Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book snobbery - no better way to put potential young readers off books for life - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

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It's not exactly a massive surprise that a journalist attacking a beloved author would automatically create such a kerfuffle, particularly if that recently departed author's last book was launching the same week as the ill-timed editorial piece went live. The article and the consequent reactions across social media were extremely interesting, from both sides of the fence (those who agreed with Jonathan Jones but had previously lacked the courage to admit it, and those who loved Sir Terry's work and couldn't quite believe what they were reading).

Though I don't doubt that Jonathan Jones' article for the Guardian achieved exactly what Jonathan Jones intended (to get everyone talking about Jonathan Jones - sorry, did I mention his name enough? Apparently he's called Jonathan Jones and works for The Guardian - yeah I know, my cheque's in the post), it was a particularly nasty piece of ill-informed drivel that served to undermine the value of critique. 

Whether you love or loathe Terry Pratchett's work, you can't deny that his books are hugely well respected and loved by fantasy and comedy fans, and of course a truckload of authors who have either been lucky enough to work with Sir TP or have cited him as a major influence on their own writing. 

To damn them, as the article did, as mediocre after the journalist known as Jonathan Jones stated he'd 'merely flicked through one in a bookstore once' was just breathtakingly idiotic, I don't think you can even call it snobbish as it just seemed like painting a target on your own back or attaching a big 'kick me' sign on your butt.

This blog post started out as a reaction to the Guardian piece (which I disagreed with wholly, despite not being the world's biggest Pratchett fan myself but certainly loving a great many of his books and characters) it was also partly prompted by a Twitter conversation where a publisher was asking (on behalf on a children's author) for examples of "Bad Children's Books".

How on earth can you summarise in a tweet what is "bad" about a bad children's book? Off the top of your head, if you CAN think of specific examples, what exactly is bad about the book? Does it have sucky artwork? Is the story riddled with cliches and typical children's story tropes? Is it just particularly badly written, sloppily edited, poorly designed and presented?

It got me thinking about bad books - and we have seen some really bad books - bad by definition of seemingly managing to get absolutely everything wrong all at once in a way that alienates the intended audience (children) and their main source of funds (adults / their parents). 

If you're scanning this article waiting for specific examples I'm afraid you're out of luck. Our broad brush answer to the original 'bad books' request was 'anything with a TV / Film / Merchandise tie in for the 5+ age range, that reads like it's been written for under 5s' - You'll probably know the sort of books we mean, where the entire thing has been Frankensteined together using a bunch of art assets, a horribly cliched story or even a potted and heavily summarised version of the movie or TV programme in question - with nary an author or illustrator's name in evidence. Couple that example with any book that lays out its table with some gender-specific nonsense like "The Adventure Book for Boys" or "The Handbag Collecting and Pretty Princess Book for Girls" and that's about as far as we'd go in naming and shaming bad book examples. Even with the gender-stereotype stuff, gender issues are so horribly and hatefully ingrained despite our best efforts with Charlotte that she'd probably still quite like some of them. 

Early on when we started this blog, I wanted to try and pass on a complete lack of snobbery to Charlotte when it comes to books. Sometimes I'd grab stuff from the library stacks that I hated the look of, just to see if she would like or dislike them. Often I was pleasantly surprised to find that judging a book by its cover (or a quick 'flick through in a bookstore') didn't hold up when a book was properly sat down with, read and enjoyed.

On rare occasions there were books that neither of us took to. Those books have never appeared on the blog and probably never will (we did once submit a fairly negative review of something which we were roundly pilloried for, mostly because we were so crushingly disappointed with the book's promise which it roundly didn't deliver on - and which was the fault of the editor and not the author / illustrator in this particular case - We'll leave you to search for that one). 

We usually don't review 'bad' books mostly because life's too short to spend time writing Jonathan Jones-esque clickbait / troll pieces, though I'm sure most bloggers have been tempted in the past to write big moany pieces laying into one book or another. I just don't think there's any mileage in putting a young reader off something purely because you don't like it, particularly when that reader may be at an age where they're just beginning to realise not everything is automatically awesome. 

What was very interesting in the bad books discussion was when several well-loved series were mentioned as being a real pain in the proverbial to read (and review). The beloved Mr Men and even poor old Thomas the Tank Engine were lined up in the sights of some of the folk involved in the discussion though we rather like The Mr Men, and I think Charlotte would put up with Thomas books, even the new ones which really are tough to love. 

Book snobbery (like wine snobbery, food snobbery, gad there's even cigar and football snobbery apparently!) serves no one and it certainly doesn't serve the young, who are open minded and imaginative enough to make best of most things (which is why you'll instantly spot in our reviews when a book went down well with Charlotte but didn't with me, and vice versa). 

Jonathan Jones (that name again, Jonathan Jones) may have exposed himself as an ill-informed book snob in the very first paragraph of his article but some of the responses - from readers, authors, editors, publishers and illustrators alike - have been absolutely golden, and I doubt anything he says would put anyone off reading Pratchett (or anything else for that matter) though I'd imagine the Guardian lost a few readers over that particular piece of excrescence. 

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Notes from the Toybox this month - Creative fun with Aqua Beads and a celebration of a hugely popular toy range's 30th anniversary!

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Welcome to a new semi-regular review slot where we take a break from the books for a mo or two and look at some fabulous toys and games, stationery and other merchandise that kids can look forward to spending their hard earned pocket money on.

First off, we're getting crafty with a well established toy favourite, growing with a whole new range of sets to play with.

Got a steady hand? Aquabeads are always fun and we've been taking a look at one of the new starter sets coming soon. The new Aqua Beads Party Food Starter Set lets you make some tempting treats with standard coloured aqua beads and the new jewelled beads.

Make lollies, doughnuts, cupcakes and all sorts of other tempting treats just by dropping the coloured beads onto a template sheet, spraying with water, leaving them to set and then you're ready to play.

The sets are good but the new style water applicator (which you can just see off to the left of our headline photo) is a bit dribbly, we much prefer the old mister-style water bottle (which we thankfully still have from a set that Charlotte got for Christmas). Of course, once kids are a dab hand at making the designs in the sets, they can buy top-up packs of beads and start making their own designs too!

The tempting treats under construction
(note: new water applicator at bottom of pic is VERY dribbly compared to the old one!)

You can find Aqua Beads starter and complete sets in most toy stockists and online retailers.

Interestingly enough, one of the starter sets you can get for Aqua Beads is a Sylvanian Families set - Sylvaniamania (as it's popularly known) doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down, and can you believe that Sylvanian Families toys are now 30 years old?



We were recently sent one of the toys (Freya - from the Chocolate Rabbit Family), which swiftly became Charlotte's favourite mascot during the summer holidays - going practically everywhere with her. The Sylvanian Families range is HUGE, so don't forget to check out their website and take a look at all the fantastic characters - and even join the Sylvanian Families Fan Club for more excellent fun.

As your kids are going back to school, check out some of the other related Sylvanian merchandise too, particularly if your little ones need new notepads, school bags and lunch kit!

Find out more on the Sylvanian Families website. 

Stay tuned for more toybox posts coming soon!



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Pom Pom the Champion by Sophy Henn (Picture Puffin)

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Pom Pom the (no longer) grumpy Panda is back, hooray! Let's take a closer look at Sophy Henn's awesome second outing for our fave Panda chum!
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A fantastic interview with Sophy Henn, author of "Pom Pom The Champion" and "Pom Pom Gets the Grumps"

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Sophy Henn - Author of the wonderful "Where Bear?" and "Pom Pom" books.
One of our favourite author-illustrators has very kindly popped by the blog to say hello. With a second fantastic "Pom Pom" book coming very soon, we talk to Sophy Henn and find out a little bit more about her awesome work.

Q1: Hi Sophy and welcome to ReadItDaddy, thanks for stopping by to put yourself under the spotlight. Tell us a bit about yourself!

Well, I'm a Mummy who read lots and lots and lots of books to my daughter. Books by Lauren Child, Dr Seuss and my childhood favourites Roald Dahl, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, to name a few. And it was while I was reading those books I thought I'd like to have a go at writing and illustrating a picture book myself. That's how I ended up here! But I never imagined I'd get this far, and certainly not being interviewed by your good selves!

Q2: As you know, we loved "Where, Bear?" and "Pom Pom Gets the Grumps" ("Where Bear") was a Book of the Week, we loved it that much! Now Pom Pom the Champion is on the horizon, are you sticking with awesome bear characters for a while longer?

It's funny but I never realised I loved bears so much! To be honest it wasn't a conscious decision to do lots of bear books they were just the strongest and most fully formed characters I had in my head/sketchbooks. But the book after Pom Pom the Champion has a little girl as the main character. There are some animals in it, even a Red Panda, but mainly children.


Q3: What's your favourite place to work? Are you happy jotting ideas down in a notepad while sipping coffee at your local coffee den or do you need a quiet space to work in?

If I am at the beginning of a project, the ideas stage, then I can work almost anywhere. Ideas can come at any moment so I try and have a notebook on me at all times. I usually lug around a laptop, phone and sketchbook too, so I am always prepared and have excellent arm muscles!
But if I am writing a final draft I do need a quiet room and endless supply of tea. I can't concentrate if it's noisy or I'm thirsty! I don't drink coffee anymore as I get the fidgets and had to go for a run the last time I tried! If I am doing final illustrations I need my big old iMac and a lightbox, so on a practical level I need to be in my workroom. I like the radio on when I'm drawing ( Lisa Tarbuck or a Radio 4 whodunnit are my favourites), and more tea!


iMac jealousy! What an awesome studio!


Charlotte's Questions:

Q1: Will there ever be a cuddly Pom that we can buy and take home?

I really, really, really, really hope so! I think he would be pretty cuddly and rather cute. I had promised myself I would try and crochet a Pom Pom this summer (I'm not too bad! I've managed to make a pear, bunny and a hedgehog!), but it's been a bit busy so far. I will send over a picture if I manage it!

Q2: What's the best way to become a children's author?

Hmmm, thats a very good question! I think there are lots and lots of different ways and I'm not sure I know the best one, but I do know what worked for me and that was to remember who I was writing for...children! I know that sounds obvious but when you are making a book you get very attached to it and it's easy to cling onto the things you love or think are clever, but they might not be right for your audience. I try to remember what it was like to be that age, what it felt like and the things that really mattered to me. And that's no mean feat as that was about a million years ago!
Also keep writing/drawing as much as you can manage, again I fear I am stating the obvious! Jump in and go for it! Accept that not everything you write or illustrate will work out, that is FINE, it happens to EVERYONE! A lot of my mistakes have really helped me, pushed me in a different direction or given me a new idea. And some haven't, you can't win them all!

Q3: Who is your all-time favourite fictional bear?

OOOh, so many to chose from. Paddington, Yogi, Baloo, Fozzie (come on he invented "Fart Shoes"), and even the one from the Muller Rice advert is pretty cool. But I suppose it has to be Winnie the Pooh (or Winnie A Pooh as my daughter used to call him). He's far from perfect, but tries his best and is, by and large, a good friend. Oh and he gave us Pooh Sticks, classic!



"Pom Pom the Champion" out on 3rd September 2015. Reserve your copy now!


Don't miss Sophy's new book "Pom Pom The Champion" coming tomorrow (3rd September 2015) from Picture Puffin.
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Big City Sticker Book: Sticker and Activity Book by Maggie Li (Pavilion Children's Books)

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A gigantic colourful journey around the bustling cities of our world, with sticker and navigation fun. Don't forget your passport!
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A guest blog post from Rob Keeley, author of "Childish Spirits" and "The Spirit of London" published by Troubador.

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"Childish Spirits" by Rob Keeley.


One of the things I love about being a writer is that you never know where your writing is going to take you. There was I, on Twitter yesterday afternoon, browsing through my timeline when suddenly, there was a picture of a shield from one of my favourite childhood programmes, the challenge being to name it and receive 100 geek points.

 As a child of the Eighties and total sci-fi and fantasy geek, I immediately named it as the Eye Shield (from CITV’s Knightmare) and only afterwards did it occur to me to find out who had actually posted the picture. It turned out to have come from this rather lovely book blog run by Phil and Charlotte, and this led to an equally lovely invitation to guest blog about the first two books in my “Spirits” series of ghost novels for the 8-12s.

 So here I am at 8.30am on a delightful cloudy, windy English summer morning, having just dropped my mobile on my foot and wondering what to write.
I always find talking about my books far harder than actually writing them. Let alone finding anything new to tell people. I mean, if you want to know who my favourite authors were, or when I first started to write, you can already find lots of other great websites that will tell you. And whenever I do a Q&A, someone always, always asks me: “What inspires you?” and I never have a clue what to say.

Rob Keeley

Instead, I thought I’d become interviewer instead of interviewee, and let one of my characters do the talking. There are already two books out there – Childish Spirits and The Spirit of London – telling the ongoing story of Ellie and Edward.

Ellie is a normal kid who suddenly finds she has the power to see ghosts – and to help them, too. Edward Fitzberranger is the first ghost she meets. He’s ten years old – forever – and died in 1897. Ellie meets him at Inchwood Manor, a house Edward feels is rightfully his. He came from a rich aristocratic family, and was a bit spoilt, and more than a bit naughty. Since becoming a ghost, he’s found lots of ways to use his supernatural powers to play pranks on visitors to Inchwood.

So, let’s have a breakfast meeting with Edward.
Edward can get inside computers and other devices, has already found his way onto my Twitter page and shortly, he’s going to find the link to here. I’m wondering where he’s got to...

BOO!

Hello, Edward. Wait while I pick up the toast I’ve dropped.

Oh, there’s no time for that! Everyone’s come here to hear all about me! I say, this is a jolly odd way of reaching people. In my day, Father used to send letters to the papers. The only tweets were from birds in the kitchen garden.

Edward, thanks for joining us.

Pleasure, old chap.

Now, perhaps you’d tell us how you first met Ellie, in the story I’ve called Childish Spirits?

Absolutely. Well, meeting Ellie has changed my life. Well, not life, but you know what I mean. I’d been hanging around the nursery at Inchwood for decades, with only my toy soldiers and my train set for company. The only pleasure I got was when visitors came to the house, and I could scare ‘em off. After all, it is my house. I don’t want people tramping muddy footprints all over it.
But then, Journeyback bought the house, and wanted to bring day trippers in – tourists, I believe they’re called. And Ellie came to Inchwood with her mother, who works for Journeyback organising events, or some such nonsense. That’s how we met.

And then what happened?

Well, at first I didn’t want Ellie and her family there, and I gave her some jolly good scares, I can tell you! But then something rather frightening started to happen. Another ghost came, and was hunting me down. Now, I was the one being haunted, and only Ellie could help me. If you want to find out more, you’ll have to read the book.

And in The Spirit of London?

When Ellie left Inchwood and went home to London, I decided there was no point drifting around the nursery for evermore. So I went home with her. Most of my life was spent in the country, and I fancied a trip to Town. But then, once we arrived, Ellie discovered there was another ghost on the loose. And he wasn’t an awfully nice chap. And I’m afraid, he even talked me into working for him, and betraying Ellie – well, just a bit. So I had to put things right, by... but again, you’ll have to read it.

Why is Ellie so special to the spirit world?

I don’t know. She seems to be able to see ghosts, and discover things from the past, in a way that no one else can. I’m hoping we’ll have some more adventures together, so I can find out. There is an old legend in the spirit world... no. That can’t have anything to do with Ellie. Can it?
I certainly want to see your adventures continue. What are your plans, until then?
After what happened in The Spirit of London, I’ve got a new home, and some new friends. I really mustn’t say too much, old boy, but let’s just say it’s another country house, and we’re trying to find new ways to bring people in. Perhaps I’ve learned my lesson! Or not. I don’t see Ellie quite so much at present, but I have a feeling she’s going to need me again...

Thank you Edward!

Couldn’t lend me a fiver, could you?

I hope you’ll follow Ellie and Edward’s adventures in Childish Spirits, The Spirit of London and other books I’m planning for later in the series.

"The Spirit of London" by Rob Keeley

For more information, visit www.robkeeley.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobKeeleyAuthor .

Thanks to Phil and Charlotte and happy reading! (and thank YOU Rob for putting together such an awesome guest post for us in super-quick time!)


Rob Keeley

Further reading: 

My second novel for children "The Spirit of London" is scheduled for publication in September 2015:

http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=3382


Read an advance review at: http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Spirit_of_London_by_Rob_Keeley


My first novel for children, a ghost story entitled "Childish Spirits", is published by Troubador Publishing. Visit:

http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=2743

Read a review at: http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Childish_Spirits_by_Rob_Keeley
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Jules and Nina - Happy Birthday Nina by Anita Pouroulis and Agata Krawczyk (Digital Leaf)

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Hooray, it's the third book in Anita Pouroulis' devoted doggy series "Jules, Nina and George Tales" and it's a very special one because it's time for a birthday!
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Monday, August 31, 2015

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

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We're fashionably late to the party for this one but we couldn't resist reviewing Chris Haughton's perfect slice of comedic mayhem. Here's "Shh! We Have a Plan!"
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The World Famous Cheese Shop Break-In by Sean Taylor and Hannah Shaw (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

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Crazy about cheddar? Falling over yourself for Feta? Ga-ga about gorgonzola? You can bet we'll be (cheese)wheeling out more cheesetastic puns for our review of "The World Famous Cheese Shop Break-In"
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Friday, August 28, 2015

Take a look at a fantastic Early Readers range coming soon from Maverick Publishing

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Some of Maverick Publishing's greatest picture books will soon be available in a new format perfect for early readers cutting their teeth with stories and picture books and reading them on their own.

Maverick's new Early Readers range comes in a series of banded colours by ability and complexity, drawing on Maverick's awesome back catalogue of previously published picture books.

The initial range of titles includes:

"The Black and White Club" by Alice Hemming and Kimberley Scott

"A Scarf and a Half" by Amanda Brandon and Catalina Echeverri.

"Yuck said the Yak" by Alex English and Emma Levey

"Hocus Pocus Diplodocus" by Steve Howson and Kate Daubney

"Preposterous Rhinoceros" by Tracey Gunaratnam and Marta Costa.

Designed to be schoolbag-friendly, and perfect for class or home, these early readers introduce key stage reading concepts utilising Maverick's trademark colourful characters and engaging stories to make a range of early readers that are perfect for that difficult transition from listener to self-reader.

"The Black and White Club" by Alice Hemming and Kimberley Scott

We've been taking a look at the Early Reader range and think it's going to be a fantastic addition to Maverick's already well established and well received picture book titles. 

"Yuck Said the Yak" by Alex English and Emma Levey.
You can find out more about the new Early Readers range on Maverick's website. 




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