Friday, February 24, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 24th February 2017 - "Marge in Charge" and "Marge and the Pirate Baby" by Isla Fisher (Piccadilly Press)

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A double header for this week's Chapter Book of the Week winner, in fact both books were a huge hit with Charlotte...
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ReadItDaddy's Book(s) of the Week - Week Ending 24th February 2017 - "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volumes 1 and 2" by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marvel)

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Our Book (or books) of the week this week collect together the first 'modern era' 8 issues of one of the greatest superheroes ever to nibble a filbert...
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sugar Free February - or "Why the HELL do they put SUGAR in THAT?" - A ReadItTorial

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For the last few weeks we've been attempting to follow "Sugar Free February" - an idea kicked off by Cancer Research UK and picked up by the Chris Evans Radio 2 show, but also endorsed by health experts as a way to live a little better.

Food is something of an obsession for kids, and for folk in children's publishing, whether they be authors, illustrators or cake-scoffing PRs (c'mon, we know who you are!)

Let's face it, no one can quite read through a copy of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" without salivating at Roald Dahl's deliciously scrumdiddlyumptious descriptions of the various treats that Mr Wonka makes in his factory, and what book launch goes unaccompanied by a huge book-shaped cake? But is there really any way to treat treats as treats and live a better way?

We try to maintain a fairly healthy lifestye at ReadItDaddy Towers, mixing exercise and a good diet (being non-preachy non-smug vegetarians helps a little bit with the latter) but the no-sugar thing has been a startling revelation in so many ways.

The toughest bit was working out decent nice-tasting alternatives to the stuff we normally eat. Take your breakfast for example. Think you're eating a lovely healthy cereal just because it isn't dotted with hundreds and thousands or laden with chocolate? Think again because even the humble weetabix is stacked with added sugar (and if you are like I used to be, you can't eat that horrible stuff without adding even more sugar to it).

We started to eat porridge, purely because it seems to be one of the few breakfast staples that A) fills you up and B) doesn't have a truckload of extra sugar added to it (but of course you need to make that from scratch, which is huge fun when you're already stretched for time in the morning on a normal school day - YAY!)

Then lunches. The next big challenge was to find enough to eat, because anyone knows a tiny little salad pot really isn't going to cut the mustard in the middle of a working day. We kept the salad, opted for wholewheat pittas (again try finding THOSE without any added sugar, you can but you've got to looked DAMNED hard as virtually every single bread product has - yep you've guessed it - well over a gram of added sugar for every 100g).

One of the toughest changes - coming up with an alternative for this stuff!
Again we managed to do a mix of pittas, salad, low fat cheese, eggs and nuts (no added salt) to keep the nibbles away.

Dinners weren't a problem - the easiest way to cut sugar out of your dinner diet is to make everything yourself from scratch (I say the easiest way but again, who the hell has time to do all that in the few scant hours they get in the evenings after school / work?)

We've trialled lots of quick meal ideas and somehow we're not starving to death. Avoiding ready meals is a key change to this because again they're all flipping laden with added sugar, regardless of what you go for.

The effects have been quite startling though. Losing 8 lbs in the first couple of weeks meant that I had to reel in my belt a lot (coupled with HIT sessions and the usual exercise regime of making sure we walk our socks off at the weekends and always take a good screen break for a walk during the day helps keep the spare tyre down).

Weirdly also I noticed my skin was changing. Not quite so horrible grey and sallow, not quite so dry (though stuck in an office atmosphere it's extremely difficult not to get dry skin), almost glowing in fact (even my wife noticed, which really was the strongest indicator that there'd been some sort of a change as she's the poor unfortunate person who has to stare at my fizzog day in day out, poor woman!)

It's had an impact on Charlotte too. All the rubbish you've always been fed about needing sugar for energy (mostly by well-meaning grandparents who say that sort of thing as a good excuse to stuff you full of junk) really is rubbish as she's got just as much get up and go as she's always had (more so in fact) and aside from the usual school-induced tiredness, she's weathered the no-sugar challenge quite well with only a few blips (worst thing about no-sugar February? Having two birthdays in February where you really do have to fall off the wagon - particularly as birthday this year involved a visit to Cadbury World!)

The real overall aim is not to become one of those horrid whiny preachy diet bores, but to slowly but surely factor in a lifestyle change so that sugar (if we eat it at all) becomes a rare thing, not an everyday thing. It has meant we've turned into label-staring zombies when we do our weekly shop but the health benefits are real, measurable and surprisingly become apparent very quickly indeed.

You can find out more about No Sugar February through the Cancer Research Campaign Website here: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/find-an-event/sugar-free-february
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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering (Walker Books)

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Goodness me, this one's going to take you on a real rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows...!
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Zeki Can Swim by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson (Alanna Books)

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Awww, how could you resist that gorgeous little smiler on the front cover of this endearing book!
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

That's Not a Daffodil by Elizabeth Honey (Allen and Unwin)

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Kids absolutely love growing things, but sometimes it's difficult to be patient when all you're looking at is a big brown pot of soil...
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Monday, February 20, 2017

Mary Hoffman and Jackie Morris's new book range tells the stories and fables of Jesus (Otter-Barry Books)

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Two beautiful new books relating the stories of Jesus have been added to the gorgeous range available from innovative publishers Otter-Barry Books.

"Lost and Found" gathers together 8 parables from the stories of Jesus including A Tale of Two Houses,  Neighbours,  Lost and Found,  Fair Pay,  The Jealous Brother, Sowing and Growing,  Come to the Party and  Forgiveness.

Mary Hoffman retells the eight parables showing how Jesus used storytelling to explain God’s idea of truth, fairness and love.

With beautiful, atmospheric illustrations by Jackie Morris, this is a perfect introduction to the teachings of Jesus.


Also in the range is "Walking on Water: Miracles Jesus Worked"...

Once again Mary retells stories such as Water into Wine,  A Netful of Fish,  Weathermaster,  Through the Roof,  The Biggest Picnic in the World,  Is it a Ghost, Remote Control,  Saying Thank You and Back from the Dead. Some stories will be familiar to children, but some may also feel new and fresh.

The nine stories of the miracles Jesus worked, when he overturned the laws of nature, life and death to show God’s great love for humanity, are gorgeously presented in this luxurious book - again with beautiful illustrations from Jackie Morris. 

Whether you have any faith of your own or not, these are fantastic books for children, introducing them to bible stories in a surprisingly non-preachy way.

Even if (like us) you treat them as story / fable books, they're utterly gorgeous. 

"Lost and Found" and "Walking on Water" by Mary Hoffman and Jackie Morris are out now, published by Otter-Barry Books (kindly sent for review).
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Friday, February 17, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th February 2017 - "The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters - The Jolly Regina" by Kara LaReau and Jen Hill (Amulet Books)

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This week's Chapter Book of the Week contains all the sass, spice and influences of some of our favourite book series, but sets sail beautifully on its own tack. Meet The Bland Sisters...!
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ReadItDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 17th February 2017 - "The Hamster Book" by Silvia Borando (Minibombo / Walker Books)

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Awww, look at this adorable little fellah. Doesn't every kid want a hamster at some point in their lives? This week's Picture Book of the Week is "The Hamster Book"...
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Charting book trends or "How are we suddenly flooded with the same type of book from a multitude of different publishers?" A ReadItTorial

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One of the things that constantly surprises (and sometimes delights) me is the subject of this week's ReaditTorial. Trends. Those weird mystic patterns of consumer behaviour that apply to just about anything you can spend your hard earned cash on, that feel like they're born of some mystic set of mathematical equations, or some amazingly complex marketing exercises involving truckloads of media exposure across just about everything you cast your eyeballs over.

This applies to children's books too of course, and over the years of writing this blog we've been quite often overloaded with a certain type of book which leads us to muse how interconnected the children's publishing industry and the network of commissioning editors, agents and publishers really are.

At the moment (hence the header image of "Harriet the Spy") it's all about the kid detective, the snoop, the curious child who just can't help sticking their nose into a mystery. We've seen many, many titles arriving this year all in a cluster, across both picture and chapter books and it certainly seems to be a white-hot topic for middle grade titles in particular.

There's actually nothing wrong with this, the majority of the books we've seen have been absolutely scintillating stuff - showing that at least the authors and illustrators behind the books aren't just stamping out a set of variables from a well-established mould. Each brings their own nuances to the kid detective / mystery genre, but we're definitely seeing a lot of commonality - for example (and again, I must point out that these are NOT bad things to see in kid books):

1) A huge huge upsurge in female lead characters as opposed to male. Picking a selection of books I'd guess there are around 80% that feature a plucky young girl as the main hero in the story

2) Again a huge rise in the number of historical detective tales, predominantly England / Scotland in the Victorian era / turn of the 20th Century being 'the place and time to be'

3) Most of the mysteries are beautifully intricate tales that keep you guessing. Very few are dry moral tales (hooray!)

4) There is a rise (but a woefully small one) in the number of young detective / mystery books featuring characters of colour rather than the usual staid boring white middle class cliches.

5) There is also a very small rise in the number of central characters in young detective / mystery books NOT being well-to-do. Working class or poor characters are featuring in greater numbers and this is hugely important for a lot of reasons - not least of all that children's books in general could seriously do with a class overhaul to avoid becoming too 'elitist' (but that's a subject for another ReadItTorial!)

These books are a huge hit with Charlotte mostly because girls and Victorian England feature in them (despite all our efforts to ensure that genre isn't an issue and to encourage her interest in other periods of history) but also because they are books that keep their cards pretty close to their chest until the very end in most cases - and this is great because it keeps her reading them until she's finished, something that's pretty difficult when you've got the distractions of new books arriving almost daily.

As we've 'grown up' with the blog, and passed through all the other trends (remember when you couldn't move for pirate books? Princess books? Books about kids and friendships?) we're always waiting on tenterhooks to find out what the next big blossoming trend will be. For the moment though we're happy that the world's obsession with Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie is subconsciously leeching into the world of children's books in a truly positive way.




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Chicken Nugget: Scrambled Egg by Michelle Robinson and Tom McLaughlin (Picture Puffin)

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Michelle Robinson and Tom McLaughlin are back with their adorable little chick hero who's expecting a new arrival...!
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Princess Primrose" by Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children's Books)

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It's actually been a very long time since we've read a "Princess" book - but this is Alex T. Smith so we're prepared to make exceptions...!
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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This Bear, That Bear by Sian Wheatcroft (Templar Publishing)

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Bouncing bear-flavoured rhymes abound in a new book by Sian Wheatcroft. Can there be anything better than a bear?
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Monday, February 13, 2017

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit by Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer (Five Quills)

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There's a mystery to solve, and this time the crumbs are distinctly...gingery? Call for Sky Private Eye!
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Two fabulous new books for tiny toddlers from awesome publishers Child's Play - New for 2017!

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Child's Play always have an eye for fabulous books for early years and they're getting 2017 off to a very busy start with two brand new books for younger children.

In "My Tail's Not Tired" by Jana Novotny Hunter and Paula Bowles, you'll meet the most mischievous and adorable little monster ever!

Little Monster has a lot of energy and every single part of her body likes to move in different ways.

Children will love joining in as Big Monster and Little Monster wiggle and wriggle their way through the day, with a tail that won't stop waving to and fro, eyes that won't close, legs and feet that love to jump and bound, and of course a wiggly monster bottom!

But what happens when it's time for bed? Will Little Monster ever settle? Poor Big Monster is getting worn out!

A fabulous book for children to join in the actions with, and a fun read-aloud story.

"My Tail's Not Tired" by Jana Novotny Hunter and Paula Bowles is out now, published by Child's Play. 

We also loved "Quiet!" by Kate Alizadeh. It's a busy noisy house and one little girl can hear all the noises happening all around her.

Take a moment or two out of your busy day to stop, listen and hear all the sounds that the house makes. Is that the fridge whirring? Are the radiators singing? 

The text and sensory clues to be found in this enchanting, inclusive picture book allow us to experience our home through its many noises. Auditory landmarks help all children to become familiar with daily routines, and can be particularly important to those who are blind or partially sighted.

It's also another wonderful "join-in" book and younger children will love making all the noises in the book themselves. 

"Quiet" by Kate Alizadeh is out now, published by Child's Play. (Both books kindly supplied for review)
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Friday, February 10, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th February 2017 - "Dave Pigeon - Nuggets" by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey (Faber and Faber)

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This week's chapter book of the week comes with a huge glee-filled "YESS!" Dave is back!
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ReaditDaddy's Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 10th February 2017 - "Lots" by Marc Martin (Big Picture Press)

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A few weeks ago we talked about this fantastic Book of the Week winner on our first ever Podcast. If you listened in, thank you SO much - and if you wanted to know more about the book here's our proper review!
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Make and Move Minibeasts by Sato Hisao (Laurence King Publishing)

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We're huge fans of Origami - the whole family loves making paper models and the cleverer and more challenging the model, the better!
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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Painting-In Book by Anna Rumsby (Laurence King Publishing)

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Ahhh, now THIS is right up our street. If there's one thing both of us enjoy it's getting out the poster paints and creating great art...
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Mr Bunny's Chocolate Factory by Elys Dolan (OUP / Oxford Children's Books)

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Hello there Easter Bunny. You're a little early aren't you, we're barely washing down the last of our Christmas cake!!
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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A fabulous interview with Sophy Henn, Author and Illustrator of "Edie", a wonderful new picture book published by Picture Puffin

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A fabulous book full of joie de vivre, that's how we described Sophy Henn's wonderful "Edie"in our review (which you can find here just in case you missed it earlier!) and we're very lucky to be joined on the blog today by Sophy herself.

We've come up with a few questions for Sophy so let's get straight under way! We each came up with five questions so here are my five...!

Hi Sophy, thanks for talking to us!

My pleasure! Thank you both for having me!

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Heavens! Well, I am an author and Illustrator who lives in slightly sunny Sussex. I have a dog called Buster, and I am mainly a mum. I like reading, jumping around, Peanuts, rock pooling and chocolate raisins, among other things.





We’ve really loved reading Edie together. Was she inspired by anyone in particular? (She really reminds me of how I’d imagine “Amelie” from the movie of the same name being at around the age of six :)

Hooray! I am so pleased you enjoyed reading Edie and I LOVE that she reminds you of Amelie. It is such a wonderful film, I am now inspired to refresh my memory and watch it again almost immediately!

Edie is inspired by lots of little girls (though my little girl might have inspired the dressing up page!), all of whom have that utterly positive 'can-do' attitude. I've noticed that sometimes when children start to learn good behaviour from bad and how you go about doing things for yourself and others (around nursery/recption age) they can adopt this rather teacherly attitude, especially when they have a younger sibling to tell what's what! It's not bossy, and it's not nasty, it just seems to me to be a very excitable, joyful celebration of what they are working out about the world. Edie has buckets of that attitude, and it's that and her love of the people around her that drives her to be ever so 'helpful'.


Tell us a little bit about how you approach a new project. How do you go about creating a new character and story and do the visuals usually arrive before the story or vice versa?

When I started with Where Bear? it was definitely a case of the character leading the process, he popped into my head and onto a page before I had really thought about anything. A painting of a little, white bear in a deep, dark forest looking lost. Then the story followed, the same thing happened for Pom Pom Gets the Grumps. But then things changed a bit with Pass It On as I knew I wanted to make a positive, happy and empowering book for pre schoolers. Creating the character happened quite a way into the project, it's the same with the book I am working on at the moment. But with Edie, she really lead the way. Once she was in my mind all I had to do was put her in various situations and see what she would do!

 
"Where Bear?" by Sophy Henn


Coffee or Tea?

TEA. Sadly I can't dink coffee anymore, it's too much for me! The last time I tried, I managed half a cup of instant and had to go for a run I was so jittery. But I can safely swig upwards of ten cups of tea day! I LOVE it!


Can you tell us what your favourite books were as a child?

I LOVED Allan and Janet Alhberg's Cops and Robbers. I loved the rhythm of the story and the joyful wickedness of the Robbers wrong doings. And all the wonderful detail in the illustrations which kept me pouring over the pages long after my Mum had finished reading it. I was/am also a huge fan of Milly Molly Mandy and all the cosy goings on of her day to day. And there is a map at the front go every book, who doesn't like a map? 

Sophy at her desk, busy as ever!

"Pass it On" by Sophy Henn

...and five questions from Charlotte!


What’s the best way for someone like me to start writing stories? I’m trying to write something for the Radio 2 “500 words” competition at the moment and it’s really hard!

I agree, it is hard, but when you eventually wrestle those words into a story that works, it feels pretty amazing doesn't it? Stories start in lots of different ways for me (see above!), which I realise isn't ever so helpful. But however a story starts, once I have the idea, I find it really useful to map the plot out before I get down the actual story writing. Once I have jotted down the story's key elements, in the order they happen, when I get to the writing part it's a bit like joining the dots to make the story whole. I find that kind of planning especially useful if I have to tell the story in a specific number of words as it keeps me on track. I always write to much, but remember it's easier to edit it out than add it in! GOOD LUCK!


What’s your favourite animal (apart from Pandas, of course!) and will they find their way into one of your stories one day?

I honestly love all animals, I can't watch any nature programmes for fear of any being eaten (actually true). But I do have a very soft spot for guinea pigs (if you google guinea pigs in hats it will give you an insight as to why), and I would love to do a picture book filled with them. Though, obviously Olga de Polga is a bit of a superstar and Catherine Rayner's illustrations of her are utterly beautiful, so I would have make sure I was feeling confident! One day.....



What’s your favourite Disney movie? (Mine’s currently Zootropolis but I change my mind every few months!)

I do love Disney and have lots of books on the artists that have worked for the studios. Do check out Mary Blair if you can, she was an incredible artist who worked at Disney in the 1940s-50s, her use of colour is incredible. But back to the almost impossible question....I think the only way I can answer is to divide Disney up a bit...so could we have three separate categories for live action, animation and Disney Pixar please? If so I would probably choose Mary Poppins for live action ( I know there is a little cartoon too, but by and large it's actual people). Aristocats for animation as I love the illustration style of the streets, Thomas O'Malley's voice is ever so soothing and it was my daughters favourite film for a very long time. And then choosing a favourite Disney Pixar is agony, but I would probably plump for The Incredibles as, among many other things, I LOVE the mid century styling. And the Mum superhero obvs!


If you could be anything else in the world other than an author / illustrator what would you want to be?

Definitely a tap dancer. Ideally in the style of Gene Kelly (check him out in Singing in Rain, he makes it look so easy - AMAZING!)


What’s your favourite food? (Mine’s pizza and pasta and chocolate but not all mixed together!)
You have some strong choices there, and I like all of them. But if I had to pick one favourite food it would be.....curry, not super hot but definitely on the hot side. I honestly think I could eat curry for almost every meal (even breakfast!).

Thank you so much for having me back on the marvellous Read It Daddy blog!

Very best,

Sophy x

"Edie" by Sophy Henn is out now, published by Picture Puffin. 
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Edie by Sophy Henn (Picture Puffin)

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Sophy Henn is back with an all new character set to steal your heart. Here's "Edie" and she's lovely!
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Monday, February 6, 2017

Get ready for adventure in a new thrilling detective series for young readers. Meet Rose Raventhorpe!

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We love a fantastic and original detective yarn or two here on the blog, as you've probably noticed.

Doubly so if the detective in question is a mighty young lady who knows her own mind.

We're happy to share with you the new cover with art by super-talented Lisa Horton for "Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers" by Janine Beacham!

In the story, young Rose is drawn into a mystery as several butlers - including her own faithful man friday - are mysteriously murdered.

Rose must try and untangle a densely woven plot or two against the atmospheric backdrop of Yorke.

Can Rose get to the bottom of the mystery, before she too ends up like Argyle?

This stunning debut by Australian author Janine Beacham is definitely one for the curious, who love stories that are a little dark and a little different.

In Janine's own words, here's the story behind Rose Raventhorpe's debut adventure...



The story behind Rose Raventhorpe

When I was a kid I found a competition on the back of a cereal box. WIN A BUTLER FOR A WEEK, it said. ‘Tell us why you would like a butler!’

It sounded fun. I asked my mum if I could enter. ‘A butler would never come here!’ she said.

We lived on a dairy farm in Western Australia. We had haybales, cows, chickens, swooping magpies, and poisonous snakes. It was great, but it was not butler-like territory. The idea of a butler cleaning our house, serving a posh dinner, and saying ‘yes, Madam,’ appealed to me. We didn’t have a lot of posh things.

So I entered the competition. I wrote about the butler being able to help my mother. It wasn’t a very good entry. I didn’t win.

But the idea stayed with me. What if a butler did come to a house like ours? What would he do? What would my ideal butler be like?

I imagined a butler called Heddsworth. He would be English, because all the butlers in books and TV and movies were English. He would be very polite. He would call me Miss. He would polish the ute, and feed the farm dog from a silver bowl. And, I decided, he would be an excellent swordsman and shot.

I tried to write a story about this, but it lacked something. What I liked most about Heddsworth was his duelling skills. And he had nobody to duel on a farm. So I put the story aside.

Many, many years later, I read the Harry Potter books. They were inspiring. If JK Rowling could make such a success of a book about wizards, maybe I could write about duelling butlers!

So I tried a new version of the story. This time I set it in Victorian England. I needed a plot, and a young protagonist. A murder mystery would do. A butler would be killed – the heroine’s butler.

I had a new story, but it STILL wasn’t all that good. What was missing?

I went on holidays to the UK, and a friend told me I should visit York. I did. As soon as I stepped off the bus into the city, I saw a cat statue on a wall. And I had an epiphany. This was where I would set the book! My heroine would be called Rose, because she was from York. The butlers would live in an alternative version of York. Yorke with an E!

I added grave-robbers, and a magician, and underground tunnels and cat statues with eerie powers. I rewrote and polished and thought and wrote. And the story that came out of a cereal box became my first published book.

"Black Cats and Butlers" - Book one in the "Rose Raventhorpe Investigates" series is out on the 9th March 2017, published by Little, Brown. 
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Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies (Walker Books)

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What does it take to make us "Book Happy"? It's the new Hygge, I'm telling you...!
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Friday, February 3, 2017

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 3rd February 2017 - "Knowledge Encyclopaedia - Space!" by Dorling Kindersley

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Our Book of the Week this week may have been out for quite a while but it's a truly stunning non-fiction title that deserves another look...
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ReadItDaddy's Chapter Book of the Week - Week Ending 3rd February 2017 - "Polly and the Puffin: The New Friend" by Jenny Colgan and Thomas Docherty (Little, Brown)

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Our Chapter Book of the Week this week is the third book in a delightful little series about a girl and her best friend (who just happens to be a Puffin!)
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Coding Clubs - Recalling the heady days of a misspent youth twiddling with microcomputers - A ReadItTorial

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Well it might not look like much, but it's got it where it counts!

This week's ReadItTorial found us spending a very interesting saturday morning doing something I personally hadn't done in a good 30 years - enjoying computers for fun!

When messing around with computers (or at least trying to keep the things working and up and running) is your day job, you sometimes lose sight of the fact that they're still a lot of fun and can inspire kids to learn a little bit more about the electronic world around them.

We'd booked Charlotte on a coding taster session held in Oxford (you can find out more about the sessions here but there are bound to be sessions also running in your local area if you google around a bit) dabbling in Micro:Python on the BBC Micro:Bit computer.

BBC Computers? Programming? Yep that really took me back to being at school though I'm pretty sure that most of the time during "Computer Club" we ended up playing Elite rather than actually doing anything practical (still love that game).

What came as a bit of a surprise to me was that kids learn Python, a 'proper' programming language - and start to cut their teeth very early on with a scripted language that can actually do things! We've had a few hits and misses playing around with Scratch (which is more like programming with Lego blocks than real scripting) so I was interested to see what the session would be all about.

The BBC Micro:Bit is a small but powerful computer designed to help kids understand what lies at the heart of ordinary everyday objects they might use elsewhere.

The BBC Micro:Bit. Deceptively small but extremely fun to play with!
Basically a circuit board with edge connections and a USB port, a couple of buttons and (the most important bit for Charlotte) a 5 x 5 pixel display, the Micro:Bit interacts with your laptop or PC via USB to allow you to write programs in Python that trigger things to happen on the tiny device.

The taster sessions are quite short - 30 mins - so getting something working in that time can be a bit of a struggle, but thankfully the team were extremely well organised and the kits we used in the class were all ready to go - all we needed to do was turn up.

The taster program was to write a small 'heartbeat' routine. First, kids were shown how to write a program that would activate different lights on the Micro:Bit's display. Again this took me back to my youth, recalling a lot of time writing simple programs to make game 'sprites' on my humble ZX Spectrum. Similar to plotting out a design on graph paper for MineCraft or other block-based things, the Micro:Bit's display can be programmed with your own designs.

The Mu Programming interface. Commands are entered almost in plain English! A heck of a change from working in BBC or ZX Basic!
Using the Mu Programming interface (basically a nice and simple UI for kids who are just breaking away from block-based coding languages), children can write simple routines then "flash" them to the Micro:Bit ready to actually do something.

The device, despite its size, comes with a couple of buttons and a range of other sensors (including accelerometers and a compass) so there are lots of ways to interact with the thing.

During the lesson we were shown how to hook the Micro:Bit up to an external edge connector so that we could then connect in a speaker attached to a breadboard. Again, so many memories of doing this kind of stuff way way back in the 80s but seeing it all updated for today's kids was pretty cool.

Charlotte took to it like a duck to water, and has since asked for a kit for her Birthday (she'd better behave!) It struck me that the combination of having something tangible (the Micro:Bit itself) coupled with a programming language where you're actually doing what I did all those years ago, basically tapping code in painstakingly into an editor was probably what made the session so exciting to her. Seeing an actual result from your programming efforts that makes logical sense really seemed to help the coin drop for her more than our sessions on Scratch (MIT Edu's alternative programming language where kids basically drag and drop components together in order to make program code).

There are Scratch-like editors for the Micro:Bit but Mu (the editor you see in the screenshot above) just felt like it offered a better balance between proper coding and complilation, and having a command set to dip into rather than some fairly rigid 'blocks'.

Once again it looks like the BBC are helping innovation in the important areas of early years technology and computer-based learning just as they did all those years ago.

The only annoyance is that this stuff isn't introduced at Charlotte's school until she's a lot older - yet it's obvious that kids as young as 5 or 6 (or maybe even younger) could have just as much fun with a helping hand or two from geeky mums and dads, doing something that may actually inspire them to get into proper coding and control stuff later in life.

Fantastic fun and we'll be returning for the rest of the sessions without a doubt and as the Micro:Bit is a shade under 20 quid (the Mu editor is free and can be installed on any laptop or PC as long as you've got USB ports to actually flash the program to your Micro:Bit) we'll probably pick one up pretty soon too.



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Jill and Lion by Lesley Barnes (Tate Publishing)

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Hooray! Hoorah! It's all the thrill of the circus in Lesley Barnes' gorgeous follow up to "Jill & Dragon"...
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A Rocketful of Space Poems by John Foster and Korky Paul (Otter-Barry Books / Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

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Poems! Space! Two of our favourite things combined? Well, this one's going to go down well....
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Two fantastic colourful new titles for tiny tots, here's "Pairs in the Garden" and "Pairs Underwater" by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

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Tomorrow sees the release of two adorable 'lift the flap' books for tiny teeny tots, helping them learn all about their gardens and all the amazing creatures and plants that live there - and underwater, where once again they can learn all about amazing animals and plants.

"Pairs in the Garden" is an explosion of colour, tons of brilliant page spreads and zillions of flaps for little ones to open and reveal.

Lift stones to find snails, grass to find ladybirds and lettuce leaves to find caterpillars, then answer a simple counting question.


"Pairs Underwater" is equally colourful, and full of amazing animals that your little ones will love learning about. Lift the flaps to find the matching pairs in this fun novelty series that's all about habitats!

This book has seven die-cut flaps on every spread for little ones to lift to find the matching pairs and spot the odd one out. Lift stones to find turtles, seaweed to find seahorses and shells to find crabs, then answer a simple counting question.

Both books are printed on sturdy card, perfect for little hands, providing fun and enjoyment while out and about or at home, as well as teaching important recognition and memory skills.

Both titles are released on 2nd February 2017, published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books (kindly sent for review). 
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Two fantastic draw-a-story tales from Yasmeen Ismail. Here's "Inside, Outside, Upside Down" and "Push, Pull, Empty, Full" (Laurence King Publishing)

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If there's one thing you can be sure of, sticking a pencil into a child's hand and giving them a blank piece of paper is like uttering a magic spell...
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