Thursday, March 5, 2015

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - 5th March 2015 - "Missing Jack" by Rebecca Elliott (Lion Hudson Publishing)

Missing Jack

Written and Illustrated by
Rebecca Elliott

Published by Lion Hudson Publishing

"Whuh? It's not Friday!" I bet you're thinking but we're shuffling things around on the blog this week to join the fabulous blog tour for a very special book! So our first "Book of the Week" is popping up today, hooray!! We're just too good to you!

Sometimes, books are the most welcome houseguests. They arrive just when they're most needed with an unerring sense of timing. This was the case with "Missing Jack" by Rebecca Elliott. Regular blog visitors will know how much we love Rebecca's books so we were very excited to hear that her latest title features an astonishingly awesome pair of moggies.

The reason this book came along with such perfect timing (accompanied by the most wonderful hand-written letter by Hattie at Lion Hudson, who, by the way, we think is utterly amazing and worth her weight in gold - we hope Big Boss Panda is reading this!) was because of the story's core theme.

Any book that can help children deal with loss or grief in such a touching, sensitive and amazing way really makes us sit up and pay attention. You see, quite recently we lost our beloved Nan - Great Nan to Charlotte, and Nan to me. She was a lady who adored animals of all shapes and sizes, particularly cats so we know she would have loved "Missing Jack" very much. I miss her dearly. Charlotte misses her too and I'm just glad that Charlotte had the chance to know such an amazing lady.

On with the story. Jack is the world's greatest cat. He's not snooty like some cats, he doesn't spit or snarl, nor does he lie in a comatose heap doing nothing all day but licking his lazy paws. Jack is warm and cuddly, Jack doesn't even complain when he has his whiskers pulled by naughty babies. Jack loves curling up on Clemmie's lap (you may already know how awesome Clemmie is, from Rebecca's utterly lovely "Sometimes" and "Just Because" books - if not, seek them out RIGHT NOW buster!) Toby loves Jack very much, and thinks he's the best cat in the world.

As time passes, Jack slows down, gets older - and soon he's like a cat grandpa (oh how we LOVE this section in the book where Jack is sitting in a comfy chair, flat cat-cap upon head, telling tales of his wild youth to a gathered crowd of cheeky mice).

Eventually Jack dies, and Toby misses him terribly. There will never ever be another cat so amazing.

Or will there? Here's where the book almost had us in floods of tears. Along comes another cat named Humphrey - and though he's not Jack either, he's not snooty, scratchy or lazy. He's daring, he's a little crazy and though he's not there to take Jack's place, he's quite happy to be loved.

You don't need me to tell you how utterly beautiful Rebecca's storytelling is, nor how perfect her artwork is. She always surprises us, keeping us on her toes with a seemingly endless array of amazing art styles that she pours into her books, making it look so easy (but I bet it definitely isn't easy to come up with such luscious visuals to accompany such lovely stories).

Don't miss "Missing Jack", it's the purrrr-fect way to open interesting discussions with your children about a quite tricky and sensitive subject.

Charlotte's best bit: Humphrey's quite daring motorcycle stunt! Phew-ee that cat is CRAZY!

Daddy's Favourite bit: With exquisite timing, along comes a book that is like a warm cuddle, like a soothing balm helping us to deal with a recent loss in a thoughtful and sensitive way. We always know we're in for a treat with Rebecca's books, but this is truly something special indeed.

(Kindly sent to us for review by the utterly wonderful Hattie at Lion Hudson PLC)

Like this? We think you'll love these other titles from Rebecca too!

Sometimes by Rebecca Elliott

Just Because by Rebecca Elliott

Zoo Girl by Rebecca Elliott

Dreams of Freedom - In Words and Pictures (Amnesty International & Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Dreams of Freedom in Words and Pictures

Amnesty International

Illustrated by various
Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Once again, Frances Lincoln Books have published an absolutely astonishing book in conjunction with Amnesty International. Leaping straight out at you courtesy of its cover by superstar children's author / illustrator Oliver Jeffers, the book celebrates and explores what freedom means. Inspirational quotes on the subject of freedom from such luminaries as Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Harriet Tubman are fused with astonishing new illustrations from the creme de la creme of children's illustration. New works from artists such as Chris Riddell, Alexis Deacon, Jackie Morris, Barroux and Ros Asquith amongst others feature in this utter treasure.

As children begin to explore their world, understand it, and most importantly ask lots and lots of questions, it is fantastic - nay vital to have books such as "Dreams of Freedom" to underline the simple universal truth - that freedom is not to be taken for granted and people campaign long and hard, fight all their lives in order to gain or retain it.

Charlotte's best bit: Chris Riddell's fantastic illustration describing how children are not automatically born free, but should be

Daddy's Favourite bit: Utterly mesmerising quotes coupled with truly luxurious and involving illustrations. Once again, a book that belongs on every child's bookshelf.

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

We Are All Born Free - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

We Are All Born Free

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in Pictures

Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books

On the 10th December 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, protecting the rights of people from all countries. Never more than now do we need a timely reminder of how important the declaration is, and how human rights groups such as Amnesty International tirelessly campaign to preserve this most important declaration.

Given recent headlines (which we won't be drawn into a discussion about here) the importance of being able to share a book with your children that outlines those rights in clear terms that they can understand and appreciate from a very young age cannot be understated. Bringing together an enviable list of talented illustrators to contribute to this luscious book - with sales royalties donated to Amnesty International - should ensure that the book's core message are brought across, shared, enjoyed even. Above all, not taken for granted.

We spent a lot of time with the book. Charlotte's school is already extremely forward thinking when it comes to promoting the ideology behind the UDHR and as parents, having a vitally important book to underline those values is an absolute godsend.

Reprinted here for the first time since 2008, as we said at the top of the review there really is no better time for it. A hugely important impactive book that should be on the shelves of every school library, and indeed on your shelf too.

Charlotte's best bit: Nicholas Allan's utterly brilliant illustrations based around our right to education.

Daddy's Favourite bit: So amazingly compiled, the illustrators list reads like a "who's who" of all our favourite talented folk, and the lessons imparted here - not dumbed down, but imparted so effectively for a children's book, are more important now than ever.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert (Book Island)

The Umbrella

Written and Illustrated by
Ingrid and Dieter Schubert

Published by Book Island

We've championed many wordless picture books and have seen some real beauties over the last few years. It's a tricky format to get 'just right' and it must be a really tough challenge to script, illustrate and tell a story knowing that your young reader may need a guiding hand.
Or will they? You see the flip-side of why we love children's wordless picture books is because you can leave absolutely everything open to the interpretation of the child - letting them let loose their imagination to tell YOU the story in THEIR own way. So that's exactly what we did when 'reading' and reviewing "The Umbrella" by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert, a lavish new book from Book Island.

The tale opens right in the end papers with a dog discovering a bright red umbrella. It's the beginning of an aerial adventure as the intrepid pooch is lifted aloft by a gust of wind, high above the streets and houses, fields and forests and off to distant lands.

The doggy adventurer has near misses in Africa (watch out for those nasty crocodiles!), cruises underneath the waves in the ocean's briny depths, and narrowly avoids a nasty incident with some spear-throwing Amazonian warriors.

We took it in turns to tell the tale, and it was very revealing that while I adopted a fairy straight-laced retelling of the tale as I saw it, Charlotte really let loose her imagination and told a story more of the relationship between the dog (who was a big show off) and the cat who initially watches his 'friend' lifted aloft before embarking on his own perilous trip as the book comes to a close.

Books like this are vital and important for emerging readers, allowing them to develop their own storytelling dialogue and their own ways of interpreting what they're seeing. Hooray for wordless picture books and hooray for Ingrid and Dieter Schubert for coming up with such a brilliant adventure!

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte loved the bit where the dog is rescued by a baby elephant and his mum, before being unceremoniously hurled off a cliff to resume his journey. Charming!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A luxurious and wonderfully presented story that leaves you and your children free to let your imagination soar, just like that intrepid little dog on his red umbrella. Lovely!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Book Island)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit and Friends by Christina Gabbitas, Ric Lumb and Julie Omond (Poems and Pictures)

Felicity Fly Meets the Dragon Fruit and Friends

Written by Christina Gabbitas

Illustrated by Ric Lumb with Character Designs by Julie Omond

Published by Poems and Pictures

Felicity Fly finds out about fruit and vegetables in Christina Gabbitas' latest story in her engaging and sing-song rhyming book series. Do you know what a dragon fruit is (or what one tastes like?) Do you know how packed with vitamins and goodness a head of broccoli is? This is a fantastic little book to teach children all about the amazing fruits and vegetables that come from all over the world, and now can be found in the grocery section of our local supermarkets. On our weekly shop we always make a point of making a bee-line for new and interesting looking fruit, so Felicity's story was absolutely perfectly well received by us.

The story doesn't just teach children about their 5-a-day though, it encourages exploration of our planet as we find out about all the amazing places in the world where the fruit and vegetables grow - and there's a brilliant read-along download courtesy of Christina if you fancy learning a few of the different languages and accents of the characters (this is a giggle, we loved it!)

Charlotte is still quite a fan of the Felicity Fly adventures, so even a very fussy 7 year old can enjoy these stories.

Find out more about Christina's amazing work at the Poems and Pictures website

Charlotte's best bit: Felicity (and Charlotte) finding out just how good for you Brassica Broccoli is! Yum!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A fantastic way to engage children's imaginations and to encourage them to eat their 5-a-day. Awesome!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Poems and Pictures)

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

Felicity Fly in the Garden by Christina Gabbitas and Julie Omond

Felicity Fly Meets Veronica Vac by Christina Gabbitas and Julie Omond

A fab guest post from Cid and Mo - Reading Allowed!

What is Reading Allowed?
Reading Allowed is a project set up to promote Reading for Pleasure and help address the problems of poor literacy skills. It embraces the power of reading aloud to motivate children to read for pleasure, for life.

Literacy Facts
Shockingly, 15% of the working age population in England are at or below the level of literacy expected of an 11 year old. This means that 5.1million people in the UK are unable to read a document such as a child’s school report.

Reading for Pleasure Research
Recent research has found that 10 to 16 year-olds who read for pleasure do better at school. According to research by Dr Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown from the Institute of Education, 2013, reading for pleasure is more important for a child's future success than their parents' level of education.

The Department of Education states that:
"Reading for pleasure is a more important determinant of a child's future success than their family's socio-economic status"
Dept. of Education 2012

Promoting Reading for Pleasure can have a major impact on children. Their future benefits include:
 Reading attainment and writing ability
 Text comprehension and grammar
 Breadth of vocabulary
 Positive reading attitudes
Clark and Rumbold 2006

Reading Allowed Project
The Reading Allowed project recognises that, to engage children, reading needs to be fun.

Reading Allowed embraces the power of reading aloud to inspire children to develop a positive attitude to reading and motivate them to Read for Pleasure themselves.

Read Aloud
Triggers Pleasure Response
Child is conditioned to associate reading with pleasure
Increased motivation to read
Child reads for pleasure

The Reading Allowed Project is simple, effective and based on sound research.

The project has been successfully delivered into schools in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire.

‘It was a breakthrough. Without exception the children enjoyed the initiative and felt that they had developed greater confidence and a more positive attitude towards reading.’
Mr F Barratt, Headteacher, Sheffield.

Cid and Mo
We are absolutely delighted with Reading Allowed and the feedback it has received. Not only does the project promote Reading for Pleasure, but it also achieves results with children making fantastic progress in their reading. When we deliver the project in schools we speak to children, staff and parents as we believe that everyone can help children to learn to love reading, from a gran buying a book as present to a brother reading a story aloud in the car – it all helps!

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Albert Einstein

Further Information
Phone: Cid 07791511740

Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman (Wide Eyed Editions)


Written and Illustrated by
Adrienne Barman

Published by Wide Eyed Editions

Another utterly gorgeous creature book - this time from Wide Eyed Editions who are really catching our eye lately with their fantastic books. "Creaturepedia" by Adrienne Barman is just our sort of book, a big weighty hardback tome full to bursting with fascinating facts and figures about animals.

It's definitely not a dry reference book though, this - Adrienne's gorgeous humorous illustrations make us giggle while we learn as the book groups all sorts of species together in a rather innovative way. Forget grouping creatures by genus or 'family tree', animals here are grouped together the way a child would naturally want to see them teamed up. For instance, all the blue animals, all the strongest animals, the stinkiest, hairiest - you name it and there'll be a gaggle of them in here somewhere.

Poor Charlotte though reached a section of the book that made her sad. A section devoted to all the animal species we are on the brink of losing, and all the ones we've already lost :(

She was cheered up slightly by the fact that the book manages to squeeze in some mythical beasts too. Unicorns, hooray!

What a thoroughly entertaining and brilliant addition to Wide Eyed Book's superb range. Awesome animal fun!

Charlotte's best bit: The unicorn popping up in the "Mythical beasts" section. Wonderful!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Such a hugely entertaining and fun book, a big thick weighty tome full of humour and fascinating facts. What a CORKER!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Wide Eyed Editions)

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

Animalium - Welcome to the Museum by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott (Big Picture Press)

The World's Weirdest Animals by Claire Hibbert (Arcturus Publishing)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Enter the astonishing world of Oksa Pollock by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf - Published by Pushkin Children's Books

Today we're fortunate to be included in a blog tour for a very special book series. You may not have heard of Ann Plichota and Cendrine Wolf's "Oksa Pollock" series yet, but trust us, you'll definitely want to know more if you have an eye for the supernatural, and for mighty girl characters (both things we hold close to our hearts here at ReadItDaddy!)

So who is Oksa Pollock? She's the last best hope for restoring the fine balance of a world in chaos. Through three novels we've followed her adventures as her true powers become apparent, and her family call on their own amazing qualities in order to protect her.

Oksa Pollock - The Last Hope (Book 1)
We join Oksa on the day of her birth, as her family wonder if old prophecies will be fulfilled. Oksa's future is uncertain, but with the aid of her shape-shifting father Pavel, her amazing grandmother Dragomira whose menagerie of mythical creatures are formidable opponents, and Oksa's mother who fears for her daughter's safety given her predetermined role in saving the planet.

Oksa Pollock - The Forest of Lost Souls (Book 2)
Some books beg to be read until the wee small hours as they immerse you in a tightly woven alternative reality that may seem familiar, but does its best to jar your senses by throwing you into a maelstrom of action. I devoured Book 1 in short order, though it has to be said that "The Last Hope" doesn't reveal its hand too quickly. Some may feel that these books take a while to get into, and then suddenly before you know what's going on, it's 3 AM, your eyes are practically falling out of their sockets but you can't bear not to read more.

Oksa Pollock - the Heart of Two World (Book 3)

As Book 3 opens, Oksa, her family and The Runaways must find the entrance portal to Edelfia, a parallel world where Oksa and her kind can exist in peace. New allies must be made amongst enemies, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Several reviewers have described Oksa Pollock as "The French Harry Potter" which is a little unfair, as the books only really share a fantasy genre. It's really worth pointing out that although the series has a female hero, both boys and girls are going to fall head over heels in love with Oksa and the books. If there's any justice, more people will get to know her and start to line her up alongside some of the greatest female fantasy heroes in literature. Find out more, dive into the books and be ready for fast paced, dark, immersive and totally gripping adventure!

(Books 1 and 3 kindly supplied to us for review by Pushkin Children's Books)

Don't miss the other fab booky folk joining the tour over the next few days!

Words and Pictures go together like toast and butter! A ReadItDaddy Editorial.

We always love following some of the rather fiery conversations on Twitter that rage around the subject of children's books. In particular of late, the fact that children's illustrators are often overlooked, undervalued and their hard work scarcely warrants a mention in some reviews. As Sarah McIntyre quite rightly points out on her excellent blog and #PicturesmeanBusiness campaign, professional publications often play down or omit to mention entirely the illustrator in a writer / illustrator team who have worked on a book (in extreme cases, a well known children's classic such as "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" where Michael Rosen receives endless praise for the story in some articles, with ne'er a mention of Helen Oxenbury's utterly vital illustrations in the same article. Without Helen's illustrations, the book would never have become the classic it so rightly is IMHO).

(As an aside, Helen's art is utterly mesmerising. Her line work just completely blows me away, tiny tiny gestures and strokes to convey a whole gamut of facial expressions, movements and tone. As I said, mesmerising!)

It's not the fault of author nor illustrator, but does seem to be some quite bizarre set-in rot that seems to have been seeping slowly through the children's publishing industry for a number of years.

As our staple blogging subjects are predominantly picture books, we often find that the books that consistently hit the book of the week slot are not always visually stunning and perfect, nor are they works of wordy wonder. They achieve a perfect balance of each, with innovation both in story and illustration content.

To put this to the test, try reading a selection of picture books to your little ones - purposely obscuring the pictures, or not showing them to your children as you read. Did that work out for you? I can only think of one book in our recent reviewing history that works on that level - and it's "The Book with No Pictures" by B.J. Novak - a book that works as well as a piece of performance art purely through the act of making adults who read aloud to their children look a bit daft. Genius, sheer genius.

Once again though, try another exercise. Arm yourself with a pad of post-it notes and stick them over the text in a few picture books. Just show the pictures, don't read the story. How did that work out for you? In very few cases (unless purposely designed as such), picture books don't really work that well without their accompanying words either. The balance needs to be exactly that. A balance, and some extremely talented folk are equally adept at writing and illustration, pulling off the amazing trick of balancing both with aplomb in stories that completely blow us away.

One final thought on Sarah's excellent and extremely important observations about children's illustrators. We firmly believe that an appreciation of art, and definitely an appreciation of children's books (illustrations AND writing) does not require formal training in either. Absolutely not. Reviewers can only offer an opinion but that opinion is not lessened by a sharp lack of knowledge of the art techniques of Vermeer, or the fine-tuned lingual acrobatics of Shakespeare. Does your 3-6 year old have that training? (OK there probably are people out there who will answer 'yes but in general, they don't - so does this mean they can't appreciate children's picture books nor offer an opinion on them, even if their opinion is "I don't like this book, it's poo!"

We do not claim to be expert critics by any means and in fact we rather like a healthy debate around a book if someone disagrees with us on it.

We do not get paid to do this, nor would we ever try to tread on the toes of professional bodies whose job it is to ensure the growth of the publishing industry and for that matter those who carry the responsibility of promoting the services of some of the industry's leading illustrative and literate folk. But we are the consumers of the 'product', children are who these books were made for, so don't just scrub those opinions into the food waste bin.

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 27th February 2015 - "The Really Gross Body Book" by Emma Dodson and Sarah Horne(Templar Publishing)

The Really Gross Body Book

Written by Emma Dodson

Illustrated by Sarah Horne

Published by Templar Publishing

Lift-the-flap books invariably go down very well at ReadItDaddy Towers but when they contain subject matter of a slightly stomach-churning nature, they are even more well received. Parents probably already know this, but when kids reach a certain age (say, 2 upwards and probably long into their teens), books that heavily feature farts, poo, wee and spew sing out to them like an icky siren song.

Enter "The Really Gross Body Book" at your peril because right from the first trouser-trumping spread, you're in for a fantastic (and REALLY GROSS) journey around your body, and all the less-than-lovely things it can do.

To give you an idea of how well this book was received, Charlotte basically shoved that first page spread RIGHT IN MY FACE and demanded that it was made book of the week. I am not one to argue with a tempestuous six year old but I do actually agree that this is an utterly brilliant book that is crammed with icky facts, amazing statistics and some really innovative paper-crafting to put its key points across. There are pop-up bits that are brilliant fun (how about a stinky armpit right in your fizzog?) and loads & loads of little flaps to lift up, pull out, spin round and generally mess around with - each imparting even more grim information than you can possibly stomach (watch with horror as your child lovingly peels back the layers of a scab to discover how your skin heals itself. Ewwwwgh!)

The book is humorously written but it doesn't play things too dumb either, which is fantastic to see. The illustrations though, oh boy, you really may end up feeling green around the gills as your child gleefully yanks down the notepad-shaped poo chart and delightedly describes to you their latest 'creation'.

It's not a book to enjoy over breakfast, lunch or dinner but it's utterly superb. We've been saying for years that 'lift the flap' books like this shouldn't purely be for toddlers and babies, and so it's really great to see a book for older kids using the format so successfully. A botty-burping bile-barfing bum-waggling belly-busting bogey-snarfing scab-picking book of the week without a doubt!

Charlotte's best bit: Delightedly informing everyone that vegetarian sweat is slightly sweeter smelling than carnivore sweat. Lovely!

Daddy's Favourite bit: It might well put you off your dinner but it's a fantastic fact (and fart) filled book of fun for youngsters (and yes, even adults will laugh like a drain at most of it too!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)