Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Two fantastic artistic prompt books from awesome author Brandon T. Snider. Draw it out, Write it out! (Sterling Publishing)

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If there's one thing slightly daunting about being of a creative mind, it's being faced with the blank page...
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book Roundup - November 2016

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Welcome, welcome to November's awesome chapter book roundup and we've got a bumper bagful of truly awesome books to share with you, perfect for stuffing in stockings before next month's festive craziness! Let's get straight on with 'em!

First we're back with a fantastic series from author Andy Seed and his hilarious horror creation Prankenstein. In "Prankenstein on Tour", Soapy Thompson's dad wins a world cruise for a family of five and Soapy convinces his parents that best friends, Arvo and Loogi should come along to stop him going mad with boredom.

As they cruise past the East coast of Africa there is a great commotion in the dead of night and Soapy discovers that pirates have boarded the ship and taken two hostages - his parents - and are demanding a MEEELION quid in cash for their safe return.

Obviously Soapy doesn't have that sort of spare cash in his piggy bank so there's only one thing for it - Soapy knows that his only hope is to unleash Prankenstein, his prank-crazed alter-ego. Can he save the day, save mum and dad, and thwart the nasty piratical meanies? Something tells us he's going to need a mess of help!

The series is brilliantly original, inventive and hilarious and if you've been clinging to the edge of your seat waiting for Prankenstein Book 3, wait no more.

"Prankenstein on Tour" is out now, published by Fat Fox Books. 

Next up, we're deliriously excited - Caroline Lawrence has a new book out and that can only mean one thing...

"The Roman Quests: The Archers of Isca" is the second book in Caroline's new fantastic "Roman Quests" series. No one writes about the Romans like Caroline. She's not only a brilliant writer but one heck of an authority on Roman history and that's a period of history we just can't get enough of.

In "The Archers of Isca" we follow the path of a young soldier, joining the Roman Army at the tender age of 15.

Fronto craves to find his place in the world, and showing a natural aptitude for the bow, he soon finds that life as a roman archer is far more palatable than being a slave.

But when Fronto's younger sister Ursula is captured by a terrifying Druid called Snakebeard, he must make an impossible decision. Desert the Roman Army, face certain execution and rescue his sister, or stay put. What would you do?

Once again this is utterly spellbinding and immersive stuff from Caroline. We have loved her "Roman Mysteries" series very much and "The Roman Quests" is just as compelling and brilliant. 

"The Roman Quests (Book 2): The Archers of Isca" is out now, published by Orion Children's Books. 

Next out of our book sack for November, Book 5 in Lauren St John's amazing "White Giraffe" series...

"Operation Rhino" once again follows the series' theme of building amazing stories around our most endangered species. 

When Sawubona's white rhinos are attacked, the poachers leave devastation in their wake - and also leave behind a terrified calf.

Determined to help, Martine and Ben agree to take the rhino baby to a sanctuary near the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

But the sanctuary is hiding a precious secret - one that must be guarded from the poachers at all costs. When the secret gets out, Martine and Ben find themselves in the fight of their lives to save one of the rarest animals on earth. But who can they trust?

This is a gripping, heartwarming and magical tale that animal-loving children will adore. The White Rhino is one of the animals on the 'critical list' of highly endangered species, and this story of hope and preservation is a really brilliant read and had Charlotte utterly hooked (and determined to read the rest of the equally brilliant series). 

"Operation Rhino" is out now, published by Orion Children's Books

Digging deep into our review pile once more, time for some fun!

Book 2 of "The League of Unexceptional Children" is out now, written by Gitty Daneshvari. "Get Smart-Ish" follows on from the brilliant first book, with twelve-year-olds Jonathan and Shelley just recruited to join the League of Unexceptional Children. 

This covert spy network is comprised solely of kids who are so average and nondescript that they are utterly forgettable, and who makes a better spy than a kid no one remembers?

To everyone's surprise, Jonathan and Shelley saved the day in Book 1, and as a result they have been loaned to MI5: the United Kingdom's leading spy organization. 

The kids' mission is to recapture a missing vial of LIQ-15, a virus that makes people lose IQ points. Relying on only their complete lack of skill, Jonathan and Shelley must once again stop an evil plan in its tracks.

In a sequel that gives readers more of the spy tricks and adventure they love but that can stand on its own as a complete mystery, Get Smart-ish is a laugh-out-loud story starring two exceptionally unexceptional characters that kids will easily identify with (and laugh along with). 

"The League of Unexceptional Children: Get Smart-ish" is out now, published by Little, Brown. 

Let's have another dig down into our book sack...for something a little darker!

Book 2 in the "Soul Hunter" series by Alex Marlowe sees the fantasy and frights continue in "The Last Immortal". 

Picking up where the first book leaves off on a cliff hanger, Luke is now a member of The Immortals - a superhuman imbued with amazing abilities and a vast array of amazing gadgetry to defeat evil with.

Alas for Luke, immortality doesn't make him indestructible. When corpses turn up in London's backstreets, the crime-fighting Immortals descends into a dark adventure. testing Luke and the others to their limits as they track an ancient evil to the swamps of Louisiana. 

There they will battle their greatest foe yet: Draka, the Soul Hunter.

The book comes with an awesome comic strip setting the scene, tucked inside the covers...


Alex Marlowe's "Soul Hunter - The Last Immortal" is perfect for fans of fantasy and mystery. The book is out now, published by Little, Brown. 

OK skip down a few lines...

A little further...

Further still...

You know you can do it...come on, carry on...


OK you're here. What's next? Well let's have something completely contrasting from our last book choice!

Well, it's no surprise to find that the latest book in the "Secret Princesses" series - "The Snowflake Sisters" was a big hit, with character names like Charlotte and Mia. 

Charlotte loves stuff like this, so join in with the fun as trainee Secret Princesses Charlotte and Mia must grant the Christmas wish of two sisters, Holly and Ivy. 

But will horrid Princess Poison ruin their family Christmas?

A sparkly seasonal spectacular, with a lovely wintry feel, "The Snowflake Sisters" is perfect for girls and boys who love a bit of glitzy christmas fun.

A perfect stocking filler in fact and there are two tales in one, so plenty to keep you busy till boxing day. 

"Secret Princesses: The Snowflake Sisters" by Rosie Banks is out now, published by Orchard Books. 

More you say? And why not...

Something a little different now from Holly Webb, hugely prolific and talented author whose animal stories have been part of Charlotte's reading journey since forever. 

In "The Maskmaker's Daughter" Holly takes a decidedly different tack in this tale of a young girl called Colette. She lives with her mother, making beautiful dresses for the rich women of Venice. 

Colette has never known her father, and her mother won't speak of him - but Colette's embroidery moves and dances, and she's sure that there's magic in her blood. Does it come from her father? Her mother? What is the secret!

Soon enough Colette discovers the truth: her father is a famous maskmaker and a powerful magician. But when he's ordered to create a mask that will bend others to its will, the magic becomes too strong for him to resist. 

Can Colette, with the help of a talking alley cat called Max, save him?

Dark, mysterious and magical with more than a touch of The Brothers Grimm about it, this is Holly at her storytelling best. 

"The Maskmaker's Daughter" is out now, published by Orchard Books. 

Room for one more, from a legendary children's storyteller no less. 

You have undoubtedly heard about Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" and "Secret Seven" but have you ever heard of "The Find-Outers"? This book series for younger children was first published all the way back in 1943 and has now been reprinted with all new covers, and still the amazingly gripping and suspenseful set of stories Enid originally wrote - presented here in their original form. 

Someone has set fire to Mr Hick's cottage, but who could it be? Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip, Bets and Buster the dog have their very first case to solve. 

But it's not easy being detectives with policeman Mr Goon telling them to "clear orf". 

The Find-Outers are determined - they have to solve the mystery before Mr Goon does!

The first book in the series is full of thrills, chases and all the staples that made Enid Blyton such a well-loved author.

"The Find Outers: The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage" is out now, published by Hodder Children's Books. 

Abi Elphinstone is a bit of a hero of ours, and she's the curator of a fantastic wintry seasonal collection that's sure to warm the cockles of your heart...


"Winter Magic" collects together an absolutely astonishing array of authors, in a magical and enchanting story anthology that will keep your children entertained all the way to Christmas and beyond. 

Gorgeous and magical short stories are included, from acclaimed children’s writers such as Michelle Magorian, Berlie Doherty, Lauren St John and Katherine Woodfine.

Dreamsnatcher’s Abi Elphinstone heads up this gorgeous collection of wintery stories, featuring snow queens, frost fairs, snow dragons and pied pipers. 

Grab yourself a huge mug of hot chocolate, wrap yourself in your favourite slanket or snuggly onesie and dive into this glorious wintry classic in the making. 

A compendium of cool and an unmissable, enchanting treat of a collection, do not miss "Winter Magic" - out now and published by Simon and Schuster. 

Next up, we have a special abridged "Junior" version of a fantastic best seller. 

"Able Seacat Simon" by Lynne Barrett-Lee is an adaptation of Lynne's 'grown up' novel, a story with huge child appeal and one that's sure to be a hit with fans of Michael Morpurgo. 

Inspired by real events, "Able Seacat Simon" is the tale of an orphaned kitten, discovered in the Hong Kong docks in 1948 by a British sailor.

Smuggled onto HMS Amethyst and named 'Simon' by his new friends, the little cat quickly gets used to life on the seas and appoints himself chief rat-catcher.

When tragedy strikes, Seacat Simon keeps spirits up - but it's a long and dangerous journey back to England for the heroic kitten and his crewmates . . .

It's a scintillating page-turner with a ton of 'aww' moments, and we'd warn to you keep a box of tissues handy - you may need them!

"Able Seacat Simon" by Lynne Barrett-Lee is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books. 

Next, a real treat and one of the most attractive books we've seen in a very long time...

"The Secret Horses of Briar Hill" by Megan Shepherd with illustrations by (gasp!) Levi Pinfold is an astonishingly moving, immersive and atmospheric story.

It's December 1941 and as war rages across Europe and beyond, a young girl called Emmaline has been evacuated away from the bombs to Briar Hill Hospital in Shropshire. 

Emmaline takes a while to get used to her new surroundings but when she discovers an astonishing secret almost too magical to comprihend, she must keep it. It's a secret not to be shared, not to be told to anyone, even her friend Anna. 

But Emmaline shares her secret with us, the reader. There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill and Emmaline finds that she can move between our world and theirs with ease. 

Exquisitely illustrated by Levi Pinfold (author and illustrator of the truly stunning "Black Dog" and winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal), The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a book that will live on in the memory long after you've tucked away that last page. 

"The Secret Horses of Briar Hill" by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold is out now, published by Walker Books. 

Now something for the cricket-mad little person in your life, and the perfect book to engage reluctant readers...

The "Glory Gardens Cricket Club" series by Bob Cattell is a long-running series of novels with plenty of cricket action and engaging characters for kids to identify with.

In "Return to Glory" the team are in Australia, facing the challenge thrown down by their arch rivals, Woolagong CC.

The tour gets off to a testing (I like what you did there) start and, as Christmas approaches, captain Hooker Knight is battling to motivate his players for the vital ‘Ashes’ game.

Will Glory Gardens return to England humbled or triumphant?

A great series for cricket-mad girls and boys. Though Cricket is really not 'our thing' it's certain to win over fans of the sport.

"Glory Gardens Cricket Club: Return to Glory" is out now, published by Charlcombe Books. 

Room for one more? G'wan then...!

Now this is very much our cup of tea! A brilliant book celebrating some of the most amazing though not necessarily well known women who have made history...

In "Wonder Women" by Sam Maggs with illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino, you'll learn about women who have made their mark in science and research, in politics, in espionage and in exploration.

For example thre's the story of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered highly dangerous? 

Learn about German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world s first scientific expedition? 

How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China? 

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn't always get the credit they rightly deserved. 

In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stick-to-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.

"Wonder Women" is out now, published by Quirk Books. 

That just about wraps up November. Tune in next month when we do a slightly earlier Chapter Book Roundup before things go completely crazy for Christmas!
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Two stunning books from yesteryear brought back to life by Bodleian Publishing

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We've long been champions of brilliantly reprinted classic children's books on the blog and there seems to be a huge surge of interest in books that you, your parents or even your grandparents remember from their childhood being shared with a whole new generation...
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Master the Art of Speedpainting: Digital Painting Techniques by various artists (3DTotal Publishing)

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With the various art challenges I love taking part in every day, it's sometimes a struggle to unpick other artist's work and figure out just how they can work so quickly, and produce such amazing pieces...
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Two new books to keep your Pokemon champions happy, published by Orchard Books

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Who could've predicted that one of the biggest revivals of the year this year in videogaming would see Pokemon Go not just being talked about by game-heads, but just about everyone else on the planet too.

Pokemon Go hit the headlines in grand style (not always for the RIGHT reasons) and it's scored a huge hit with kids who now have even more of an excuse to bury their noses in their phones and tablets.

If you can pry them away for a second or two though, they might just enjoy a bit of stickering or colouring with two fantastic new titles coming from Orchard Books.

"Pokemon Creative Colouring" gives you tons and tons of busy scenes to colour or paint. A brilliant mix of characters and backgrounds are depicted within, so grab your best colouring pencils, pens, crayons or felt tips and give Pikachu and pals a colourful new coat.

Honestly, I have no idea what on earth is going on here!
If stickering is more their thing, then there's also this fantastic sticker book...

The "Pokemon Sticker Book" features over 130 stickers and loads of gorgeously colourful backgrounds to stick them on.

Once again you can find Squirtle, Meowth, Pikachu and Jigglypuff nestling within this book, ready to be stuck into an action-packed scene.

These would make great stocking fillers for Pokemon-obsessed kids (and adults - yes we're talking about you Grandma, we know you've been sneaking out to try and catch 'em all down at the local Pokestops!)

"Pokemon Creative Colouring" and the "Pokemon Sticker Book" are both out now, published by Orchard Books.
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Step Aside Pops by Kate Beaton (Walker Books)

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Kate Beaton's second fiendish collection of hilarious comics mashes together superheroes, feminists, STEM notaries and historical figures into a superpsychedelic mix of laugh-out-loud snorts and sniggers that's definitely not for kids...
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Friday, November 25, 2016

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 25th November 2016 - "The Land of Nod" by Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Hunter (Flying Eye Books)

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Our Second Book of the Week blissfully dances between sleepy dreamtime and real life as a young boy enters..."The Land of Nod"
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ReadItDaddy's First Book(s) of the Week - Week Ending 25th November 2016 - "Great Grammar Book" and "Terrific Times Tables Book" by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels (Walker Books)

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Our first Book(s) of the week are a pair of utterly awesome children's books that deal with tricky "School" subjects in a brilliantly fun and engaging way...
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Thursday, November 24, 2016

The 'stigma' of being a 48-year old male children's book reviewer - A ReadItTorial

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This week's ReadItTorial was partially inspired by Keza McDonald's musings on being a videogame reviewer as detailed on Kotaku a few weeks back.

The article was, overall, a bit of a "New Games Journalism" style article,  stating a fairly obvious point (no one over a certain age will ever 'get' videogames, ho ho ho) but I wholly agreed with the core point of the piece.

Writing about videogames (which once upon a time I did for a couple of websites) for a living and telling people that you do so is akin to the subject I'm rapidly trying to get around to here.

Now, fellow book reviewers, you may have encountered this too but without meaning to draw some ridiculously sexist statement out of thin air to completely undermine this piece, you probably get this happening to you a lot less if A) you're female and B) have children so bear with me as I only tick one of those boxes.

Writing about children's books as a 48 year old dad (with no discernible hipster cred other than a straggly beard) is a tough gig.

I don't think it has anything to do with personal aesthetics per se (though obviously the prettier you are, sadly the more marketable you also are and it's pretty obvious that if you're a YouTube Makeover Sensation or - you know - a proper 'celeb' whatever the heck that is these days, with a zillion Twitter followers you can turn your hand to reviewing books in the time it takes for a marketing executive to draw up a contract).

It does have a lot to do with the perception that if you're a 'grown up' man (and I use the term 'grown up' very very loosely in my case) who fesses up to being passionate about, talking about, and writing about children's books, to put no finder point on it you're going to be seen as being a bit bloody weird in most people's eyes.

I've made a habit of collecting and counting and mentally documenting those weird sideways glances, the uncomfortable silences or the stilted fake laughs you get as if you've just politely informed the person you're conversing with that you like to wear cats on your head and have a penchant for rubbing your chest hair with squirrel oil.

At Charlotte's school, I get the thousand yard stare from Charlotte's teachers when I try to talk about her reading achievements through the blog, and the way we write reviews - not to mention the sheer volume of books Charlotte reads (which of course doesn't cut any kind of credit when it comes to her having to read some of the utter bilge she's given to work her way through at school, having to write a reading diary about books she'd never touch in a million years off her own back even though she's long been a 'free reader').

Likewise at hometime I get the two-thousand-yard stare from other parents every time I bring the blog up. Some are mummy bloggers who don't think it's odd to review juice boxes, beauty products or bottle warmers, yet reviewing children's books seems to be a subject they just can't wrap their heads around (though as soon as they hear the idea it's amazing how quickly they start covering books on their own blogs themselves!)

At my largely male-dominated workplace I once mentioned the whole blogging thing to my line manager who was asking what I do in my spare time before uncomfortably shifting in his seat and giving that polite little nervous half-laugh once more. I'm not really sure that the reaction would've been that much different if I'd fessed up to blogging about funicular railways or the mating habits of Venezuelan Fruit Bats, blogging is unfairly still seen as something that people do when they've got verbal diarrhoea with no outlet for it.

Friends and family are a little better though this may be largely because they see the direct results of this blog in Charlotte's reading abilities, and the way she reading enhances her curiosity and knowledge, so perhaps they understand it and tolerate it more because of that.

I think the only people I don't get weird reactions from are other booky folk, who (thank goodness) really do not give a tinker's fig what you are, what you look like, what your social standing is, whether you're male or female, what you do for a day job or (most importantly) how big your knockers are so long as you can talk good book.

I sometimes wish I'd masked my identity a lot better though, perhaps even pretended to be a gorgeous slim yummy mummy with acres of cleavage in my profile pic (hah!) - part of the reason I don't go to a lot of book events is partially because A) I have massive anxieties and shyness when it comes to getting out there and meeting folk anyway and B) I'm secretly fearful of getting that double-take reaction at book events where I'd already be way outside my comfort zone.

I wonder if other book bloggers feel the same way sometimes. I guess I really can't wait until Charlotte's properly old enough to either take the blog on and write more articles herself, or just decides that social media, mobile phones and boys are better than books (grud forbid that day ever arriving!)
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The Kids Money Book by Jamie Kyle McGillian (Sterling Publishing)

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Oooh now this is a great idea if your kids fancy themselves as the next Richie Rich!
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Daisy Darling, Let's have Lunch by Markus Majaluoma (Pikku Publishing)

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We do love fun "Dad and Daughter" books and this one reminds me of the trials and tribulations of trying to get healthy green veg into Charlotte at an early age...
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Super Special Wriggly Preview - "I Can Only Draw Worms" by Will Mabbitt (Picture Puffin)

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"I Just Can't DRAW!" many artists have wailed at one time or another. But even if you can't draw, can you construct a rib-tickling and hilarious children's book?
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Owl Bat, Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Walker Books)

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Here's a really neat idea for a wordless picture book that has a heartwarming core message, and a rather neat twist or two...!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Moomin and Family Life by Tove Jansson (Drawn and Quarterly)

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Oh dear! It's not easy being a Moomin and Moomintroll really has hit rock bottom...
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Knowledge Encyclopaedia: ANIMAL! (Dorling Kindersley)

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With the Dorling Kindersley brand, you know that you're going to get a fantastic packed-to-the-very-gills book of amazing animal knowledge and facts...
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Monday, November 21, 2016

Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis (Walker Books)

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We're always championing wordless picture books as a great method of getting early readers to 'read' a story, interpret its meaning...
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20 Games to Create with Scratch by Max Wainwright (QED Publishing)

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Would-be coding and computer geeks are going to be in heaven with this fantastic 'how to' book on the Scratch programming language.
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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Our first grand Book Sale in aid of Church Charities - What's it like being a bookseller for the day?

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Books books, lovely books!
My mother in law is a very persuasive lady! She came up with the idea of us helping out on a book stall for her local church so we found ourselves packing a (literal) ton of books up, ready to sell at the Annual Abingdon Baptist Church Christmas Fayre.

We've never done anything like this before (though we donate all of our spare books to schools and charities). Charlotte was ridiculously excited at the prospect of "Playing Shop" for the day and we were lucky enough to nab a good spot. So along with my lovely wife we were ready to rock and roll.

The practicalities of getting all those books packaged up was pretty tough (thank heavens for printer paper boxes scrounged from work) so once we got there and moved all the books inside, we had the problem of trying to arrange nearly 200 books.

We swiftly found that laying them out flat only allowed us to put out about 100 so during the day we were busying ourselves filling any gaps from book sales, bringing more stock out as required.

The interesting part (for me) was seeing what sold, and who came along to buy. We made a point of saying that the books were brand new or read once, a mixture of our duplicate copies or excess stock though some of the books were a real struggle to part with (as any book blogger will confirm, it's just too durned hard to get rid of books but we were harsh and severe on ourselves as we knew it was for a very good cause!)

So many bargains to be had (Photo © The Abingdon Blogger)
My wife priced the books up very fairly and competitively, and paperback picture books were the biggest sellers though some of the gorgeous (slightly pricier) hardbacks swiftly sold as well. Chapter books didn't seem to budge quite as much but I think there was just such a huge and dazzling choice on show that the older kids that came along didn't know where to start (thankfully we were on hand to offer a bit of guidance and point out the good stuff!)

Charlotte really enjoyed herself though as a 'shop assistant' (though she spent rather too much time playing with the present she'd got from visiting Santa!) but it was a great experience for her, using her mental maths skills to tot up the cost of books, hand over the correct change and generally chat to customers. It was great to talk to teachers and local children's group organisers who'd come along (most of them spending their own money, I might add) to pick up a book bargain to take back to school.

I've got a new-found respect for booksellers though! Being on your feet for four hours was tough so huge kudos to those folk who are in their stores all day doing this 'for real'. We'll be back next year as it was a lot of fun and we talked to lots of awesome folk, so if you were one of the 'buyers' we really appreciate you visiting our stall and buying a lovely book or two.

In the end, though we did take most of the stock back home again we still raised a whopping £213 for the church fund so thank you, thank you, thank you so much (and if you picked up one of our flyers, do a quick search on the title of the book you bought and you'll find out what we wrote about it!)



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Friday, November 18, 2016

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 18th November 2016 - "Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods" by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle (Quirk Books)

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Our Second Book of the Week ushers the triumphant return of a rather brilliant (but butt-ugly) book hero. "Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods"...
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ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 18th November 2016 - "The Ultimate Book of Space" by Anne-Sophie Baumann and Olivier Latyk (Twirl Publishing)

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Our First Book of the Week this week shows that the French not only rule at producing awesome comics and children's fiction, they produce glorious non-fiction books too! "The Ultimate Book of Space" by Anne-Sophie Baumann and Olivier Latyk...
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ten children's books I couldn't wait to introduce my daughter to when she was 4. Now she's 8, how am I doing - A ReadItTorial

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This week's Read-it-Torial is a bit of a time-travelling escapade.

Way back in 2012 when Charlotte was a busy little 4 year old who loved picture books, I imagined one day that she might quite like to read books that had wowed me when I was a kid.

So I picked ten and four years on I thought it would be fun to revisit the list and see just how many she had read, either with me or on her own. Here is the list, with updated comments on whether we've read or not read the books. Read on!





1) The Giant Under the Snow - John Gordon (Not Read)

One of the spookiest, most atmospheric and most influential books I have ever read and one you're probably sick of hearing me talking about. I spent a good 25 years or more hunting for a copy of this and was lucky enough to find one (with this original cover, and its nightmare-inducing illustration) at a car boot sale. I was almost in tears as I handed over a quid (the price was 25p but I was so grateful I just forked over a quid) and took it home.

It's the tale of Jonquil Winters, and her two friends who are pulled into a terrifying mystery surrounding the return of The Giant - a long-buried figure of malice who once again stalks the earth through dark magic, ready to rise again and enslave humanity.

The sort of book that - if it was released today - would receive plaudits for its strong female character and brilliant marriage of myth and legend with the modern world, it's still on the 'to do' list and one day I really do hope Charlotte wants to read it herself. Possibly a bit too spooky and dark for her right now but in a couple of years time perhaps, she'll love it.


2) Stig of the Dump - Clive King (Read)



The original print of the book - with its superb illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, is a standout children's classic.

I read this to Charlotte about a year and a half ago and we reviewed it here: Stig of the Dump by Clive King and Edward Ardizzone (Puffin). It was delightful to find that she tapped straight into the same sense of wonder that I had, and loved Barney and Stig's interactions and the whole 'fish out of water' scenario of a stone age man trying to adapt to Barney's world. Glorious stuff and I'm so glad she enjoyed it so chalk this one up as a success.





3) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Read)



I read this to Charlotte and then she read it to herself off her own back, along with just about all the other Dahl classics you can think of (Matilda is still her overall favourite though, oddly mostly because she likes The Trunchbull - possibly one of the most terrifying children's book characters ever dreamed up by Dahl).

I remember this book being one of the most talked about books in my junior school and here we are nearly 40 years on from when I first encountered it, and it's still as popular at Charlotte's school with her and her classmates as it was with me and mine.

I think so many Dahl books are revered that it's become something of a cliche to pick on this one in any 'best children's books of all time' list. It's also (rather irritatingly) the book that other more contemporary authors have latched on to, and enjoy having their work compared to.  Essentially though it is still a fantastic read and I expect the news of yet another Willy Wonka movie being made will only see it grow in popularity. Again it was awesome to chalk this one up as a success and to see Charlotte wanting to read it on her own.

4) The Owl Service by Alan Garner (Not Read)




Another spooky book this, and another book chock full of atmosphere. Alan Garner's "The Owl Service" was passed around at school (the school's library copies never seemed to be "in" whenever I wanted to borrow them) - but we were lucky enough to study the book during English lessons and I was hopelessly hooked from the word go.

For some reason, this was touted as a "Boy Book" at school, back when such ridiculously sexist terms existed and there was still a perception that certain reading material could only be enjoyed by either sex rather than both.

Telling the story of three teenagers coming to terms with family upheaval, and encountering an all-too-real welsh legend that threatens to sweep them up in its grasp, it's a multi-layered and quite complex book (even for an adult) that really strikes a chord with anyone who grew up in a single-parent family. I really still don't understand the 'boy book' thing though, not at all.

As others have said elsewhere, it could well put you off family holidays in Wales forever. Spooky, imaginative, descriptive and absolutely essential reading for young teens. Again though we've not read this one yet I could see Charlotte loving it in a few short years' time (so I'd better update this blog post idea when she's 12 and see if we've polished off any of the books we have yet to get around to).


5) The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall (Not Read)



Another book that was studied at school, and another book that was largely seen at my school as "A Boy Book". The Machine Gunners tells the story of a young lad coping with the Blitz in World War 2. Fascinated by the ever-encroaching war, a downed German plane crashed on a piece of wasteland near his home provides an opportunity for the boy's imagination to let fly.

It's been a very long time since I read the book but I remember the way Robert Westall builds up the levels of tension throughout, until the quite shocking and wholly unexpected end.

There's no easy way to help children understand the importance of the sacrifices their grandparents and great grandparents (and great great grandparents) made for their country in wars, but Westall's book offers both an insight into these, and also an insight into how easily influenced a child's mind can be by world-shattering events unfolding around them. A subtle lesson to learn about how war affects the modern world too, and the direct effect it has on children who are forced to cope with the upheaval of war on a daily basis.

Again, like some of the other books on this list that Charlotte hasn't read yet, I think this is probably one suitable for ages 12 to 13 and beyond, but I can imagine her really not being able to put this one down once she starts on it, it's still utterly compelling.


6) The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier and Jane Serraillier (Not Read)


Another book touching on the impact of war, this time with a driven message of hope threaded throughout an expertly written story of children fending for themselves in war-torn Poland, embarking on an epic journey to be reuinted with their parents. The symbolic 'Silver Sword' of the title is their almost mythical belief that something other-worldly can protect them on their hazardous quest.

Never holding back harrowing descriptions of the impact of war, The Silver Sword is probably one of the best books written for children about the impact of WWII on Europe - but more than that, it contains some of the strongest messages of self worth and self belief a child can read. Once again for very similar reasons to the two books preceding this one in the list, it's a book that she'll find fascinating once she's a little older  - and let's face it, though we want children to understand and remember the sacrifices during the two wars it's probably a better idea to wait until they're a little more emotionally mature to breach some pretty horrific subjects with them I guess. Three war books in the list, makes you wonder what was going on in schools in the 1970s because this was again a book I was introduced to in English lessons but became completely obsessed with.


7) The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien (Read)



Does this book fall in and out of favour every few years or so? Or is there a perception that Tolkien's works are slowly being eroded by other fantasy novels, more modern fare that suits the contemporary palate better? I'll argue that The Hobbit - the perfect introduction to Tolkien's (sometimes unapproachable) works - is a book that paints vivid pictures of the world of Middle Earth far more effectively than the most expertly produced CGI, more effectively even than Tolkien's own scribbly ink illustrations. I was first introduced to this book when I was 5 - which might seem a little early (and might make me sound a little precocious) but thanks to my teacher at the time (Miss Cox, take a bow) and the project she wove around this book, I've loved it ever since and it made me want to read The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion just to dip back into Tolkien's imaginative worlds.

Charlotte's reaction to The Hobbit was entirely different to mine. I read it to her and she loved the intricate little details of Bilbo's life before his incredible journey began, but seemed to very rapidly lose interest in the book after that - despite some really exciting stuff later on. The bits that worked best for her were the more comedic light-hearted moments - and this ties in with the sort of books she likes to read from the school library or books we're sent for review.

Oh well, you really can't win them all!


8) The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Read)



Charlotte and her mum are actually working their way through C.S. Lewis' Narnia books in one huge volume, one heck of an achievement!

Amazingly they've already polished off all books up to and including "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe".

I listen to my wife reading this to Charlotte (not without a few pangs of envy as I always wanted to read this with her!) and my wife always describes Charlotte as hanging on every single word, often demanding my wife reads for longer than she intended to (though this may also be classic diversionary tactics to avoid having to go to sleep!)

They both love the books as much as I do, and I can imagine her wanting to read the whole lot again on her own once they're done. Definitely a hit!


9) The Guardians by John Christopher (Not Read)



This is definitely still on the "yet to do" pile and without meaning to repeat myself again, this is definitely a book I could imagine Charlotte tucking into with gusto once she hits the Senior School (which was pretty much when I read it properly first).

There are so many John Christopher books I'd love her to read (though I'm not entirely sure her taste for perfectly written dystopia stories tallies in any way with mine). I'd gladly include "The Tripod Trilogy" on here as well but for me "The Guardians" was always the book I'd recommend to folk who'd never heard of John Christopher's work before as a really good starting point.

Even now it relates a fantastic lesson about class divides, about the dangers of modern society losing touch with not only its cultural heritage but with our own roots and traditions regardless of class. It also, rather chillingly, feels very contemporary in its depiction of an all-encroaching all powerful government that will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

Still timeless, brilliant and still one of Christopher's most underrated books. Even though Charlotte is a few years off reading this, I really hope she does one day.


10) Chocky by John Wyndham (Read - well, ish!)



Oh dear. This one did not go well at all. Oops, bad parent moment!

I read this to Charlotte up to a point where it was pretty obvious she was becoming more and more uncomfortable with it. I've got both Chocky and Chocky's Children at home and I'd still love her to read them, but this is definitely one of those books that serves as a shining example of how different tastes are now compared to what they were like when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s.

The bits that scared her the most were the interactions between Matthew (the boy in the book that Chocky chooses to 'inhabit') and his sister Polly.

As Chocky starts to force her will on Matthew more and more, he becomes a sinister version of Polly's brother - one she doesn't recognise and doesn't like, and that really began to disturb Charlotte so I'm afraid we ended up ditching the book.

Thinking back to when I originally read these (around the same time that two TV series based on the books were commissioned and played out on teatime kid's TV slots), I just cannot even imagine that something like this would seem like a good idea, even back in the 70s when dark stuff was fairly normal on kid's TV.

To be fair, the books are incredibly disturbing at times and definitely do play on the mind so we'll put an indefinite pause on this one until Charlotte perhaps feels like she's ready for stronger darker stuff.

The scores on the doors

Not too bad, 5/10 so we're about half way there. Reading back through the list I think of the five remaining left to read I could imagine Charlotte wanting to read at least 3 of the books with two being possibly of lesser interest. Bearing in mind that when I was a school kid, most boys of a certain age were a bit too obsessed with World War 2 and tanks, action men and god knows what else so it's not difficult to see that any book that related directly to the war would be an instant draw - and this wouldn't be the case for Charlotte at all.

Thinking back to the age I was when I read a lot of these books, I'm pretty sure that 12 is going to be the next 'red letter' age that Charlotte could potentially revisit some of these at so who knows, we might just catch up again in four years time to see if any more have been ticked off the list.

I'm also very pleased to say that Charlotte is equally influenced by books her mum read as a child, so she's happily worked her way through far more of my wife's favourite childhood books than mine (the likes of Black Beauty, Mallory Towers, The Secret Seven, The Secret Garden and many other classics) so there's a nice balance being achieved and it's definitely not all down to pushy dad shoving books up her nose, poor child!

I'd love to hear whether other parents had a top ten list of books to one day pass down to their kids when they were old enough - or read to them over the course of a few bed times.

If so, please do leave a comment below as we'd love to hear about them and whether or not you've managed to read them to your little ones yet!
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