't no goin' back!" - This Week's #ReadItTorial

It's been tough to devote time to #ReadItTorials recently, mostly because I've been working from home and sitting in front of a computer screen to type stuff in my spare time feels like an extension of the working day even more than it did before.

So this week my mind has been occupied with the 'happy ever after' - to quote a  book cliche - the world returning to normal.

Only I don't think I know what 'normal' is any more.

I won't pretend every aspect of the lockdown has been fun. Missing friends and family is the obvious toughest part of all this, and it's been particularly tough on C's grandparents who now don't get to see her because of the risks (and the sensible measures to ensure folk stay at home).

But we're weirdly adaptive, we humans. It's amazing how it's taken a few weeks to get used to working from home (something I had done before a fair bit but on odd days here and there, not for weeks at a time) and it's also amazing how adaptive kids are to their new way of life and their new way of schooling. I've watched C doing what millions of other kids around the globe are probably doing too - engaging with virtual learning, making use of the internet for the purpose it was originally intended for - to help us learn, to be more productive, and to do this wherever we might find ourselves.

I've been around way too long in IT - so I remember the first time I saw Mosaic (the ancient original browser that most of us old goats first encountered the Internet on) and I remember back then falling hopelessly in love with the idea of creating web pages (ugh, some of them probably still exist out there too from that era via the WayBack machine - embarrassing soul-bearing that's worse than finding one of your old teenage diaries).

Of course now the Internet has massively changed and I doubt anyone back in the early 90s would have imagined the things we'd do with it now. I mean CATS sure, but the things that have made the lockdown bearable, the many ways it's become something that constantly shifts the balance of our love / hate relationship with the world online.

But this week I can't stop thinking about what I'm going to feel like when my employer calls us all to return to work. It'll be weird and there will be good and bad things about it. Seeing colleagues again, seeing who got older, fatter, balder (that's just me) but also hearing people's stories first hand rather than via a Teams or Zoom meeting, or a couple of lines in an email.

But for me I'll be returning with a heavy heart. The current situation has made me realise just how much of our lives we devote to the worst parts of being humans in someone else's employ. The commute, the sheer stress of it (for us it begins with the school run, then a car or bus journey to work in shitty traffic). Then there's the business of sitting in an office (with an increasingly shorter break for lunch each year) for 7 and a half hours each working weekday, staring at a screen and (for me at least) doing a job I am actually more productive, more inspired and motivated to do while sitting in the comfort of my own home connected to all the systems I would at work.

I've spoken to colleagues who agree and disagree with me, and it's funny that most of the ones who agree are folk with kids - who have become closer to their kids, and heck, their spouses / partners too (though I'm sure there are an equal number who are at the point where their other halves are secretly plotting their demise, or at least daydreaming about it!)

What the heck has this got to do with books? Nothing really, suffice to say that the stories - and god help us - the kids books that are going to come out of this are going to flood the market, I bet. Suddenly a million dystopian novels or dark kids books are going to feel slightly whimsical in the face of 2020 - the year we were served a lesson in who the top dog on the planet is, and sadly it ain't us humans any more. It's a fellow virus, and I sincerely hope that we walking talking two-legged viruses learn something from that weird little purple spiky git.

I don't wanna go back to normal. There are things I do want to go back to but damn, I really hope the way we work changes for the better. Surely it has to.
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"Peanut Goes for the Gold" by Jonathan Van Ness and Gillian Reid (Harper360)

Confession: I had no idea who Jonathan Van Ness was, but when we first got his new picture book "Peanut Goes for the Gold" (with illustrations by Gillian Reid) I wondered whether this might usher in a new era of children's authors having their faces on the covers, and on a gigantic back cover spread.

Raising the profile of authors is no bad thing but I should've known - this is a celebrity-penned book by a guy who is famous for being a hairdresser (which might explain his luxurious locks and rather well groomed beard) and something on TV called "Queer Eye" (which we had actually heard of but never watched).

So push all that to one side, is the book any good?

Peanut  is a gender nonbinary guinea pig with a strong personality, an eye for style and a ton of charisma. Peanut likes to do things in a unique way, whether it's turning cartwheels on the basketball court or coming up with fantastic new hairstyles to wow the crowds.

But this fuzzy creature has a new aspiration, to be a daredevil rhythmic gymnast, working hard to come up with a real showstopper routine.

Exuding a hugely positive message, peanut is a fun and entertaining character to show kids that it's OK to be exactly who they want to be, and to believe in their own abilities and worth. We do love a whopping great big dose of positivity, needed more this year than ever before, so hooray for Jonathan, Gilliant and of course Peanut!

Sum this book up in a sentence: Inspirational stuff, urging kids to believe in themselves, and to cut their own dash in the world no matter what anyone else might say.

"Peanut Goes for the Gold" by Jonathan Van Ness and Gillian Reid is out now, published by Harper360 (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 22 April 2020

"The (Not) Bad Animals" by Sophie Corrigan (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Here's a novel take on natural history, and a close look at the animal kingdom and a bunch of creatures who may have (unfairly) been tarred with the 'bad guy' brush.

"The (Not) Bad Animals" by Sophie Corrigan is a fabulously presented book that aims to give those poor critters a bit of a PR boost.

Inside you'll find detailed descriptions and brilliant factoids about animals you may have heard (bad things) about, and a whole stack of others that you may never have heard of before.

For example Sharks - They don't quite deserve their killer rep. More people die from using faulty toasters every year than are killed by sharks.

Dung Beetles. We would probably be neck deep in the stuff if it wasn't for the fact that these awesome little critters recycle, reuse and repurpose large quantities of animal poo (and they also eat it too - though we obviously wouldn't recommend you do that at home).

With fun illustrations and loads of interesting nuggets of information, it's worth a closer look inside so let's dive in!

Spiders! Scary? Nah, they're cute once you get to know them. 
Black cats. Unlicky if they cross your path or lucky? We can never remember!
Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant and innovative way to increase your knowledge of the animal kingdom!

"The (Not) Bad Animals" by Sophie Corrigan is out now, published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 21 April 2020

"Story Out of the Box: 80 Cards for Hours of Storytelling Fun" by Nicky Hoberman, Deeny Leander and Hiromi Suzuki (Laurence King Publishing)

If you're still stuck at home with the kids getting under your feet, having a neat activity or two will help stimulate their creative minds.

If your kids (like mine) love a bit of creativity and storytelling, then "Story Out of the Box" by Nicky Hoberman, Deeny Leander and Hiromi Suzuki is just the ticket.

Like the fabulous "Art Out of the Box" (which we reviewed last September) this small but powerful source of amazing inspiration comes in the form of a card game.

Ready your imagination, let's take a look at some of the cards inside...!

Split into subject and technique cards, these writing prompts aren't just great for kids, but for all creative writers who want to stretch beyond their comfort zones. It's an absolutely brilliant and fun game to play along with the family, even if you might find some of the prompts a bit whacky and 'out there' - it's a fun challenge to see what you can do with them.

We had a lot of fun with this, in fact we figured that if you combined both sets, you could come up with the PERFECT way to devise new awesome storytelling ideas, combining the visuals of "art out of the box" with the wordplay of "Story Out of the Box" to really push your creativity to the max!

Sum this up in a sentence: So much storytelling potential packed into such a small package! Isn't that always the way with great things?

"Story Out of the Box" is released on 4th May 2020 from Laurence King Publishing (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 20 April 2020

Out Today - "Build Your Own Mars Colony" illustrated by Jana Glatt (Laurence King Publishing)

We spend a lot of our time daydreaming about space. What would it be like to blast off into the inky blackness? What would it be like to travel in a spaceship?

Indeed, what would it be like to live on another planet?

Now you can find out in this perfect activity for lockdown, "Build Your Own Mars Colony" illustrated by Jana Glatt.

In this small but well packed box you'll find an entire mission ready to be built with lots of sturdy cardboard, perfectly laser-cut and brilliantly illustrated, so kids can dive straight in and get making! Simple plans are included, and soon you'll be building your own mars mission with everything you need to survive on the red planet.

Don't leave bunny at home, she has her own spacesuit!
We had a lot of fun with this set, and there's tons of play value here with lots of different characters, science experiments and of course habitat domes so you can shelter from the huge storms that sweep the planet.

A red rocket and a communications rig, ready to phone home. 
All the pieces pop out from their cardboard backing really easily, and the card is sturdy and not too bendy, which means this set will last for ages.

Lots of vehicles to choose from, for roving the red planet far and wide
This is a perfect present for space-obsessed kids (like us!) and a brilliant way to introduce younger children to the concepts of space exploration, encouraging them to use their imaginations to think about what it would be like to conquer mars.

Sum this set up in a sentence: Lots of colourful sturdy play pieces, fun characters and lots of amazing spacey things to begin setting up your own play mars colony, fabulous stuff!

"Build your own Mars Colony" by Jana Glatt is out today, published by Laurence King (kindly supplied for review). 
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"Autism and Me" by Haia Ironside and Ellie O'Shea (Studio Press)

This book is for autistic people, and it's rare to see a book that can make such a bold claim and deliver on its promise to introduce a series of interesting activities and helpful tips, designed by an autism expert.

"Autism and Me" by Haia Ironside and Ellie O'Shea brilliantly presents its content in a way that's engaging and stimulating for autistic children to dig straight into, and be proud to put their own stamp on.

The activities in this book explore what it means to be autistic, with each exercise designed to be relaxing and fun to do, with many that can be adopted and practiced outside of the book too.

The book also contains helpful advice and guidance for parents and carers, who will find the book a valuable resource to share alongside autistic kids and perhaps even work on some of the exercises together. 

Author Haia Ironside recently completed her master's degree in Autism, now teaching and working with autistic children and their families and caregivers. 

Let's take a look at some of the page spreads inside...

What happens when things go wrong?
All the things you can do in the book are described in the opening pages

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastic activity book filled with brilliant things to do for autistic kids, and fantastic mindful guidance for parents and carers. 

"Autism and Me" by Haia Ironside and Ellie O'Shea is out now, published by Studio Press (kindly supplied for review)
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Friday 17 April 2020

ReadItdaddy's YA / Adult Comic of the Week - Week Ending 17th April 2020 - "Initial D" by Shuichi Shigeno (Kodansha Comics / Comixology Originals)

Being a comic fan can be like playing Russian Roulette at times. Sometimes you know a series is going to appeal to you and you see it go on sale for a ridiculously cheap price, but you play cautious, you hang back and just pick up a few volumes to see if you'll like it.

I got bitten that way by this week's fantastic YA / Adult Comic of the Week, a comic series which I'd enjoyed previously without having a clue what the text said. Y'see the last time I encountered "Initial D" by the mighty Shuichi Shigeno, I'd picked up some paperback issues that were not translated into English.

Recently though, Kodansha and ComiXology (The "Tom Nook" of digital comics - you'll see why I call them that later on) had brought all 48 (!) volumes of this mammoth epic to their digital platform. I picked up the first, liked it enough to pick up 5 more, then picked up 5 more for the crazy price of 99p. Had I flipping known that the sale wouldn't last forever, and now all subsequent volumes after the 10 I own are now £10.99 each, I'd have splurged on the flipping lot. Lesson learned, but anyway, what the heck is the actual comic about?

Since I was knee high to a grasshopper I've loved cars. I would buy matchbox and corgi cars with my pocket money, I'd buy hot wheels track to send my tiny die-cast creations down, and I'd obsess about cars, posting pics of them on my walls, and cooing appreciatively if a dream machine went by. I have to admint that the AE 86 Toyota Trueno was definitely not one of my "poster cars" but I've always loved the Japanese drift scene as much as I've always loved really good Japanese Manga. So Initial D is a dream of a series.

The '86 Toyota Trueno. Tofu delivery by day, peerless racing machine by night
Initial D is the story of Takumi ("Tak") Fujiwara, a teenager who has spent the last 5 years honing his driving skills. Not by racing, but by delivering Tofu up and down Mount Akina. Though "Tak" doesn't confess to being a drift racer, he knows the mountain run inside and out, and driving his dad's '86, can instinctively speed around corners that other racers fear to tackle.

His natural humility and slightly dozy daydreamy character are instantly appealing and if you recall your heady teenage years, you'll identify with Tak's outlook on life, never taking anything seriously, particularly not cars and girls.

Tak juggles school and working for his old man's Tofu business with a part time job at a local garage. His male friends who work there are all complete petrolheads and idly spend their time filling up customer cars with gas, cleaning windshields and idolising the racers and rides that cruise up and down the treacherous mountain roads of Akina Prefecture.

Tak's best friend Itsuke ("Iggy")Takeuchi teams up with Tak, both boys dreaming of a day when they'll be able to afford their own cars (in fact Iggy pips Tak to the post, picking up a clapped out old Toyota '85, a far inferior model to Tak's dad's ride.

Shigeno's phenomenal pen work is gorgeous. 
In fact Tak's father Bunta, once a feared racer in his own right, is the gentle guiding hand behind Tak's rise to stardom, and the man responsible for the 86's ridiculously tight handling and phenomenal turn of speed. He secretly tunes the car, making it a force to be reckoned with even amonst more powerful machines and more skilled drivers. Tak's relationship with his father is complicated, and despite the old man's aloof appearance, he's secretly priming Tak to become an amazing race driver, possibly even better than his old dad.

As Tak's story unfolds, he becomes romantically involved with a senior at his school, Natsuki ("Natalie") Mogi - a girl who seemingly dotes on Tak but as later volumes reveal, has a rather icky dark secret all of her own.

When these comics first came out back in 1997, I remember their impact and I also remember how all this stuff predated "The Fast and the Furious" movies by a good few years (in fact the two don't really compare at all, you don't see anyone using superhuman car powers to do ridiculous things in this comic - aside from Tak's almost superhuman ability to make a clapped out old Toyota thrash the heck out of virtually everything that goes up against it).

Shigeno-san has a knack for constructing each volume in such a way that you're left hanging onto the edge of your seat, only to hit the safety barrier of a SEVERE cliffhanger at the end of each volume, making you crave the next. I am royally kicking myself that I didn't pick up all 48 volumes (put it this way, I don't think I'd be able to justify spending £417.62 just to complete the set at their new price!)

Fantastic storytelling, brilliantly atmospheric and evocative art, and a real must for any petrolheads - particularly Japanophiles who love super-powerful Japanese motors - out there. If you can stand the sweet, sweet sting of becoming horribly addicted to a new comic series, the first volume is still 99p on ComiXology.

Sum this comic up in a sentence: There's never been a more brilliant series depicting the Japanese Street Racing Scene in comic form and I doubt there ever will be.

"Initial D" by Shuichi Shigeno is out now, published by Kodansha / ComixOlogy (Self purchased, not provided for review). 

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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th April 2020: "Gnome" by Fred Blunt (Andersen Children's Books)

Oh dear, look at this fellow, I mean just from looking at the cover of our Picture Book of the Week this week, the truly brilliant "Gnome" by Fred Blunt, you can guess the sort of demeanour the central character in this hilarious children's story has.

He's grumpy. He excels at being grumpy, and all he wants to do all day is be in a constant grump about pretty much everything.

So when a witch politely asks this grumpy bearded grumbler to stop fishing in her pond, you can guess what his response is.

A firm "NO!"

In fact parents at this point will probably cock a wry eyebrow, particularly if their kids are like our daughter at the moment, and automatically say "No" as their default answer to everything.

Fred brilliantly captures the comeuppance of this curmudgeonly fellah with a truly satisfying (and quite brilliantly 'dark') pay-off at the end, in a story that is filled with gigglish humour from start to finish.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A brilliant cautionary tale for would-be sourpusses, that grumpy ways and saying "NO!" can backfire on you quite spectacularly!

"Gnome" by Fred Blunt is out now, published by Andersen Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Thursday 16 April 2020

"Ori's Stars" by Krystyna Litten (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Out in the deepest darkest depths of space, a lone individual discovers the wonder and marvel of friendship in a gentle piece of storytelling that's perfect as a wind-down story before bedtime.

"Ori's Stars" by Krystyna Litten begins with Ori creating a single star.

Soon she realises she can create more, and begins to build amazing starscapes and shapes in the inky blackness.

As they begin to light up the sky around her, figures far and wide begin to flock to the stars and soon Ori realises that she isn't alone after all. She has found a whole family of friends!

Beautifully illustrated with engaging characters, and even some rather awesome nods to learning more about the night sky, "Ori's Stars" by Krystyna Litten is out on 16th April 2020, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Wednesday 15 April 2020

"I Can't Draw" by Lydia Crook (Ivy Press)

There's never been a better time to take up a new hobby, or get better at one that you've brushed with in the past.

Lydia Crook is our new champion and in "I Can't Draw" she aims to show you the unrivalled pleasure of what it feels like when you begin to learn a new skill.

With a set of simple exercises, and a gentle encouragement to draw directly in the book yourself, these 60 easy-to-tackle lessons are absolutely perfect if you're suffering from cabin fever and don't quite know what to do with your little ones during the long easter hols (and potentially even longer home-schooling new life we're all adopting to).

For both my daughter and I, daily drawing is something that already happens but it's been fun working through this book too, to take on challenges outside our comfort zone and explore new ways of using art materials and making marks.

Let's take a wee peek inside, shall we then?

Drawing with dots, more dotty fun than you can imagine!

Time to unleash your imagination and skill up!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A life saver for bored kids, or even parents who want to try brushing up their drawing skills in a fab little set of 60 exercises that are tons of fun to do.

"I Can't Draw" by Lydia Crook is out now, published by Ivy Press (kindly supplied for review). 
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Tuesday 14 April 2020

"I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast" by Michael Holland FLS and Philip Giordano (Flying Eye Books)

Spring is most definitely in the air, and as the fantastic sunshine fills us with hope (and hopefully tops up our much maligned levels of Vitamin D) imagine a world filled with the colourful beauty of flowers and plants.

"I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast" by Michael Holland FLS and Philip Giordano is a glorious and colourful celebration of our amazing and wonderful plant life.

From the tiniest green shoots to the tallest sunflowers, this book is perfect for tinies who are already loving exercising their green fingers and thumbs by growing awesome plants.

Michael and Philip also cover the less well known members of the animal kingdom. Did you know there are plants that eat insects?

Did you also know that there's a fantastic giant nut called the Coco De Mer that looks an awful lot like a gorilla's bum?

In this light hearted exploration of the plant kingdom, we're left daydreaming of a time where we can emerge from our isolation, back out into the beautiful world to soak up the sights and smells waiting for us as the world begins to be filled with blooming gorgeous colour all over again.

Sum this book up in a sentence: An absolutely beautiful book filled with plant life from across the world, just the ticket and a very much needed book-shaped tonic at the moment.

"I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast" by Michael Holland and Philip Giordano is out now, published by Flying Eye Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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Monday 13 April 2020

"Number 7 Evergreen Street" by Julia Patton (Templar Publishing)

Still in social isolation? You need a book that's all about sharing a living space with cool folk, but also talks up our need for fresh clean air and green spaces in the fabulous "Number 7 Evergreen Street" by Julia Patton.

Young Penelope - known as Pea - lives in a flat at Number 7 Evergreen Street.

It's a grey building in a grey street, in a grey city. Inside the building, however, it's not grey at all. Pea and her parents have lots of amazing, colourful neighbours and they love nothing better than chatting to each other to solve their problems, or come up with fresh and exciting new ideas.

But there's a dark shadow on the horizon. Evergreen street is slowly being sold off to developers, and the haughty Mayor of the town wants the whole place completely levelled to put up stark grey housing - yes, even Number 7!

It simply will not do, so the residents come up with a plan. They put up a wall and wait for the inevitable. But when the wall comes down there may be quite a surprise in store for the mayor, the developers and the new residents in Evergreen Street as it finally lives up to its name.

A really lovely little book this, full of inventive storytelling and nice little details so let's have a look inside!

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fab book about living together, communities and preserving and celebrating our green spaces with awesome storytelling and gorgeous illustrations from Julia. 

"Number 7 Evergreen Street" by Julia Patton is out now, published by Templar (kindly supplied for review). 
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Friday 10 April 2020

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th April 2020: "Troofriend" by Kirsty Applebaum (Nosy Crow)

Oh wow, this week's Chapter Book of the Week is the sort of book that saw both of us fighting over the copy we recieved for review - so it was fortunate that Nosy Crow sent us two proofs - and we both dived in separately for our review.

For C, "TrooFriend" by Kirsty Applebaum was exactly the sort of book she loves best, a story that is set in a strange future that shows a book world that's still recognisable, relatable and identifiable as being an extension of the world we live in today - but with subtle twists, turns and nuances to mark it out as futuristic.

"Troofriend" is actually a new range of android friends designed to be your new robotic bestie. Tailored to each individual 'owner', we're soon introduced to one particular TrooFriend 560 - named "Ivy" thanks to her demarcation (IV in roman numerals) - and her new 'owner' Sarah, a little girl who has longed for a sister - and now has one at long last.

The TrooFriend 560 is designed to be the perfect companion. They never lie, never cheat, never steal, and can never hurt humans. Almost perfect, as it soon emerges that IV doesn't quite live up to that expectation, and comes with her own tics and quirks, something that the Troofriend Company claims could never happen.

But is IV alive? And what happens when people begin to treat "Troofriends" like any other piece of disposable technology, when it's clear that they're far more than that. Sarah makes a huge decision - to run away with IV, far away from anyone who would dare to try and take IV away from her.

We both loved this book - and though I could recognise a lot of influences from other stories where synth-human / android / AI elements are prevalent, it's a very human story at its heart and I admired the fact that Kirsty gave this story such a huge amount of appeal to boys and girls the same age as my daughter.

C said "As I read, I could understand what made Sarah want to run away with IV. As an only child I would love my own "Troofriend" as I understand how lonely Sarah must have been, and how she loved IV even despite her being 'imperfect' to everyone else."

C read through this twice, and in fact as I type this review she's diving back in for a third read. Like me she tends to blast through books on her first reading, but then will go back in for more readthroughs if a book really gets its hooks into her. "Troofriend" clearly worked its magic on her and very much deserves Book of the Week status.

Sum this book up in a sentence: A fantastic slice of dark-mirror-esque near-future sci fi in a world where synthetic companions are the new mobile phone, with a strong ethical thread burning through a totally gripping and sometimes quite dark storyline.

"TrooFriend" by Kirsty Applebaum is out now, published by Nosy Crow (kindly supplied for review).
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th April 2020: "100 Children's Books that Inspire our World" by Colin Salter (Pavilion Children's Books)

Ahh, wonderful! This is the sort of Book of the Week winner that has us seeking out a lovely warm beverage before curling up in our favourite comfortable chair for a few hours of blissful escapism.

"100 Children's Books that inspire our world" curated by Colin Salter is a lovingly hand-picked collection of some of the finest children's books of all time, gathered together in a gorgeous hardback volume that is an absolute must for kidlit fans.

Every single page seems to open up into a world of daydreamy nostalgia, as Colin brings together facts and stats about the books, as well as cover shots and other information that will - for the reader - instantly make you feel like you did when you first encountered those books in your own lives.

For example, reading about "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle reminded me of reading it as a child, but also reading it to my child - my daughter demanded this one again and again over the course of many bedtimes, always pausing to poke her podgy little sausage fingers through the holes in the book where the caterpillar scoffed his way through a week of treats.

A childhood favourite author and his amazing books. Richard Scarry's busy and amazing story worlds!
Then there was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to pull out another favourite much celebrated book. As a kid, coming from a fairly poor background much like Charlie himself, Roald Dahl's rich descriptions of the sweets and chocolate, as well as his brilliant depiction of characters good and bad were just amazing for a young emerging reader dipping into 'proper' books for the first time.

Herge's Adventures of Tintin! I can still hear the announcer's voice for the animated series, but I loved the books first!

These and many of the other books mentioned in this fantastic collection may feel like 'popular' choices, and I'm sure there'll be folk out there who will moan and complain that certain books were included, and certain others missed out, but this is a truly brilliant 'bible' for children's book obsessives (like us) and a real treat to see such an amazing collection gathered together in one place.

"The Secret Garden" - Another one of those childhood books that became hugely inspirational and well loved, and one I was very happy to share with my kiddo too!
Sum this book up in a sentence: A lovingly curated collection of 100 of the most amazing children's books ever produced, each evoking their own memories and many still well loved and well read by us today.

"100 Children's Books that inspire our world" by Colin Salter is out now, published by Pavilion Children's Books (kindly supplied for review). 
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