Friday, May 17, 2013
Though we said we were taking a back seat with the app reviews and e-book reviews, we could not possibly resist the lure of the mighty Babette Cole and her new series of iBooks, developed and published by Inky Sprat.
"The Trouble With" series is absolutely chock full of all the things we love about Babette's books, and as a bonus you get to see (and hear) the wonderful lady herself narrating her own works. What's not to love? (We can't get enough of Babette's groovy outfits!)
So in "The Trouble With Gran" we find out what happens when a young lad accompanies his Gran and her friends on a day away. Not to a lovely sunny holiday destination but to a fairly grotty seaside town. Ew!
There is definitely something different about Gran though. In truth, she's not the quiet mild mannered old lady she seems. She's actually....AN ALIEN!
Gran's not at all happy with the choice of day-trip destination, so in true Granny style she starts to misbehave (oh how we identify with this. My lovely 92 year old Nan may not come from Planet Koosbain but she knows how to play up!)
Sneakily morphing into her true form, manipulating objects and folk with her magic powers and generally ensuring the day is made a little more 'interesting' throughout, Gran eventually tires of the whole thing and performs one last act of alienesque rebellion!
We'll let you find out what that is. We sometimes struggle with the iBook format - keeping Charlotte's attention on e-books of any kind on the iPad is always tricky - but this was absorbing and engaging, and as fans of Babette's fantastic books we just couldn't get enough.
The lady herself is busy beavering away on the next Doctor Dog picture book - so stay tuned for more from her very soon. In the meantime, check these out, they're ace!
The Trouble with Gran (from Inky Sprat on iTunes for iPad)
(See the rest of Babette's awesome iBook range here!)
Charlotte's best bit: Gran's rather ooh-la-la behaviour at the glamorous granny competition
Daddy's favourite bit: So awesome to see and hear Babette narrating these books. She rocks!
(iBook code kindly provided by Inky Sprat for review)
ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 17th May 2013 - "If I Built A Car" by Chris Van Dusen (Penguin USA)
Quite often, we 'meet' books that make us want to crawl inside and live in their worlds. This week, thanks to a brilliant recommendation from Damyanti, one of our favourite book bloggers over at meanboyfriend.com we've discovered the books of Chris Van Dusen so without a moment's pause we plumped for "If I Built A Car".
Several reads later, and Chris's trademark "World of Tomorrow" 1950s American idyll has completely and utterly hooked us in. I already loved the classic sleek space-age lines of American cars from the mid 20th Century, so this book felt like it belonged on our shelves even before we'd discovered it.
Young Jack is a boy with an eye for invention and a vivid imagination. One day, musing on his dad's reliable old station wagon from the back seat, Jack imagines what sort of car he would build if someone let him loose with a drawing board, a ton of polymer gel and a whole host of clever gadgetry. A dream car, a car of the future!
Jack describes to his (rather gobsmacked) dad all the features his car would have. Soft and squishy to the touch, yet tough enough to retain its shape so in an accident it would just bounce back. With the most comfortable interior, a full sized sofa, fireplace and with a flick of a switch, even a swimming pool!
A robot driver for when dad gets tired and needs a nap. And possibly the most amazing catering you've ever seen inside anything with four wheels.
A car that flies, a car that speeds over water, a car that has EVERYTHING! That's what you'd get if Jack built a car.
Chris Van Dusen's rhyming text is fine and dandy but it really is the illustrations that will knock your eyes out. Crisp, clear, beautifully painted in that 50s kitsch style - like a home living catalogue from an era we were always promised but never quite got.
If you're even remotely interested in the 1950s USA, cars or futurism, you really need to discover Chris Van Dusen's books for yourselves (we're definitely getting "If I Built A House" next, and we'll be following it up with the rest of Van Dusen's books as soon as we have a book budget again!) Start with this one though and you really won't be disappointed in the least. It's utterly blimmin marvellous!
Charlotte's best bit: The dreamy food that Jack's car can make, if you fancy a roadside snack.
Daddy's favourite bit: Beautiful painted artwork, utterly hilarious characters, atomic bomb hairstyles and the sort of car you wish people really made. A surefire hit!
Thursday, May 16, 2013
|Everyone loves the Monkey. Including me!|
In the future, as humanity sweats under the yellowing polluted skies of a world eerily familiar yet jarringly different, the masses are addicted to online videogames. Fighting imaginary alternative versions of World War II where Nazi Ninjas face off against the might of the Royal Air Force. Games have evolved to the point where you have but one life to live, one shot at gaming stardom and once you're dead you're dead.
Only, the titular hero of this novel can't seemingly die. Ack Ack Macaque, simian fighting ace and the scourge of the Third Reich, is a kick-ass flight-jacketed cigar chomping character who draws the gaming public in. Unbeknownst to the masses though, Ack Ack Macaque definitely isn't quite what he seems.
The story intersperses this alternative universe where Britain and France are reigned supreme by the Royal Family, and the Queen rules with a fist of steel, with young Prince Merovich's struggle to find out what happened to his father. There is also an insidious plot to murder high-ranking members of the elite to transfer their wetware consciousnesses into robot bodies.
Powell masters thumb-plucking the threads of his story until they thrum with a bass hum that will reverberate long after you've finished the book. In Ack Ack Macaque you have a character that cinematically leaps from the page to grip you by the throat until you pay attention, and a supporting cast who by no means play second fiddle.
I like any novel that defies to you try and pigeonhole or categorise it by constantly and energetically leaping from calm comfort and familiarity into regions of pure mania and that's exactly what Ack Ack Macaque does. Just when you've made up your mind that it's a damming description of videogame addiction or a huge dig at the way the media (both social and traditional) are their own worst enemy, it throws a curve ball and shows you a brief glimpse of something distinctly darker at its heart.
Good vs Evil done proper - with one hell of a hero, and some seriously original twists, I really can't wait to read "Hive Monkey" next.
Bonus challenge. If you can visualise Ack Ack Macaque without thinking of the fellah below, you're a better being than I am!
|Surely a shoe-in for the role of Ack Ack Macaque if it ever gets the movie treatment?|
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Teachers and Librarians favourite Children's Books" - Should schools ditch The Mr Men for Jane Eyre?
|A classic in every sense of the word, but should this replace The Mr Men for younger children?|
Without trawling through the entire speech recently made by Education Secretary Michael Gove, you only have to trickle through a few Twitter feeds to hear the voice of objection from Teachers (and librarians too) about Gove's Dickensian narrow-minded views on what reading material is suitable for schoolchildren.
Gove sounds like he hasn't actually read anything published for children in the last 30 years (or possibly longer). Singling out a fairly odd target (The utterly brilliant Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves), Gove has somehow bypassed a wealth of reading material that schools regularly use to good effect, singly ignored reading programmes such as Bookstart / Booktrust, and has an astonishing lack of familiarity with the real pattern of children's reading.
The comment "What would you rather come home and find your teenager reading? Middlemarch or Twilight" almost made me snort coffee out of my nose. In years to come, if I came home and found my daughter reading a book (whether a classic or something contemporary) I'd feel like both school and my wife and I had actually given her a good foundation in being interested enough in books to go off and read them independently of us. Had Gove taken the trouble to actually read a Twilight novel, or any of the stunning YA Fiction that children are soaking up, he might have been able to make a more effective and relevant point rather than completely and utterly failing to grasp what reading means to teens.
The other thing that jars constantly is his "Tiger Mother" line of thinking - that academic achievement cannot be reached and sustained in any other way than through testing or concentration on numeracy, literacy or science (I thoroughly agree with the sentiment that all tests achieve are to teach children how to pass tests). I also cannot understand Gove's seemingly dismissive stance on anything creative but it's not his view alone. At times you feel that our current Government sees anything related to the arts or creativity as an unnecessary expense and that sinking money into a Trident replacement or a wholly unpopular high speed rail link would be a better use of funds.
I'd welcome a debate on this. Though we're fairly green around the gills when it comes to the integration of books and reading in schools, we've certainly seen a great deal of evidence that suggests Gove is not only misguided and wrong, he's stunningly ignorant of what's actually going on with the very field he's charged with a high level of responsibility for.
Comments below are most welcome.
There's a mood that Hannah Cumming's books puts us in. It's the sort of mood that also comes from wrapping up in a freshly made bed with a big fat fluffed up duvet, or the mood that stems from knowing that it snowed heavily the night before and the world is muted by a soft white covering, eradicating all the bumps and blemishes. Or perhaps the mood you drift lazily into when you've just made the most awesome cup of hot chocolate and floated a ton of marshmallows in it.
I think what we're trying to get across here is that we love Hannah's books very much, and we're very glad that we spotted "The Red Boat" in the library as we'd somehow previously missed it.
Posy, a fairly ordinary little girl - and her rather superb dog George, have moved to a new house. The house is so big, the garden is huge, the next door neighbours are strangers and there's also the prospect of starting a new school.
Naturally, Posy is a bit anxious - and despite George's "WOOFs" of reassurance, there's a lot to think about for a young mind.
Then Posy discovers something tucked away in the corner of the garden. A red boat - the gateway to daydreamed adventures, to pirate escapades or a voyage through the inky darkness of a perfectly clear night sky.
Posy's anxieties about the change in her world and her life are soon dissolved as her adventures in the fabulous red boat neatly segue with what's going on in the 'real world'. Staking a claim on her own bit of the house, meeting a ton of new friends at school and finding out that the next-door neighbours are actually lovely (and have a few bouncing yappy dogs of their own too) makes Posy feel much much better.
It's a touching little story, particularly pertinent if your children have perhaps moved schools or moved house - or are adapting to change. As ever with Hannah's books, this is utterly perfect to snuggle up at bedtime with - and also a great book to inspire you to build your own little red boat (mummy really won't mind you using the sofa cushions for this, I'm sure!) and sailing off on your own voyage of imagination. Utterly, utterly lovely.
Charlotte's best bit: Being a pirate girl - because if there's one thing Charlotte likes, it's dressing up as a pirate girl!
Daddy's favourite bit: Such a warm, snuggly and cosy book. We're so glad we finally tracked it down!
The more we dig into the diverse and brilliant world of children's books, the more we like what we see. When a traditional and well known (and oft well-trodden) tale is given a complete cultural makeover and entwined deliciously with traditional tales from Africa, we can't possibly resist a peek.
"Pretty Salma" is, as the cover says, a little red riding hood story from Africa but before you think "Not another Red Riding Hood tale!" hold fast in your seat, because there's more than enough rich and vibrant allure in this book to ensure it stands on its own two (pretty yellow flip-flopped) feet.
Pretty Salma lives with her lovely Grandmother and her groovy Grandad. When Grandmother asks Pretty Salma to go to the market one day, she puts on her best wrap, her blue headscarf, her white beads and her yellow sandals and heads out to pick up some supplies.
Unfortunately, Pretty Salma does not heed her Grandmother's good advice not to talk to strangers, and is soon bedevilled and bewitched by a silver-tongued dog who takes rather a shining to Pretty Salma, and because she's a bit of a chatterbox, soon knows all about her and her Grandparents.
The dog is a nasty little trickster, and soon he shows his true nature, leaving Pretty Salma without her wrap, her scarf and her beads - stolen by the nasty dog so he can inveigle his way into Salma's household.
Only, there's one thing the dog can't emulate. Pretty Salma's beautiful singing. Will Grandmother see through his deception in time? Will Grandfather be able to help?
With brilliant illustrations that take their cues from African art, and some quite scary and surprising bits to keep your children entertained, this is definitely worth investigating.
Also, if you liked this, look out for our #ReadItMD13 Theme Week on "Diverse and Inclusive Books" next week. You're in for a real treat.
Charlotte's best bit: The dog flouncing around pretending to be a girl.
Daddy's favourite bit: Groovy Grandad and his truly awesome Anansi the Spider Costume
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
So we've finally tracked down one of the Sue Hendra books we've sorely missed. Barry, the Fish with Fingers, is a book we've heard lots of folk tweeting and talking about but never got round to reading and reviewing ourselves. Hooray for our local Library, who had a copy so we snaffled it up quicker than you can say "Tartare Sauce!"
We love Sue's books, and it's not hard to see why Barry, the Fish with Fingers, is so well loved. With the lovely breadcrumb-y cover you know you're in for a fishy treat inside.
Our tale starts with Puffy the Puffer Fish, star of the oceans, who is renowned far and wide for his utterly amazing bubble displays. Big bubbles, small bubbles, round bubbles and square bubbles are all part of Puffy's repertoire.
But soon, a newcomer on the scene threatens to burst Puffy's bubble. Meet Barry, the Fish with Fingers. The other fish have never seen anything like Barry. He can tickle (hee hee), he can give lovely massages, and he can wave. All those useful things that flippers just cannot do. Unfortunately, Barry is such a draw that the other fish soon forget all about Puffy and his antics, so he quietly mopes off for a good long sulk.
Soon though, Barry proves that he's not just a fish with fingers, he's also a hero! We'll leave you to find out what happens when Puffy needs Barry's help.
I shouldn't really say so, but this book made me crave fish finger sandwiches with tartare sauce all the way through. Funny, knockabout, and with Sue's trademark eye for brilliant characters and situations, it's an absolute winner.
If you enjoyed Barry's adventures, look out for his next book "Barry The Fish with Fingers and the Hairy Scary Monster" (which is another one we really need to add to our reading pile very soon indeed!)
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a rumbling tum and a date with Captain Birdseye!
Charlotte's best bit: The lovely sparkly breadcrumby cover
Daddy's favourite bit: Barry's awesome tickling abilities
If it was possible to produce lovely hugs in book-shaped packages, this book would be exactly that. Just soak up the cover for a second or two, and if that doesn't make you want to dive into this celebration of dads and kids, then you've got a heart of stone.
Sam McBratney, well known for the utterly cute and cuddly "Guess How Much I Love You" (a book that should be on every child's shelf) has once again come up trumps with the story of the delectable little bearcub Hansie (ace name!) and his dad (and mum, of course!) Hansie, like most little ones, is never far from a bump or a scrape or a grazed knee but luckily Daddy Bear is usually on hand with some soothing words, a big bear-hug and the odd plaster or two to make everything better once again.
But one day Hansie meets Dad coming home from work and poor dad is in desperate need of some tender loving care for once (Kids, particularly Charlotte take note! TLC does not mean "Tickling dad's feet until he giggles so much he has hiccups and needs a lie down!")
Endearing, touching and though it's a little early for Fathers Day, just the sort of book that should find its way into a surprise package for your dad on June 16th! Beautifully illustrated and soothingly told, it's magic and works better than any ointment or band-aid when you bump your noggin!
Charlotte's best bit: Hansie covered in plasters! Owch!
Daddy's favourite bit: As I said at the top of the review, a soothing warm and snuggly cuddle in book form. Sublime!
(Kindly sent to us for review (along with a fab paw-print!) by the awesome Booksniffer at Templar Books! Thanks champ!)
Monday, May 13, 2013
This book was absolutely impossible to pass by on our recent trip to the library for two reasons. Number one: It's illustrated by the utter genius Bob Staake and Number two: it's absolutely filled to the brim with cars, cars, lots of cars! Cars Galore in fact!
Charlotte loved the book as much as I did, so we took it home and diving into the rhyming text and the sheer energy of the panels and illustrations, it's a real joy even if you're not really into automobiles in any way.
We meet tall cars, short cars, old cars, new cars. Cars seemingly driven by crazed crocodiles, cars that speed off into the distance with all cylinders firing while others cough and splutter along the road as slow as tortoises.
Bold colours, utterly brilliant car designs, crazy rhymes but above all the real sense that the book could sprout a set of wheels and whizz out from under you at any moment makes this nigh on essential. Since discovering Bob Staake's brilliant retro-style illustrations we've made it our duty to voraciously consume anything he's involved in, and Cars Galore does not disappoint. We couldn't wait to crack out our colouring pencils and felt tips and draw our own crazy cars zooming around. If you love books by Richard Scarry because of the crazy little vehicles whizzing around all over the place, this is seriously going to be your cup of tea.
Charlotte's best bit: The utterly superb "Jazz Car" - Smooth, baby!
Daddy's favourite bit: I rather liked the "Old Car" complete with cobweb-nosed driver!
I'll be the first to admit that we really didn't like "I'm Number One" at first, and truly believed we were stricken with some sort of virus that made us miss the point of ever single Michael Rosen book except "We're going on a Bear Hunt".
But on re-reading, and discussing, "I'm Number One" wraps its lesson so tightly up with its little set of toy characters that it's quite hard to see past the thoroughly unlikeable clockwork soldier and his behaviour, through to the message the book is conveying.
The Toy Soldier loudly proclaims that he is Number One, and once his friends wind up his clockwork mechanism, the soldier proceeds to criticise, bully and berate them.
Why? Because as number one, the top of the tree, he believes he's better than anyone else. But of course there's one thing he just can't quite do on his own so when he starts to run down, the soldier realises that being Number One is all well and good, but being part of the gang is better!
It's a neat and subtly delivered message and I tried to draw out of Charlotte how she would deal with someone who behaves like this. Interesting discussions about rude and overbearing behaviour from a five year old are wholly enlightening and from an adult perspective, it's quite interesting to hear how children deal with the delicate balance of power in the classroom or at play and how different they handle things compared to us 'grown ups'.
Rosen's poetry is super, his storytelling is sometimes a little bit too self-assuredly 'clever' for its own good (yes I know, that's tantamount to children's-book-treason but I still don't rate Happy Harry's Cafe, nyaaah!), but stick with this book and you'll appreciate its theme and subtle delivery of said theme too.
Charlotte's best bit: When the soldier realises that the gang should really have all their lovely things back.
Daddy's favourite bit: The amusing parallels between the interactions of this tiny gang of toys and the social and political machinations at the workplace!