Monday, June 30, 2014

The Cake by Dorothee De Monfried (Gecko Press)

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The Cake

Written and Illustrated by
Dorothee De Monfried

Published by Gecko Press

France's most fantastic author-illustrator Dorothee De Monfried is back, and this time she's brought cake! When a tiger has a rumbly tummy, and his friends are hungry too, there's really only one thing for it. It's time to enter the great animal bake-off and bake the most delicious cake.

Dog wants a bone cake. Teddy rather fancies a fish cake. Rabbit wants carrot cake (good choice rabbit, it's my fave too!) and monkey wants banana cake but none of the friends can agree and tiger is such a bossy chap that he insists on chocolate cake.

When it comes to listing the ingredients (silly tiger forgets the chocolate, by the way) things go from bad to worse. In fact tiger gets so grumpy at the suggestion of baking a fish-carrot-bone-banana cake that he loses his temper and threatens to eat everyone instead!

There's only one thing for it...

How do the friends deal with grumpy tiger? You'll get a bit of a clue on the back cover of this book - coming to a bookshelf near you on this very day from Gecko Press (and believe us, it's a very fitting ending that deals quite neatly with bossy choc-cake-obsessed tigers. We truly loved Dorothee's humour and her "Roobarb"-esque wibbly wobbly animal illustrations. A great book that teaches us the value of friendship (and cake) and how to deal with bossy boots!

Charlotte's best bit: When tiger loses his temper and starts roaring. Scary moment!

Daddy's Favourite bit: I think they should've gone with rabbit's suggestion because carrot cake is the very finest cake known to man (or beast)

(Very kindly sent to us for review by Gecko Press)
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Passing the Torch...A friday musing.

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Back when we started the blog I always knew there would come a day when Charlotte would be able to read independently on her own and would scurry off with a pile of books and bury her nose in them. All our reviews are exactly that - ours, and we've always put together a mix of both our opinions.

In passing the torch, shifting from me reading to her, towards her reading on her own (but thankfully with lots and lots of opportunity for me to read aloud to her still - something I'll always do until she doesn't want me to any more, and I always hope she'll want me to!) it's got me thinking about how to properly pass the torch.

We could rename the blog to "Read It, Charlotte!" (Always thought that would eventually be a really good idea).

We could roll out an idea I've had for ages where Charlotte takes to the keyboard and taps out her own reviews (though parents who have children who write their own blogs will tell you, even the brightest little sparks can take an hour to write 10 lines for a review and they're not always the most readable opinions).

We could adopt another idea where I produce review sheets, splicing together some handwritten opinions, maybe a couple of drawings (this is my favourite option but again with full time school and both my wife and I working full time, it's extremely difficult to fit in something fairly time consuming that has to be done on a regular basis - so we might opt for this either as a book of the week thing or a semi-regular feature).

It is an exciting time though. The best thing about passing the torch is that Charlotte reads for pleasure. I once asked her why she loves reading and she said (and I quote) "Books take you to places in your head" which is a pretty awesome way of underlining why kids who read for pleasure often have the most vivid and colourful imaginations, a creative leaning, an inquisitive and curious nature and a huge appreciation for all manner of stories both fictional and non fictional.

Over the summer (when we'll both have a lot more spare time) we'll be working on some changes. We might not be able to be as frequent or as timely as we've always tried to be with our reviews but we'll always try to keep things fresh and exciting, as fresh and exciting as the fabulous books we're lucky enough to be able to read and review - both together and alone.

Huge huge thanks for the continued support, feedback and encouragement. It means such a huge amount both to Charlotte and to me.


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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 27th June 2014 - "My Teacher Is a Monster (No I am not!)" By Peter Brown (Macmillan Children's Books)

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My Teacher is a Monster (No I am not!)

Written and Illustrated by
Peter Brown

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

One of the rising stars of children's literature, Peter Brown wowed our socks off with "Mr Tiger Goes Wild", bagging our "Book of the Week" award and a good number of other awards into the bargain.

We loved "Mr Tiger" and Peter has now pulled off the double - and once again finds himself taking up residence in our book of the week slot with this absolute corker of a book.

"My Teacher is a Monster! (No I am not!)" is the story of Bobby. Bobby is an absolute little angel, always well behaved, never naughty, does not indulge in mean tricks and is a paragon of good manners. Or at least in his mind's eye he is. Bobby constantly falls foul of Miss Kirby. Miss Kirby, to put it bluntly, is a monster.

She does not stand for Bobby's behaviour in class, so when Bobby unexpectedly encounters Miss Kirby while out roaming in his favourite playing spot, awkwardness ensues.

Peter Brown has a gift for making stories that invite curiosity and comment, and "My Teacher is a Monster" has one of those delicious twists that is slowly revealed throughout the course of the story. We're definitely not going to ruin it for you ahead of the book's July 3rd release date, suffice to say that it's one of the funniest and most original books we've seen in a very long time.

Kids - love your teachers. They're groovy and definitely NOT monstery, OK?

Charlotte's best bit: Giggling at the slow reveal till the twist near the end of the book.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A smasher, Peter Brown makes it look SO EASY to produce such brilliantly funny (and beautiful) children's books. "Mr Tiger Goes Wild" wowed just about everyone, and this is going to do the same.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Macmillan Children's Books)
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Three Cheers for Inventors by Marcia Williams (Walker Books)

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Three Cheers for Inventors

Written and Illustrated by
Marcia Williams

Published by Walker Books

Oh yes, this is something really special! History Girl (Charlotte) grabbed this book from the local library stacks and couldn't wait to dive in. When I was a kid I was always obsessed with how things worked, and more importantly, who were the geniuses behind some of the gizmos we take for granted.

Marcia Williams' book collects together some of the greatest inventors in history, and also pays homage to the lesser known folk who independently contributed to inventions and gadgets that have become part of our everyday world.

Starting off with one of our favourite genius artists and designers, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marcia's exhaustive research, brilliant illustrations and hilarious margin characters guide you through everything from steam power to light bulbs and of course (very important this for booky folk) the printing press.

Charlotte was completely wrapped in this book, particularly a huge section on women inventors and the amazing things they've invented (like all genius ideas, some of them are so simple but so very clever that reading about their origins is both fascinating and fun).

Though this was published in 2006, it's still fairly relevant and up to date so worth seeking out (It's still in print and is a bit of a bargain!) If your own children are history nuts like Charlotte, or if they're just curious to find out how things work and how they came to be, this is an absolutely brilliant and essential read.

Charlotte's best bit: She loved all the little margin 'dragons' and found it funny that people were initially quite scared of television when it was first demonstrated in public.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Detailed, fun, exhaustively researched, lovingly presented, written and illustrated by someone who obviously has a great passion for inventions and gadgets. A really fantastic book in every way!
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Usborne Puzzle Series - Puzzle Jungle (Usborne Books)

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Usborne Puzzle Series - Puzzle Jungle



Published by Usborne Books

The long (very long) summer holidays are almost upon us and though most kids are probably hopping up and down on the spot with excitement, most parents are inwardly groaning, wondering how on earth they're going to fill 8 long weeks with activities and fun.

It's trickier still when you work full time, scraping together your annual leave to try and spend some time with your kids and not foist them onto the grandparents (we hugely, HUGELY appreciate Charlotte's grandparents pitching in, we really do!)

Anyway, straying back onto topic, we're on the look out for interesting books that can keep Charlotte occupied. The little lady spotted these fantastic "Puzzle Series" books from Usborne in our local library so we booked out a couple (this and Puzzle Mountain) to check them out.

Merging together an action story featuring children, with some quite fiendish puzzles, it's a great book to pass a few hours. Puzzles are approachable and kid-friendly though expect the odd times when your little darling will howl at the top of their voice "HOW DO I DO THIS BIT?"

As with all Usborne's titles, Puzzle Jungle is fantastically illustrated and nicely presented.

Charlotte's best bit: A fiendish animal maze, trying to find a safe path through the creature-infested jungle

Daddy's Favourite bit: A neat way to pass a few hours when kids are fed up with watching Peppa Pig on a loop
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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Phoenix Presents "Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey" by Lawrence (Lorenzo) Etherington (David Fickling Books)

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The Phoenix Presents Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey

Written and Illustrated by
Lawrence (Lorenzo) Etherington

Published by David Fickling Books

With a huge dash of derring-do, the world's coolest quiff, and puzzles to mangle your brain and beat it into submission, Von Doogan stars in his very first adventure puzzle collection. The very best (and trickiest) puzzles that kids can wrap their grey matter around have been a running theme in The Phoenix Comic. Charlotte and I usually enjoy working out these tricky little puzzles, which are fiendishly devised and beautifully illustrated by top comic talent Lawrence (Lorenzo) Etherington, one half of the fabulous Etherington Brothers.

We follow Von Doogan on his quest to solve the riddle of the golden monkey, while outwitting dastardly foes (and hopefully not depleting the ozone layer too much keeping that astonishing hairstyle in place!)

Zowie! This looks tricky! Poker Face (Puzzle 6)

I have a terrible admission to make - I keep sneaking off with this one to solve some of the trickier puzzles (and they really are fantastic, everything from working out safe passage through tarantula-infested caves to stacking up cargo in just the right way on a series of trucks).

Having all the puzzles gathered together in one delicious volume is awesome and if this doesn't keep us busy for the entire long summer school holidays, nothing will.

Puzzle 13 - A Clandestine Culinary Cryptogram. Unlucky for you!


"Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey" is available from the fabulous Phoenix Online Store.

Charlotte's best bit: Charlotte is convinced that she could actually solve most of the puzzles on her own without my help, and that I just get in the way! Charming!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Absolutely love Von Doogan puzzles, they're like the Times Crossword of comic puzzle sections. No mean feat if you can manage to solve all of these without your brain exploding out of your earhole and crying "Mercy, mercy!"

(Kindly sent to us for review by David Fickling Books)
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Batman Strikes! Joker's Wild by Bill Matheny, Terry Beatty, Heroic Age and Christopher Jones (Raintree Press)

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Batman Strikes - Jokers Wild

Written by Bill Matheny and Terry Beatty
Illustrated by Heroic Age and Christopher Jones

Published by Raintree Press

Batman isn't exactly the sort of character you'd really call 'kid friendly' and yet there seems to be a plethora of Batman merchandise aimed at kids, which puzzles me somewhat. Are parents basically ignoring the age ratings on the movies and letting their kids watch them? Or are they letting their kids loose on the equally violent and 'grown-up' DC comics?

Of course there are Batman stories for kids, and we discovered one in our local library and thought we'd give it a go. Charlotte, because she's probably heard me raving about Batman enough times to be curious (though obviously I won't let her anywhere near my comics or movies) and me because I wanted to see how anyone could dilute Batman down enough to make it suitable for a young audience.

At the hands of a large but extremely talented team, Raintree Press's "Batman Strikes" series is a slick and classy production that, with limited success, conveys the darkness and chaos of a good Batman yarn.

I'm at pains to point out here that the story still contains violence (though it's more in line with the "60's Batman" stuff - still violence all the same), and of course introducing one of Batman's most murderous and psychopathic adversaries is never going to be easy in a kid's strip. Here the Joker is portrayed more as an avaricious arch-criminal than a dangerous lunatic, a player of games, a clown prince than a taker of lives.

Charlotte found the story "boring" in her own words, which is a bit of a shame because I wouldn't want it to put her off investigating the rich Batman comics and movie universe when she's a lot older (like 10 years or so from now). She liked the Joker though, even here in his relatively tame form, so maybe there's a glimmer of hope there yet!

Lesson learned though, and I'd still like to check out the rest of the Raintree "Batman Strikes" series just to see if other uber-crims like Bane and The Penguin make the transition. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if Raintree had opted for a Catwoman story, they might've snagged a few more girl readers - the range does seem a little bit too boy-centric, as if girls have no place anywhere near ol' Bats.

Charlotte's best bit: The Joker's smilex custard pie. Tasty, but deadly!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A brave attempt to produce kid-friendly comics based on a well-established grown-up comicbook hero. Perhaps too distanced and diluted from the originals but aside from a few instances of comic violence, pretty 'safe' for 7 and up - certainly more so than any of the DC Batman fare.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

YA and children's literature - "why does a forty-something Dad read that stuff, is he crazy?" - Editorial.

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"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. Complex and multilayered - just like your average teen. 
It's the topic du jour, and it seems to have become popular lately to take a pop at YA (and for that matter children's literature) both from a reader and author perspective. 

Adults who read YA have been pilloried for their simple tastes. Adults who read children's literature are  probably lumped into the same mix, and yet you're talking about two branches of literature that have the most demanding audiences on the planet. 

Writing for teens and young adults is no easy ride, and it puzzles me that the same tired old examples of the genre are held up as the mould from which all YA is cast. 

Similarly, writing for children is looked down on. "Oh, you write children's books? How twee!" - You can imagine how many children's authors and artists have heard that at a dinner party or social occasion and wished they had laser vision and could melt the person who said it into a puddle on the floor. 

So why does a 46 year old dad get wildly enthusiastic about YA and children's literature? Well I've got a huge hill to climb to earn 'cool points' with a certain pretty miss who is the real brains behind this blog to start with. Charlotte thinks books rock, and I absolutely will not stop reading children's books to her, with her and have her read to me - for as long as she wants to kick around with her old dad. 

Also, pretty simple really. I've seen the stuff that 'grown ups' are supposed to read. I've laughed my head off at a certain grown up book that comes with a cover picked out in various shades of grey. Not through the sheer joy of enjoying a good book, but at the hilarity that something so utterly banal and atrociously written could become so massively popular. 

BoingBoing published an article today reminding us that one of the paragons of fantasy literature had much to say on the subject of "books for children". If C.S Lewis, a literary professor, thinks it's OK, I'm more likely to take his word over some headline-trolling journalist who wants to generate a ton of clickbait for their paymasters by tuning up folk who recognise the amount of effort that it takes to write for kids and young adults. 

I've been struggling to polish off a couple of stories for children, and though I'm no great shakes as a writer, second best is not good enough for children. "dumbed down" stuff won't cut it. Diluted stories, one dimensional characters, rubbish settings and cliches are not going to win you an army of adoring fans (of any age). 

I've got acres of admiration for anyone who writes, gets published, and gets the recognition they deserve - I sincerely hope that grown ups continue reading kids books and YA fiction, because perhaps it will lead to a revolution in adult literature too. 

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Deadliest Animals on Earth by Erika L. Shores (Raintree)

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Deadliest Animals on Earth

Written by Erika L. Shores

Published by Raintree

With a title like this, Charlotte could not resist "Deadliest Animals on Earth" when she popped along to the library with Mummy the other day. The lure of learning about dangerous animals, their habitats and their most deadly attributes is almost as intoxicating as the venom of a Gila Monster!

This book obviously takes its cues from children's wildlife programmes like "Deadly 50" starring mummy blogger pin-up Steve Backshall. The book breaks you in gently by telling you about some of the slightly less lethal species, which will only paralyse you. Before long though, you'll find out that the humble but dangerous Hippopotamus kills more people in Africa than Lions or Elephants combined, or that the venom of a Komodo Dragon will stop your blood from clotting, making you bleed to death after a single bite. Ew!

We are quite thankful none of this lot live in Wales (our chosen holiday destination this year)

Charlotte's best bit: The rather gory and gruesome double spread of the Komodo Dragon doing its disgusting thing. Ew, not while we're eating tea thank you Charlotte!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Packed with gruesome facts and figures, with attractive (if somewhat gory) colour photos, this is definitely one for your own deadly little mite!
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Bunny vs Monkey Year 1 (The Phoenix Presents Series) by Jamie Smart (David Fickling Books)

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Bunny Vs Monkey Year 1 (The Phoenix Presents)

Written and Illustrated by
Jamie Smart

Published by David Fickling Books

For quite some time we've been clamouring for The Phoenix to do an annual but we'll settle for their latest plan for world domination instead. "The Phoenix Presents" series is a collection of some of the best strips from the mighty Phoenix Comic, lovingly bound and collected together to consume in one huge splurge-fest.

Charlotte is a huge Phoenix fan (even recently using the comic as the basis for her friday morning "Show and Tell" at school, which apparently went very well and met with lots of "oohs" and "ahhs" from her class - which is what we LOVE to hear!)

From the deep dark woods to the outer reaches of space. Bunny vs Monkey knows no bounds!


One of Charlotte's favourite strips is "Bunny vs Monkey" which is actually quite difficult to describe really. The frenetic talents of Jamie Smart, kid's comic genius and contributor to some of the best-loved comics on the planet (including, of course, The Phoenix) poured into a strip that's one part "Animal Farm" to ten parts "Rambo", whizzed up in a liquidiser until chaos ensues.

Collecting together "Year One" in the lives of the strange woodland animals, such as Bunny, Monkey, Metal Steve, Pig and Action Beaver (!), the strip has always been hilarious and quite, quite mad.

In the grand tradition of the greatest British comic strips, Jamie's characters are always ending up in the stickiest of situations (mostly through their own bizarre agendas). Kids absolutely soak up anything that successfully spins together abject naughtiness and grossness, Bunny vs Monkey does that in spades.

"Choooom" is a word I'm going to try and work into every meeting today...!


If you're playing catchup and have yet to experience the sheer delight of Phoenix Friday, when your very own copy of the comic drops through your door clad in the best mailing envelope ever - here's a chance to get in on the ground floor, grab a collection of the very best Bunny vs Monkey, and get set for its glorious return to the weekly mag soon. How on earth Jamie Smart finds the time to do all this stuff beats the heck out of me, but we're so glad he does!

"Bunny vs Monkey - Year 1" by Jamie Smart is available from the fabulous Phoenix Online Store. Go geddit!

Charlotte is secretly in love with Metal Steve but thinks he might spurn her affection for not being 'metal' enough.

Daddy's Favourite bit: Frantic, crazed, chaotic, fabulous and funny as heck. We LOVE it!

(Kindly sent to us for review by David Fickling Books)
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Hogs Hate Hugs by Tiziana Bendall-Brunello and John Bendall-Brunello (Lion Hudson)

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Hogs Hate Hugs

Written by Tiziana Bendall-Brunello

Illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello

Published by Lion Hudson

You really do find the nicest people working in children's books. Take Hattie at Lion Hudson, who got in touch with us to ask if we'd like to review some of Lion Hudson's upcoming titles. "Of course we would!" we replied, because they publish some truly gorgeous books.

The books arrived safe and well with a wonderful accompanying letter from Hattie, reintroducing herself to Charlotte and telling her a story about what it's like to work in children's publishing (I think Charlotte was a bit worried that Hattie and her colleagues might catch cold from being sent out into the rain to think about the consequences of spilling ink all over vital manuscripts!) - A lovely thing, and like all Hattie's letters, we stuck it in Charlotte's adventure book where all our treasured bits and bobs are kept. Hattie you're an absolute hero!

So to the books - Well, to "Hogs Hate Hugs" by Tiziana and John Bendall-Brunello. A book that introduces us to a bristly little hog who is royally fed up with A) being extremely cute and B) being squeezed, hugged, cuddled and swaddled by everyone he meets. He can barely struggle out of bed in the morning before mum has zoomed in for a hug. Dad joins in too, as do all the other animals Little Hog meets. But enough is enough!

Little Hog designs a big bold poster proclaiming that "Hogs Hate Hugs!" and hugs are banned! But will he stick to his guns? Even when a mysterious monster suddenly appears in the woods that Little Hog is exploring. Sometimes there really is nothing for it than to curl up safe in your mum or dad's arms.

Little hog is a fun character, and we love the story and illustrations very much indeed. Make room for a hug (and a hog) in your bookshelf now!

Charlotte's best bit: Hog's reaction to the big scary monster in the woods! EEK!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Everyone needs a hug now and again, even a bristly hog (or a bristly daddy first thing in the morning!)

(Kindly sent to us for review by the utterly, utterly awesome Hattie at Lion Hudson)
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Friday, June 20, 2014

Moose Kid Comics goes LIVE today! A spangly new digital comic from some corkingly awesome Brit comic talent

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Moose Kid Comics Issue 1 - Digital craziness from a seriously impressive comic line-up!
Cool kids will already know Jamie Smart as the twisted and warped genius behind one of the Phoenix Comic's most fantastic recurring strips, "Bunny vs Monkey" - As well as working on a metric TON of other strips, Jamie has now brought together some of the most impressive comic talent working in the UK today to produce something new. 

"Moose Kid Comics" is a fresh new comic stuffed to the very gills with brilliant comic strips, and as it's a digital download, you don't get any of that nasty plastic tat that publishers think your kid would rather have than ace stories, fab artwork and supreme content. 

"Porc" - Just one of the strips you'll find tucked away inside "Moose Kid Comics"

Jamie is understandably extremely enthusiastic about this new venture (as are we): 

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and who is involved,” Jamie enthuses. ”We have exclusive comics from artists like Tom Paterson, Mike Pearce and David Leach, heroes to anyone who grew up reading comics in the UK. And there’s Gary Northfield, Laura Howell, Mark Stafford, Roger Langridge, to name but a few, mixed in amongst newer artists like Rachael Smith, Tom Plant and Will Kirkby.

“And, of course, we’re very excited to be showcasing a real exclusive – Young Tank Girl, by Alan Martin and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell themselves!

While Moose Kid Comics is an enormous project in itself, the creative team behind it are hoping that its success will lead to greater things.

“Moose Kids Comics is a statement,” says Jamie. “It’s a declaration of what we can do. It’s concrete proof of the high quality entertainment we can create, and the heart and passion of all the talented artists who want to help change children’s comics for the better.

“We’re hoping to open up the discussion about how we can keep doing this. We’re looking for publishers who can see the potential, and help us reignite children’s comics. We’d even love to find funding so we can print up a whole bundle of copies, and release it for free on a massive scale, through charities and schools, into hospitals and across the world, everywhere children (and adults) could do with a smile.“

Nan Tastic - Another superb strip coming to Moose Kid Comics

Comics are a natural draw for kids, and we've always looked out for new ones to wow Charlotte with. I can't wait to download the first issue and let her loose on it (and heck, if there's Young Tank Girl in it, I've got to check that out!)

"Moose Kid Comics" - Out today! Go geddit!


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ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week ending 20th June 2014 - "The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing" by Bob Hartman and Tim Raglan (Lion Hudson)

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The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Written by Bob Hartman

Illustrated by Tim Raglan

Published by Lion Hudson

Life can be sweet when you're a sheep, particularly when you're part of a large family who live in a swanky mansion, Downton Abbey style. But Little Sheep isn't satisfied. She longs for excitement, adventure, perhaps even the chance to blow a few houses down. To put no finer point on it, Little Sheep wants to be a wolf.

Her beleaguered parents give in to her whims (It's just a stage she's going through dear!) and make her an absolutely fantastic and extremely convincing wolf suit, and pack her off to wolf school to see how it suits her.

Little Sheep does very well at wolf school, in fact her enthusiasm and friendliness mean that she quickly makes friends with little wolf - and the two become inseparable.

Problems arise though when little wolf invites his new sheep-wolf friend round to dinner. Can a vegetarian possibly convince ravenous wolves to change their ways? Particularly when there's a real twist to what's on the menu!

There are so many delightful scenes in this story, and it feels wholly original and entertainingly told. Bob Hartman's gift for storytelling is to keep you guessing. Coupled with Tim Raglan's utterly superb illustrations, wrought in a sort of 'olde english' line and painted style, are also really great (we particularly loved his expressions for the poor nervous looking sheep in each scene).

We suspect that given the choice, Charlotte would quite like to be a wolf for the day but I don't think she'd like to sit down to a huge plate of roast lamb either.

"The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing" by Bob Hartman and Tim Raglan is released today (20th June 2014), from Lion Hudson Books - and it's bloomin' brilliant!

Charlotte's best bit: The wolves being rather nonchalant about the fact that they have bits of the farmer stashed away in their freezer, including his head. Ewwwww!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A superb fish-out-of-water tale with more twists and turnarounds than a twisty-turny thing! Love it, love it, LOVE IT!

(Kindly sent to us by the awesome Hattie and her furry office fellows at Lion Hudson)
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Supertato by Sue Hendra (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

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Supertato!

Written and Illustrated by
Sue Hendra

Published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books

Look, up in the sky, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's actually a rather dashing lantern-jawed tuber-licious superhero name of Supertato!

Sue Hendra's latest book following on from brilliant stories like "Barry the Fish with Fingers" and "Keith, the Cat with the Magic Hat" tells a tale of tempestuous torment in the kitchen. A rogue pea has escaped and is causing abject mayhem. As any child will tell you, peas are extremely tricky customers and they are always looking for an opportunity to escape (and in our case at home, usually end up squished under your sock-clad foot when you least expect it, ew!)

There's only one fella in the veg rack capable of dealing with dastardly peas. Send for Supertato!

This is a truly fabulous superhero romp from Sue, who always injects a bucketful of humour into her books, and a heck of a pace too. One thing that stands out is just how absolutely HORRIBLE the antagonist in this story is. That is one evil pea, and if your child really doesn't like peas, they'll be on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Supertato can triumph against such an unspeakable rotter!

Supertato, from Sue Hendra, coming to a vegetable rack near you today, 19th June 2014 from Simon and Schuster Children's Books

Charlotte's best bit: That one point in the story where it truly looks like Supertato is going to be baked in his jacket! Eek!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Funny, fast paced, glorious to look at. All the things we have come to expect from a rollicking Sue Hendra story. It's supertatotastic!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Simon and Schuster Children's Books)
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reading for pleasure - Why is it a concept that's seemingly so difficult to grasp?

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Charlotte reads because she loves books and reading. We did this! You can too!
The often thorny subject of children's literacy has cropped up again in a way that seems designed to drive even more parents to despair, completely missing the point of introducing reading for pleasure to your children from an early age. 

Stories describing initiatives to "fine" parents who don't read with their children, or formalising even more tests and hoops for children to jump through seem completely crazy. It's also quite disheartening to see dads once again in the firing line, described as the main culprits when it comes to children's disengagement with reading. 

It's upsetting when you consider that most people complain that time is the factor here. "I don't have time to read to my child" or "I don't have the money to spend on expensive children's books". Some parents work long hours, arrive home after their child has gone to bed, only see them at weekends - there are a huge number of variables to consider in genuine arguments where parents really don't have that time, but consider the following no-brainer advice: 

  • Sneaking in a book at any time really can take up just a matter of a few minutes (even during mealtimes - which for us has worked really well for Charlotte's school readers which are usually fairly dry and boring, but can be read while she scoffs her breakfast). If you consider it worthwhile to spend 10 minutes updating your Facebook or Twitter feeds on your phone in the morning, consider it worth 10 minutes of your time to sit down with your child and rattle through a picture book with them. 
  • Likewise, at bedtime, a story can help relax and settle your child. Sometimes Charlotte is so hyperactive after a long tiring day (particularly on days when she has a fairly long school day with lots of physical activity (PE, Ballet), followed by Rainbows. It's a long haul, and reading can get her ready for snuggling down (again a good choice of books can help here - something relaxing rather than something too crazy and exciting). 
  • It sounds completely crazy but get to know your child, engage with their interests, learn what they're into and then find books that touch on their favourite things. Way too many parents seem to leave their kids to their own devices (quite literally in some cases where kids are dumped in front of the iPad or the games console to keep them quiet) as a convenient way of grabbing back some 'me time'. There are times when you do need to breathe, sure - but if you're ditching your kids so you can veg out in front of the telly or gaze lovingly at your latest status update on whatever your favourite social media flavour is, you're the one missing out and your child definitely will be too.
  • Libraries cost nothing to join and you can often borrow a whole stack of books to share with your little ones. If you don't have a library near you, think about setting up an informal one for friends with kids, and swap books between you. 
  • Charity shops are a fantastic source for second hand children's books. For considerably less than the price of your monthly mobile top-up, you could bag yourself a huge stack of books. 
  • Cut screen time down to a minimum (or like us, ditch it entirely). If your child prefers apps to books, investigate the multitude of brilliant story apps around and see if you can engage them with some of the more 'gamey' ones (Nosy Crow do a fantastic range of traditional fairy tales reworked into brilliant interactive experiences. Your child will get far more out of these than they will from yet another crappy 'Dolly Makeover' freebie app for a reasonable initial cost and no nasty microtransactions once you've bought the app).
  • Above all, children are far more likely to respond to encouragement and positivity surrounding books than negativity. If there's one shared experience that's more likely to create a strong bond between you and your child, it's the shared experience of trawling through a bookshop or looking through the library stacks for fantastic books you haven't read yet. 
Fining parents is not the answer, in fact that's just utter craziness. On the flip side, expecting your child's teacher or your child's school to 'handle all that messy reading business' is also not the answer. Engaging with reading, with your child, and getting them interested is worth any amount of time you can put in and you truly will see the benefit in their education, in their well-being and in their curiosity and creativity too. 

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The Adventures of Tintin - The Cigars of the Pharaohs by Georges Remi Herge (translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper)(Egmont Books)

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The Adventures of Tintin - The Cigars of the Pharaohs

Written and Illustrated by
Georges Remi Herge

Published by Egmont Books

When Charlotte is left to her own devices in the library, she always makes a bee line for the comics and graphic novels section - and in particular Abingdon Library's fantastic stock of Tintin books.

I can't help feel a bit of fatherly pride at the fact she loves the Tintin books so much. I loved them to bits as a kid, way before Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider came along, here was Tintin getting into all sorts of near-death situations, calamitous scrapes and amazing adventures - with trusted companion Snowy at his side.

In "Cigars of the Pharaohs" something stinks down in the sand - quite literally - as Tintin is drawn into an international web of intrigue involving lost dignitaries, scientists and celebrities. Someone is kidnapping these folk and plans dastardly deeds!

Dogged by The Thompson Twins at every step, it's a race against time to solve the riddle of the weird pharaoh-stamped cigars, before Tintin and Snowy end up wrapped up in the mystery in more ways than one.

Tintin books always seem to unfold at breakneck pace, and a lot of the attraction for Charlotte is just riding that wave. The books are satisfyingly deep and wordy, crammed to the gills with detail, and the English translations (by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper) are pretty much spot on.

Great to see Charlotte loving these so much, and I can't wait to share the rest of the extensive Tintin back catalogue with her.

Charlotte's best bit: When Tintin finally finds the mysterious pyramid and realises that a certain boy journalist and his dog have a space reserved! Eek!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Sprawling, hugely detailed, cinematic action, all the hallmarks of a truly great Tintin adventure. Love these books so much!
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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Don't Want To Go To School by Stephanie Blake (Random House Children's Books)

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I Don't Want to Go to School!

Written and Illustrated by
Stephanie Blake

Published by Random House Children's Books

Here's a book with a subject that's very close to home at the moment. Children often have anxieties about school and Charlotte has a whole ton of them, ranging from concerns about swimming to worries about whether she's got all her reading books with her. Often the tiniest thing can be built up in a child's mind until it reaches monstrous proportions.

So Stephanie Blake's latest book was very well received. We love Simon, the bunny star of brilliant books like "Poo Bum", "Stupid Baby" and our personal favourite "A Deal's a Deal". In the story, Simon absolutely DOES NOT want to go to school and makes no bones about telling everyone. Over breakfast, he's adamant. while getting dressed he's stubborn, and even when being walked to school by his dad, he's determined. He does not want to go to school and that's that!

Amusingly Simon, like Charlotte, soon realises that once you're there and sat down, and immersed in all the things that happen in class, school doesn't seem so bad after all - but what happens when it's pick-up time? (Pretty much the same thing that happens with Charlotte - we have the devil's own job to drag her away from the place!)

Stephanie Blake's humour in both her storytelling and her illustration really makes her books stand out. They're cheeky, irreverent, and Simon is like a bunny version of Bart Simpson - a wee bit naughty but you can't help but like the little fellah.

Another fantastic addition to Stephanie's Simon stories! We can't wait for the next!

Charlotte's best bit: Simon's wonderful artwork in class

Daddy's Favourite bit: Love this book and it came along at a time when C has been having lots of anxious moments at school. Funny and a wee bit cheeky, pretty much how we'd imagine Stephanie herself to be :)

(Kindly sent to us for review by Random House Children's Books)
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Monday, June 16, 2014

Foxy Tales - The Road to Fame and Fortune by Caryl Hart and Alex T. Smith (Hodder Children's Books)

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Foxy Tales - The Road to Fame and Fortune

Written by Caryl Hart

Illustrated by Alex T. Smith

Published by Hodder Children's Books

Ahh Hollywood. The glitz, the glamour, the..er the big green warty bottoms. Catching up with minxy mischief maker Foxy Dubois and her ever-present pain in the neck Alphonso the Alligator for their second adventure, we're hitting the highs and lows of tinseltown - referred to here as "Jollywood" (which we actually think sounds far nicer than Hollywood!)

We absolutely loved "Foxy Tales - The Cunning Plan" and couldn't wait for more Foxy adventures. In this second book, Foxy's schemes are even more hair-brained than ever and Alphonso's tummy (and bottom) are even more rumbly.

After a chance encounter with Tony Ravioli's twin brother, Foxy charms him and convinces him to introduce her to a famous movie star. Unfortunately Alphonso has stowed away in the back of the burger van as the two head off to the glitz and glamour of the movie studios. One thing's for sure, Foxy is going to have to come up with a plan to get rid of Alphonso that is so cunning you could brush your teeth with it.

We won't spoil too much - but this is a rip-snorting rollicking tale in the same mould as "Foxy Tales - The Cunning Plan" and has plenty of big green warty belly laughs and blisters along at a breakneck pace.

We don't actually know whether we ought to feel sorry for Foxy or think that she gets her just desserts (she is quite mean to Alphonso, but then I guess you'd be mean to someone if they kept threatening to eat you all the time). Loved the little back story about how Alphonso and Foxy first "met" :) Oh and it goes without saying that Mr Billy Bongo's cameos are a cracking highlight, as ever!

Brilliant stuff, we love it!

Charlotte's best bit: Feeling sorry for poor Foxy. Just when things look like they're going to go her way, a big alligator-shaped problem steps in the way. Parp!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Snortingly funny and a great example of a transitional book for kids like Charlotte looking for something a bit longer than the norm, but not as wordy as a chapter reader. Once again, Foxy and Alphonso are a huge hit and we'll be looking forward to that third book!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Hodder Children's Books)
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Miss Annie - Rooftop Cat by Frank Le Gal, Flore Balthazar and Robin Doo (Lerner)

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Miss Annie - Rooftop Cat

Written by Frank Le Gal and Flore Balthazar

Illustrated by Robin Doo

Published by Lerner / Graphic Universe

Our local library has an absolutely brilliant comic section for younger kids. When Charlotte visited with her mum recently (which really felt weird - me not being there for the library trawl!) I knew Charlotte would find some treasures in that section. She most certainly did, as she came home with something I hadn't seen before.

Introducing Miss Annie, a kitten who is the star of a series of graphic novels. "Miss Annie - Rooftop Cat" is Part 2 of the series (sadly it looks like Part 1 was out on loan) but like all good kids comics, the reader isn't punished by coming in part-way through the series (grown-up comics take note!)

Detailing the adventures of Miss Annie, her best friend Keisha (a mouse with possibly the coolest mouse name ever), and two other cats including the wise elderly Zeno. The stories are interesting and detailed, the artwork is sublime - but here's the thing that might get a few victorian parents up in arms - it certainly doesn't pull any punches in the subjects it deals with, but there's really nothing too rude or gross in there that would be wholly unsuitable for a 6-7 year old, and 8-9 year olds will probably just sigh and tell you that they know all about moggy mating rituals already because they've learned all about them in school.

When Annie's 'parents' (her human owners) install a cat flap for her, it opens up a whole world of nocturnal adventure for Miss Annie. Young and naive, she soon finds that cat life out on the rooftops and in the alleys isn't always easy. Fights over territory, and a whole lot of icky 'grown up' business to do with having kittens and 'getting fixed' all sound completely weird (and more than a little grim) to a young kitten's tender ears.

Thankfully Annie has lots of other cats looking out for her, and Zeno's wisdom is imparted firmly but kindly.

Reading other reviews of the series, it seems that book 1 was slightly less grown up so it might be worth hunting out "Miss Annie - Freedom" first. This is worth having a read through first before you let your children loose on it, but it is fantastic - and if you're used to European comics that don't treat kids like dribbling little babies, this will definitely impress you.

Charlotte's best bit: Miss Annie attempting to jump through a locked catflap. Owch!

Daddy's Favourite bit: There is a lot of wry humour in here that will sail straight over children's heads but adults will snicker and snort at!
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Friday, June 13, 2014

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 13th June 2014: "Hearts" by Thereza Rowe (Toon Books)

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Hearts

Written and Illustrated by
Thereza Rowe

Published by Toon Books

Conveying subtle emotion and heartache without using words? That's a heck of a challenge. Doing so in a children's book? That's even more of a challenge. Making something so beautiful that it's an instant win with Charlotte? OK that's like climbing a mountain in a pair of carpet slippers and yet Brazilian-born artist and author Thereza Rowe has achieved these lofty goals with her latest book, "Hearts" and bagged our Book of the Week into the bargain.

"Hearts" tells the story of Penelope the Fox. Penelope's best friend has to go away for a long time, jetting off in a rather cool space rocket. Penelope is heartbroken - but worse, her poor broken heart is accidentally swept out to sea.

So begins a chase across a surreal but beautiful landscape as Penelope struggles to regain what is lost. The story is conveyed using minimal but very well chosen words, with the aim of introducing young readers to a story that they can tell in their own way, put their own stamp on, and get such a huge buzz out of.

Penelope the Fox is such a fantastic character, and we found ourselves rooting for her throughout the entire story. Does she succeed in her grand quest to regain her heart?

You will have to read the book to find out, of course.

As we said at the top of the review, the story is conveyed in such a touching and beautiful way (thanks in no small part to Thereza's absolutely stunning artwork). Children have an affinity for stories that immerse them, and there's no better way to immerse a child in a story than to have them take part in reading the dialogue of that story themselves. Largely using speech bubbles and incidental noises, Thereza's book is so much fun to act out.

Charlotte and I had quite the debate at home about the very start of the story (you will see why when you read the book). The object of Penelope's deep love and affection seems to be female, so we're really interested to find out whether our readers and followers interpreted the story in the same way as we did. It speaks of such a deep love and wrenches your heart out a little at the start. Pixar do this in their movies a lot, and it works to brilliant effect here.

Oh but it's achingly beautiful this! Can you tell we're smitten?

Books like this - largely wordless books - show that an expression of love can take many forms from the surreal to the symbolic, and in the hands of an extremely talented lady like Thereza, you will struggle to find a book that describes love more perfectly than this.

Charlotte's best bit: "The Garden of Lost Things" which was both breathtakingly amazing visually, and a little scary too!

Daddy's Favourite bit: I was completely bowled over by this book, visually it's absolutely stunning, the story works for a variety of age groups, the characters are fantastic and the setting is the sort of place you'd love to visit in your dreams. I would love to see a thousand more books like this from Thereza, it really is that good.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Toon Books)
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Giant by Colin McNaughton (Walker Books)

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Giant

Written and Illustrated by
Colin McNaughton

Published by Walker Books

Colin McNaughton is well known in children's literature circles for his cheeky and irreverent (and downright rib-tickingly funny) books. We have loved every single thing of Colin's, and "Giant" is no exception - though this time Colin has his semi-serious hat on to impart a rather touching eco-tale.

The giants of legend, those much maligned beasts, once roamed the world freely. Each country and continent had their own giants from the frost-covered mountain giants, to the squelchy bog giants. Our tale tells the story of a young native boy who, while out hunting, senses that something is lurking in the rainforest. Something is watching him.

A giant, a huge leafy woodland giant, has taken up residence in the rainforest, spurned by man and almost hunted to extinction by a supposedly brave knight who vowed to rid his home country of the giant menace (for not all giants were kindly souls, some were trolls and troublemakers).

The giant in Colin's story made good his escape, swam the seas and ended up hiding out in the rainforest. But is it the safe haven that the giant thought it would be?

The boy and the giant become friends, and as the boy learns more of the giant's sorrowful story, it changes him for the better. But will it change you?

An eco-tale with an achingly beautiful heart, and though it might not be what you'd normally expect from cheeky Colin, it's a truly lovely book. I can't believe we missed it first time around - thank goodness for libraries!

Charlotte's best bit: Colin's fabulously detailed map of the world with all the types of giants who live in it

Daddy's Favourite bit: An enviable art style, a way of imparting stories with such care and attention to detail. Colin McNaughton really is a hugely talented man indeed, a giant amongst children's author-illustrators!
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Buy dad a book (not socks) this Father's Day with our handy roundup of cool ideas for gifts

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"Sorry Dad!" by Maxine Lee (Caterpillar Books)
Fathers Day is coming (June 15th, this Sunday, take note mums and kids!) and we know what you're thinking. Dads always say "Look I'm fine, I don't want anything" or "I don't want a huge fuss" but what they really mean is that they'd like nothing better than for you to buy them a book that you can read together. So here are a few ideas to get you started with some new and classic books to tempt dad away from the footie (or more likely the rain-soaked barbecue) with.

First up is the sublime "Sorry Dad!" by Maxine Lee (Caterpillar Books). A riotous book full of mischief and mirth with a naughty kitten and his long-suffering dad 'bonding' in lots of different ways, which usually end up with the poor dad getting a bonk on the noggin for his trouble.

Maxine's bold and colourful illustrations and exquisite comic timing are giggle-worthy, and we absolutely couldn't get enough of that bit where Dad erupts like Mt Vesuvius. (Dad doesn't stay angry for long though :)

"Daddy is my Hero" by Dawn Richards and Jane Massey (Picture Corgi)
An altogether more soothing and calm celebration of dads in our next book - "Daddy is my Hero" by Dawn Richards and Jane Massey (Picture Corgi). From a toddler's perspective it tells us all the wonderful things that dads are great at. They're tickly, they're funny, sometimes they do get grumpy (right, Charlotte?) but they're amazing and fun so hooray for dads everywhere, particularly booky dads!


"My Amazing Dad" by Ross Collins (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)
Blog favourite Ross Collins has a brilliant "Dad" book that has been around for a while but has been reissued by Simon and Schuster. "My Amazing Dad" is the story of a little croc who wonders what's special about his dad, after meeting all the other animals whose dads can run fast, stay underwater for hours, swing through the trees with the greatest of ease. Poor little croc only knows that his dad disappears in the morning, and isn't back home till late at night. As the other animals show off about their dads, poor little croc gets quite despondent - until mum intervenes and shows him what dad DOES get up to every day. A lovely little book that champions dads - and teachers too!

"Me and my Daddy" by various authors and illustrators (Little Tiger Press)
Last but not least, there's no reason why dads should be left out when it comes to Little Tiger Press's brilliant little "Book collection in a box" gifts. "Me and My Daddy" features four lovely little animal (and animal dad) stories that are snuggly and cuddly, plus a huge sheet of stickers and a special card for dad too! Children can have fun decorating the card and sneaking it back into the box, then giving this lovely box set to dad on Father's Day and getting him to read all the stories. All of them, all at once (well this is what Charlotte told me I had to do when I reviewed them so I did!)

Whatever the weather, and whatever you do, we hope books feature somewhere in your Father's Day celebrations because they almost certainly will feature in ours! Happy reading and Happy Father's Day for Sunday!


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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"A New Friend for Sally" - an excellent Kickstarter book idea by David Tang and Lora Lee (Tiny Robot Books)

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A New Friend for Sally

Written by David Tang

Illustrated by Lora Lee

Published by Tiny Robot Books

Kickstarter has provided a really fantastic platform for self-published authors and illustrators to get their book projects off the ground. We're regularly contacted by folk who have used the platform to launch a book idea, but we're always on the lookout for something a bit special. We're fairly picky so we look for brilliant and engaging stories with fantastic artwork to accompany them.


Thankfully "A New Friend for Sally" by David Tang and Lora Lee more than meets our high standards. It's a fantastic story about a lonely little girl who lives on a farm. More than anything, she wants a pet of her own. She'd really like something cute. A pony perhaps? A lovely cuddly piglet? Maybe even a calf! But when dad comes home with a squawking scratchy chicken, it's not really what Sally had in mind.

The hen is, to put no finer point on it, a real pain in the neck (and the bum! Those things have sharp beaks you know!) and Sally is actually quite scared of her new pet. It eats bugs, it's no fun to play with but could things change as time passes?

The story wonderfully weaves a tale of turning things around, making a friend where you don't expect to - and the artwork is eye-poppingly gorgeous, luscious and colourful.



We're sincerely hoping that David and Lora make their target, and this leads to more books from Tiny Robot.

You can take a look at their project, and back their kickstarter over at the Tiny Robot Books Kickstarter Page.





Charlotte's best bit: Snuggling up with Chelsea in the warmth of the barn

Daddy's Favourite bit: A self-published title of a very high standard and really worth backing, so get to it!

(We were very kindly supplied an advanced copy in PDF form of "A New Friend For Sally" to preview. Thanks to all at Tiny Robot Books)
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Florentine and Pig and the Spooky Forest Adventure by Eva Katzler and Jess Mikhail - Recipes by Jess and Laura Tilli (Bloomsbury Children's Books)

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Florentine and Pig and the Spooky Forest Adventure

Written by Eva Katzler

Illustrated by Jess Mikhail

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Charlotte always demands spooky and scary books, and so any book that contains the word "spooky" in the title is guaranteed to make her curious. Florentine and Pig are the stars of their own book series by Eva Katzler and Jess Mikhail. Can this seemingly ordinary little girl and her best friend pig satisfy Charlotte's taste for the mildly macabre?

It's an adventurous story sparked by Florentine settling down to sleep as usual one night. On hearing a spooky noise from outside, Florentine decides to confront her fear and seek out the source of the spooky noise. So the next night Florentine and Pig embark on a camping expedition to see if they can trace the spooky noise to its source.

Tapping into a child's psyche is quite a neat trick if you can pull it off. Eva obviously can, and in tandem with Jess's fabulous colourful artwork, the tale builds tension nicely until Florentine and Pig figure out what they think is making all the hullabaloo at night. Have they got it right though?

Charlotte claimed that the story wasn't quite spooky enough for her, but I did notice that she pulled the covers up a little further than normal after a bedtime read of this.

Oh and by the way, this book is rather special in that it comes with some scrummy and superb recipes by Jess and Laura Tilli. So when you're planning your own spooky camp-out in the forest, prepare some luscious and tasty goodies to scoff while you're out there!

Charlotte's best bit: A satisfying twist of a payoff at the end of the story!

Daddy's Favourite bit: A rather engaging duo, Florentine and Pig! We look forward to reading more of their adventures in their other books.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Bloomsbury Publishing)
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dinosaur Beach by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children's Books)

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Dinosaur Beach

Written and Illustrated by
Frann Preston-Gannon

Published by Pavilion Children's Books

How we long for a proper holiday! Sun, sand, sea, Fab lollies and...dinosaurs? Hopefully not dinosaurs though we're half tempted to take Frann Preston-Gannon's "Dinosaur Beach" down to the coast with us for a bit of an in-situ read. The sequel to Frann's fabulous "Dinosaur Farm" with the busy Farmer Jack is a real treat.

Farmer Jack somehow squeezes all the dinosaurs (and not forgetting Dino Dog) into his pick-up truck (along with a huge picnic bag) and heads off to the seaside for the day. Dinosaurs are just like us, and enjoy all the things we do - such as tramping all over other people's picnics, splashing in the sea and huge huge ice creams!

Frann's visual style is absolutely lovely. In the original book I remember we adopted a certain way of reading the book with Farmer Jack's ad-libbed exasperated expressions as the dinosaurs don't always do what they're supposed to do.

In this tale we have a whole other family of folk who have their beach party royally crashed in on by Farmer Jack and his prehistoric pals. Though we love the way everyone ends up as friends at the end, and the tired dinosaurs are rounded up for a snoozy trip home.

A ticklesome treat for tiddlers, particularly if they love dinosaurs as much as Charlotte does.

Charlotte's best bit: A dramatic sea rescue. Only one dinosaur has a long enough neck to reach stranded dog and dino-dog!

Daddy's Favourite bit: We really do love Frann's books. Her easy on the eye visual style is gorgeous, her tale really makes us wish for warm sunny days and beach fun

(Kindly sent to us for review by Pavilion Children's Books)
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Monday, June 9, 2014

Questions and Answers with Karenanne Knight, author of "The Picture Book Maker"

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Dr Karenanne Knight - Author of "The Picture Book Maker" (IOE Press)
We've been wowed by Karenanne's fabulous book "The Picture Book Maker" in which she shares insights and exhaustive research into the processes involved in creating literature for children. Now let's find out a little bit more about the good lady herself as she takes up the hot seat under the "ReadItDaddy" spotlight. Take it away Karenanne!


ReadItDaddy: Hi Karenanne, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at The University of Falmouth

Dr Karenanne Knight: Oh for a life in books!!! From a very early age I've always loved books and picture books most of all. I empathise so vividly with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre 'I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures.  I mounted into the window-seat:  gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement'.

I initially trained as a primary school teacher which is where my passion for and love of children's book's really manifested itself. After many years teaching in the arts I decided to do an MA followed by a PhD in text and image (creative writing and illustration) which was the best decision I ever made. I was able to spend four wonderful years immersed in children's stories. I just adore the way the text and images play off each other depending on what the book is aiming to achieve. Sometimes we want the text to repeat what we see in the picture, if we are trying to engage a child in learning the alphabet for instance where the illustrations might all begin with 'A'. When we write and illustrate what I call Picture Story Books we are looking to develop the text and image in multiple ways with little repetition, so extending the story for the reader without repeating what we see in the picture or read through the words. Now I am able to work with wonderfully talented students in illustration and develop their skills through both my love of teaching and children's books but also that of the written word juxtaposed with the illustrations. I'm so lucky to lecture at Falmouth, it is a fabulous university, in a wonderful county and the staff whom I work with are always so supportive. The university has a real 'arts' vibe….

ReadItDaddy: We have thoroughly enjoyed "The Picture Book Maker" and it's full of brilliant advice. What made you decide to produce a book giving away so many secrets?

Dr Karenanne Knight: I'm not sure I consider them to be secrets really. The book is full of all the ideas, practices and exercises I come up with to keep extending my students knowledge and skills, and I love sharing these with them, so I thought why not put it into one book that also helps people who might not be lucky enough to attend university courses for whatever reason. My adult education students also enjoy working from the book. I think there is something in the book for everyone. My under and postgraduates can work through it alongside our lectures, adult education students use it at home to develop their skills alongside their classes, trainee teachers and educationalists who are using the book understand the skills and roles of the writer and illustrator and use this understanding to deliver stories to children in the classroom with added vigour and passion, and research students are able to pick out the necessary information that helps them develop arguments and discussion points within their investigations.

ReadItDaddy: Most author-illustrators often favour one particular aspect of what they do. Do you consider yourself more a writer or an illustrator (or do you like both equally?)

Dr Karenanne Knight: Do you know I get asked this all the time. It is another reason why I wrote and illustrated The Picture Book Maker. My PhD thesis discussed the roles of the writer of the picture book story and the illustrator who might illustrate their own work but often illustrates others work also. Being an illustrator, and having being part of a collaborative team and loan author illustrator or Picture Book Maker, I wanted to explore these roles further. The Picture Book Maker describes this. So I consider myself to be a Picture Book Maker, someone who sees and creates word and image together on the page. My sketch books are very much like this. Each page is full of words and images that equally develop the story I am working on. Finally, I must say I also feel like a story maker, as I see stories all around me, in the sky, in a busy, bustling town centre, on a country or river walk or looking out to sea. Whenever an aeroplane passes overhead I wonder where all those people are going, who they are going to meet and the stories they have to tell. However, I do have to stop my imagination going too far sometimes!!!! Stories don't really work if they are totally unbelievable.

ReadItDaddy: What do you think is the most common mistake people make when starting out on their quest to produce a children's book?

Dr Karenanne Knight: Characterisation! Characters are the basis of the story and if we don't get them right the setting or plot just won't work, no matter how strong these elements might be. Children identify with characters and laugh and cry with them. They soon spot a character that is transparent and lacks any sort of personality. Our characters have to be believable and have stories to tell. They need obstacles to overcome and goals to achieve. They must have a variety of personality traits and somehow we have to get this onto the page, through the text and/or the image when we write and illustrate children's stories, whether that character be human, animal or an inanimate object such as a candlestick which we can bring to life. This just makes me jump for joy, I love bringing inanimate objects to life by giving them a voice and a story to tell. Imagine the stories a kettle or car could tell for instance!

ReadItDaddy: We were quite interested in the sections of the book dealing with the rise of new methods of sharing stories with children (particularly story book apps and interactive stories). Any further thoughts on e-books and story apps?

Dr Karenanne Knight: Oh how exciting this is! E-books and story apps have really developed over the last few years and provide amazing graphics whilst taking a story in directions a paper book might never reach. For instance, the reader can change the direction of the plot on a story app, or might be particularly interested in a planet for instance. By creating artwork and text in a slightly different way the Picture Book Maker and artist or illustrator can develop that child's interest in space or the universe very quickly through that story app.

The physical nature of the paper book is though, also made for sharing. It has been said that children are losing the art of turning the page but I hope that there will always be a mix of paper books and electronic books as they are very different platforms for the reader to experience. Paper books can do things that the electronic book can't and vice versa, and I love the notion of an adult and child sharing a paper book at bedtime. However, as long as we think of the reader and their ultimate experience I feel both have a place.

Many young illustrators have wonderful abilities in terms of technology and use this to develop artwork for both the paper and electronic book and apps. I have a philosophy that life evolves and we either have to grasp it and move with it or be left behind. Hard and paperback books will always have a special place in my life, I have hundreds of them!…but I love looking at how technology is moving the storybook forward and particularly in the field of children's non-fiction, there is some brilliant work out there.

ReadItDaddy: This is a question we're often asked - and it's probably one of the toughest questions for us to answer. Which children's books do you consider as "essentials" for any parent looking for a great start for their children's book collection?

Dr Karenanne Knight:  I've been lucky to have had a love of books for as long as I can remember. So, I think that if a parent loves a book and has some emotion 'tied up' in it, then that will come through when they share it with their child. If the collection is built up on that basis alongside books the child chooses, then those children will have such a wealth of knowledge, understanding, emotion and interest on which to base the rest of their lives. That is how important I feel books (paper or electronic or apps!!!) are. So any collection should start with books you are passionate about, that speak to you, have a strong sense of plot or 'story', that are fun and have strong characters like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, the Tiger in The Tiger who Came to Tea, Sean in My Brother Sean, Orion in Orion and the Dark, the girl pirates in The Night Pirates, Henry in The Incredible Book Eating Boy and Pascal in Le Ballon Rouge. 

If you are asking me what my favourite books are in order to start a collection, then I would need to write another book to list them all! However, they would include, for so many different reasons and in no particular order Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner (fantastic illustrations and a text that moves around the page to tell the story), the Zoe and Beans series by Chloe and Mick Inkpen (fun! fun! fun!), any of Shaun Tan's books (there is so much to look at and find each time you read them) Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (an amazing portrayal about death and dying), The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb (reminds me of making paper dolls as a little girl), Oh Dear Geoffrey by Gemma O'Neill (A lovely tale about friendship), That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child ( text and image come together in this book beautifully), The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (I still have my copy from when I was little), Angelica Sprocket's Pockets by Quentin Blake (a wonderful exploration of what we might find in our pockets in rhyme), Window by Jeannie Baker (a wordless picture book about our changing environment), The Soggy Bear Stories by Philip Moran and Michael Foreman (always remind me of beautiful Cornwall), the Percy the Park Keeper series by Nick Butterworth (super stories with wonderful pull out posters), The Grace Stories by Mary Hoffman ( a story that encourages everyone to aspire to and achieve their dreams), We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury ( a fantastic example of how to use pace in storytelling), Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (scary but I always want to read this again and again), Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett (we're not afraid of the dark, are we?) and The Big, Big Sea by Martin Waddell and Jennifer Eachus ( a gentle and beautiful story about the relationship between a mother and daughter on a night time adventure to the beach). These are just a few of the books I love to read.

I have compiled a long, but no means exhaustive list of books that would make a great start for any book collection at the back of the Picture Book Maker, have a look and then just go for it, for a book collection at an early age is a lifetime collection for any age!



Please do take a look at Karenanne's Book, "The Picture Book Maker - The Art of the Children's Picture Book Writer and Illustrator" both in our review and on the IOE Press Web Page where you can also order a copy for a ridiculously reasonable price.
Do your local indie a favour - Buy through Hive
Also available at Waterstones
Also available at Amazon


If you live in London and you'd like the chance to meet Karen and attend a series of workshops based on the book, check out the Book and Kitchen website for an upcoming workshop event every monday starting on the 15 September till the 1st of December 2014. 

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Fancy writing or illustrating your own children's book? Delve into "The Picture Book Maker" by Karenanne Knight (IOE Press)

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The Picture Book Maker

Written by Karenanne Knight

With illustrations by Emma Yarlett and others

Published by IOE Press

One of the most frustrating aspects of reviewing children's picture books is the assumption that writing or illustrating for children is an easy option. While covering independently published and self-published titles for children, we're often reminded of the importance of a good editor - but even more importantly than that, a really strong grasp of the essentials that can mark the difference between a mediocre children's book or a truly great (and hopefully marketable) one.

Karenanne Knight got in touch with us at ReadItDaddy to ask if we'd review a book that (despite its title) is a thorough and structured insight into what it takes to become a children's author or illustrator (or both!)
I've been struggling for a while to produce a few book ideas of my own and I've found this book absolutely invaluable in so many ways. Beginning by examining the children's book in detail, Karenanne draws on her vast experience from researching and teaching visual literature methodology at The University of Falmouth. Karenanne is a lecturer for the BA Illustration Course at Falmouth, and also writes and illustrates her own books so is quite an authority on the subject.

Having a go at one of the character exercises. This fellah is a complete bookworm.
I'm half determined he's going to have a cat too :)

It shows in the book, which offers study opportunities and exercises to improve your writing and illustration and also learn the rules and techniques necessary to start putting your own book ideas into practice.

The book feels very much like the study materials my wife and I use in our Open University courses, so you don't have to be an academic to get the most out of this book - but you will definitely benefit from reading it thoroughly and engaging with the exercises (which are brilliant and really thought-provoking, by the way).

Find out how Gemma's initial sketches turned into this gorgeous, gorgeous book in "Oh Dear Geoffrey by Gemma O'Neill
One thing I did notice, is that Karenanne's descriptions of the models and processes that go into a children's book (with good examples of the sort of books that tick all the right boxes - such as the sublime "We're going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury) start to make you think about your own favourite children's books and how their structure and composition does indeed adhere to a successful 'rule set' that you can almost identify as a pattern for the perfect children's book.

In essence, it makes me think about the way books that hit our "Book of the Week" slot consistently fit a formula expertly described by Karenanne here (it also raises interesting questions about the book reviewer mindset. Do we subconsciously look for these elements when selecting the best books to review and mark highly?)

Karenanne thoughtfully embraces inclusivity and diversity in "The Picture Book Maker" and also thoroughly researches the history of child literature, going back as far as the very first books that were purposely written for consumption by children and coming right up to the present day with books that have wowed us in the last couple of years.

With an exhaustive recommended reading list, thoroughly involving exercises, and so many snippets of brilliant advice, this deserves to become "The Bible" for anyone starting out in children's literature, whether author or illustrator - and it's certainly going to be of huge benefit to existing authors and illustrators who want a bit of extra inspiration and advice.

Emma Yarlett is an ex-pupil of Karenanne's, and has contributed to the book with various insights and illustrations from her own work. When Emma describes this book as "Worth its weight in gold" we really had to sit up and take notice, and she's definitely not wrong.



You can obtain your copy of the book from the IOE Press Website.
Do your local indie a favour - Buy through Hive
Also available at Waterstones
Also available at Amazon

You can also find more information about the book and Karenanne on this handy downloadable flyer.

(Our thanks to Karenanne, Emma Yarlett and Gemma O'Neill for letting us use some of the brilliant illustrations you'll find in the book in this article).

Charlotte's best bit: Seeing the visual processes behind designing characters for a children's book (in one example, Sidney from Emma Yarlett's brilliant debut "Sidney, Stella and the Moon") and ticking off the books in the recommended reading list that we've read and reviewed ourselves.

Daddy's Favourite bit: An absolutely essential book that offers deep insight and inspiration on the processes of beginning your journey as an author or illustrator. Laying out the rules and expectations from publishers who deal predominantly with children's literature, "The Picture Book Maker" is something I would recommend to anyone who wants to create books for children, where you can refer to and study the book at your own pace with clear instructions and exercises to test your author or illustrator mettle! Fantastic and absorbing stuff!

(Very kindly sent to us for review by Karenanne and IOE Press)
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