Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mr Men in London by Roger Hargreaves and Adam Hargreaves (Egmont)

Mr Men in London

Mr Men created by Roger Hargreaves
Written and Illustrated by Adam Hargreaves

Published by Egmont Publishing UK

I grew up with the Mr Men Books, and later I couldn't wait to introduce the Mr Men and Little Miss books to Charlotte. We've collected quite a few now, and it's always cause for great excitement when a new one arrives.

Particularly this latest adventure for the Mr Men and Little Miss crew. They're on a day trip to London with Mr Busy, and are taking in the sights of our glorious capital (which is also one of our favourite real-life destinations too!)

Mr Bump ends up coming a cropper in the fountains at Trafalgar Square. Mr Uppity insists on not using public transport, opting for a chauffeur driven limousine around the capital instead. As for Little Miss Splendid, will she still feel like the queen of bling when faced with the real queen's crown jewels? And what happens when Mr Tickle is let loose on a bus?

It's a fabulous travelogue and story for little ones covering some of our favourite bits of London in crazy chaotic Mr Men fashion. Roger Hargreaves' legacy of fun characters continues with his son Adam now writing and illustrating the books, and bringing them bang up to date with fabulous stories like these.

Charlotte's best bit: Mr Tickle livening up a boring bus journey!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Poor Mr Bump falling headfirst into the fountains at Trafalgar Square

(Kindly sent to us for review by Egmont Publishing UK)

Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey (Little Tiger Press)

Poo in the Zoo

Written by Steve Smallman

Illustrated by Ada Grey

Published by Little Tiger Press

Weirdly, we received this book for review the very DAY after we'd been to a local zoo, and mused about just what happens to all that dung. We spotted a poor zoo worker shovelling heaps of antelope plops, and imagined that - though the stuff was stinky - it would be brilliant for the plants.

So in "Poo in the Zoo" we meet a happy little chap whose job it is to clean up after all the animals. Big jobs, small jobs, stinky jobs and slimy jobs, the poor little fellah is quick with his spade but sometimes shovelling shmelly shtuff is a seemingly endless and thankless task.

After a rather mischievous iguana escapes, poo takes on a whole new dimension as the iguana ruthlessly breaks into the canteen and eats his fill, before polishing off his robust lunch with a few fireflies for good measure. The resultant poo, rendered in all its glowing glory by Ada Grey's rather expert way of painting plops, is quite spectacular and something to behold.

The glowing poo is put on display, and is shortly procured by an avid collector of all things scatological, taking pride of place in his collection. With the moolah, the little zookeeper can afford a robot to do all his shovelling for him (we think this book needs a sequel where there's a robot rebellion against being made to do our dirty work!! Get on it, Steve and Ada!)

It's a book that's almost guaranteed to put a huge grin on your little ones' faces and if you can keep a straight face while reading Steve's awesome plop-based rhymes, we'll gladly raise our hats to you!

Charlotte's best bit: A jar of Bluebottle poo (in the rather awesome poo-based end-papers!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: It's pongy, ploppy, slimy and sloppy but we love it all the same! A poo-tastic peer into the behind the scenes cleanup at the zoo!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Little Tiger Press)

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Cloudspotter by Tom McLaughlin (Bloomsbury Publishing)

The Cloudspotter

Written and Illustrated by
Tom McLaughlin

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

It's the perfect weather for cloudspotting and we love this as a weekend activity. Lying in the grass, gazing up at the sky - either spotting shapes or trying to pull clouds apart with awesome MIND POWER!

Franklin is "The Cloudspotter" in Tom McLaughlin's new picture book, a solitary fellow with a singular obsession. In the clouds he can lose himself as he spots trains dashing by, complete with carriages, planes swooshing across the sky or tall ships with billowing chimney stacks.

One day, however, a lonely dog decides that she'd rather like to join Franklin in his cumulonimbus collecting. This breaks Franklin's concentration though, and he's so used to being alone that having a big soppy friendly dog around really isn't going to work out. He comes up with a plan to rid himself of the pesky pooch (who we adored from the moment we saw her and actually began to think Franklin was a bit of a rotter, sending her off into the great unknown in a hot air balloon!)

Will Franklin realise though that sometimes, to be a successful cloudspotter, you need someone else to pass on your observations to? After all, what's the point in gazing out of the window and spying a cloud that's exactly the same shape as a submarine if there's no one else around to see it?

A lovely touching little tale that made us want to snuggle among the clouds ourselves (and no doubt we will be out there again this weekend, watching all the clouds drift by - we always love the dragon shaped ones best!)

Charlotte's best bit: She fell completely in love with the nameless dog who tries to befriend Franklin (and spots lovely bone-shaped clouds, nom nom!)

Daddy's Favourite bit: A cuddly cloud-filled story of friendship and imagination. Blissful!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)

Stig of the Dump by Clive King and Edward Ardizzone (Puffin)

Stig of the Dump

Written by Clive King

Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Published by Puffin Classics

One of the joys of reading with Charlotte is being able to introduce stories to her that I remember from childhood. Some of the books I managed to hold onto, some we have to hunt for in secondhand bookshops (as they're sadly out of print) and some are still as well loved now as they were back in the 70s and have stayed in print for new generations of kids to be thrilled by.

Clive King's 1963 children's novel "Stig of the Dump" is one such book, and though it's been given a multitude of new covers over the years (including editions brought out to cash in on the two TV series that have never really captured the essence of the book) it's still a stunning story, and Edward Ardizzone's scratchy often indistinct inky artwork still lends an amazing atmosphere to the tale.

"Stig of the Dump" starts out with a young boy, Barney, staying at his grandmother's house for the summer holidays along with his annoying big sister. Though Barney has been warned not to play near a chalk pit at the bottom of Grandma's garden, he's a boy - and like most boys ignores good advice in the eternal search for mischief and adventure.

Barney falls into the chalk pit after being a bit too inquisitive one day and as his world spins around him, Barney comes to and realises that he's fallen through the roof of a makeshift shelter. Worse still, a beady dark pair of eyes is watching him from the darkness.

This is how Barney meets Stig, a caveman living in the chalk pit and adapting to life amongst the thrown away rubbish of modern folk.

No explanation is ever offered in the story for how a caveman ends up in modern times. None is really needed though it's a great story for sparking delicious discussions and theories on time travel (can't really say that about many childrens books, can you?)

The story is all about Barney and Stig's friendship, and it's a classic 'fish out of water' tale as Barney slowly introduces Stig to the wonders of the modern age - and likewise, Stig introduces Barney to a simpler more earthy way of life.

The two become friends and share many adventures together, thwarting the local rowdy kids who take it on themselves to invade Stig's pit - and defeating a nasty pair of burglars who raid Barney's Grandma's house for her silverware. They even manage to corner an escaped Leopard!

I loved the effect this book had on Charlotte. The story harks back to an era when 'playing out' was the norm, and way before anyone ever thought of coining the phrase "upcycling" here's Stig making amazing inventions from the rubbish other people throw away.

Back when "Stig of the Dump" was originally written, kids might well have had TV as a distraction, but most kids would have leaped at the chance to go out and play (and probably cause mischief). For Charlotte, Barney's world sounds absolutely amazing and full of opportunities for adventure (and quite a lot of peril, we wondered how on earth he made it to the end of the story without breaking his neck!).

Perhaps because we try to spend every weekend out in the wilds, in the countryside of Oxfordshire, she recognises a bit of herself in Barney as we build shelters in the woods, or (safely) make a makeshift fire though we draw the line at chopping down trees or playing in or around dumps.

"Stig of the Dump" is timeless and brilliant and it's been a real pleasure introducing Charlotte to this simple but atmospheric story that still holds many happy memories for me, and now will hopefully hold a few for her too.

Charlotte's best bit: When Barney and Stig make a window for Stig's cave out of jam jars, a wooden box and clay and when Barney and Stig encounter a Leopard escaped from a local circus.

Daddy's Favourite bit: The closing chapter in the book is still as electrifying, brilliant and bittersweet reading it as an adult as it was when I was a child. A modern classic, deservedly revered and treasured.

Friday, July 3, 2015

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 3rd July 2015 - "Grandad's Island" by Benji Davies (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Grandad's Island

Written and Illustrated by
Benji Davies

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

We just couldn't separate our two "Book of the Week" winners this week, two utterly fantastic books arriving in the same week so you've already read our review of the fantastic "Max" - now it's time to delve into the latest book from Benji Davies, illustrative and storytelling genius behind fabulous books like 'The Storm Whale' and working in conjunction with other writers to illustrate fabulous stories like "The Giant of Jum" (With Elli Woollard) and "On Sudden Hill" (with Linda Sarah).

No stranger to our book of the week slot, Benji's latest tale caused such a lot of debate and discussion at home that we are STILL talking about it weeks on from when we first laid eyes on it.

"Grandad's Island" is the fantastical tale of a young boy who regularly pops round to his Grandad's house for visits and cake. When Grandad seems to have gone missing one morning, the boy hears a shout from the attic - and finds Grandad standing in front of a mysterious metal door. The door glows faintly, and Grandad opens it gently and ushers the boy inside.

They find themselves on the deck of a ship, jutting out amongst the rooftops and soon they set sail for a spectacular tropical destination, Grandad's Island.

Such a beautiful, beautiful book, we want to live in it!

The island paradise is full of the most wonderful creatures, sights, sounds and colours and the boy and his Grandad swiftly set about building the most amazing Swiss Family Robinson-esque shelter.

It's a fine adventure but as the day draws to a close, Grandad has some sad news. He won't be coming home with the boy, he's staying on the island for good.

With a heavy heart, the boy boards the boat home (ably assisted by some of the wonderful creatures he's met). Grandad's place isn't quite the same without him, and the mysterious metal door is no longer there - but wait, what's this? A letter? Who is it from?

Charlotte set straight to work analysing this story and we discussed it at length. Was "Grandad Island" actually Heaven? Was it a fantasy, the boy's way of coping with the loss of a loved one? Would Grandad come back for visits? We were so swept away and wrapped up in this tale that it made us think again about Great Nan - our own dear Nan who died back in January and who we often talk about 'watching over us' as she always joked that she'd be reincarnated as a Robin - and we always see Robins whenever we're on a day out somewhere, as if she's still there with us.

It has been interesting seeing the book discussed on Twitter by other reviewers and booky folk too. Some have pointed out that children could just accept it as a straightforward adventure (though the lack of "Grandad" at the end of the book makes us question this - is he still on his island? Would he not come back for visits?)

Analyse it as much as you want, but everyone will come away with happy feelings and stirred-up memories from this glorious story. Benji Davies is on FIRE at the moment, with each and every book release that he's a part of we always wonder if he can possibly keep up such a high standard of fabulous storytelling and sumptuous artwork. So far he's knocking it out of the park in both respects.

If the intention was to produce an utterly gorgeous, heartwarming and touching book that would be like a soothing balm to anyone who's lost a loved one then it works beautifully that way. Like Syd in the story, we loved the idea that those who are dear to us are on their own "Island", in their own paradise and also constantly exist in our hearts and our memories.

Charlotte's best bit: A lovely cameo from The Storm Whale and his mum, watch out for it!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Sumptuously written and illustrated, Benji expertly deals with a tough subject in a thought-provoking and sensitive way, utterly wonderful. Consistently one of the brightest and most important talents working in children's literature today.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Like this? We think you'll love these too!

"The Storm Whale" by Benji Davies.
"On Sudden Hill" by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies
"The Giant of Jum" By Elli Woollard and Benji Davies

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 3rd July 2015 - "Max" by Marc Martin (Templar Publishing)


Written and Illustrated by
Marc Martin

Published by Templar Publishing

Summer is here, we're in the midst of a heatwave, and our thoughts turn to the seaside. But what's worse than sitting down on the picturesque quayside only to be pestered by those winged annoyances, the seagulls! ACK!

But stop, ponder for a moment. Not all gulls are cut from the same cloth. Meet "Max" the star of this utterly adorable tale of friendship (and chips). Max is a polite, well behaved seagull who frequents a rather lovely little Fish and Chip shop nestling on the pier of a sleepy seaside town. Max befriends Bob, the chipshop owner and as Max greets the customers, Bob always saves a few chips for him at the end of the day as a special treat (We were wondering how Max keeps his svelte seagull-like figure with all those chips!)

Sadly, fortunes are on the turn. Bob's shop isn't making any money and during a particularly quiet summer, Bob shuts up shop for the very last time and when Max returns to greet his friend as normal at the end of the day, Bob isn't there.

Max waits, and waits, and waits - but eventually realises Bob has moved on. But where is Bob??

Will Max be reunited with his old friend?

We won't spoil things too much for you - because we really want you to read this fabulous book.

Max searches for Bob. Will he ever find him again?

Funny, yet touching in places - it's the sort of children's book that has you surreptitiously sneaking off for another look once your little ones are tucked up in bed (hopefully dreaming of fish and chips and seagulls, and lovely seaside adventures!)

Marc Martin is definitely a chap to keep a firm eye on, his books are fast becoming classics and this is yet another fabulous story that will, deservedly, bring him a ton of attention.

Charlotte's best bit: The swooping sweeping wings of Max as he flies high above the cityscape, looking for Bob

Daddy's Favourite bit: A simple tale of friendship, fish and chips but so wonderfully told and gorgeously illustrated that it just HAS to be read again and again!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Is there a stigma attached to being a 'grown up' who loves children's books? A ReadItDaddy Editorial

"So you review children's books then? How...er...quaint!"

At a recent work event, we were subjected to a rather ooky piece of audience participation during one of the presentations. We were asked to shuffle over to our 'neighbour' in the auditorium (if there's one thing you'll swiftly learn about IT folk, it's that they always sit as far away from each other as possible in these things!) and tell them "Our heart's desire" and have them talk about theirs. You were given a minute to talk about something. So naturally after I said "My wife" and "My daughter" I started talking about this blog.

Quizzical stares followed, as did the other person edging quietly further and further away from me as I passionately described why our blog existed. The other person mumbled something about "walks in the country" and returned to their seat, for fear that they'd have to converse with this children's book loving 'weirdo' any further.

It's not the first time it's happened and I'm sure those of you who either write, illustrate or read and review children's books, or work in publishing, graphic design or a multitude of other big and proper roles around the children's book publishing industry will have encountered similar situations yourselves.

So what is the 'stigma' attached to being involved in children's books? Is it that people assume that folk involved in children's books are somehow sub-human child-like elven beings who permanently exist in a state of pre-adolescent bliss with a mind and a modus operandi to match?

Some of the most passionate (there I go again with that word passionate but children's book folk really ARE passionate) and professional people I have had the pleasure of meeting through scribbling this blog are folk who live and breathe children's books day in day out. Far from being childish and immature, they are people who strive daily to understand what makes children's minds tick, what works in a children's book (and what doesn't!) and how they can push the children's book publishing industry to even greater heights than it's currently achieving.

I know comics folk who get this a lot too, though comics are seen to be slightly cooler and edgier. Children's books? The assumption is always that they're somehow a doddle, simple - I've even heard the phrase "not a proper job" used which is enough to make a publishing professional want to throw someone headlong into a printing press and stamp on the remains as they're ejected unceremoniously from the other end.

Going back to the original situation that triggered this blog post, I work in one of the most soul-destroying and frustrating industries on the planet. An industry that it is extremely difficult to be passionate about but unfortunately an industry that does at least pay a fairly OK living wage for someone supporting a wife and child. Whenever I meet folk involved in IT I very rarely meet folk who have even a smidgeon of heart-singing soul-lifting joy about what they do. Most IT folk I've met have existed in a finely tuned balance of complete and utter frustration or outright rage because of the things they have to deal with day in, day out.

I'm not assuming for one second that it's all plain sailing in publishing. Deadlines, budgetry considerations, falling sales and bad reviews probably affect folk in publishing in the same way that server crashes, knackered security patches and rubbish OS upgrades affect folk in my line of work.

The stigma thing though, I just don't get it. Taking a cross section I follow and converse with over Twitter and Facebook, most publishing professionals, authors and illustrators are fantastically well educated, extremely knowledgeable about their chosen fields and what's more, they strive to push and extend their own boundaries. The same goes for the book reviewers and bloggers who always look for new and exciting ways to passionately tell you how fantastic children's books are and why you should read to your kids (and read them yourselves too!)

The next time someone pops an eyebrow at you if you mention that you work in children's books, are a children's author or illustrator, or run a children's book blog, pop it back at them and ask them the last time their job gave them unparalleled moments of sheer joy from unwrapping a new book and discovering that it could be the very next book that children are raving about, or the next book selected for a Book Trust's short list, or the next book destined to be something that in generations to come your kids will be passing on to their kids with glowing pride, reminiscing about a time they sat on daddy or mummy's lap reading it or having it read to them in daft voices.

There are so many reasons we keep on keeping on but it's been a genuine pleasure to write ReadItDaddy along with Charlotte for the last 5 years and we'll take all those quizzical expressions on the chin, and keep going until someone tells us to stop!

Check out a fantastic new range of Non Fiction books from Ivy Press - The "30 Seconds" range

"Ancient Egypt in 30 Seconds by Kath Senker and Jacqueline Williamson (Ivy Press)

We're always on the lookout for new and engaging Non Fiction books and we were delighted to be contacted by Ivy Press who have a stunning new range of children's non fiction books, under the "30 Seconds" range.

Don't be put off by the name, the fantastic range of books covering topics as diverse as the human body, Ancient Egypt and even the oceans deep is designed to break substantial topics up into bite-sized pieces so that children will readily engage with and absorb a whole caboodle of interesting facts and figures based around each subject.

We took a look at two books in the range, the first (as you can see from the header image) visits a topic we absolutely can't get enough of.

"Ancient Egypt in 30 Seconds" is utterly brilliant, a summary roundup of the amazingly rich history of Egypt, detailing just about everything you can think of from what it was like to live in Egyptian times, the royal lineage of Egypt and the Pharaohs (both male and female) who ruled the lands.

Each bite-sized chunk of Egyptian history is thoroughly well presented...

Our favourite section of the book. Did you know there were female Pharaohs? You do now!

...with exquisite detail crammed into every page spread, guaranteed to turn you into a budding Egyptologist in no time at all.

We also took a look at "Oceans in 30 seconds"...

Oceans in 30 seconds by Jen Green, Wesley Robins and Dr Diva Amon (Ivy Press)

This book visits the oceans showing us the rich and diverse ecosystems in, under and on our oceans deep. Again, each page spread divides the subjects into easy to master chunks...

Our ever-changing coastlines, affected by the currents and the weather as the planet's climate changes

This book is utterly essential for young eco-warriors who want to find out more about our oceans, why they're so important to us, and the huge changes that are happening as our climate warms up. Children will quickly learn why coastlines are eroding and ocean levels are rising - as well as seeing the impact that these changes has on life that relies on the ocean daily (including us, of course!)

These are just two in a gigantic range of fascinating and innovative titles from Ivy Press (do check out their website for more). The books cover a vast range of ages (yep, including us adults). They're really gorgeously presented and would be ideal for home and school as subjects are tackled in a kid-friendly (but definitely not dumbed down) way.

(Ancient Egypt in 30 seconds and Oceans in 30 seconds kindly sent to us for review by Ivy Press).

Bear Counts by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Bear Counts

Written by Karma Wilson

Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

From the tip top talented team behind "Bear Snores On", there's a new counting book in town. Although fussy madame Charlotte says she's too old for counting books, she loved dipping into this book.

Partly because it's so nicely written (a story-like introduction to counting always works far better than a coldly delivered "one ball, two apples, three donkeys" kind of approach, we find!)

Couple cool counting story fun with Jane Chapman's glorious and cuddly illustrations and you're on to a sure-fire winner for your tiddly toddlers who are just beginning to learn their numbers and count things as they go.

Charlotte's best bit: Wanting to cuddle big old bear!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A cool story-driven counting book full of fun!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Eye on the Wild - Elephants by Suzi Esterhaus (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Elephants (Eye on the Wild Series)

Written and Illustrated by
Suzi Esterhaus

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Here's a fantastic photographic book series by acclaimed wildlife photographer Suzi Esterhaus, who has trained her lens on one of the most fascinating animal species on our planet. In "Eye on the Wild - Elephants", Suzi expertly details the lives of a pack of elephants from the tiniest babies up to the most regal and rumbustious adults. All aspects of elephant life are explored as we gain a fascinating insight into the species, and how their world is changing rapidly amidst the constant threat of territorial encroachment by man, hunting and other dangers.

Told largely as a story of one young elephant growing up from calf to adulthood, it's a fact-filled book full of Suzi's trademark glorious photography. A really brilliant approach to engaging kids with finding out more about their favourite animal species.

Follow the series and check out more books by Suzi on the Frances Lincoln website.

Charlotte's best bit: Utterly lovely photos of the tiny baby elephants at play! Awww!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic range of books for children just beginning to find out about the various animal species on our planet.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Frances Lincoln Children's Books)